Two years after its launch, the tablet PC is gaining some interest, but it’s still largely an executive toy and a tool for a limited number of mobile workers.

Microsoft unveiled the Tablet PC Edition of its Windows operating system in the fall of 2002, and a group of computer vendors quickly

jumped on the bandwagon and launched hardware using the new OS.

Anyone who has followed the painful evolution of handwriting recognition had to be impressed with how well these things can decipher handwriting, but just solving a thorny technical problem doesn’t guarantee market success. Does anyone really want tablet PCs?

Well, some do, but how many is still in doubt.

“”There are still an awful lot of people evaluating the technology and looking to see where it fits in their environments,”” says Daniel Reio, product manager for commercial notebooks and tablet PCs at Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont. Reio says many of the early users are top executives; most other users are still choosing conventional laptops, he says.

“”It’s more still focused on vertical markets like health care,”” says Sumit Agnihotry, product marketing manager at Acer Corp., another major tablet vendor. “”There’s still some room to grow in the more horizontal market.””

Elliot Katz expects that to change. The senior product manager at Microsoft Canada Co. boldly predicts most notebooks will be tablet PCs in two to four years.

Well, maybe. It’s part of his job to be optimistic about such things. It’s part of mine to be skeptical, and I am. Tablets definitely have a place, but to replace the majority of conventional notebooks, they are going to have to offer all the functionality of an ordinary notebook at no extra cost in money, size, weight, performance or breakability.

That’s a tall order. But it’s either that or someone will have to come up with a killer application that convinces a lot of people they need tablets. Killer applications are pretty rare beasts these days, but without one, a lot of users just don’t have a strong need for a tablet as opposed to a notebook.

For most users (though not perhaps for the C-level executives), companies aren’t going to shell out extra money unless there’s a good reason for the extra capabilities.

“”I don’t think consumers are willing to pay a premium for tablets,”” Agnihotry says.

To this point, research firm Canalys of Reading, U.K., reported in August, conventional notebooks are still outselling tablets by 100 to one, and the ratio isn’t decreasing.

Microsoft recently launched a new version of the tablet OS with several improvements, most notable of which are real-time handwriting recognition and a text input panel that pops up where you’re working in a document rather than at the bottom of the screen.

Research firm Gartner Group praises the improvements, but says Microsoft must integrate the tablet edition more closely with mainstream Windows so they don’t require separate system images.

It’s coming, Katz says,””There’s no question that as we move forward the two operating systems will become more integrated.””

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+
More Articles