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Tablet PCs invade the market

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DQW Bureau
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With laptop penetration in India maturing, there is a new gizmo on the block--Tablet PC. Hailed as the latest IT pill, this gizmo is aimed at tapping the corporate, field users and educational institutes. Tablet PC is a mix bag of an awkward technology stage and it explains why all sorts of companies over the past decade have tried--and failed--to make and market a tablet PC, a cross between a laptop and a piece of paper. The latest in offer is Microsoft and partners including HP, Toshiba and Acer. There were six Tablet PCs unveiled recently in the US.

The defining feature of a Tablet PC is that one can write on it like paper. It has a touch-sensitive screen and a pen-like stylus. What is written can be saved, manipulated and sent around just like something that was typed. One could take a Tablet PC to a meeting and write on it. You could be holidaying and editing a letter. To be clear, these PCs are not Palm handhelds or Pocket PC computers.

The success barriers
Tablet PC adoption has various success barriers--clumsy hardware, price premiums, and the lack of application support. Essentially, Tablet PC is pricey and contains components that a mainstream mobile user would be less apt to consider useful. To curb the price point, the true slate form factor might be cheaper than a combination unit, but a cheap slate can never be a replacement for a fully functional notebook.
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The Tablet PC software can do some interesting things. Users can write notes on it and the software will recognize the words and keep track of them in digital format. Later, one can create copies, search for it and edit it just like any other digital file. The handwriting recognition software is supposed to be the best yet, with an accuracy rate of 60 to 70 percent.

Talking about this new product, PK Roy, Group Editor, Dataquest Group of Magazines, was puzzled about the positioning of the Tablet PCs. "These manufacturers can take one of two roads to Tablet PC potential. One is to expand on the always-at-move information worker who roams but needs access to the applications and data usually found on the desktop. The other is to tap into specific vertical markets --sales, law, medicine--where a large population of on-the-foot work a big part of the day away from the desk."

Tablet PCs have two formats: the `convertible' model with an integrated keyboard and a display that rotates 180 degrees and can be folded down over the keyboard, and the `slate' style with a removable keyboard.

In the slate format, there is an application that allows users to input information by writing or drawing with a stylus directly on the screen, just like jotting down notes. Write on the display and the text appears. Click on the eraser icon, swipe, and text disappears. These notes can be sent by e-mail. The same stylus used to enter text is also a control center when the Tablet PC is undocked from its keyboard. Commands can be executed by tapping on program menus with the stylus. Some models also provide stylus-controlled replacements for the frequently used function keys with small recessed buttons on the front of the case. When pressed with the tip of the stylus, the buttons can launch the Journal application, quit any application, restart the computer or open the Windows Menu. The Tablet PC operating system is a modified version of Microsoft's Windows XP that has been altered for users to operate their machines with a stylus instead of a mouse and keyboard.

Shweta Khanna

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