The Android 'un-PC' is no real threat to the PC

Flood of Android notebooks and even desktops at CES 2014 bode well for Android, but they still can't replace a full-featured PC

From the announcements pouring out of CES this week, it's easy to conclude the desktop PC is a dead-and-buried project.

Across the board, major hardware makers are throwing themselves full-bore into making Android -- or at least non-Windows -- devices: Acer's Android-powered all-in-one PC and Lenovo's own N308 Table PC both employ Android in a form factor typically associated with Windows. Toshiba's showing its own Chrome OS device as well. Even longtime Windows stalwart HP is getting into the game with its Chrome OS- or Android-powered (your choice) Slate 21 device.

What's driving all this? At the very least, it's the realization that a PC used for basic tasks doesn't need to run Windows any more than someone living in a big city needs a 4x4. The maturity of Android's software ecosystem and the breadth of industry hardware support also help. It's easier than ever now for an Android device to exist in a full-size form factor without seeming too awkward.

Some of this has also been powered by the way work habits have changed. From the most casual user to the most serious business customer, the PC -- whatever form it appears in -- has become less of an end in itself and more of an endpoint. When the same Web app is available just about anywhere, what the exact device is or what it's running matters that much less.

All this ought to be familiar territory for anyone who's been inundated with "post-PC" headlines. But a few obstacles still stand in the way of the old-school PC and plain-Jane Windows being relegated to the digital scrapheap.

First, there's price. At the high end, these Android-powered devices can cost as much as a full-blown system -- enough to make you wonder what, exactly, you're paying for. Acer's aforementioned all-in-one is a whopping $1,100, with most of the cost apparently devoted to the 2,560-by-1,440 display. Drop another $100 or so, and you can get a Windows-powered Lenovo all-in-one with a similarly-dazzling 27-inch display and an Intel Core i7-4700MQ processor instead of Acer's Nvidia Tegra 4. Is it really worth shelling out $1,100 to have that much more simplicity in one's system? (The pricier Chromebooks haven't sold as well as their cheaper counterparts, despite simplicity and lack of maintenance as big selling points.)

Second is how the PC is proving far harder to kill off than people are being led to think. The form factor itself is a big part of it: Some workflows don't lend themselves to anything but a full-sized keyboard and screen. (You think I wrote this blog on my phone?) Even with the form factor set aside -- that is, with an all-in-one -- the many features Android or Chrome OS omit by design make them tougher to commit to as a primary device.

It's not as if these items have no future, if you ask me. There's enough of a market for what I call "undemanding computing" -- the folks who just need to check email or watch video -- to make Android and Chrome OS all-in-ones a good proposition for a certain slice of the market.

But what's harder to justify is whether or not the majority of such people would rather spend as much, or more, and knowingly get less. That's become doubly true as we see less and less of a real price difference between Android or Chrome OS machines and full-blown Windows PCs of all sizes and shapes. And it isn't as if no PCs are making their debut at CES; all of the above manufacturers are also introducing conventional Windows-powered systems in various configurations as well.

What we're seeing is less the end of the PC and more the broadening of the PC to include choices we didn't have before. It still remains to be seen, though, if most people would consciously choose less when given these options.

This story, "The Android 'un-PC' is no real threat to the PC," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.