IBM toying with Tablet plans for 2003
Testing the water
The Tablet PC market has thus far failed to impress the company that invented the first PC - but it looks like that will change next year, when sources predict an IBM Tablet to be released around May.
The first IBM Tablet won't be a genuine IBM product, but a badged 'slate'-style product, to test customer reaction. But in parallel, the company is designing its own, which will almost certainly be a convertible.
That in-house ThinkPad design won't appear next year. Feedback from the first, trial design will be an important part of the design process, and sources say there are too many factors to consider.
"It may be that we have to have two models, one slate, without a keyboard, and one notebook-convertible. But we might also find that demand becomes more focused during 2004, and that we have to come up with some other factors," said one of the researchers.
Launch date for the ThinkPad Tablet would probably be around January/February 2005, but there is a possibility that it could be earlier by a couple of months.
The Tablet market remains disappointing, if compared to the optimistic announcements made this time last year. But software developers say that mostly, the problem is that applications that work well on Tablet are still pre-launch.
"We've got a lot of 'ink-based' software dating back to the old Microsoft slate," said one developer. "We think the time has come to dig it out and convert it to Tablet."
Last month's release of Office 2003 was originally expected to highlight the very innovative One Note program from Microsoft, but in fact this Tablet-oriented application has not received the hype some were hoping for. Over the next 12 months, however, it may become more visible, and attract new users.
"We're very aware that at the moment, Tablets are sold only into niche markets," said the IBM source. "But we're also aware that there are every-day markets in office life, where we can't sell notebooks, but might be able to sell Tablets. For example, there's still a big social problem for people who take notebooks into meetings, in that other people find the screen is an intrusion; a wall behind which they hide. Tablets don't cause that problem."
An official source described this information as "speculative" and refused to comment further.
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