Q&A: Tablet PC Hardware Makers Sought Flexibility, Durability, Ultra-Portability for "Corridor Warriors"
Nov. 05, 2002
Roundtable Q&A: As the long-held vision of mainstream, pen-based computing reaches fruition with this week's launch of the Tablet PC, executives of HP, ViewSonic, Toshiba and Xplore Technologies explain how different tablet models meet demanding usage scenarios.
The Xplore Rugged Tablet PC, one of several new Tablet PC products launching this week.  Click image for high- res version (300 dpi tif file).
The Xplore Rugged Tablet PC, one of several new Tablet PC products launching this week. Click image for high- res version (300 dpi tif file).
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REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 5, 2002 — As Microsoft releases Windows XP Tablet PC Edition this week, industry-leading original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will launch the first commercially available models of the Tablet PC. The Tablet PC is an evolution of the notebook computer that allows users to input data by "inking" with a digital pen using "digital ink," in addition to inputting data via a standard keyboard or mouse. From this technical foundation of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, Microsofts manufacturing partners have crafted an array of Tablet PCs engineered with specialized features to meet the computing needs of differing customer types and vertical industries.

PressPass spoke to executives from four Tablet PC manufacturers to discuss the benefits of the Tablet PC and to find out more about their products.

  • Ted Clark , vice president, New Notebook Business, HP

  • Dan Coffman , senior product manager, Mobile and Wireless, ViewSonic Corp.

  • Oscar Koenders , vice president, Worldwide Product Planning and U.S. Product Marketing, Toshiba Corporation

  • Dwayne Lum , Director of Marketing, New Product Initiatives, Xplore Technologies

PressPass: Tell us a little bit about your company's Tablet PC.

Clark (HP): When we began to design the

Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 , we determined that our customers shouldn't have to choose between a convertible and a slate-design computer. A Tablet PC is a new animal, and we went back to the drawing board to design a brand-new form factor. You can use the TC1000 as a slate-style Tablet PC and input data on the screen with a pen. You can snap on the keyboard, and you have an ultra-portable notebook computer. Or you can dock it at your workstation, where it can serve as your primary desktop PC. Users can transform the TC1000 back and forth according to their needs. A good way to think of the TC1000 is as a standard notebook computer that lets you remove the screen to use as a Tablet PC.

Coffman (ViewSonic): Our product, the Tablet PC V1100 , is a very mobile, slate-style Tablet PC that comes with a docking station, which allows the Tablet to connect to a full-sized keyboard, monitor and mouse. The Tablet PC V1100 gives the user the normal, comfortable work environment users expect from a desktop computer, with the option to grab the Tablet PC out of the dock and use it as a highly mobile slate computer. The Tablet PC V1100 looks like a tablet, feels like a tablet and works like a tablet -- yet it has all the functionality of a standard PC.

Koenders (Toshiba): We relied a great deal on customer input to determine the features and the form factor of our Tablet PC, the Portg 3500/05 . After showing customers a number of preliminary designs, it was clear that our customers preferred a convertible-style machine, so we focused on developing an ultra-portable notebook which offers the features of a Tablet PC. Users have a choice of opening the computer and using it with a keyboard as if it were a traditional notebook computer, or pivoting the screen and snapping it into place over the keyboard to function as a Tablet PC. Since our customers want all the standard features of a notebook computer plus all the features of a Tablet PC, we have added some features -- such as a larger screen and keyboard -- that enhance the functionality of both the notebook and Tablet PC.

Lum (Xplore): Xplore has been developing and manufacturing rugged tablet-style computers since 1996. Our computers are built specially for harsh computing environments -- meaning that our computers are designed to stand up to all kinds of weather and rough treatment. The iX104 combines the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system and our ruggedized design and form factor to create a Tablet PC that will go beyond the office and out into the field. Some of the key features that make our Tablet PC rugged are a magnesium chassis, an optically-enhanced LCD screen bonded to H4-hardened glass, and a patented removable bumper protection system. The iX104 is protected in 26 axes from shock and drop, and is designed to withstand a three-foot drop to concrete.

PressPass: Who is your target user, and how do you envision your Tablet PC being used?

Clark (HP): The TC1000 is a business product first and foremost. It's a product that business users will want to carry with them everywhere -- to meetings, on the road, home -- anywhere they need to go to complete their business day. It's also a design that will work well for vertical market scenarios, and over time we believe that our product will develop a market with consumers who are looking for the ideal ultra-portable notebook.

Coffman (ViewSonic): The so-called "corridor warrior" is the customer for whom our Tablet PC makes the most sense -- a person that spends several hours a day taking notes in meetings yet also needs a standard work station. When this person needs to go to a meeting, they grab the Tablet out of the dock and go -- no buttons to push, no switches to click. The user can just grab and go. Because the ViewSonic Tablet PC has in-built wireless connectivity, workers can take handwritten notes, connect to e-mail and the Internet, and have access to their information whenever and wherever they need it.

Koenders (Toshiba): The initial audience for the Portg 3500/05 Tablet PC will be an extension of the people who are already using our traditional Portg notebooks. They already understand the benefit of ultra-mobile computing. These are executives who work in offices but spend 80 percent of their time away from their desks. We did a study of how the Tablet PC would increase productivity for these "corridor warriors." We took a person with an employee cost of $100,000 a year, and quantified the increase of productivity that he or she would gain from being able to be more efficient in meetings through the use of the Tablet PC. If that person saves only 15 minutes a day by directly capturing and saving meeting notes on a Tablet PC without having to re-input information from handwritten notes, or by dynamically sharing and distributing information instantly with co-workers and clients, already the return on investment is $260 a week, or $3,120 a year. Obviously, the ROI goes up quickly for highly paid executives.

Lum (Xplore): The iX104 is ideal for any application that requires mobile workers to operate in the field and away from the office. This would include customers currently served by Xplore, such as those in public safety and warehousing, plus a new array of markets, including field service, utility, field sales, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and military/homeland security.

One of the largest markets for our ruggedized Tablet PCs is public safety agencies, including law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical response. We have over 200 public safety agencies using our products. Typical uses include accident reporting, running licenses, plates, registration, and criminal history checks. With the wireless technology included in the Xplore Tablet PC, a police officer has a virtual office right in the squad car. Other Tablet PC applications allow Global Positioning System plotting of fastest-route-to-incident and digital documentation of domestic abuse cases.

PressPass: Tablet-style computers have been around for nearly a decade. What aspect of the Windows XP Table PC Edition platform sets it apart from past versions of tablet-style computers? What other elements came together to enable the development of the Tablet PC?

Clark (HP): A number of technologies have aligned for the Tablet PC to be successful now. Improved hardware technology allows us to get a lot of computing power into a very small package: Higher speed processors, larger hard drives, and longer-lasting and more power batteries are able to fit in increasingly smaller spaces. These technologies have matured and lend themselves to greater portability and more functional designs.

The fact that the Tablet PC operating system is 100 percent compatible Windows XP platform is a critical component for our business customers, because it means that all Windows XP applications will run unchanged out of the box. That's a terrific message for corporate customers and one that overcomes a fairly significant barrier for customers who may resist Web pads or appliance devices for which XP software is not available.

Coffman (ViewSonic): Another factor making Tablet PCs useful is the maturity of digital inking technology. It creates a seamless transition from note-taking to collaboration with coworkers. Handwritten notes can be inserted into documents for review or placed directly into emails for instant collaboration. Because of its wireless capabilities and the ability to input data using simple "pen to paper," users can be efficient anywhere, at anytime. Also, it's the ultimate personal client for connecting to the Internet. Using a pen to navigate the Internet is very efficient and satisfying.

And the fact that the Tablet PC includes the .NET framework is also critical for "future proofing" this new technology.

Koenders (Toshiba): One of the most critical aspects of the platform is that it is a superset of Windows XP. That means it runs all the XP applications and that support for inking is standardized across such applications as Word, Outlook and Excel and across other Windows platforms.

Lum (Xplore): The Tablet PC's .NET infrastructure allows customers to perform in-field maintenance of all software components of our systems. This is a vital tool in helping manage geographically dispersed moving targets (mobile workers and their PC's), and the value to our customer base is tremendous.

Other features of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition were also critical to the development of the iX104. Xplore has integrated wireless radios into its product line since 1996, but this has often been a challenging endeavor. Drivers had to be loaded and radios configured to run on certain types of networks, all of which adds cost to the final configured product. With Windows XP "zero configuration" wireless support, it is much easier to take advantage of wireless networks and stay connected.

The platform's support for "grab-and-go" docking is another valuable feature. For our customers, it's important to be able to dock and undock their computers quickly for use in emergency situations. In the past we have had to develop special electronics and software to support this docking/undocking requirement. Now with Windows XP Tablet PC Edition's support for surprise docking and undocking, our users can just grab their Tablet PC and go without having to change the operating state of the device.

PressPass: What do you foresee to be the primary customer benefits of the Tablet PC?

Clark (HP): In many ways, the greatest benefit is convenience. Technology is adapting better to the way we work and live, rather than the other way around. When desktops first appeared 20 years ago, they were great because they were personal computers and allowed users to get things done on their own time. Later, notebook and laptop computers were developed that allowed users to have the same computing functionality in a form they could carry with them. With the Tablet PC, technology adapts even more to us and our needs, because not only is it more mobile than previous notebooks, it lets us choose whatever input mechanism we prefer.

Coffman (ViewSonic): What I see is that people will be a lot more efficient, mobile and collaborative with coworkers than before. I can grab my Tablet PC, take it to a meeting, take notes, and through my wireless connections, e-mail those notes directly to a co-worker who's waiting to see them. In the end it will make mobile workers more mobile, more versatile and more powerful then ever before.

Koenders (Toshiba): Customers can use the Tablet PC more effectively in situations where it was previously inconvenient or considered inappropriate to use computers. If you took a standard notebook computer into a customer meeting and opened it up, you created a screen, a huge barrier between yourself and customer. You also had to deal with the noise and nuisance of using a keyboard. The Tablet PC is flat like a pad of paper, and taking notes on it seems very natural and unobtrusive.

Natural navigation of the computer interface is another benefit of the Tablet PC that I believe is very valuable. People need to learn how to operate a mouse, a touch pad, or a keyboard. It's not a natural action. However, you don't need to learn how to express yourself by writing or drawing. It's a natural human response.

Lum (Xplore): Inking is critical to our customers for both signature capture and as a more intuitive input mode. Almost all our applications use the direct pen interface for both navigation and for input. We see this integrated feature allowing our customers and partners to further enhance the end-user experience.

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