Given the PC industry’s overall decline and Microsoft’s failure to make headway in the mobile market, you might not expect Redmond to have much of a presence at Mobile World Congress. Reports from the show, however, say otherwise — and it looks like tablets and 2-in-1 PCs are shaping up to be a major battlefield in 2016.
The companies fighting that battle, however, aren’t necessarily the ones we associate with the PC space. Huawei’s MateBook (shown above) is winning accolades at the show as a svelte alternative to both the iPad Pro and Microsoft’s own Surface. Ars Technicareports that the device matches the iPad Pro’s 8.9mm thickness, with a 640g chassis that’s lighter than either system. The Core M, slim bezel, excellent screen, and $699 starting price could make this system a tough competitor for the likes of HP and Dell.
The shifting competitive landscape
It’s amazing how much things have changed in just four years. Back in 2012, Intel was showing off its Medfield smartphone platform and Microsoft was talking up Windows RT. At the time, a war between x86 and ARM across the entire spectrum of computing devices seemed imminent, with Intel’s Atom slashing its power consumption while the Cortex-A9 and A15 took ARM into the consumer space with so-called “smartbooks” and server companies like Calxeda launched assaults on Intel’s turf. The thinking back then was that Intel would initially stake out the top of the Windows 8 tablet market, with ARM chips holding the bottom using Windows RT.
Precious little of this actually happened. Pundits believed Windows RT was critical to the future of Microsoft right up until it actually launched to abysmal sales figures. x86 tablets running Windows went nowhere fast, which drove Intel to increase its investment in the Android ecosystem. The company eventually shipped tens of millions of Android tablets on x86 hardware, but with little in the way of co-branding. The dream of a second-generation “Intel Inside” campaign that would push customers towards x86 devicesbecause they were built on Intel hardware never materialized.
ARM-based smartbooks never happened either — though Chromebooks arguably replaced them. And while multiple companies are still pushing ARM server solutions, we have yet to see much in the way of sustained competition.
Instead of a vast Intel-versus-ARM war, we’re seeing Chinese smartphone manufacturers step up to compete with traditional OEMs. To date, higher-priced 2-in-1s have been a rare bright spot in an otherwise declining PC market, and companies like HP, Dell, and Asus have jockeyed to offer Surface-like products of their own. Huawei’s entrance into this market could kick off another race-to-the-bottom price war that I’m not sure any of the OEMs can afford — particularly given that PC sales may still decline further this year.