In the world of convertible tablets, much of the focus has been on devices running Windows 8 and its ARM-friendly RT counterpart. However, according to DigiTimes' sources at notebook makers, the next wave of convertible machines may be based on Google's Android operating system. And, somewhat surprisngly, those machines are expected to have Intel processors inside.
Lenovo is reportedly planning an Android-based Yoga convertible for next month, while HP, Toshiba, Acer, and Asus are readying designs for the third quarter. The timing suggests the Lenovo system will be based on current-generation Clover Trail Atom silicon, while the others could adopt the upcoming Bay Trail refresh.
Putting Android on an Atom-powered device might seem a little counter-intuitive, since compatibility with x86 Windows software is one of the processor's advantages over its ARM-based rivals. However, Intel has been working on Android optimizations for its hardware since 2011. The chip maker is reportedly behind the push for Android convertibles, and it pegs the sweet spot for those devices at about $500. DigiTimes goes on to say those machines "need to feature detachable keyboard designs to allow transformation into a tablet."
After playing around with a bunch of different convertible designs, I think the detachable approach first seen on Asus' Transformer tablet is the best solution. Being able to remove the keyboard means you're not burdened by any extra bulk in tablet mode. Whether Intel-based Android convertibles can be compelling alternatives to similar devices based on ARM processors remains to be seen, however. Bay Trail is probably better suited to that mission than existing Atom chips.
There's also the larger question of whether Android makes sense for convertibles at all. The OS certainly has advantages over Windows, including a much smaller OS footprint, faster application load times, and a broader selection of software designed for tablets. Device makers don't have to pay for expensive Windows licenses, either. While productivity-minded users are probably better off with Windows 8, folks shopping for systems to handle email, web surfing, and social networking may be better served by Android. The Google OS certainly has more appeal than Windows RT.