One advantage 2-in-1s have in commercial scenarios is that, at least for devices running Windows and Android, they can spawn multiple windows, which are crucial to the kind of business work most associate with PCs.
"Fundamentally, when we work in Office, you have a Word document, and an Excel spreadsheet or Web browser open next to it," said Mainelli. "Windows and Android do have the ability to run multiple windows. At this point that leaves iOS as the only operating system that doesn't do that. I think that's going to be a stumbling block for iOS, both for IT buyers and consumers."
iOS, more specifically Apple's iPad tablet, accounts for the bulk of the commercial tablet market, in part because of companies' BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policies, but also because the iPad was first to market. Other device makers could promote their 2-in-1s as more suitable for Office-related office work, Mainelli said.
"IT buyers are going to look at 2-in-1s as between a notebook and tablet, just like consumers," Mainelli said. "There will definitely be opportunities. The questions are: Does Windows evolve to the point that IT is willing to buy it? Do Android and iOS evolve as well?"
Apple has not hinted that it will enter the 2-in-1 fray. In fact, its CEO, Tim Cook, has regularly bashed the idea as ludicrous. In 2012, around the time Microsoft launched the Surface, Cook called it "a fairly compromised and confusing product," and in the next breath, compared it to "a car that flies and floats."
Before that, Cook pledged, "We're not going to that party," referring again to the hybrid, 2-in-1 concept.
But Apple has retreated from passionately defended positions before, Mainelli noted today, ticking off smaller iPads and electronic books as examples.
While others have been bullish on Apple's chances of dominating the 2-in-1 category if it entered, perhaps with a larger-sized iPad, Mainelli was hesitant to join them. But he believes Apple could be a player.
"They really have a leadership position in tablets in the enterprise," Mainelli said. "If they would build on that, considering the enormous number of iOS custom apps built for business, it makes sense. I wouldn't expect them to market it to enterprises, but they'd end up there."
IDC didn't assume that Apple will put its formidable foot in the 2-in-1 door when the market research company came up with its 2014-2018 forecast. "If they do, our forecast would change. It would shift some tablet numbers to 2-in-1, I think. But Apple is famous for cannibalizing itself," Mainelli said.
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