Microsoft Launches Tablet PC; Will Consumers Shrug?

After several years and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on development, Microsoft has launched its Windows XP Tablet PC platform. The company claims Tablet PCs will help revolutionize computing by allowing users to enter and manipulate data with a pen-like stylus.

Microsoft released the software platform in New York City alongside several of the 20 hardware makers whose Tablet PCs hit the market at the same time.

The software giant reportedly spent US$400 million developing the platform and has set aside another $70 million to promote its adoption. But Microsoft must overcome consumer reluctance that once turned Apple’s Newton computer, which also featured handwriting recognition, into a flop.

The launch also is occurring amid an economic slowdown and tight IT budgets at most companies, factors that analysts say may delay meaningful adoption of the Tablet for a year or more.

Necessity or Accessory?

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has long touted the Tablet PC, which can integrate and manipulate text and voice input in addition to pen-and-ink input, as a catalyst for a computing revolution that will grow into the most popular form of personal computer over time.

At the launch, Gates called the Tablet a “dream that I and many others have had for many years,” dating to the founding of Microsoft. He also gave a nod to the earlier generation of microcomputers from the early 1990s, calling it “almost painful to recall the result.”

“The idea of tablet is a natural idea,” Gates said. “It’s obvious to get down to this form factor.”

Gates added that he already has begun to spread the word about the Tablet by using it to send handwritten e-mail, which can be read by any e-mail program.”For the last few months, this has been the machine I use,” he said, noting that his test resulted in several last-minute product improvements.

Software Driven

But some time may elapse before enough applications are available for the tablet to make it a must-have item.

Several software markers have announced products that use the pen-and-ink system, such as Groove Networks’ collaborative chat software, Corel’s Grafigo graphic design software, and speech-recognition programs from Philips and One Voice. Some vendors are offering downloads of their products for free to help spur early adoption of the Tablet.

But Gartner Dataquest vice president Leslie Fiering told the E-Commerce Times that even those businesses most likely to adopt Tablets will take a wait-and-see approach, possibly buying small batches of the devices for testing purposes before making major investments.

In fact, Fiering said, Gartner analysts believe Microsoft mispositioned its announcement by focusing on availability of Tablet PC hardware. “This is more about creating extensions to operating systems,” Fiering noted. “It’s about new media types, new ways of doing input. The hardware does have to change, but we think Microsoft might have gotten it backwards.”

Price Points

Fiering added that prices may have to come down slightly before consumers will consider the Tablet as an alternative to a traditional notebook computer.

Still, Gartner predicts early adopters will drive Tablet PC sales, with about 50,000 units to be snapped up this quarter and another 425,000 in 2003, when they will account for 1 percent of all mobile computer sales.

“It’s going to come slowly,” Fiering said. “They’ll be the new kind of executive jewelry, and the digital seekers will purchase them early on. But most people will want to wait and see.”

By 2007, Gartner estimates, more than 35 percent of all notebooks sold will feature screen digitizers and a convertible or removable keyboard design.

Microsoft has told analysts it expects to sell between 500,000 and 1 million copies of the Tablet software over the next year.

What’s the Difference?

The host of Tablet PC devices being launched in conjunction with Microsoft’s software release all share common traits. They have swiveling screens that can be written on with a pen-like stylus, and most have either no keyboard or one that can be folded out of the way.

Prices range from $1,699 for a basic HP model to $2,500 for more advanced versions with wireless capabilities. Some Tablet makers have included larger screens or more advanced wireless functions to distinguish their products amid the sea of similar offerings.

10 Comments

  • ok, so here’s my 2 cents. if you all want to see real text recognition then check out apple’s new OSX. with the inclusion of ink, you can write virtually anywhere. that is true text recognition. what i AM confused about, is why bill feels this is the time to release a tablet pc. in the economic downturn, and AM id a consumer base that craves the faster processors and the largest hard disks, why would Microsoft release something that doesn’t even have an internal DVD writer?

      • I think the only people that crave more speed are mac users, PCs have had enough power for some time now, if you play games you may want the latest audio or video hardware, but you can play them all on a 2-year-old system anyway.
        I have had no problem with the latest games on my 1.2 ghz athlon system, even though it’s a bit of a dinosaur by today’s standards. even plays doom 3 surprisingly well.

        • actually, i’m very happy with my dual 1GHz mac, antmax. and i don’t think the tablet will be marketed as a true ‘gaming’ device. heck, laptops aren’t ever marketed as a ‘gaming’ device. if you want to play games you’ll get a desktop, not a tablet. but my point was handwriting recognition is just better on a mac, even without a supported tablet. it had nothing to do with games.

          • "The company claims Tablet PCs will help revolutionize computing by allowing users to enter and manipulate data with a pen-like stylus."
            So sorry! Bill’s Tablet PC offers nothing a Wacom tablet plugged into my computer doesn’t already offer. As for games… I don’t use non-productivity software, so that’s a non-issue. Even if I did play games, I certainly wouldn’t spend that kind of money.
            So what’s left? Nothing. It would seem the revolutionary ideas and products coming out of Redmond these days offer little to no value. What a waste!

          • << I think the only people that crave more speed are mac users, PCs have had enough power for some time now, if you play games you may want the latest audio or video hardware, but you can play them all on a 2-year-old system anyway. >>
            Huh? If according to test reports, a 800Mhz Mac is as fast as my 1.2 Athlon, then I don’t see how Mac users could be the only people craving speed if they have dual 1.25’s which should be at least as fast as 1.8 Athlons if the 50% rule holds true.
            << I have had no problem with the latest games on my 1.2 ghz athlon system, even though it’s a bit of a dinosaur by today’s standards. even plays doom 3 surprisingly well. >>
            Other than the fact that there are less games available for mac users, if 1.2 is good for you, what makes you think 800 (using the 50% rule again) isn’t good for them?
            When the time is right, I’m dumping the PC for something a bit more dependable and as I see it, it doesn’t come out of Redmond. While I could care less whether a person uses a PC or Mac, I’m going to switch. Redmond has dug into my pockets way too much these past couple of years and I’ve seen little return on my investment. Is it better with a Mac? I can’t say. Yet I figure it’s worth a look. It can’t be any worse.

          • I have a feeling the tablets will be lackluster for another year, buyers will be early adopters only who want to show off more than actually use the platform. For most work, keyboard entry will always be faster (as long as you know how to type:). Hand writing recognition is great for very small AM ounts of text, signatures or grocery lists. Not for real work. The main use for tablets is vertical markets, using the pen as a replacement for the mouse when wandering a warehouse floor or out on a sales call.
            I use a 1.6 GHz P4 at work. I spend a lot of time every day waiting for the screen to redraw. XP Pro, a web browser, visual source safe, visual studio open all the time, an occasional text editor open and sometimes a real audio stream. My dual 867 Mac shows equivalent speed to the 1.6 P4 in non Altivec optimized programs. I don’t think either platform has speed needs in the processor for most users. The problem is in slow disk access (and on XP the graphics engine for 2D is behind OS X, graphics seem to take a back seat to all other processing, watch the window slowly redraw…)

  • Revolutionize?! Tablet "PCs" have been around a long time. As in around decade. Haven’t Microsoft ever heard of Go Corp? And didn’t MS say that the last time they tried to push a Handwriting Recognition enabled version of Windows back quite a few years ago? Same old Microsoft. Touting rehashed "new" products purporting to once again "revolutionize" the computing world through their selective version of history. This "new, new" tablet PC thing is just Windows XP with Handwriting recognition grafted on. No new metaphor for electronic documents as we know it. No object based way of manipulating data and program files. Both of which debuted in tablet PC software a decade ago. So sad.

  • I think Gates is correct in one respect: some form of non-keyboard device (I’m sure he will call it a tablet PC no matter who comes up with other names) will become the most popular form of computing over time. I do not think, however, that these overpriced six-pounders will be the things to do it. Yeah, I know, things will get smaller.
    What Gates has to recognize is that as data is passed in more generic forms such as XML, Windows will become less and less relevant. Smaller, more mobile companies will have opportunities to horn in on the OS market.
    I have no doubt that Microsoft will try to keep control of the market via any means it can think of to slip through the cracks–and there are many cracks–in the new settlement in order to maintain its hegemony.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

TechNewsWorld Channels