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Microsoft Tablet PC Q&A

Everything you always wanted to know about the Tablet PC (2002)
(by Geoff Walker)

This article consists of a set of FAQ (frequently asked questions) about the Tablet PC. The 64 questions have been gathered from many sources, including other articles, product reviews, conferences, trade shows, emails, online forums and personal meetings. The questions are organized into eight groups.

Tablet PC Market

Question: Is the Tablet PC going to be successful?

Answer: It has a good chance, but it's not a slam-dunk. Many things can go wrong, for example: OEMs may not do a good job making the pen easy to use; convertible hinges may not be reliable; the technology market may remain in recession for the next year or two (the majority of Tablet PCs in the next year or two will be purchased by IT, not by individual users); the incremental cost of a Tablet PC over an equivalent ultraportable notebook may be too high; handwriting recognition may not work well enough; note-taking may be too difficult due to user interface issues, and so on. The saving grace is that Microsoft seems to be very committed to XP Tablet, enough to ensure that they get at least to Version 3, so there will be time enough to get beyond many of these risks and to work through many potential problems.

Question: Will both form factors (convertibles and "pure" tablets) be equally successful?

Answer: Tablet PCs will be sold into both vertical and horizontal applications. Vertical applications such as healthcare, insurance, government, and sales force automation tend to be more demanding in terms of factors such as durability, use while standing and outdoor use. These requirements will tend to drive vertical applications towards pure tablets (the slate form-factor) rather than convertibles because pure tablets are more durable (shock-mounted hard drives), lighter (no keyboard, no hinges, less housing surfaces) and more suited for indoor-outdoor use (transflective screens). Few of today's vertical applications require an embedded keyboard; access to a keyboard via a docking station or a "portfolio-style" carrying case is usually sufficient. Horizontal enterprise applications tend to be less demanding with regard to most of these factors, and users tend to require an embedded keyboard so they can enter any quantity of text at a moment's notice, without having to suffer the delays of handwriting recognition, locate a docking station or fumble with a portable desk stand and a USB keyboard. This will tend to drive horizontal enterprise applications towards convertibles. In general, the horizontal enterprise market is much larger than the vertical market, so convertibles have a much higher potential sales volume than pure tablets.

Question: How many Tablet PCs will be sold in 2003?

Answer: IDC's latest forecast is that Tablet PCs will account for around 2% of the total laptop market in 2003, which will be about 600K units. IDC believes that the majority of units sold in 2003 will be pure tablets in vertical applications, due to slow qualification of XP Tablet by IT in horizontal applications.

Question: When will Dell, Gateway and IBM start selling Tablet PCs?

Answer: Dell, Gateway and IBM probably won't start selling Tablet PCs until the Tablet PC becomes an established category of notebook, like ultraportables are today. It's likely to take at least two to three years to get to that point.

Question: Will Tablet PCs be sold to consumers?

Answer: None of the OEMs building the first generation of Tablet PCs are explicitly targeting consumers. All of Microsoft's positioning for the Tablet PC is based on horizontal enterprise and vertical applications. Of course, there will always be some "early adopter" consumers who purchase a Tablet PC because they have to have the latest computer gadget. Eventually, in five or more years, the Tablet PC may become as much of a consumer product as general-purpose notebooks are today.

Microsoft Strategy

Question: Microsoft has been promoting Tablet PCs for almost two years (since Comdex 2000), yet none are available for sale today (two months away from Comdex 2002). Why is it taking so long?

Answer: Microsoft approached the Tablet PC as a true R&D project. They built a unique hardware prototype, used it to understand the issues of building a keyboardless computer, and then did an extraordinary amount of user studies and research. Then, after all that, they started development of XP Tablet, a completely new version of the Windows XP operating system that includes digital ink as a new data type. They've been talking about this project since they started. This extended development cycle is very different from that of some other Microsoft products, such as Mira (a wireless monitor for home PCs), where creating the product didn't require any significant amount of new development, just some tweaking of existing products.

Question: Isn't the Tablet PC just another attempt to get the PC industry out of the current slump?

Answer: Microsoft started the Tablet PC project in August 1999, long before the current slump began. The Tablet PC is in fact only one aspect of a multi-faceted Microsoft effort to increase the value of a PC by increasing the amount of time that it is used. In recent speeches, Steve Ballmer (CEO of Microsoft) has said he wants everyone to "use PCs 16 hours a day." This isn't meant to be taken literally with regard to today's PCs; Ballmer means that he wants the PC to be useful for watching movies, writing letters, fixing your car, listening to music, doing work, playing games, taking notes... throughout your waking hours. Getting corridor cruisers to switch from taking notes in spiral-bound notebooks to taking notes on a Tablet PC is a step in this direction.

Question: What caused Microsoft to create the Tablet PC now?

Answer: Microsoft believes that notebook hardware is finally ready to allow the creation of an exceptionally mobile product, unlike in the early 1990s, when it definitely wasn't. Current notebook hardware enables products such as the Toshiba Portege 2000 (750 MHz, 12.1" XGA, 256 MB, 20 GB, 10/100 Ethernet, wireline modem, integrated WiFi, XP Pro, 2.6 pounds, 9" x 11.4" x 0.73", US$1,999). This is well within Microsoft's target profile for a Tablet PC. Except for battery life, of course - the Portege 2000 gets only 1.5 hours of battery life. Toshiba could have added another 4 ounces of battery and doubled the battery life into a realistic range, but then the product wouldn't be so thin and light. Specsmanship often wins over usability in the notebook market.

Question: Microsoft recently started calling Tablet PC users "information workers," while previously they called them "knowledge workers." Why did Microsoft change?

Answer: This switch occurred in Jeff Raikes' (Microsoft Group VP) PC Expo 2002 keynote speech. The point he made was that vertical users such as nurses, pilots and sales people are actually knowledge workers - they're part of a company's information flow. To ensure that Microsoft didn't alienate vertical markets with their strong focus on the horizontal enterprise applications of Tablet PCs, Raikes lumped both vertical and horizontal users together as "information workers."

Question: Why does Microsoft tend to closely associate the Tablet PC with wireless?

Answer: It's a result of the increased mobility that the Tablet PC brings to notebooks. You're likely to use a Tablet PC in more places than a standard notebook. Microsoft's own internal use of Tablet PC prototypes showed them that once you have a Tablet PC (a convertible notebook) instead of a paper notebook in a meeting, wireless access to the company's network becomes much more important. Microsoft's emphasis on wireless in the Tablet PC is therefore almost exclusively focused on WiFi (802.11b) from the corridor cruiser's point of view.

Question: During most of 2001, Bill Gates seemed to be pushing a slate design, but now whenever I see Microsoft demoing a Tablet PC it's a convertible. Why did Microsoft change?

Answer: According to Microsoft's primary Tablet PC architect, when Microsoft first decided to build their own hardware prototype, they debated whether to build a pure tablet or a convertible. They decided to build a pure tablet to ensure that their own developers would take a very serious approach to the development of digital ink and the problem of using Windows with just a pen. Even then, Microsoft believed that the convertible would be the most popular form-factor for the Tablet PC. Between Comdex 2000 and Comdex 2001, the Microsoft slate prototype was the only Tablet PC hardware available. Microsoft's positioning during that period was that the Tablet PC was "the evolution of the laptop," implying that users were somehow going to evolve beyond their keyboards into a world where an extremely light and thin pure tablet could replace a notebook. The press saw this and published a lot of "I don't think so!" stories about the Tablet PC during 2001. Then at Comdex 2001, Acer showed the prototype of their TM-100 convertible Tablet PC. Microsoft never looked back. Every demo, conference and trade show that Microsoft did from that time on used the Acer (although other pure tablet prototypes were available, such as Fujitsu's). After Comdex 2001, Microsoft changed the Tablet PC positioning to "a superset of the laptop" - you can't be a superset if you don't have an embedded keyboard! Now, ten months later, most of the press has caught on to the idea that convertible Tablet PCs will be the mainstream form-factor, and pure tablets will remain in the realm of vertical applications.

Question: Will Microsoft ever sell the Tablet PC "slate" they showed during most of 2001?

Answer: No, it was developed purely for their own internal research purposes.

Question: Why does Microsoft require Tablet PCs to be legacy-free (no serial, parallel, PS/2, game or FDD ports)? I need some of those ports on my notebook!

Answer: Microsoft has been trying to get rid of legacy ports in all PCs since about 1997. Legacy ports make it difficult to ensure the stability of the OS, since they're not plug-and-play like more modern I/O standards such as USB and FireWire (IEEE-1394). Eliminating legacy ports makes it much easier to achieve "surprise undocking" (where the user doesn't have to notify the OS that he intends to undock the PC). Since Microsoft originally conceived of the Tablet PC as an entirely new class of device (not just an enhancement to notebooks), they were able to lay down the law for the new device class and specify that it must be legacy-free. It should be noted that docking stations are readily available today for under $100 that can convert USB into all of the legacy ports - for an example, see www.compusb.com.


Question: What's the advantage of using a Tablet PC to take notes in a meeting instead of using a notebook PC or plain old paper?

Answer: In most meetings, it's considered rude to use a notebook PC. The screen acts as a barrier between you and the other meeting participants, and the sound of typing on a keyboard is annoying. A Tablet PC can be used in your lap or on the tabletop to take notes just as if it was a paper notebook. The advantage is that notes taken in digital ink can be stored, searched, converted to text, or transmitted to others much more easily than notes on paper. When you have a Tablet PC with you in the meeting, you have immediate access to all of your files. If the meeting room has a WiFi network, you have access to the company network (and probably the Internet). If the meeting is boring, you can write and send ink emails without disturbing others - it just looks like you're taking notes.

Question: Office XP already includes handwriting recognition, so what does the Tablet PC add when I'm using Office?

Answer: The "Office Pack" adds some amount of ink integration to Office XP when used on a Tablet PC. The degree of integration is relatively limited in the first version of the Office Pack, and it depends on the particular Office application. In PowerPoint, slides can be annotated in ink; in Word, ink "comments" can be added in the right margin (but annotations on top of re-flowable text are not supported); in Outlook, ink emails can be sent and received. In Microsoft Journal, the note-taking utility, ink notes can be converted into Outlook Tasks or Calendar entries, or sent as emails. In Excel, ink is not supported directly - although the pen can be used to enter or edit spreadsheet cells via the Tablet PC Input Panel (TIP), just like in any other Windows application. Microsoft has said they will add substantially more ink integration in future versions of Office.

Question: What's the "killer app" for the Tablet PC?

Answer: So far, a true "killer application" for the Tablet PC hasn't surfaced (it's really too early, since no Tablet PCs have shipped yet). The author's opinion is that the three most important applications for the Tablet PC will be (a) note-taking, (b) editing and annotating Office documents, especially those containing graphics, and (c) group collaboration using software such as that from Groove Networks. Note that these are all horizontal enterprise applications.

Question: How will vertical applications make use of the Tablet PC's capabilities?

Answer: Few vertical applications on pen tablets today make use of either handwriting or ink. Vertical applications are generally designed to make heavy use of menu selections, check boxes, radio buttons and other forms of graphical user interface elements, rather than handwriting recognition. If a vertical application does support handwriting, it's typically used only for very limited data entry, such as quantities, drivers license numbers or names and addresses. Since the handwriting recognizer in the Tablet PC doesn't offer a major improvement over the recognizers currently in use, vertical applications are not likely to increase their use of handwriting. The most common use of ink in current vertical applications is signature capture - but that's just capturing a bitmap of the signature, not treating it as digital ink. A few vertical applications today make use of "ink notes" to store user notations; the Tablet PC's digital ink capability will probably cause this usage to expand considerably. The bottom line is that the Tablet PC won't have a very large impact on vertical applications. It offers only a small incremental improvement.

Question: At a trade show, I saw an application called "Snippit" for the Tablet PC - what is it?

Answer: "Snippit" is a Microsoft "Power Toy" (unsupported application) that allows you to use the pen to outline any part of a webpage, add annotations, and email the fragment to someone. It's a cool tool, but since it's unsupported, it's unlikely that enterprise will incorporate it into any formal Tablet PC applications. It's just something that Microsoft hopes will increase the value of a Tablet PC to a horizontal enterprise user.

Question: Will reading an e-book on the Tablet PC be any different than on a regular PC?

Answer: Microsoft developed an enhanced version of the Reader specifically for use on the Tablet PC. The enhanced version has an improved user interface that makes the process of reading more natural. The new Reader also allows fine control of the font size, to allow the user to adjust the reading experience exactly to their liking.

Question: Are Tablet PCs good for reading magazines?

Answer: Zinio Systems, one of Microsoft's Tablet PC software partners, began offering digital magazine subscriptions (along with a very slick reader) in the second quarter of 2002. Zinio plans to enhance their reader software to take advantage of ink annotation and other Tablet PC capabilities. However, in the author's opinion, the resolution of Version 1 Tablet PC screens (XGA = 123 dpi on a 10.4" screen or 106 dpi on a 12.1" screen) isn't high enough to allow comfortably reading a full magazine page without zooming. Zooming makes reading much harder, since it requires frequent scrolling to follow the text (and occasional un-zooming to regain a sense of where you are on the page). The highest resolution available today on a laptop screen (UXGA = 142 dpi on a 14.1" screen) is just barely good enough to allow un-zoomed reading for any length of time without eye fatigue.

Question: Does the Tablet PC include voice recognition?

Answer: The Tablet PC includes Microsoft's voice recognizer. The author was impressed with the recognition accuracy on "normal" text after only ten minutes of training. Complex text that included quotes, acronyms and technical words was not recognized as well. While most Tablet PCs will have built-in microphones, getting good performance from any speech recognition software (Microsoft's or anyone else's) requires using a USB headset microphone.

Question: Is there any integration between the pen and voice on a Tablet PC?

Answer: Yes, the two input methods can be mixed indiscriminately. For example, you can dictate text, write a few words, and then continue dictating. The pen can be used to correct voice input, and voice can be used to correct pen input. Pen and voice are surprisingly well integrated in XP Tablet.

Question: Will there be special versions of some Windows applications for the Tablet PC?

Answer: Yes, a number of software firms have announced that they will be offering new versions of their applications that have been enhanced to take maximum advantage of the Tablet PC's capabilities. In most cases, this amounts to full integration of digital ink. (See Table 1 for a list.)

Question: From the perspective of a vertical application user such as a nurse or an insurance adjuster, how does using a Tablet PC differ from using an existing pen tablet?

Answer: It doesn't. As noted elsewhere in this Q&A, a Tablet PC's hardware is very similar to current pen tablets, and neither digital ink nor improved handwriting recognition will make much difference in vertical applications in the short term. The real difference is that Windows XP Tablet is fully supported by Microsoft - which should make quite a bit of difference to IT (in reducing risk in implementing vertical pen-based applications), but little difference to the end user.

Question: I currently use Adobe Illustrator on a Wacom desktop tablet connected to my laptop. Can I simply install Illustrator on a Tablet PC and get all the same functionality?

Answer: Yes, except that pen pressure won't be available. Not all Tablet PC pens support pressure. Even if they did, the pen interface standard defined by Microsoft (Human Interface Device, or HID) is incompatible with the pen interface standard that's been in use on Wacom tablets for many years (Wintab). The only place pen pressure is guaranteed to work on a Tablet PC is in the Microsoft Journal utility. In the short term, the active digitizer companies may provide a software translation layer to get around the incompatibility problem; in the long term, the graphics software vendors will probably update their products to support Microsoft's HID interface.

Question: Is Microsoft Journal basically the same idea as Aha Software's InkWriter (from the mid-1990s)?

Answer: They're somewhat different in their basic concept. InkWriter was designed as an "ink word processor." When you added a word into an ink sentence in InkWriter, the ink would automatically wrap (reflow) to a new line. This looked cool, but it actually made taking notes harder, since you couldn't combine text and graphics without having their relative positions change in unpredictable ways. Journal, on the other hand, is a note-taking utility that emulates real ink on paper. Real ink never changes by itself. You can draw circles around words and draw arrows pointing to words with the certainty that the words won't move by themselves. However, if you want to insert space (additional lines) in a notes document, you can do it easily in Journal - something that you can't easily do with regular notepaper.

Question: Is the Tablet PC a realistic business tool, or just a cool gadget?

Answer: In vertical applications, the Tablet PC (in the form of a pen tablet) has been a realistic business tool since the late 1990s. There are hundreds of thousands of pen tablets in mission-critical applications in Fortune 1000 companies. Pen tablets produce measurable ROI in the form of increased competitiveness, improved customer satisfaction, enhanced patient care, improved sales rep productivity, etc. In horizontal enterprise applications, only time will tell whether the Tablet PC will become a realistic business tool. Largely it will depend on what happens with digital ink. If Microsoft follows through with expanded support for digital ink in Office and expands the support for digital ink in other versions of Windows, if ISVs develop note-taking applications that far outstrip the basic capabilities of Microsoft's Journal, if Groove Networks' software is a hit and web-based group collaboration becomes a must-do activity in enterprise, if... if... if... then the Tablet PC may become as important in the horizontal enterprise as standard notebooks are today. However, it's not a sure thing!

Handwriting Recognition

Question: How well does the Tablet PC's handwriting recognition work?

Answer: It depends very much on the user. Some users get 95% word accuracy or better (one word wrong in 20), while other users, using exactly the same hardware and software, get 60% word accuracy (eight words wrong in 20). Often there's no obvious difference between the handwriting of the two users; it often looks equally bad or equally good. Even someone with exceptionally clear handwriting may not achieve good accuracy. If you're in the 60% group, you would say that handwriting recognition doesn't work at all.

Question: Does the recognizer work equally well with cursive and printing?

Answer: The recognizer works with both, but it seems to have a definite bias towards cursive (i.e., the recognition rate seems better with cursive). A character recognizer can be brought up in the Tablet PC Input Panel (TIP), but it really doesn't make much sense to do Graffiti-style recognition on a Tablet PC.

Question: Can I train the handwriting recognizer in the Tablet PC so that it knows the way I write characters? If not, can I at least select the character shapes that I want to use, the way I can with Transcriber on the Pocket PC?

Answer: No. The Tablet PC's handwriting recognizer cannot be trained. If you're in the "60% group" (see above), you have to figure out what it's looking for by trial and error (for example, by writing a capital letters several different ways and seeing which way is recognized more often), and then modify your own handwriting so that it matches what the recognizer wants. If there's enough negative feedback about this from the market, Microsoft may add a training capability in the future.

Question: Does the handwriting recognizer use a dictionary?

Answer: Yes. Conscientiously adding words to the dictionary (including any technical words or abbreviations that you use regularly) will improve the recognition rate.

Question: Can I search my digital ink note files for keywords?

Answer: Yes, but searching depends on good handwriting recognition. When you take notes in Microsoft's Journal utility, recognition takes place in the background as you write, and lists of possible recognized words are stored in the digital ink's property records. When you search for an ink word, these recognized words are what are actually searched. If your handwriting does not have a high recognition-accuracy rate, searching ink simply won't work for you. To some people, this substantially reduces the value of taking notes on a Tablet PC.

Question: Is the handwriting recognizer in the Tablet PC entirely Microsoft-developed, or did Microsoft purchase it from someone else? Answer: Microsoft's recognizer is a "fusion" (blend) of their own internally developed code (which started as the MARS recognizer in Windows for Pen Computing in 1991 and evolved over 10 years of development), and the Calligrapher recognizer from Paragraph, the rights to which Microsoft purchased in 1999.

Question: In promoting the Tablet PC, Microsoft has been de-emphasizing handwriting recognition and emphasizing "ink as ink." Does handwriting recognition really matter?

Answer: Nobody is likely to write "the great American novel" using handwriting on a portable computer - writing by hand is simply too slow. However, handwriting recognition is important if you want to take notes in ink and then be able to search them later (see above). It's also important if you want to be able to enter a note in Journal and send it to Outlook as a task, or similar activities. If you never want to search ink notes, and all you want to do is send ink emails and enter an occasional file name, then even terrible handwriting recognition is tolerable.

Question: Isn't a keyboard always faster than handwriting?

Answer: Yes, for most people a keyboard is faster than handwriting. But there may be times when you just can't use a keyboard, such as in a meeting, or in a confined space such as a middle coach airline seat. In these situations, the ability to handwrite information and have it converted accurately into text is a benefit.

Digital Ink

Question: What is "digital ink"?

Answer: Digital ink is another term for "ink as a data type." To understand what this means, consider what happens when you type text into Microsoft Word. The ASCII characters that make up the text are stored in a doc file, along with property records that define the font size and color, the author of the text, the path name of the file, when it was created, and a host of other information. Digital ink is the same concept, except instead of ASCII characters, the series of digitizer points that make up each continuous pen stroke are stored in the file. Digital ink's property records can include per-point properties such as pressure, per-stroke properties such as color, global properties such as text equivalents, and unique application-defined properties.

Question: How does digital ink differ from the way ink is handled on existing pen tablets?

Answer: In most pen tablet applications today, ink is stored as a bitmap. Bitmaps take up a lot of storage space, and they're hard to edit. Ink in a bitmap doesn't have any property records; it's just a series of pixels - it isn't very useful.

Question: Is the Tablet PC's digital ink compatible with applications on other operating systems such as Windows 2000?

Answer: When a Tablet PC user sends digital ink to a non-Tablet PC user (e.g., as an ink email), XP Tablet converts the digital ink into a TIFF file before sending it. This is better than a bitmap, because it's compressed, but not much. The receiving user can't do much with a TIFF file other than read it.

Question: Will Microsoft ever include digital ink support into other versions of Windows?

Answer: It's possible. If Microsoft really wants to make digital ink significant in the PC world at large, they will have to broaden the use of digital ink beyond just the Tablet PC.

Question: Does true digital ink exist in other places than the Tablet PC?

Answer: Yes, other companies have developed applications that create and use digital ink (in a different format than Microsoft's, of course). One of the best examples is riteMail, a multi-platform, multi-language, interactive, handwritten email application from Pen&Internet, a division of Parascript (see http://www.penandinternet.com. XP Tablet

Question: Isn't XP Tablet just some files added on top of XP Pro, like Version 1 of "Windows for Pen Computing" was some files added on top of Windows 95?

Answer: No, XP Tablet is actually an entirely separate version of Windows XP. There is as much or more difference between XP Pro and XP Tablet as there is between XP Home and XP Pro.

Question: Can I buy a copy of Windows XP Tablet and run it on my standard notebook with a Wacom desktop digitizer tablet?

Answer: No, Version 1 of XP Tablet is only available through OEMs, delivered on new Tablet PC hardware. Microsoft is doing this to ensure a good user experience. Version 2 of XP Tablet will be available as an upgrade (for owners of existing Tablet PC hardware), and may be available for installation on other hardware.

Question: Will XP Tablet cost more than XP Pro?

Answer: Yes, the OEM cost of XP Tablet is rumored to be around $25 more than XP Pro. This cost is part of the $200 incremental price of a Tablet PC over an equivalent ultraportable notebook.

Question: Does XP Tablet include enhanced power management?

Answer: No, XP Tablet uses exactly the same power management as XP Pro. When Microsoft talks about the "exceptionally long battery life" of Tablet PCs, they are relying on the OEMs to produce hardware that has very low power consumption. In reality, most Tablet PCs will have around the same battery life as an equivalent ultraportable notebook.

Question: Can I take an old (Windows 98) application and run it with a pen on the Tablet PC?

Answer: Yes. One of Microsoft's primary goals for XP Tablet was the ability to run any existing Windows software. The primary user interface element that allows using the pen with any Windows application is the Tablet PC Input Panel (TIP). This is a "writing window" where the user writes ink. XP Tablet recognizes the ink, converts it into text and outputs characters that the application sees as coming from a keyboard.

Question: Will the Tablet PC features eventually migrate into all the other classes of notebooks ("thin and light," "desktop replacement," etc.)?

Answer: Microsoft believes that will happen with five years, but it's not clear that putting a pen in much larger, heavier notebooks makes a lot of sense. It depends largely on what Microsoft does with digital ink - that is, how much motivation there is for all notebook users (not just ultraportable users) to use digital ink.

Question: Is the Tablet PC usable by left-handed people?

Answer: Yes, the Control Panel for the pen has special settings for left-handers that cause menus to fly out to the right instead of the left (the default for right-handers).

Question: Can a Tablet PC run Linux?

Answer: The hardware can certainly run Linux, but then it wouldn't be a Microsoft Tablet PC -- it would be a Linux pen tablet. The main issue in running Linux on a Tablet PC is the availability of a pen driver. Given the nature of the open-source community, it is extremely likely that a Linux pen driver will appear on the web shortly after launch of the Tablet PC.

Question: Isn't IT very reluctant to rapidly adopt a new Microsoft OS such as XP Tablet?

Answer: Yes, and that reluctance is probably going to be the greatest single impediment to growth of the Tablet PC during 2003. Most Tablet PCs in 2003 will be purchased by IT (Information Technology departments), not by individuals, so IT's willingness (or lack thereof) to adopt XP Tablet is very important. The current adoption of XP Pro in enterprise notebooks (e.g., those used by road warriors) is less than 10% (Windows 2000 is the standard). The forecasted adoption of XP Pro on enterprise notebooks in 2003 is less than 20% -- and this is after the release of XP Service Pack 1. (IT is historically unwilling to adopt any new Microsoft OS until after the release of SP1 for the new OS, at the very earliest.) Tablet PC OEMs who offer Windows 2000 on Tablet PC hardware are more likely to be successful in 2003 because they can offer IT a software migration path. Those OEMs who don't offer Windows 2000 on Tablet PC hardware may find it very difficult to sell more than a few thousand Tablet PCs in 2003.


Question: What brands of Tablet PCs will be available by the end of 2002?

Answer: See Table 2. The information in this table is based on prototypes shown at trade shows, verbal information gathered at trade shows, and press announcements. It may not be 100% accurate. Some of these companies may not start shipping their Tablet PCs until early 2003.

Question: I've read that Tablet PCs will be very expensive, around $2,500, or $1,000 more than the cost of an average notebook. Is that correct?

Answer: A Tablet PC is basically an ultraportable-class notebook with a pen. The price of most Tablet PCs will be based on the underlying ultraportable notebook design, plus around $200 for additional Tablet PC-specific hardware and Windows XP Tablet. Ultraportable-class notebooks (defined as notebooks with a 10.4" or 12.1" screen, weighing around 3 pounds and around 1" thick,) average around $2,000 today with 256 MB of RAM and a 20 GB hard drive. (This compares with an average of around $1,500 for a "thin-and-light" class notebook, which is what most people think of as an "average" notebook.) Acer has already announced that the price of their TM-100 Tablet PC convertible will be US$1,999. The street price of HP's ultraportable notebooks (the Compaq EVO N200 and N400)

Based in Silicon Valley, Geoff Walker is a consultant with Walker Mobile. Geoff, who hovers on the border between marketing and engineering, is currently focused on pen-enabled mobile products. He can be contacted at geoff.walker@att.net.