Expert sees use for Tablet PCs in some verticals

Tablet PCs have received plenty of attention since they debuted last fall, but these keyboard-less notebooks, which feature a stylus and a modified version of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system, are likely to corner only a tiny portion of the PC market over the next few years. According to a recent report by Brian O'Rourke, senior analyst with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm In-Stat/MDR, Tablet PCs will make up 1% to 2% of the total PC market until 2005. But that doesn't mean that the devices are not useful for enterprises. O'Rourke shares some of his insight into how enterprises can get the most from these new devices.

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Who is most drawn to tablet PCs today? They have had limited success with certain verticals and specific applications within the enterprise. Field sales, pharmaceutical sales and manufacturing [companies] have been buying them. These are markets that were already using tablet computing before Microsoft came along with its operating system. Which Tablet PC features are best suited to enterprises? The portability is important. So is the...

touch screen. It changes the PC from a solitary device to a collaborative device that people can gather around and write on and see what is happening. Journaling is also likely to be important. You can use the pen to hand write notes into the PC, and it allows you to go back and search through the text for words. It converts the handwriting to text. It is a flexible way to maintain handwritten notes. Who in the enterprise is likely to gain the most value from them? Middle to upper management people are going to be the real target market. People who are mobile and need the mobility, people who are in a lot of meetings and need the collaborative functions are all targets for Tablet PCs. What will help this market to grow? I project only modest growth for the next two years. Once IT budgets begin to grow again, I think it will open up the market. IT managers will be looking at replacing the current generation of notebooks and PCs. Since there are so many big manufacturers making tablet PCs, they will get a lot of attention from IT managers. How are these people using the devices? For example, nurse practitioners might visit a patient at home and enter data about the visit on a tablet that she brings with her. Back at the office, she syncs up her machine to update the database. Insurance adjusters at the scene of an accident are using it, and people on the factory floor who are tracking inventory. In these environments, the Tablet PC is considered an upgrade over the existing devices. Now these people can have access to Microsoft applications, like Office and Outlook, whereas before they used a lot of custom applications. Do smart displays have any business function? One company, ViewSonic Corp. of Walnut, Calif., is looking at the business use of smart displays. There are applications where users can link up to the network for less demanding functions, like Web surfing or filling out forms. There might be kiosks in the corporate environment that allows users to access the corporate network. There may be situations where companies would rather give employees a smart display, if they didn't want them to have the opportunity to walk away with a hard drive full of valuable information. What changes are tablets likely to bring to enterprises? It's really too early to say. It is a new form factor and that is significant, but whether it changes the way business will operate, I'm a bit skeptical. Businesses have their own prerogatives and motivations for how they operate; I don't think a new computing device will have a big effect on that.

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Get help from mobile device expert Kevin Burden Are these considered mobile devices, wireless devices, or both?
They are certainly mobile. There is a wireless aspect as well, but it is primarily going to be a mobile product in the office. Wi-Fi connectivity is important, and they could have cellular data connectivity as well, but right now they are mostly being marketed as mobile devices.

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