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Summary:

I remember having some interesting conversations with some knowledgeable people a couple of years ago when the UMPC was poised for launch.  The conversations covered the thought that the UMPC, basically smaller cheaper Tablet PCs, would begin to infringe on the "real" Tablet PC space when […]

I remember having some interesting conversations with some knowledgeable people a couple of years ago when the UMPC was poised for launch.  The conversations covered the thought that the UMPC, basically smaller cheaper Tablet PCs, would begin to infringe on the "real" Tablet PC space when they began to pick up steam.  The participants in those conversations were always divided with some feeling that Tablet PCs were too different from the UMPC to be affected long-term and the others who felt that as UMPCs began to get more capable and cheaper than their bigger siblings that we would start to see Tablet PC sales to fall.  My opinion then was the latter and some recent developments in the Tablet PC/ UMPC space have left me concerned about the future of the Tablet PC.

EThere is no doubt that the UMPC space is sexier and much more active with different devices being announced all the time.  These devices come in all sizes and shapes and with different capabilities and above all else they are getting cheaper over time.  The Tablet PC on the other hand is largely the same from OEM to OEM with convertibles leading the way and a few slates still being sold.  Let’s face it, the UMPC is a shiny new consumer device for the most part while Tablet PCs are still considered enterprise devices.  Large OEMs like HP only sell Tablet PCs through their business channels while UMPCs are being sold by major consumer retailers.  The action is definitely in the UMPC area over the Tablet PC and I believe it’s the reason we’ve seen a few announcements recently that make me concerned about the Tablet PC.

The first announcement a few weeks back was from Motion Computing, makers of fine slate Tablet PCs.  That announcement informed us of the decision to kill off the WriteTouch version of their latest Tablet PC, the LE1700.  They had previously hyped up the dual digitizer Tablet as the latest and greatest technology designed to keep them competitive with other Tablet PCs that are being sold with both pen and touch digitizers like the Lenovo x61.  The Motion dual digitizer Tablet PC was highly anticipated as the touch capabilities make a lot of sense in a slate format Tablet.  Unfortunately, Motion felt the need to kill off that model before ever shipping it.

Motion made another announcement in the past few days that they are retiring their LS800 slate Tablet PC.  The LS800 is a Tablet PC approaching the UMPC form factor with an 8.4 inch screen and while it has been out for a while enthusiasts were hoping to hear Motion announce a next generation successor to the LS800.  Motion hasn’t stated they won’t produce one but the feeling is that they would have announced a successor jointly with the "end of life" announcement for the LS800.  They didn’t announce a successor so most likely this will be another Tablet PC model that just disappears without a replacement.

The last OEM announcement that makes me think that makers are seeing lots of UMPC action and thinking that their sales will not increase was from Gateway.  Originally it was reported that Gateway will stop making Tablet PCs which was surprising since they have been the most active in the consumer space.  Now it’s is coming out that Gateway will still sell their 14 inch Tablets but will cease production of all of their 12 inch models.  What makes this interesting is that the 12 inch models are Gateway’s most recent models to be introduced and yet these smaller Tablet PCs are going away.  The merger with Acer probably has something to do with this decision but let’s face it, if Gateway/ Acer felt that they would make sales they wouldn’t discontinue their latest Tablet PCs.

These actions I have mentioned don’t raise my eyebrows individually but when I look at them all together I get the feeling that Tablet PC OEMs are not feeling very good right about now.  I believe that the explosion of UMPCs has them wondering how the sales of these little Tablet PCs will affect their business and they are beginning to pull back a bit to see what happens.  I could be totally wrong about this but this is the way I see it.

  1. Interestingly enough, I am finding HP convertable Notebooks in Office Depot stores.

    My read is that convertable Notebooks are on the rise while large (>7″) slates are on the way out.

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  2. Scott F Williams Thursday, November 29, 2007

    I could not agree with your stance and I lay the blame at the lack of creative advertising of tablets at Microsoft’s feet, where are the television adds that show the joy of a tablet, that new musician sitting under a tree composing, that next writer inking their manuscript direct into a movie script etc. There is no fire in this market to capture the imagination. You can be sure that when the “iTablet” is on the nightly commercials the PC world will look around and ask how come we did not do it that way.

    To me the optimal looks like an HTC Shift on steriods for sub-$1K, this obviously is still a dream but I hold out hope for a full time carry around hybrid.

    I have carried just about every tablet both convertable and slate since they were in beta and it tears me up that the PC world has no imagination to promote this platform.

    I think it is very clear with the itouch that the gauntlet is about to be thrown down and in some ways I almost can not wait to get their hardware and run tablet bits on it.

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  3. Retiring the LS800? Not too surprising that the demand was low; base price was almost the cost of a LE1700! Slower chip, mediocre battery life, and not enough of a price differential; that’s what killed it.

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  4. In this part of the world, most people have never heard of Tablet PCs and UMPCs. Whose fault is that? (Not mine!)

    What’s even more sad is the fact that almost all UMPCs are not ink friendly. If OQO went out of business where would we be?

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  5. While I agree with the sentiment, and the fact that there could definitely be more marketing, etc for the platform, I would clarify a couple points. As an above poster, I have seen HP’s convertibles in Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot and Micro Center. I have also seen Lenovo’s in Micro Center. Gateway convertibles were in Best Buy for a while, but I think they are just online now. However, in the UMPC format, the only store that I have seen one physically in, within the past 6 months is Micro Center. BB had them for a while, and they got pulled off the shelf, my CompUSA closed (as did most throughout the country) and I have never seen a UMPC in a Circuit City. Personally, I think there is room for both platforms, but neither will live up to their potential until consumers can play with them….

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  6. Scott F Williams Thursday, November 29, 2007

    I have seen some UMPC’s at Fry’s the Samsung the tiny Fujitsu and from time to time they have some tablets, but imho until a fire is lit under the buyers about why they want this and how cool it is just having them to play with will not prompt a sale. Having the consumer and I include business buyers as consumers start to demand that cool thing that will change their life and their business asking for a product changes what the retailer will carry.

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  7. (nodding my head with the posts above)

    I think when you get back to it, though, we need James’ vision of a new OS built from the ground up. And to go along with that, more apps that are written either specifically for inking, or at least to make good use of inking capabilities.

    Maybe the makers know this and that is a part of their decision.

    Woadan

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  8. UMPCs arent consumer items. They sell like tablets. To vertical markets and to professionals or early adopters that have a need or interest in their unique features.I dont really see those markets going away at all.

    A new 4-5″ MID segment wont really affect tablets either.

    BTW Woadan. I dont think making a touch OS from the ground up will make much difference. The apps all have to change too and you’re not likely to see finger friendly web apps for some time either! A finger friendly UI will help with launching and configuring the OS but most of the work needs to go into apps.

    Steve

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  9. I just took both tablet and UMPC to a conference where I had one hour sessions (I wasn’t a presenter) on IT in community colleges. I’m great with my tablets, but this was one frustration after another with inking and waiting for Outlook and OneNote, and I didn’t even try to mind map. Microsoft absolutely has handwriting recognition in a workable space, but as usual, their software makes far too large of demands on even the best hardware. The more powerful active digitizer dragged when I needed instant responses, and the UMPC requires such care to avoid vectoring, it’s ridiculous.

    Why should anyone beyond the dedicated want one?

    It looks like Apple did an outstanding job with touch screens, but not connectivity and handwriting, and Microsoft has done an outstanding job with handwriting recognition and pretty good with connectivity that requires periodically closing and restarting bluetooth, and hitting “Repair wifi” button, but not the smooth integration of handwriting with these things. For example, why should someone trying to enter information with a stylus onto a Google page require a lecture and demonstration on the TabTIP to look up where I can buy Nikes or where the next competitor of Starbucks is?

    At my college, I know of four of us with tablets out of three to seven hundred instructors, three hundred full time, seven hundred part time (roughly), and there are none on campus for use in the library where they do have laptops for in-house loan.

    But there’s a learning curve. I’ve been in meetings at the conference with other people holding both UMPCs and Tablets, but most used paper, and the paper looked easier. It shouldn’t have been, but to leaf through a legal pad or a notebook is as smoother than jumping from a page of OneNote, even if they’re all in the same section, and then jumping to Outlook and wait for a Contact to open, or task to modify, or event to be added; some things are effortless, such as adding a To Do from OneNote, but so many others are hurry up and wait. Some of the presenters had difficulties getting stuff up on the projectors.

    College students, including my son who just went off as a freshman this fall out of state, I couldn’t convince to take a tablet to take notes in class. One or two at most have a laptop in my classes in any semester, and zero have ever had a UMPC or a tablet, but they do have games machines.

    We need instant on, longer battery life, but more importantly a way to tap the Google text entry point and start writing, and tap gently, not poke, move from program to program as effortlessly as a touch iPod, etc.

    At my own pace I can get it done, but I not only wouldn’t bother to get one for my mother, I couldn’t explain to her what the advantages are in a way she’d care. My son sees, understands, and doesn’t care.

    These are business machines for meetings, but they ought to be indispensable to the student market.

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  10. Motion didn’t even try to broaden the market for the LS800 even as UMPCs were being introduced and second and even third generations have been offered. If I’m spending a couple grand on a computer, it has to be possible for it to be my main computer, and nothing with a 40 gig hard drive could possibly replace a laptop or desktop. A person could work with the LS1600 or LS1700 as their main computer. Apple’s been offering iPods with more hard disk space. The LS800 is a gorgeous computer, and I was never in their market, unfortunately.

    It’s so frustrating to look at a market that’s so close to being terrific: videos of the HTC Shift alternately make the inking look awkward and the keyboard; ditto the Fujitsu U810, though the P1610 looks brilliant. While the HP 2710p represents a real breakthrough in hardware and design, you can’t even find it on the consumer website.

    But until inking is more integrated into the operating system, and not just feeling like an add-on, and in the programming, partly to see the ink side by side with text sort of the way GoBinder was able to put handwritten appointments and tasks side by side with text, it’s going to be for geeks. You couldn’t circle or draw arrows between handwritten calendar items in GoBinder (not blaming them, they were way ahead of their time–I lived in that program more than any other for a long time).

    Handwriting recognition is HUGE, but pen computing hasn’t developed much beyond the Palm. I still can’t write a note to myself on an email the way I’d write a note to myself on an envelope and see it without an add-on software that still requires opening the email (instead of roll over or just seeing it). I can’t see from a calendar item if I’ve written notes on it or if it hyperlinks to OneNote. These seem obvious to me.

    Crisp, lovely, saturated advertising won’t change these frustrations. We’re still at the nascence of this technology, where nobody quite knows what it should even look like, the way cars, telephones, and airplanes were in their early days.

    Steve

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