Doubting Tablet

TORONTO — Despite industry pessimism suggesting the initial adoption rate of the much-anticipated tablet PC will be gradual, Microsoft Canada Co. feels the time is right to introduce the device.

Frank Clegg, president of Microsoft Canada, introduced the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, along with

eight of the company’s technology partners, at a presentation in Toronto in early November.

Clegg called the WinXP Tablet PC the “”natural evolution of notebook computing.”” He pointed to the digital ink feature of the Tablet PC, which allows the user the write on the tablet and have it translated into typed text, as a step up from handhelds, which require the use of Graffiti or keyboards.

“”Think of the interaction that you have with technology today,”” Clegg said. “”That interaction is more natural, it’s a lot more intuitive, it’s a lot more informative, it’s a lot more fun and it’s more engaging.””

Citing social changes in the workplace, Clegg said a new form factor was required to push computing to the next level. He acknowledged the success of the mobile computing industry, but said the current devices weren’t socially acceptable and as a result, the mobile computer’s adoption rate isn’t as widespread as it should be.

“”There’s no reason from a technical standpoint that (widespread adoption isn’t happening),”” he said.

Owen Sagness, Microsoft Canada’s director of the enterprise group, said the WinXP Tablet PC signals the era of the information worker, which is one level beyond what is known today as a knowledge worker.

Sagness said for years, people have talked about the knowledge worker, but that title does not account for entire job functions where information plays a pivotal role.

“”The knowledge worker is still important, and it’s still a key concept,”” he said. “”The knowledge worker represents the high value-add within information work. But if you talk to a hospital CEO or an airline CEO, they won’t necessarily think of their nurses or their pilots as knowledge workers. But those are the people using digital tools to enhance their productivity over the course of a day’s work.

There have been significant cultural changes in the last 20 years, said Sagness, one of which is the increased value corporations are placing on information.

“”What we’re seeing is a higher value (being placed) on information work and its impact on the information worker,”” he said. “”One of the most important things we’re clearly seeing is the expansion of the use of digital tools across a far broader side of society.””

Acer Canada, Electrovaya Inc., Fujitsu PC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Canada, Motion Computing, Toshiba of Canada ISG, ViewSonic Canada and Xplore Technologies Corp. have each partnered with Microsoft to offer their own rendition of the WinXP Tablet PC.

Available in two primary designs (one features an attached keyboard and can be configured in the traditional laptop clamshell mode, the other uses varying detachable keyboard designs in a so-called “”slate”” form factor), the tablet PCs are powered by either Intel, Transmeta, or Via microchips.

“”The Tablet PC has made a tremendous difference in what happens in the classroom,”” said Bill Hogarth, director of the board, the York Regional District School Board, north of Toronto.

York Region has been test driving the Tablet PCs for the past month.

“”Ultimately this technology will help students support their own learning,”” Hogarth said. “”It also helps all of us be better organized, paperless and more efficient.””

Hogarth said the board will demo the Tablet PC to all staff at an upcoming conference.

Despite Hogarth’s optimism for the Tablet PC, industry analysts were singing a different tune.

Gartner Dataquest Inc. issued a report in early November predicting that the WinXP Tablet PC would account for only one per cent of worldwide notebook shipments in 2003.

Meanwhile, IDC Canada mobile computing analyst Eddie Chan told Computing Canada price would be a major factor in how quickly adoption spreads with consumers and business users alike.

“”It’s a question of timing and the big stickler is the price point,”” Chan said. “”It’s priced premium to the ultra portables and the ultra portables are priced pretty high in Canada.””

Other industry watchers agree. Evans Research Corp. industry analyst Michelle Warren said the uptake of the WinXP Tablet PC will depend to a large degree on pricing, but added there’s a gradual learning curve users will need to contend with.

“”It’s a really neat tool and it will take some getting used to on behalf of the users and corporations,”” Warren said.

“”It’s almost as if we’ll have to retrain the way we compute or the way we do business, as I don’t think (using the tablet PC) is as natural as what (Microsoft) is suggesting.””

— with files from Neil Sutton

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