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.