Analysts: Tablet PC Could Quietly Vanish

The ballyhooed "slate" version of the Tablet PC platform pioneered by Microsoft and its partners looks to be increasingly marginalized, a victim of a desire to fold "electronic ink" technologies into ordinary notebook PCs, analysts

The "slate" version of the Tablet PC platform that Microsoft Corp. and its partners pioneered is being increasingly marginalized, a victim of a desire to bring "electronic ink" technologies into notebook PCs, analysts and vendors said.

Furthermore, the fate of the Windows XP Tablet Edition OS itself seems to be in question.

Last week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle, Microsoft executives said they had yet to decide just how this part of the next-generation Longhorn technology would be implemented. However, the number of companies offering slate Tablet PCs has declined, industry watchers said, indicative of the fact that tablets are still too highly priced and lack the functionality of modern notebooks.

The question is whether the Tablet PC and Microsofts Windows XP Tablet Edition OS are being subsumed back into the notebook PC, a product the Tablet once broke away from. If they are, observers wonder, is there a need for a dedicated Tablet operating system?

So far, the only answers have been forthcoming from hardware makers, many of which have moved to "convertible notebooks," which combine a keyboard and a touchscreen. These devices run the Tablet PC OS.

However, for the slate hardware platforms, the outlook with customers is somewhat muddy. Slate PCs still play an important role in vertical enterprises, such as health care, vendors say, but "knowledge workers" have asked for a keyboard to complement the pen input.

Meanwhile, Microsoft recently began to reposition the Tablet PC as a secondary display for the home, capable of remote viewing of TV and movies. Averatec Inc., a European and Asian OEM, plans to shortly announce a new, smaller 12-inch Tablet PC for $1,100 aimed at the consumer market, industry sources said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifMicrosoft Watchs Mary Jo Foley also wonders about Microsofts commitment to the Tablet PC platform and Lonestar, the next update of the OS. Click here to read more.

For its part, Microsoft has remained mum on its plans for the Tablet PC in the Longhorn timeframe.

So far, Microsoft executives admit only that the company wants to bring electronic ink technology into notebooks: "Thats what enables the mobile PC over time," said Andrew Dixon, director of marketing for Microsofts Tablet PC.

Microsoft could develop a mobile version of Longhorn, Dixon said, pointing out that Microsoft hasnt made any product announcements regarding Longhorn or the Tablet PC OS. Dixon, however, hinted that the two operating systems could be combined. "We are looking at what it means to bring tablet functionality into notebook versions of Windows, specifically mobile Longhorn," Dixon added.

Next Page: Tablet PC Misunderstood by Industry?