Tablet PC Press Event


After the keynote there was a special Tablet PC press event. It consisted of a vendor display and brief presentations by members of the Microsoft Tablet PC team and several of the Tablet PC partners. The session was led by Microsoft’s Dick Brass. Tablet PC chief Jeff Raikes spoke, as did team member Alex Loeb, Compaq’s Ted Clark, Fujitsu’s Toshio Morohoshi, Autodesk’s Scott Borduin, and others. Morohoshi mentioned that Fujitsu’s Tablet PC prototype was the company’s 17th generation of pen PC. Groove’s Matthews said that “the Tabet PC is the harbinger of a new wave of computing and communications.” The Acer representative said that their goal with the Tablet PC was to “create a device that people naturally want to use.” Toshiba’s representative said that the Tablet PC was “the next generation of mobile PC.”


The displays were an interesting mix of prototypes in various states of completion, enabling technologies, and software applications. Wacom and FinePoint showed their competing active digitizer technologies. Each has its advantages and disadvantages: Wacom’s system does not need a battery and they just introduced a slimmed down version of the Wacom pen that is no larger than the stylus of a PDA. (Wacom also showed a small version of its digitizer that could be used with a PDA.) FinePoint’s pens do need a battery, but the power consumption of the digitizer is significantly lower.


The official roster of hardware manufacturers lists Acer, Compaq, FIC, Fujitsu PC, NEC, PAD Products, Tatung, Toshiba, and ViewSonic. Most of those were represented at the event with actual prototype products. Here is what I saw:


Acer: Taiwanese Acer showed a convertible Tablet PC which will be called the “TravelMate Tablet PC.” The Pentium III-based TravelMate is an elegant, very thin ultraportable whose screen pivots around so that the TravelMate becomes a pen tablet when the screen is folded down on top of the keyboard. Using a 10.4-inch TFT, the TravelMate looked like a finished product.


Compaq: Compaq showed a very elegant Tablet PC that looked like a much larger version of the iPAQ. No specs were available and Compaq representatives freely admitted that the prototype was just a concept meant to evoke the successful iPAQ line and built around one of the reference design Tablet PCs. We heard that the actual Compaq Tablet PC will bear no resemblance to the “iPAQ” prototype, and also that the original designer of the Compaq Concerto was on Compaq’s Tablet PC team. This was neither denied nor confirmed by Compaq.


FIC: Taiwanese FIC, a company that has been showing the AquaPDA Webpad for a while, displayed the Crystal/Thunder Tablet PC. Crystal and Thunder are essentially the same 8.2 x 10.7 x .95-inch 2.7 pound tablet. The sole difference is that the former uses a 800-1000MHz Transmeta Crusoe 5800 and an 8MB ATI Mobility M6M video subsystem whereas the Thunder is built around a 700-800MHz Intel Mobile Pentium III with the video embedded in the Intel 830MG chip. The duo uses a 10.4-inch XGA TFT, hard drives between 20 and 30GB, 2 USB ports, a Firewire port, RJ11 and RJ45, a 2,500 mAH Lithium Polymer battery good for about four hours, two active pens. Each has 128MB of SDRAM and an additional slot that can handle up to 512MB. A very attractive design.


Fujitsu PC: “Fujitsu is set to be one of the first vendors to market a pen-based product in 2002 that meets Microsoft’s Tablet PC guidelines” said the Fujitsu press release. That is well possible as the current Stylistic 3500 is almost a Tablet PC already. All it needs is an active digitizer and a few minor tweaks in the interface department. Fujitsu displayed a prototype that seemed based on the 3500 but was clad in a matte silver body and featured a Wacom digitizer (as opposed to the Mutoh (now FinePoint) digitizers previously used in Fujitsu products with active digitizers). While it is likely that Fujitsu’s initial Tablet PCs will be based on Stylistic technology, we also saw some more future-oriented concepts in a subsequent meeting with Fujitsu.


Tatung: Taiwanese Tatung was represented in force and they showed a remarkably finished looking product. The clean and handsome Tatung Tablet PC is a traditional “book-style” pen tablet. Measuring 11 x 9 x 0.9 inches and weighing 2.45 pounds, the Tatung uses an Ultra Low Voltage 700 MHz Mobile Pentium III. It has 192MG of PC100 RAM on board, hard disks between 6 and 20 GB, USB, Firewire, PC Card, and a 10.4” 16-bit XGA TFT display with an electromagnetic digitizer. We only hope that Tatung will market this well designed product under a name other than the current “Tangy440” moniker.


Toshiba: Beyond its encouraging “the next generation of mobile PC” quote and its presence and support of the Tablet PC initiative, Toshiba showed a smallish product prototype with a VGA screen. Representatives stated it was not based on an existing Japanese market product, so if the prototype is indicative of a final product, Toshiba may have decided to pursue a very small form factor for its first Tablet PC offering.


ViewSonic: As one of the companies with existing tablet products, ViewSonic showed its ViewPad 1000 as a harbinger of a next generation ViewPad Tablet PC. As is, the ViewPad 1000 uses an 800MHz Celeron processor, Windows 2000 Professional, and a passive digitizer (see review in November 2001 issue of Pen Computing Magazine). 


VIA: Not listed in Microsoft’s lineup of hardware partners but present at the event with a prototype was Taiwanese VIA. Though the VIA tablet was shown as a reference design rather than an actual prototype it looked remarkable finished and elegant, though perhaps a bit large for a 10.4-inch display design. Unlike most of the other devices, the VIA showcased VIA’s own chipset technologies: VIA’s Apollo 2000 mainboard, the VIA C3 E-Series processor, the ProSavage PN133T chipset, and more.


Wistron: Related to Acer (Wistron is the now split off manufacturing division of Acer), Wistron had impressed me a few weeks ago with a concept prototype of a notebook convertible Tablet PC. The device shown at the Tablet PC event was a “book-style” pen slate very much in the tradition of the 1992 Samsung PenMaster (though much sleeker). 


NEC was listed but did not, to the best of my recollection, display a device. Sony, one of the manufacturers listed in earlier releases, was no longer mentioned and not present.