Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dell Unveils Its First Tablet PC

Dell (Dell) on Tuesday introduced its first tablet PC, saying that businesses are ready to consider more flexible types of computers for employees.

The Latitude XT weighs 3.5 pounds and features a 12.1-inch daylight-viewable display built for indoor and outdoor use. The screen enables people to manipulate data with the use of their fingers or a stylus, which can also be used for writing as if on paper. The device can also be operated using a keyboard and mouse.

Tablet PCs have been available for several years. Among the factors that made the time right for a Dell tablet was the entrance of Generation Y in the workplace, Margaret Franco, director of marketing for the Latitude product line, told InformationWeek. The twenty-somethings starting their careers are used to interacting with computers in different ways, having grown up with mobile phones, portable music players, and other handheld devices.

In addition Vista, the latest version of Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Windows, is better equipped than XP for powering a touch-screen environment like a tablet PC, Franco said. Finally, touch-screen technology in general is more mature, giving people the option of using their fingers or a stylus to manipulate data.

With these factors gradually changing the market, Dell believed the time was right to launch its first product. "Corporations will standardize on different types of notebooks to serve the usage models of their diverse workforce," Franco said. "We call it hyper-segmentation that's happening in the mobile market, and the PC market in general."

But the high price tag of the Latitude XT is likely to discourage most businesses from adopting the new device for employees unless they have special requirements that can't be filled by a traditional notebook. Where a regular Dell laptop is available for less than $1,000, Dell's new Tablet PC will sell for $2,500 when it ships at the end of the month.

The XT comes standard with 1Gbyte of memory and a 1.06GHz Intel (NSDQ: INTC) Core 2 Solo ULV processor U2100. The machine also includes a 40Gbyte hard drive, and Wi-Fi technology. The computer is available with Windows Vista or Windows XP, and has a battery life of more than nine hours.

About 1.5 million tablet PCs were sold last year, which is 56% more than 2005, according to Dell's estimates. However, most of the machines were for specialized use, such as by delivery people or warehouse workers. The machines have not caught on with consumers, experts say.

Dell is not new to touch screens. The computer maker introduced the capability for some functionality in its XPS One entertainment computer launched last month.

And even though Dell has yet to ship its first tablet PC, the company is being sued for alleged patent infringement of touch-screen technology. Typhoon Technologies made the allegations in a suit filed last week in a Texas federal court. The developer and licensee of touch-screen technology also named Motion Computing as a defendant in the lawsuit.