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May 21st, 2009

There’s no question about it. We’re going to need some new product names or acronyms, and soon. Taiwanese computer maker Asus is set to debut its Eee PC T91 touch-screen convertible-tablet netbook laptop computer, and it’s unlikely tech scribes will want to write that verbose description for very long. Although the components are made of plastic, metal and silicon instead of potatoes, perhaps we can dub it the EBOC (“Everything and a Bag Of Chips”).

Tablet PCs have been around as long as laptops, although they have never quite caught on the way that a few score marketing departments thought they would. Tablet PC rentals from CRE Computer makers are beginning to get interested in the form factor again—the market is presently dominated by Motion Computing, Lenovo, Fujitsu, HP-Compaq, Toshiba and just a few others—following the raging success of light, web-centric netbooks. The entry point remains very accommodating, too, with HP-Compaq’s TC1100 at a street price under $600. Top-of-the-line tablets can cost up to five times as much, depending on how much internal zing and external bling is required.

Seems a solid niche

It would seem that the tablet PC should have a very solid niche for certain functions and activities. It’s a no-brainer, or should be, for purchasing and stores clerks, various mobile workers and medical professionals. For all of these people—and anyone else that will attend one, two or 20 conferences, conventions, seminars or training sessions every year—the combination of portability, first-rate handwriting recognition and WiFi is right on target. In fact, the handwriting recognition in Windows XP is downright crude compared to the “ink handling system” of the Windows Tablet OS.

For its promoters, it’s always the “next year” or the “next great product intro” that is finally going to lift the tablet PC off the launching pad that it’s been sitting on since its debut. For some of its intended demographic, it may have waited too long, as low-end, no-wireless-needed note-takers can now get into “digital ink” for just about $100. With such products as the Adesso CyberPad, one can transfer handwritten notes and graphics to the PC, converting the handwriting to text and the doodles into vector or bitmap graphics. A number of different digital ink solutions are just now percolating up into the market.

A “green convention” winner

The tablet PC today is, despite its slow acceptance in some circles, an important ingredient in the formula for “green conventions.” An astonishing amount of paper, ink, time, energy and money goes into printing and disseminating millions of convention brochures, programs, maps, registration forms and (of course) dinner menus, year after year. There is a better way.

A convention strategized around wireless PCs—from basic netbooks at a minimum, to tablet PCs with their note-taking abilities as the preferred unit—can save trees, reduce pollution and minimize waste. Perhaps this really is “the year” that the tablet PC breaks through a low-price barrier and catches on with consumers. Perhaps these new tablet-slash-netbook products like the Eee PC T91 really are the ones that will do that. As for what to call them—TabBooks, NetTabs, Booklets, whatever—we’ll leave that to the marketing departments, but if you have a good idea, drop us a line!


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