IBM Exec: Bad Timing for Tablet PC

IBM's Leo Suarez contends that with corporate buyers cutting spending and consumers worried about job security, now is not the time for computer makers to focus on radically different devices.

With corporate buyers cutting spending and consumers worried about job security, now is not the time for computer makers to bring the Tablet PC to market, says an IBM executive.

While the Tablet PC as envisioned by Microsoft Corp.s Bill Gates may eventually find a place in the mobile market, IBM executive Leo Suarez contends that commercial customers and consumers currently have no interest in buying such radically different devices.

"Are Tablet PCs eventually going to be part of the mobile landscape? Yes," said Suarez, IBMs worldwide product marketing manager for mobile systems, during an interview at the Alladin Hotel in Las Vegas during Comdex. "The question youve got to ask is, when is the right time to introduce them? You dont want to do that when there is a severe economic downturn."

Instead of focusing on radically different and costly technology, computer makers should strive to deliver more value and capabilities to existing products, he said, all while striving to keep costs down.

"People are trying to figure out how to make their machines last longer, and squeeze more performance and capabilities out of their machines," Suarez said.

For its part, he said, IBM is focusing on enhancing the wireless and security capabilities of its notebooks.

"Why did we choose those? Because those are the ones that customers keep telling us are important to them," Suarez said.

While IBM continues to research and develop new types of digital devices, he said, the company strives to balance that by gauging the shifting demands and trends in the marketplace.

"Part of being an astute marketer is to understand what is happening around you," he said. "Right now, IT departments are slashing budgets, consumers are less confident that they are going to have a job six months from now. So are they going to actually invest in new designs that are going to be inherently more expensive? I dont believe so."

One technology IBM says its corporate customers are now demanding is notebooks with integrated wireless capabilities, even though few customers have actually set up wireless networks, Suarez said.

"Theres probably only a small percentage of companies operating true wireless networks," he said. "Nevertheless, were seeing an increasing request for wireless capabilities on notebooks. More importantly, companies are saying that unless you show me a portfolio that has wireless-enabled offerings, Im not going to consider you."

As a result, IBM has begun integrating 802.11b wireless technologies into its ThinkPad notebooks, he said. In addition, future products will offer integrated Bluetooth wireless solutions.

Another area of growing customer concern revolves around content security, Suarez said. With more and more corporate employees storing valuable data on their notebooks, a stolen laptop could result in losses that far exceed merely the price of replacing the device.

"For example, you could have a $1 billion marketing strategy in a $2,000 notebook," he said. "Similarly, customers are worried about data being stolen over wireless networks."

To address those issues, IBM recently began integrating an embedded security solution into its notebooks that offers both hardware and software encryption capabilities.

Overall, he said, simple enhancements involving wireless and security are what customers are really asking for, not radical new designs.

"Id rather invest in those in these uncertain times than a machine with an articulating display," such as the Tablet PC, he said.