HP at the forefront of tablet launch

7 Nov 2002

While Moses was able to part the Red Sea and climb Mount Sinai to rescue a few tablets, the hopes that the PC industry places on its own tablet computers might not be so miraculous.

The long-awaited new form factor spurred on by Microsoft for the computing industry carries with it many expectations, including the ability to dig the industry out of a mighty hole that it has dug for itself.

However, before manufacturers can announce their redemption from market saturation and price slavery, the industry has already conceded that instead of the mass market penetration that Microsoft hopes for, the best that can be hoped for is the proliferation of these tablet PCs in a variety of business and industry verticals.

The tablet PC represents the culmination of years of research, development and marketing hype by Microsoft and is envisaged to change the way that people use PCs. The tablet PC is the company’s design for a lightweight version of a PC, with which you can interact by tapping the screen and handwriting with a pen-like device. Tablet PCs will also let users wirelessly connect to the internet and other PCs, yet are also capable of docking in the same fashion as laptop computers.

The new tablet PCs feature a specialised version of Windows XP that offers handwriting recognition and other multimedia capabilities.

Originally, it was envisaged that these devices would exist everywhere and anywhere: in a student’s knapsack, on the living room coffee table and under the arms of the pinstripe brigade. Instead, there already appears to be a bottleneck forming. The high price factor (average cost per tablet PC is in excess of €2,000) will mean that they won’t be occupying many stockings this Christmas. Instead, the talk on the street is the proliferation of tablet PCs in industry verticals such as hospital wards, construction sites and shopping aisles, whereby doctors and nurses, architects and inventory managers can write important notes, gather and transmit vital information and connect wirelessly to networks.

On the face of it, the industry is falling over itself to manufacture tablet PCs as if it is a race. Yet, ask anyone and they will tell you that it will be a slow growth market that will need time to reach full steam. Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Viewsonic, TravelMate and others have built their tablets and are ready to commence shipment, whilst retailers have been taking advance orders for the pricey gadgets, which go on sale this week.

Already there are serious anomalies. The tablet PCs sell at an average of €2,000 and beyond, while the average selling price of a consumer laptop is €1,400. This means that the early adopters of the new form factor of computing will be well-heeled consumers and business customers.

Among the bevy of tablet PCs ready to hit the market today is Hewlett-Packard’s Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 (pictured, with HP country manager Martin Murphy – and Moses!), which has a 1GHz Crusoe TM5800 processor from Transmeta and is expected to cost around €2,200.

Weighing just three pounds, the TC1000 comes with an attachable keyboard for users who prefer to type, yet a special digitised pen that also functions as a mouse eradicates the use of a traditional mouse. Each device comes with a built-in wireless LAN (local area network) card for Wi-Fi networking as well as various USB ports for connecting to additional storage drives for CD-Rom, DVD (digital versatile disk) and floppy disks.

A spokesperson for Hewlett-Packard agreed that the early days of the tablet PC will be marked by a focus on vertical markets to buoy up activity until personal and home users enter the fray. “Vertical segments such as healthcare, retail and engineering or architecture will certainly find the tablet PC appealing. We also envisage considerable interest from the financial sector, where required application signatures could speed up an individual’s workflow, for example, an insurance executive on the road or a pharmaceutical salesperson who requires a signature from a customer on the spot.

“The tablet PC is the next generation of computing built on the promise of the desktop and laptop PCs, but focusing on people who have grown up on the technology and now require increased capability for such things as mobility and note-taking. It is unprecedented in that it is a fusion of handheld computing with desktop computing and we envisage a smooth and seamless transition, but it will take time and won’t be as fast as most people think,” the spokesperson concluded.

By John Kennedy