Laptops are getting weird and wonderful again

It's been almost seven years since Windows 8 debuted for the first time, ushering in an era of strange and wonderful laptop designs. We witnessed the birth of the Lenovo Yoga laptop, some gym exercises with crazy hinges from Acer and even the beginnings of the Microsoft Surface line. While most of the most extravagant designs have come and gone, we are now entering another phase of wild experimentation: dual-screen laptops.

Computex is one of the largest computer and technology trade shows in the world, and is an annual event where PC makers like to show off their latest laptops and crazy concepts. Laptops have focused mainly on better screens, trackpads and battery life in recent years, but this year we have begun to see how laptops with multiple screens emerge.


The new Asus ZenBook Pro Duo


The Asus Honeycomb Glacier concept [19659005] HP led the way ahead of Computex by announcing a dual-screen gaming notebook for players that allows you to watch Twitch and play games simultaneously. The 6-inch sub-screen is located above the keyboard, and works like any dual-screen monitor setup you would find on a desktop computer. Asus also introduced its new ZenBook Pro Duo notebook with two 4K screens this week. Asus believes that it has solved the productivity problems of laptops, thanks to a 14-inch screen on the keyboard and a normal 15-inch screen where a laptop screen is usually located.

Asus has developed a window management software to extend the main screen to the 14-inch panel on the keyboard, or even to use multiple windows on the wide screen. Asus also transformed his traditional portable trackpad into a 5.5-inch screen last year, proving that he is willing to experiment and expand the limits of what he would normally expect to find on a laptop.

Perhaps the wildest of all is Intel's idea for dual-screen laptops. "Honeycomb Glacier" is Intel's concept of the future of gaming PCs, and tries to combine a 15.6-inch main screen and a 12.3-inch secondary screen into a single laptop with a unique double hinge. The result is a laptop where the screens are stacked at multiple angles thanks to a one-way mechanical roller clutch. Intel is unusually optimistic about this design, and says that PC makers have shown interest in adopting it for future laptops.

Intel is also pushing for the creation of dual-screen laptops and, in general, only dual-screen devices. We've seen Microsoft use the Alcantara fabric on its Surface Laptop, and HP is using leather and even wood on some of its laptops. Intel concepts are particularly relevant if we are truly entering a new era of dual-screen or even flexible laptops. Lenovo has been developing a "folding PC" for more than three years, complete with the folding screen technology that we have already seen that begins to appear on phones. It's just a concept for now, but it alludes to where PC makers believe this technology is headed.

However, all these extravagant designs and hardware are nothing without software. We saw that it was played with Lenovo's dual-screen Yoga Book last year, and Microsoft had failed to popularize Windows SideShow, a way for developers to extend applications and notifications to small screens on laptops while they were turned off. Apple's touch bar also failed to gain much traction, despite offering a touch screen on the keyboard.

laptops are getting weird and wonderful again

HP Omen X 2S
Image: HP

As much as PC makers can experiment with the hardware they have to trust Microsoft will get Windows to adapt to these new form factors. Microsoft has been dreaming of a pocket dual-screen Surface device for years, but that project, whose code name is Andromeda, has stagnated within the company.

Microsoft is preparing for this new hardware with a new light version of Windows for dual-screen devices and Chromebook competitors. With the code name of Windows Lite, Microsoft has not even officially acknowledged its existence yet. Windows Lite is a smaller version of Windows that is initially being prioritized for dual-screen devices.

Microsoft has seen the work that OEMs and Intel are doing on dual-screen devices, and wants to be ready to support it correctly. The Windows Lite interface will be similar to Windows as it exists today, but it will be more of a mix of what Microsoft uses with its Surface Hub shell and the simplicity of its Windows Phone Continuum user interface.

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Windows Lite Model [19659016] Microsoft has gradually created a new Composable Shell OS (C-Shell) and Windows Core, a more modular version of the existing Windows Shell that feeds many parts of Windows 10 today. Microsoft was expected to talk about some of this work at the company's Build conference earlier this month, but all it is doing now is hinting at a future of "modern OS" for Windows.

The work of the software will be key to determine if these new dual-screen laptops really take off. Some make sense for gaming laptops, but smaller devices that compete with phones offer questionable benefits. Google also plans to natively support folding tables on Android, and already has the advantage of the mobile platform to close the gap between phones and tablets.

However, that will not stop PC makers. We've seen years of wild 2-in-1 PCs, and with folding screens, new hinges and this boost for dual screens, we're about to witness that laptops become really weird and wonderful again.

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