In May 2003, notebooks outsold desktop PCs for the first time, lending further credence to the notion that more and more mobile professionals will be seeking the benefits of untethered computing. But what about the challenges inherent in roving technology? To suss the future, we spoke with Jeffrey Friederichs, VP of Acer America’s Notebook Business Unit, about coming shifts in this portable paradigm.
Mobile Enterprise: You say that you expect Tablet PC market penetration to amount to something like 2.5 percent. But will the Tablet PC ever expand beyond the vertical markets?
Jeffrey Friederichs: Per IDC’s quantitative analysis, overall Tablet PC penetration will be around 2.5 percent of the total available market (TAM). Market penetration, while small as a percentage of TAM, is still a lot of units and growing rapidly. Product designs introduced in the first year were not intended to cover every possible customer segment and every possible need within each segment. Within targeted segments, share percentages are much higher. Vertical segment growth, mainstream ink-enabled applications and the introduction of the Acer TravelMate C300 convertible Tablet PC, the first Tablet PC to cross over to mainstream customer segments, will drive share numbers substantially in 2004.
ME: Acer just released the TravelMate250PE, a touchscreen notebook that runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Have Tablet PCs been priced out of reach of mobile professionals?
JF: No. Today, we’re offering the TravelMate 250PE at $1,499, and we have five convertible Tablet PCs starting at $1,549. Yes, there’s been an incremental cost for Tablet functionality, but we have rapidly brought the price delta down as we seek to commoditize the technology. If you compare the TravelMate 250PE with a similarly configured TravelMate 250 notebook, the price difference is only $100. We believe that Tablet functionality will be as prevalent as USB or FireWire in notebooks in a very short amount of time.
ME: Is price the key hurdle to widespread adoption of Tablet PCs?
JF: Price is not the issue. Platforms prior to the TravelMate 250PE and TravelMate C300 were not mainstream enough. Combined with lack of horizontal ink-enabled apps, the market in 2003 had limitations. However, with the availability of these bigger, more traditionally sized systems, along with ink-enabled Microsoft Office 2003, many enterprises, SMBs and other legacy environments are looking to adopt Tablet PCs.
ME: You seem adamant that PDA market prices will crash pretty soon. Is this why we haven’t seen one from Acer?
JF: The market for traditional PDAs is shrinking and multifunction PDA/smartphone/gamepads are grabbing lots of attention and, ultimately, market share out of this same pool of potential customers. Traditionally, under such circumstances, we would expect to see price erosion on a traditional PDA. Acer has introduced very successful PDAs in Europe and Asia.
ME: Where do you see embedded wireless headed? Are the embedded radios getting ahead of usage issues?
JF: Wi-Fi will be available in every notebook, just like the trend toward putting Ethernet 10/100 in every system and the same trend that commoditized these costs. The network outside of the office or home is building out fast for Wi-Fi support and provider issues will work themselves out for national coverage. The ROI within one’s own geography far outweighs the costs even at the early stages of deployment. •