NEW YORK CITY – The tablet PC may have failed to find a consistent market in the past, but PC Expo/TechXNY attendees and exhibitors say this could be a turnaround year.

Show participant Dan Bricklin of Trelix Corp. says tablet PCs are ideal because they take advantage of wireless networks.

Larry Birenbaum of Cisco Systems agrees. “”The tablet is a very exciting movement, especially in terms of its mobility surrounding wireless.”” But ergonomic issues – and the fact that it’s easier to read on paper than on screen — still needs to be resolved, he says.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Edling of Hewlett-Packard, says the tablet PC is best suited to niche markets like the medical arena. Chris Stone of Novell adds logistics to the niche market list.

Microsoft and a host of hardware and software vendors have sunk development dollars into the tablet as the next big step in mobile computing. Jeff Raikes, Microsoft’s group vice-president, productivity and business services, says the industry’s push toward the tablet PC marks the convergence of the PC and paper worlds. Thanks to the technology, users can get better access to information, absorb and analyze it more quickly and collaborate more efficiently, he says.

Typical challenges blocking the road to pervasive computing today include: disconnected islands of data; the inability to connect to business processes; inefficient collaboration; info and e-mail fatigue; and multiple devices and interfaces, he says. In a bid to make life easier for knowledge workers, he says Microsoft plans to roll out the Tablet PC Edition of Microsoft Windows XP on November 7, 2002.

“”The goal is to converge the screen, PC and paper and give you all the capabilities of the PC so you have PC value throughout the day,”” he says, indicating it’s a full-function business PC that opens up new scenarios for note taking, collaborating, annotating, reading, sharing and searching.

He also announced the eventual release of Office 11 (expect it in about a year); made reference to a new version of Microsoft Reader (which will be available this fall); and announced plans to launch the Voicestream service in the Pocket PC phone edition this summer.

“”It’s all about getting connected to data, business processes and each other,”” he says. “”Historically, we thought of the PC as the main platform, but now we have to think of it as devices (tablets, pocket PCs and smart phones).””

In addition to Microsoft, a host of partners announced their tablet PC strategy at the show. Hardware players like Fujitsu unveiled a prototype of its ST4000 Tablet PC, while ViewSonic gave participants a glimpse of its Tablet PC 1100.

Meanwhile, software players like Dantz Development Corp., are also getting in on the action. Don Chouinard, director of product marketing for the Orinda, Calif.-based company, says the company’s latest release, Retrospect 6.0 for Microsoft Windows (which was announced at the show), is ideal for backing up Tablet PCs. “”While other companies are good at backing up file servers, we back up the entire network. So we would sense when a tablet came into the network and go back it up.””

While the tablet PC appears to be the darling of the show, participants are also getting a glimpse of products and solutions from more than 300 exhibitors including, among other things: desktop PCs, notebooks/laptops, flat/LCD/plasma displays, storage, DVD, digital imaging, printers and smart phones.

PC Expo/TechXNY is expected to attract more than 40,000 IT professionals during the three-day event. For a complete roundup of product news and show activity, check out the next issue of Computer Dealer News.

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