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Threatened by iPad, PCs start to look like tablets

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NEW YORK (AP) — The response by computer makers to the iPad

stealing sales from them: Make their PCs more like

iPads.

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The “if you can’t beat `em, join `em” strategy” is prompting a wave

of experimentation with the design of the laptop, which has been

largely unchanged for two decades. Touch-sensitive screens and the

use of Google’s Android system for mobile devices are two ways the

PC industry is adapting.

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About 50 million tablets are expected to be sold this year, and

that could double to as many as 100 million next year. PC shipments

worldwide grew just over 2 percent in the second quarter, short of

what research firms IDC and Gartner had expected. The popularity of

tablet computers was one of the main reasons.

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One way PC makers are countering the threat is with iPad-style

tablets running Android, but these haven’t seen wide success so

far. And in trying to emulate the iPad, they’re competing with not

just Apple, but also with phone makers such as Motorola Inc., which

are launching their own tablets.

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So PC makers are offering hybrids that try to offer the best of

both worlds. Some are tablet-like devices that come with keyboards,

which the iPad doesn’t have. Others are PC-like, combining the

tablet’s signature touch-screen with the ability to run heavy-duty

Windows programs for photo editing and design.

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Witness the Acer Iconia, a Windows laptop that looks like any other

when the lid is down. When you open it, you’ll find two

touch-sensitive screens and no keyboard, similar to a tablet

computer. To type, you bring up a virtual keyboard on the lower

screen. If you’re not using the keyboard, Web pages can flow from

the top screen to the bottom one.

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Another iPad-like laptop is the Dell Inspiron Duo. Its screen can

be flipped around to face outward when the lid is closed. When

folded that way, it works like a tablet.

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Lenovo Group also sells a Windows laptop with a screen that can be

detached from the keyboard to function as an Android

tablet.

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“We should learn some things from tablets,” such as the iPad’s

user-friendly interface and the ease of installing software from

outside parties, said Yang Yuanquing, the CEO of Lenovo, the

world’s fourth-largest maker of PCs.

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Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest maker of personal

computers, is giving its PCs the ability to run applications

written for its webOS software, which runs on smartphones and a

tablet, the TouchPad.

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In their experimentation, PC makers are reviving designs haven’t

been very successful in their previous incarnations. The laptop

with a screen that detaches to become a tablet is an idea that

dates to 2002, when a flurry of tablet computers debuted along with

Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Tablet Edition.

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This earlier generation of tablet PCs didn’t catch on because they

were expensive and too heavy for comfortable use in tablet mode.

“Windows Tablet Edition” wasn’t much different from regular

Windows, and it wasn’t fully adapted for tablet use. Microsoft

added more touch-oriented features when it released Windows 7 in

2009.

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Even with the improvements in Windows, however, the PC faces

hurdles in mimicking the tablet’s design.

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Windows isn’t a very friendly operating system for tablets, partly

because it needs Intel-style processors to run on. These chips

drain batteries much faster than the cellphone-style chips used in

the iPad, with a core designed by ARM Holdings PLC. ARM chips can

save power by turning off parts of themselves when they’re not in

use, among other tricks.

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“A lot of what makes the iPad an iPad is the long battery life,”

technology analyst Rob Enderle said.

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Windows-based PCs and tablet computers that use Intel chips need

bigger batteries, which make the devices heavier. Even then, the

batteries don’t last as long as the iPad’s. The Dell Inspiron Duo

weighs 3.4 pounds, or two and a half times the weight of the iPad.

It has four hours of battery life, compared with 10 on the

iPad.

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Microsoft is hard at work developing a version of Windows that will

run on ARM chips, and it’s expected to be ready next year. That

means the next generation of laptops could match the iPad for

weight and battery life.

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But while waiting for the new software, PC makers are in an

uncomfortable situation. The new software might be what they need,

but in the meantime, they have to try other means to distract

consumers from the iPad, such as borrowing tablet features. These

experiments with laptop-tablet hybrids are unlikely to be as

important as the advent of the new system, currently dubbed Windows

8. But something might stick, providing a model for the future of

PCs.

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“Right now the PC industry is fighting kind of a holding action,”

Enderle said.

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AP Technology Writers Rachel Metz and Jordan Robertson contributed

from San Francisco.

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Online:

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Dell Inspiron Duo: 

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“http://www.dell.com/us/p/inspiron-duo/pd” target=

“-blank”>http://www.dell.com/us/p/inspiron-duo/pd

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Acer Iconia: 

href=”http://us.acer.com/ac/en/US/content/iconia-home” target=

“-blank”>http://us.acer.com/ac/en/US/content/iconia-home

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Asus Eee Slate: 

href=”http://bit.ly/oZTTPv” target=

“-blank”>http://bit.ly/oZTTPv

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