Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Tablet PC: Coming to an Office Near You?

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Many of the gadgets coming out of the technology sector in the past year
have been aimed at mobile workers giving them the ability to stay
in-touch and on-the-job while on the road.

But, fresh off of its victory in its landmark antitrust case, Microsoft and its hardware partners are aiming their newest products, based on the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system that will launch Thursday, at an entirely different class of worker: the “Corridor Warrior.”

“I think the biggest short-term application is going to be for corridor
warriors,” said Ron Gerber, CEO of wireless and mobile technology
consultancy Angelbeat.
“That’s a big deal for the tablet.”

Corridor Warriors
The corridor warriors are the workers that spend most of their time in the
office, but significant amounts of that time is spent taking notes during
meetings or otherwise away from the desk. Gerber said that with most
incarnations of the tablet capable of serving as a desktop, laptop or slate
as the user needs it, and the combination of wireless access and multiple
interfaces — keyboard, digital ink, on-screen keyboard, even voice — the
tablet is well-suited to the needs of such workers.

“This goes symbiotically with Wi-Fi ,” Gerber said. “These
are people walking around all the time. I think they’re going to start
replacing a lot more of the laptops. That’s where I see the biggest

Gerber predicted that within about two years, about 40 percent of laptop
users are going to consider upgrading to tablets.

Like most of Microsoft’s manufacturing partners, Dan Coffman, senior
product manager, Mobile and Wireless, ViewSonic Corp., agreed that
corridor warriors are the biggest market.

“The so-called ‘corridor warrior’ is the customer for whom our Tablet PC
makes the most sense — a person that spends several hours a day taking
notes in meetings yet also needs a standard work station,” Coffman said.
“When this person needs to go to a meeting, they grab the tablet out of the
dock and go — no buttons to push, no switches to click. The user can just
grab and go. Because the ViewSonic Tablet PC has in-built wireless
connectivity, workers can take handwritten notes, connect to e-mail and the
Internet, and have access to their information whenever and wherever they
need it.”

Oscar Koenders, vice president of Worldwide Product Planning and U.S.
Product Marketing for Toshiba also concurred.

“The initial audience for the Portégé 3500/05 Tablet PC will be
an extension of the people who are already using our traditional
Portégé notebooks,” Koenders said. “They already understand the
benefit of ultra-mobile computing. These are executives who work in offices
but spend 80 percent of their time away from their desks. We did a study of
how the Tablet PC would increase productivity for these “corridor
warriors.” We took a person with an employee cost of $100,000 a year, and
quantified the increase of productivity that he or she would gain from
being able to be more efficient in meetings through the use of the Tablet
PC. If that person saves only 15 minutes a day by directly capturing and
saving meeting notes on a Tablet PC without having to re-input information
from handwritten notes, or by dynamically sharing and distributing
information instantly, with co-workers and clients, already the return on
investment is $260 a week, or $3,120 a year. Obviously, the ROI goes up
quickly for highly-paid executives.”

The Rough Treatment
Some of Microsoft’s partners are also positioning the Tablet PC as ideal
for workers that need rugged mobile computers, such as people that work in
public safety, warehousing, field service, utility, field sales,
healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and military/homeland security.
One of these partners is Xplore Technologies, which has been developing and
manufacturing rugged tablet-style computers since 1996. Xplore’s computers
are designed to handle all kinds of weather and rough treatment. Dwayne
Lum, director of Marketing, New Product Initiatives, at Xplore, said its
new iX104 — which uses Windows XP Tablet PC Edition — is designed to
withstand a three-foot drop to concrete.

“One of the largest markets for our ruggedized Tablet PCs is public safety
agencies, including law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical
response,” Lum said. “We have over 200 public safety agencies using our
products. Typical uses include accident reporting, running licenses,
plates, registration and criminal history checks. With the wireless
technology included in the Xplore Tablet PC, a police officer has a virtual
office right in the squad car. Other Tablet PC applications allow Global
Positioning System plotting of fastest-route-to-incident and digital
documentation of domestic abuse cases.”

Digital Inking
So what does the tablet offer that makes it a compelling alternative to
laptops? Gerber said the digital inking technology holds the key.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition’s inking technology uses a digitizer laid over
the LCD screen to create an electromagnetic field which can capture motion
as a series of data points reflected on the screen. Because the Tablet PC
digitizer is capable of sampling 130 “pen events” per second, it is able to
create the effect of “real-time inking,” allowing the digital ink to appear
at the same speed that the pen writes, no matter how fast it moves. The
operating system can record the digital ink as ink, or translate it into
text. Either way, it is fully searchable and exportable, even allowing the
user to send hand-written emails, whether or not the recipient has a Tablet

“The handwriting recognition, I think, is incredibly cool,” Gerber said.
“There’s a totally different user experience when you receive an email
that’s handwritten.”

ViewSonic’s Coffman agreed.

“It creates a seamless transition from note-taking to collaboration with
coworkers,” Coffman said. “Handwritten notes can be inserted into documents
for review or placed directly into emails for instant collaboration.
Because of its wireless capabilities and the ability to input data using
simple “pen to paper,” users can be efficient anywhere, at anytime. Also
it’s the ultimate personal client for connecting to the Internet. Using a
pen to navigate the Internet is very efficient and satisfying.”

Toshiba’s Koenders added, “Customers can use the Tablet PC more effectively
in situations where it was previously inconvenient or considered
inappropriate to use computers. If you took a standard notebook computer
into a customer meeting and opened it up, you created a screen, a huge
barrier between yourself and customer. You also had to deal with the noise
and nuisance of using a keyboard. The Tablet PC is flat like a pad of
paper, and taking notes on it seems very natural and unobtrusive.”

No Comparison to Palm?
While technologies already exist that allow most of these things, including
Palm’s enterprise products and Microsoft’s own PDA operating systems,
Gerber said that the advantage of the Tablet PC is that its operating
system is a superset of Windows XP Professional Edition, making it 100
percent compatible with the Windows XP platform and allowing it to run all
Windows XP applications out of the box. That also, Gerber noted, explains
why Tablet PC — in his estimation — will succeed where previous abortive
attempts to market slate-type computers (like Apple’s Newton) have failed.

Indeed, Gerber noted that Tablet PCs and Palms are two very different
products aimed at different needs. “Comparing the new Palm to the tablet is
like comparing a Yugo to a Rolls,” he said. “It’s that big a difference.”

He said Microsoft is taking the battle to Palm with its Pocket PC
offerings, but tablet fills a different niche. “With the XP tablet they’re
trying to solidify their role in the corridor wars,” he said. “It’s more of
an untapped market.”

Slow Adoption
But while Gerber sees “corridor warriors” rapidly adopting the Tablet PC,
research firm Gartner Dataquest has forecast a much slower adoption curve.
Gartner predicts that after a slow start, Tablet PC adoption will ramp up
to the point where 35 percent of all notebooks sold will have screen
digitizers with a convertible or separable keyboard by 2007. The firm said
it projects Tablet PC shipments to reach 425,000 units in 2003,
representing 1.2 percent of worldwide notebook shipments.

“Initial interest could cause an early spike in purchasing that will
eventually level out,” said Leslie Fiering, vice president for Gartner
Dataquest. “Outside of the vertical industries, only the bravest will
implement Tablet PCs widely toward the end of 2003.”

Gartner said the majority of early purchases of tablets are likely to be
made by businesses, especially those in vertical markets, though they will
likely be buying in lots of one to 10 for evaluation purposes. Some
business executives and consumers eager for the latest gadgets will
probably round out early sales, Gartner said.

“Tablet PCs will have a natural fit in many vertical applications that
currently use pen-based tablets,” said Ken Dulaney, vice president and
research area director for Gartner. “However, a lack of application
support, clumsy hardware designs and a price premium will be barriers for
most users.”

Fiering added, “While it is true that hardware has to change to make the
Tablet PC ergonomically feasible to access the newest media type and ink,
it is the strength of users’ desire to use the new software that will
largely determine the extent and speed of the change of the hardware.”

Still, Gartner’s projections have not kept hardware partners from jumping
on the Tablet PC bandwagon. More than 20 PC hardware vendors are scheduled
to release Tablet PCs within the next year, and more than a dozen have
products slated to hit shelves in conjunction with Thursday’s Windows XP
Tablet PC Edition launch. Microsoft’s hardware manufacturing partners
include Acer, Dixons Group, Electrovaya, FIC, Fujitsu PC Corp., Fujitsu
Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard Co., Legen, Motion Computing, NEC, NEC
CI, PaceBlade Technology, Research Machines, Sotec, Tatung, Time Group,
Toshiba, ViewSonic, Viglen, WalkAbout and Xplore Technologies.

Most of the offerings are ultra-portables in the 3- to 4- pound range and
come in a variety of form factors. Some are convertibles, which means it is
a notebook computer and the user can rotate the screen 180 degrees and lay
it down on the keyboard to form a slate. Others have attachable keyboards,
and most have the ability to plug into a docking station, allowing them to
serve as desktops.

Software partners are not being left out either. For instance, ScanSoft is
unveiling speech recognition technology for the tablet, Alias|Wavefront
will debut software that turns tablets into digital sketchbooks, Proscape
Technologies has announced a tablet-enabled version of its software
platform for sales organizations, Groove Networks will unveil a digital-ink
enabled chat tool for Groove workspace, and Iteration Software will
introduce real-time reporting enterprise software. Other announcements are
expected at the launch.

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