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Laptops go up against tablets at Consumer Electronics Show

New generation of ‘convertible’ devices on display at major industry trade show

Acer’s Iconia W510, released in November, is a tablet PC that can be used in three different modes: tablet, productivity, and presentation.

Pity the poor laptop. The darling of the tech world just a couple of years ago, laptops have become one of the biggest casualties of the tablet phenomenon. For consumers enamored of touch-screen tablets, laptops suddenly seem like stale, clunky gadgets whose basic clamshell design hasn’t changed all that much in two decades.

It opens. It shuts. Yawn.

But this week at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the laptop is attempting a comeback. The stodgy clamshell is being cast aside by manufacturers who are trying to create a new category of device that combines the feel and functions of tablets and laptops.

Call them hybrids. Call them convertibles. These new computers fold. They twist. They slide. They detach.

And, more importantly, they are spawning like crazy. This wild burst of experimentation is being driven by a number of trends that suddenly converged: thinner designs, better touch screens, and the arrival in October of Windows 8, Microsoft Corp.’s new operating system designed for touch screens.

But there’s another crucial element: desperation. Industry insiders say laptops have to change quickly or face a long, slow decline.

(Next page: A roundup of ‘multi-mode’ devices)

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