January 28, 2006



Posted: 07.01.05

Mightier than the Sword

Pen-enabled tablet PCs have not exactly been quick to catch the white collar world’s eye, but with new models hitting the market, all that might be changing.
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By Teresa von Fuchs

“I used to carry a laptop,” explains David Cieslak, principal and cofounder of Information Technology Group, “anything that could increase productivity on the road. But I’ve found that a tablet allows me to be a lot more productive, even more so than a notebook.” As part owner, Cieslak spends much of his time meeting with clients and his staff, and what used to be a strictly pen-and-paper environment, has turned digital with his adoption of HP’s TC1100 Tablet PC. “We’ve taken that whole aspect of meeting with clients and working with staff—typically the kinds of meetings where folks aren’t super appreciative of bringing laptops; they think you’re answering your e-mail rather than spending time with them—and transformed it by working in the slate mode. Now I’m able to take notes and push that info directly out to my team for follow-up.”

Cieslak’s use of the tablet as a more efficient, less disruptive tool in meetings represents just one way tablets have and will continue to change the way work gets done on the go. Without the barrier of a screen, Cieslak is able to take notes and transform them into actionable items, right from the conference room. He’s also able to look up information, something that wasn’t possible without a computer. “It’s not uncommon that I’ll be sitting in a meeting with a client and he or she will ask a question and I’ll pop up IM and push a note to one of the folks that works with me, asking for pricing on something or follow-up on something,” explains Cieslak. “Without having to break stride in the meeting, I can get answers, because I’m able to interface with the computer in a client setting that’s not offensive. I’m not behind a screen and tapping on a keyboard.”

Tom Orsi, VP of marketing systems at Thomson Learning Technology Services, feels similarly about his Fujitsu LifeBook T4000. Because the form factor is unobtrusive, he can take it into meetings with his staff or with clients and “have a lot of information at my fingertips, without distracting the customer.”

David Daoud, a research manager and market analyst at IDC, says that the tablet market has grown significantly over the last two years with total sales in Q403 at just over 100,000, nearly doubling to 181,000 units sold in Q404. And although not exactly skyrocketing numbers, the market for slates and convertibles is steadily expanding. And Daoud believes the technology will continue to catch on in traditional white-collar PC markets. “I feel that, going forward, tablet functionality will eventually become a normal feature in regular laptops,” says Daoud. “New tablet designs will be attractive to wider markets because not only will you have a traditional laptop, but you’ll have the tablet functionality, which is a really cool feature.”

Zachary Jiwa, CIO of ’Specially for Children, takes his tablet with him everywhere. “My wife almost kills me, because I’ve got the tablet in bed, reading my
e-mail or going over notes,” says Jiwa. He also uses his Motion M1400 in meetings and just about everywhere else in the office, taking surveys, doing inventory or just jotting down notes. “Without the tablet I’d carry a lot more paper—a lot more disorganized paper—around,” he says.

But even with such strong testimonials from dedicated users, Daoud believes a few things in the market have to change before tablets become truly ubiquitous: price and more direct marketing. “Price points are still really high, considering laptops are going for less than $700,” says Daoud. “And the industry is not putting enough effort into marketing tablets to the wider audiences that could really make use of them.”

So, happy tablet users, consider yourselves the lucky cognoscenti. And for those of you wondering how you could benefit from a tablet, check out these six offerings from top PC vendors, and just imagine what you could gain from the use of a pen.

The Convertible Option

These first three convertibles include most everything you’d want in a standard portable notebook—12.1-inch screens, full-size keyboards, 60- to 80GB hard drives, Intel Pentium M Processors ranging from 1.8 GHz to 2.13 GHz, integrated Bluetooth and 802.11b/g wireless. All three weigh around 4.5 pounds are about 1.5 inches thick, with battery life hovering in the four- to five-hour range. But more than just solid notebooks, these three workhorses come with the added bonus of pen input, swivel screens and all the productivity tucks and nips of tablet PCs.

To its latest Portégé M200, Toshiba has added four programmable shortcut buttons for extra convenience when in tablet mode, as well as a mechanism that automatically adjusts the picture to correspond with how you are holding the tablet. Pricing for the M200 starts at $1,800. The Fujitsu LifeBook T4000 includes a bay that can either house an extended battery for up to 8.5 hours of productivity or an integrated optical drive. The T4000 pricing starts at $1,600.

The HP Compaq tc4200 includes up-to-date security with an optional integrated Smart Card Reader, HP’s TPM Embedded Security Chip and DriveLock technology to protect data even if the notebook is lost or stolen. An ambient light sensor improves slate mode ease of use by automatically adjusting screen brightness to the environment, and the pen also includes an eraser for a more natural pen-and-paper feel. Pricing starts at $1,600.

While similiar to the previous three, Gateway’s M275 offers a slightly larger 14.1-inch screen at a slightly heavier 5.7 pounds. But those extra pounds include an optical drive, as well as a Pentium M processor, an up to 80GB hard drive, 802.11 b/g wireless and over four hours of battery life. The M275 is also the thinnest of the convertible options, at only 1.1 inches thick. Pricing starts at $1,500.

The Slate Factor

Though fewer vendors are still working with traditional slate tablets, (HP just made the transition with its tc4200) the new Motion Computing LE1600 provides some convincing reasons to stick with this form factor. For starters, it’s under 3 pounds and includes Motion’s signature View Anywhere technology for display readability at up to 180 degrees, even in bright sunlight. Under the hood, you’ll find an Intel Pentium M Processor, 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth and an up to 60GB hard drive. Motion’s Dashboard provides instant access to major tablet settings, and when you need to type there are several options, including a keyboard that snaps on and off, doubling as a case or portable docking station. Motion has also worked to redesign the pen: the circumference is now larger, and it has a rubber grip and an eraser. This tablet is also ultra thin—three quarters of an inch.

“We did a lot of work in smoothing out the edge of the product design, so you could hold it very cleanly in your hand. We put the center of gravity in the center of the product, so you’d have a nice balance that would be less likely to move around when you’re holding it,” says Elizabeth Clark, director of product marketing with Motion Computing.

Clark also explained that Motion based much of this redesign on user feedback and increased interest from the enterprise. She says, “There’s been feedback about more enterprise-wide deployments of tablets, and customers are still interested in doing some of the project-oriented field rollouts, but there’s been more interest in rolling out tablets as a more mainstream computer.” Motion’s LE1600 starts at $2,199. While Itronix is not typically known for pitching its rugged products to the white collar set, its new Go Book Duo-Touch rugged slate would please the pickiest CEO. It includes standards of any top-notch PC—an Intel Pentium M Processor, a 40GB hard drive, integrated 802.11b/g and Bluetooth and three and a half hour battery life in a 3.9-pound package. To this, Itronix has added integrated GPS, additional wireless capabilities with integrated WWAN radios for connecting to 3G EDGE and EV-DO networks. The dual-mode touch panel allows for passive touchscreen usability (such as your fingertip), as well as the standard digitizer touchscreen.

Plus, the Dou-Touch comes in an all-magnesium case for better drop/shock durability and exposure to temperature extremes, rain, dust and vibration. Mil-spec 810F rugged, the Duo-Touch is pretty tough; think of it as the SUV of mobile computers. “Mobile workers are sure to appreciate our latest rugged tablet,” says Matt Gerber, senior VP of product management at Itronix. “With four integrated radios and the latest processor from Intel, the Duo-Touch provides users a fast, powerful and highly portable computer that is durable, too. Mobile pros can enjoy life on the go without worrying about the usual bumps in the road—squeezing their briefcases in overhead compartments or spilling their lattes on their PCs.” The Duo-Touch was unveiled in May, with pricing starting at $3,195.•

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