Dual-boot Android and Windows tablets, PCs face skepticism

Analysts say dual-boot systems with Android and Windows will appeal to a few users such as coders and tests

Dual-boot PCs and tablets could potentially give users the best of both worlds with Android and Windows OSes. But they won't catch on as there is little use for such systems, analysts said.

The coming-out party for dual-boot PCs and tablets was at International CES in January, where many such systems were introduced. Asustek announced the Transformer Book Duet TD300, which can switch between Android and Windows with the press of a button. But Asus has postponed plans for such dual-boot systems because of pressure from Google and Microsoft, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

"I don't think it's a huge market anyways, so it's not a horrible tragedy," said Bob O'Donnell, principal analyst at Technalysis Research. O'Donnell. "It's not a deal breaker."

The dual-boot PCs and mobile devices are still experimental, and use for such systems has yet to be found, analysts said. Dual-boot systems running Windows and Linux are already being used, and Asus sells the Transformer AiO P1801, an 18.4-inch portable all-in-one that can switch between Windows and Android.

Such systems could be attractive to a few like enthusiasts, hackers or coders who need both OSes on a system to test programs, said O'Donnell.

There is an advantage to dual-boot as it reduces the need for an extra Windows or Android tablet, O'Donnell said. But users are usually dedicated to the OS of their choice, and will seldom use the other option.

Companies have tried to sell dual-boot systems before, but not one has succeeded, said Roger Kay, principal analyst of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

"I don't see why there would be interest in that," Kay said.

Moreover, no company has fully backed the development of such systems, or clearly explained the usage model.

"Somebody has to own it," Kay said.

The major advantage to dual-boot systems is that they run the full library of Windows and Android apps, said Patrick Moorhead, president of Moor Insights and Strategy.

"The lack of Windows 8 apps has been a purchase inhibitor, but dual-boot removes the objection. If not done right, though, it also has the potential to confuse users, who may struggle with different environments, Moorhead said.

Neither Microsoft nor Google like dual-boot because to them, it compromises their experiences and monetization potential, Moorhead said.

"For instance, a dual-boot user may use Google Play Movies versus Xbox Movies, or vice versa," Moorhead said.

Google did not return requests for comment, but Microsoft didn't clearly say if it opposed the development of dual-boot systems.

"Our policies have not changed, Microsoft will continue to invest with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to promote best-in-class OEM and Microsoft experiences to our joint customers," Microsoft said in an email.

But even if Microsoft and Google are against such development, smaller device makers in countries like China may release products with dual-boot capabilities. At CES, some small Chinese PC makers said they were planning to release dual-boot tablets and PCs with Windows and Android in the second quarter this year.

Google and Microsoft can exert better control over the larger vendors, but not the smaller device makers, analysts said.

A smaller device maker could create a dual-boot system with Windows and Android after drawing code from the Android Open Source Project, which is a true open-source project, Technalysis' O'Donnell said.

"They can't do anything from stopping that from happening," O'Donnell said.

But device makers want to bundle Google's cloud services and thus want to work with Google, O'Donnell said. Mobile device users in mature markets such as the U.S. want the latest and greatest version of Android with Google services.

Google is an open-source company, but wants to protect the Android ecosystem, O'Donnell said, adding that he heard of PC makers being pressured to not build dual-boot systems.

"In the past it would be Microsoft that would be block this kind of stuff, now it's Google," O'Donnell said.

Google in the past has pulled strings to push Android into more devices, Endpoint's Kay said.

In 2012, Google played a role in Acer dropping Alibaba's Aliyun OS for smartphones due to ship in the Chinese market. Google's policing forced Acer to adopt Android, Kay said.

But Google shouldn't be opposed to dual-boot systems with Android and Windows, unless it involved market subsidies.

"Of course it would like to sell" more Android devices, Kay said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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