Taoiseach welcomes tablet PCs

26 Sep 2002

The first tablet PC to appear on the Irish market was launched earlier this month, in a tie-in with Irish software house, Unilansys.

The PaceBook is manufactured by little-known Californian player PaceBlade and features a 12.1in TFT touchscreen display. Described by PaceBlade boss, Eric Djie, as the world’s first three-in-one computer system‚ the PaceBook comes with a detached wireless keyboard, a built-in 360-degree camera and a case that allows it to function as a normal laptop, a desktop-style PC or a fully portable tablet PC.

“The fact that the screen separates away from the keyboard means that this machine can be used in a wide variety of ways. This is a three-in-one device. It can be used while walking, on your knees like a notebook or at a desk like a conventional PC,” says Djie.

The arrival of the first tablet PCs has led to the coining of a new term. While notebook PCs empowered the ‘road warriors’‚ tablet PCs are designed to liberate the ‘corridor warriors’ from the tyranny of the desktop. The use of touchscreen technology, handwriting recognition and a stylus mean that the devices are uniquely suited to executives that spend a lot of time moving around their office buildings.

“Tablet PCs are the next step up from notebook PCs. The average notebook PC is poorly designed ergonomically for extended periods of work, not to mention the fact that battery lengths don’t allow for a full day’s work to take place,” he says. “Tablets such as the PaceBook enjoy much improved ergonomics for people who have to work for long periods.”

Teamed with a special stand, the PaceBook display can be used in landscape or portrait view as a conventional desktop PC. It can be customised to suit specialist industries, such as the medical, transport and financial sectors through the use of accessories.

“Given its portability, the PaceBook is particularly well suited to a number of different sectors. For example, in a hospital environment, it can be mounted on a cart and used to keep records when dispensing drugs. It is fully wireless-enabled and so can form part of a wireless network,” says Djie.

Priced at €2,400 and €2,900 plus Vat for home and corporate versions, the PaceBook’s cost compares favourably with that of notebooks currently on the market. The technology has been in development for two and a half years and won the best product award in the notebook sector at CeBIT, the world’s largest computer trade show in March 2001.

The machine runs Windows XP but PaceBlade says it should upgrade seamlessly to Windows XP Tablet PC edition, due to be launched by Microsoft on 7 November. Bill Gates has firmly thrown in his lot with tablet technology, going as far as to predict that tablet PCs will quickly overtake desktops in popularity by 2005.

Microsoft is keen to push its vision of natural computing and the move away from the keyboard as an interface for communicating with technology. Seven hardware manufacturers in addition to PaceBlade are set to release tablet PCs in coming months, including Toshiba, NEC, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Sotec, Technology Inc, ViewSonic and Acer.

The PaceBook was unveiled in Ireland earlier this month at a joint launch with Irish software house Unilansys. The Dublin-based company’s software product, Uniform1, is designed to allow businesses or governments to capture information from customers or citizens and is uniquely suited to touchscreen technology such as tablet PCs.

The software presents forms and documents in user-specified languages through a customised electronic format. Users can select, view and complete standard forms in a variety of languages, with Unilansys offering driving licences, college applications and general application forms as ideal examples.

What makes the software particularly well suited to the tablet PC model is that it can take input using handwriting recognition on a touchscreen and take photographs using the PaceBook’s built-in digital camera that can then be automatically added to an application form.

Unilansys hopes to have its software installed on PaceBook consoles in touchscreen kiosks to be supplied to banks, government offices or other public buildings where the public is required to complete standard documents.

While it has yet to secure the Irish Government as a client, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and various government dignitaries were present at the Irish launch. “Both Uniform1 and PaceBook are designed with the user in mind. Both allow the user to interact with them in a convenient and efficient way and both match technology with need,” the Taoiseach said at the launch. “My government wants the same for e-government.”