Tablets Find Safety at School

The pen-driven portables are increasingly targeting education in an effort to carve out a bigger niche. But can going back to school bring success for this sometimes struggling mobile platform?

Gateway is going back to school, this month, with a new tablet PC.

The company on Wednesday introduced a new convertible tablet PC that promises higher performance and better ergonomics for a lower price than its predecessor. Those improvements, the Irvine Calif., PC maker believes, will help Gateway Inc. tablets continue their momentum in education and break into retail, countering a disappointing trend for tablets of late.

Other tablet PC makers are also looking at various segments of the education market to raise the overall grades for the portable platform.

Tablets, based on Microsoft Corp.s Windows XP Tablet PC Edition software, have failed to meet expectations since their introduction in 2002. Bucking early predictions for millions of unit shipments per year, due to their abilities allow people to navigate with a pen and capture handwritten notes or digital annotations, the machines have failed to win over consumers or everyday business users, market watchers say. Instead, the machines have only caught on in vertical markets, including areas such as health careand education. Growth projections for the platform, which analysts once envisioned totaling shipments of up to 14 million units by 2009, have recently been tempered to around 4 million by some analysts.

But one market—higher education—has heartily embraced the tablet, Gateway says, giving the company a focus for its second-generation tablet and offering a beachhead to continue attacking other areas, including small and medium businesses and retail.

"I think the tablet is here to stay. I think its going to continue over time to become a mainstream platform. But I dont think its going to take off as quickly as some of the folks in the industry thought initially," said William Diehl, vice president of product marketing at Gateway.

/zimages/1/ reviewers also found a lot to like in Gateways CX200 convertible tablet. Click here to read more.

"The big hurdle we have is just to get the education out there—get people exposed to the pen computing experience for the first time—and once that happens people get it immediately," Diehl said. "If you have the right price at the right time interesting things happen."

The 6.2-pound machine, based around a 14-inch widescreen display and Intel Corp.s Pentium M and Celeron M processors, will offer better improvements in ergonomics, adopting a curvier design and adding a hand grip as part of its battery, along with sturdier hinges and a bay for an optical drive. When an auxiliary battery is added, it will run for up to 8.5 hours, potential boon for students spending long hours at the library.

Where its current tablet, the M275, commands a premium of about $500 over Gateways least expensive business notebooks, the new machine will range from $1,359 for Pentium M-equipped S-7200C model for small businesses to $1,509 for an M280E model for education customers. An S-7200C model will cost as little as with $1,149, when configured with an Intel Corp. Celeron M, a company spokeswoman said. Overall, the lower prices reflect a premium thats closer to $200, making it easier for consumers and students to step up to the tablet, the company contends.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about the latest tablets Gateway rivals Fujitsu Ltd. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Indeed, education "is our biggest [tablet] segment," said Chad McDonald, director of notebook product marketing. "We expect that to continue to expand. We expect big things from this product both in education and in consumer retail."

Next Page: Gateway isnt the only table maker eying education.