IBM Develops ThinkPad Tablet PC

The company's new ThinkPad X41 laptop becomes a tablet PC with a swivel of the screen, but whether it will have horizontal appeal remains to be seen.

IBM is readying a ThinkPad laptop that features a rotating screen designed to turn the machine into a tablet computer, according to documents from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Photographs on the FCC Web site show an IBM ThinkPad X41 with a black case that is similar to other laptops in the companys ThinkPad line. But photos reveal that the screen of the computer can rotate 180 degrees, turning it into a tablet PC.

Also shown is a tablet digitizer pen resting against a screen that displays Microsofts Windows XP operating system, suggesting that the computer uses Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, the main choice for other tablet PC vendors.

According to FCC documents, the X41 Tablet Series has wireless networking features that support both Bluetooth and IEEE 802.11a/b/g wireless LAN standards. Other information, such as memory and dimensions, were not revealed.

FCC approval is necessary for any device that will be sold in the United States that has a radio, which includes wireless LANs. The submission for approval was made by IBMs laboratory in Japan, which also designs the ThinkPad laptop line.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsofts possible new design for the Tablet PC.

The availability of the documents on the FCC site indicates that the tablet PC may be close to release, and gadget Weblogs are buzzing with predictions of a mid-May ship date.

If the rumors turn out to be true, IBMs entry into the tablet PC market could have a significant impact on the industry, according to In-Stat/MDR senior analyst Brian ORourke.

"Right now, tablet PCs are stuck in vertical niches, like health care and real estate," he said. "They havent been able to reach broad, horizontal adoption in the corporate market. If IBM is entering the field, it means that the company knows a way to reach those customers."

/zimages/2/28571.gifWhich Microsoft partners are offering support for the Tablet PC platform? Read more here.

Whether the X41 Tablet Series is successful in grabbing market share where others have failed depends on how it is priced, ORourke added. Pricing for the tablet PC was not disclosed in the FCC documents, but the ThinkPad X41 is priced at $2,199, according to IBMs site.

"IT managers just havent been willing to approve the purchase of expensive tablet PCs because they couldnt justify the higher cost for additional functionality," said ORourke. "But if IBM priced theirs competitively, that could change."

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