Small Chinese tablet makers continue to experiment with dual-boot tablets running Windows or Android, a market that big device makers have shied from.
Some of these makers could ship cheap tablets later this year.
At the Computex trade show in Taipei, a handful of small tablet makers from Shenzhen, China, were showing prototype tablets with 8-inch to 10-inch screens that could boot into Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4 or 4.2.
The tablet makers said there was some interest in dual-boot tablets, especially in developing markets. They were receiving inquiries for the tablets from direct buyers, not device makers. Some tablets were built with Intel's Atom chip code-named Bay Trail, which supports Android and Windows, and also used BIOSes able to boot into both operating systems.
Many Chinese tablet makers, who showed only Windows or Android tablets, found building dual-boot tablets was expensive, if one took into account the OS and hardware costs. PC maker Dell also said it would not offer dual-boot tablets, as files could not be easily shared between the Windows and Android partitions, and people wouldn't want to spend time switching between OSes.
Asus in January introduced one of the first dual-boot systems, the Transformer Book Duet TD300, which was ultimately cancelled, and was considered a nail in the coffin for dual-boot tablets and PCs. But Asus was at it again at Computex, introducing the Transformer V, a hybrid that could switch between operating systems with just the press of a button.
The dual-boot tablets from small Chinese companies were not as fancy, and looked like standard Windows 8 tablets with Android hidden inside. A 10.1-inch M1010 tablet shown by Boeye booted to present an option to load into Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4, with the logo of BIOS maker American Megatrends prominent at the bottom of the screen.
The tablet cost roughly US$120 to make after including hardware and OS costs. Users could also reboot into Windows from the Android shut down screen. The system ran on Intel's Atom Z3740D quad-core processor, and other features included up to 128GB of storage, 2GB of RAM and a 1080 x 800-pixel screen.
Customers prefer a single OS in devices, and there have been some inquiries for dual-boot tablets, said Perry Zhiang, overseas sales director at Boeye, which is based in Shenzhen. With the 10.1-inch screen size, there was interest in Windows for productivity apps, and Android for mobile apps, Zhiang said.
Shenzhen Potato Technology showed an 8-inch dual-boot tablet with a similar boot screen to load into Windows 8.1 or Android 4.2. The tablet had a 1280 x 800-pixel screen, an Intel Atom Z3735E processor, up to 8GB of storage and 1GB of DDR3 RAM.
Dual-boot tablets are a curiosity in developing countries, especially among direct buyers who do not want to resell the product, said Paul Wu, a representative for Shenzhen Potato Technology. Poor attendance at Computex made it difficult for Wu to gauge the real demand for dual-boot tablets, but the company was displaying one as an option alongside its Windows and Android-only tablets.
An inventive dual-boot 8-inch tablet called U80GT with both an Intel and ARM processor was shown by Shenzhen Alldocube Technology and Science. The tablet was a little thicker and heavier than the Intel-only dual-boot tablets on the floor. The quad-core Intel Bay Trail chip ran Windows 8, while the ARM Cortex-A7 processor core ran Android 4.2. The ARM processor supports more Android applications than the Intel chip, and is also considered more power efficient. ARM does not run Windows 8, and having separate processors keeps the OSes truly isolated and easier to update, a company representative said.
Some other small Chinese tablet makers didn't show off dual-boot tablets but are toying with the idea. The demand isn't heavy, but they may ship products if they get enough orders.
Wibtek, a tablet maker in Shenzhen, will likely ship dual-boot systems into South Africa and other developing countries later this year, a sales representative said later this year. The company didn't show a dual-boot tablet, but building such a tablet is easy and could be possibly sold at a budget price of between $200 and $300, the representative said. A final decision will depend on demand.
But some device makers are not enthused about dual-boot tablets.
Microsoft and Google want only their operating systems on tablets, said a sales manager for Zaidtek Electronic Technology Xiamen. The company may make a dual-boot tablet, but they are seeing growing demand for Windows tablets.
Dell also ruled out building a dual-boot tablet at the show. Customers don't want to spend "10, 20, 30 seconds, a minute or two in some cases, moving between operating systems," said Neil Hand, vice president in Dell's tablet product group, in an interview.
File sharing between the partitioned operating systems is a problem, Hand said. And users don't need dual-boot as multiple Android and Windows devices can already be tethered via wireless or the cloud to exchange data, Hand said.
"We very much believe that dual boot -- in the way it's being looked at right now -- is a mistake for customers," Hand said.