Tablet PC Misunderstood by

By Mark Hachman  |  Posted 2004-05-12 Print this article Print

Industry?"> Meanwhile, the market has largely misunderstood the purpose of the Tablet PC, industry watchers said. Microsoft originally envisioned the Tablet PC as a device that "knowledge workers" could carry on their rounds, jotting down notes in electronic ink that could later be transferred into text. Early slate-style Tablet PCs used a software-based keyboard for entering text; some manufacturers included a docking station or wireless card for additional connectivity.
When Microsoft circulated designs for the original prototype in 2000, the Tablet PC was envisioned as a slate-style PC not because that was going to be the final form of the device, but because Microsofts engineers wanted to see if they could design a device without a keyboard, according to pen industry consultant Geoff Walker of San Jose, Calif.-based Walker Mobile LLC. He participated in the design of Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp.s pen-based tablet products from 1993 to 1999.
Only Acer Inc. understood what the Tablet PC was supposed to be, Walker said, and designed a convertible tablet providing both keyboard and pen input. At the 2002 launch of the Tablet PC platform, Bill Gates said that in four or five years most mobile PCs would contain tablet functionality, Microsofts Dixon added. Pen input does play a critical role. Without a pen, theres no easy way to quickly diagram a flow chart or add a quick digital scribble, such as an arrow or star, to a document, Walker said. "Theres really been a misunderstanding about this," Walker said. "Microsoft never wanted to replace the keyboard, but put the pen on an equal footing. Theyve gone from two input devices—a keyboard and a mouse/touchpad—to three devices. To translate that for the layman, the tablet PC being folded into notebooks isnt a very clear statement. I think a better statement would be to say that [the] pen will be added to notebooks as a standard hardware device." To date, pen input has had the greatest success in tablets aimed at specific vertical industries, including transportation and especially health care, which will spend an estimated $47.9 billion for infrastructure by 2006, according to Gartner Inc. of San Jose. Customers find slates especially useful for predictable tasks, including operation and inventory, according to Paul Moore, director of product marketing for Fujitsu Computer Systems of San Jose, which pioneered the slate-style tablet computer. Fujitsu sells between 60 percent to 70 percent of its Tablet PC volume in the slate form factor, Moore estimated. Customers like the weight of the tablet—about 3.5 pounds—and show no desire to move to a bigger screen, he said. "I think it would be nice if some other companies all of a sudden turned their notebooks into a tablet," Moore said. "But right now, one just doesnt serve the customer yet." One customer issue for Fujitsu is the swiveling hinge that transforms a tablet into a convertible PC—people think its going to break. "Most of what intimidates them is the hinge," Moore said. "Its not like theres been any blurbs out there in the media about a huge hinge disaster; theres no reason to be concerned. But they are concerned." Yet, convertible tablet providers are making inroads in the health care market too. Acer, which competes with Hewlett-Packard Co. as a leading vendor of Tablet PCs, says it has inked contracts with the Visiting Nurses Associations of America, based in Boston, for its TMC110 convertible tablet. In North America, the average age of a visiting nurse is between 42 and 46 years old. Next Page: The Costs Can Add Up for Tablet PC


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