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Dell vets get behind tablet PC

Motion Computing, led by several former Dell Computer managers, will tackle the next-generation notebook computer market starting later this year.

A group of former Dell Computer executives is putting in motion a new company to tackle the tablet PC market.


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Motion Computing, launched Monday, will manufacture tablet PC devices starting later this year.

The tablet PC is a next-generation notebook computer that resembles a laptop screen and uses a stylus as the primary input device. Tablet PC software, developed by Microsoft, seeks to provide a new take on an old idea: How to combine a Windows-based "pen tablet" and a notebook computer. With few exceptions, such devices have so far met with little success.

Microsoft hopes to counter skeptics with a version of its Windows XP operating system that sports a pen interface and handwriting-recognition software. The OS--Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition--will be combined with special displays but otherwise use standard notebook processors and other PC components, which will help to cut down on costs.

Motion Computing, based in Austin, Texas, is the latest company to hook up with Microsoft on tablet PCs. Computer makers including Compaq Computer, Sony and Toshiba are planning to market such devices, and chipmakers Intel, Transmeta and Via Technologies are also working in this area. Each is working with several manufacturers, and Intel and Via have built prototype Tablet PCs as well.

Motion Computing will seek to differentiate itself by focusing on so-called vertical markets, such as health care, education and field sales, while other manufacturers target consumers or the broader corporate market. The company also said it will use speech recognition for data input, which could help it stand out from the crowd.

"Our business plan is grounded in a wealth of relevant industry experience," Scott Eckert, CEO of Motion Computing, said in a statement. "We also have strong alliances, including a codevelopment agreement with Microsoft, and world-class designs that leverage technologies that are now mature enough to take mainstream computing to the next level of mobility and ease of use."

Eckert held several positions at Dell, including heading up the PC maker's Internet operations. He is joined by Chief Operating Officer David Altounian, who held marketing positions for Dell in the United States and Europe.

Lots of room to grow
Compaq, now part of Hewlett-Packard, has said it views the tablet PC as an extension to the notebook PC market. However, tablet PCs will command a premium over mini-notebooks, which already cost more than the most popular notebook PCs.

So far, the market for nontraditional notebooks, or those that don't use the standard clamshell-style design, is small, accounting for just 3 percent of the overall notebook market, according to researcher IDC.

IBM recently phased out its ThinkPad TransNote, a machine that captures handwriting jotted with a special pen. Sony also phased out its high-end Vaio Slimtop Pen Tablet PC.

Microsoft and its partners, however, will likely argue that tablet PCs will be both less expensive and more functional than the ThinkPad or the Slimptop PC. Microsoft's minimum specifications for the tablet PC call for a 500MHz to 600MHz processor, 128MB of RAM and a 10GB hard drive. Tablet PCs will also support wireless networking.

Motion Computing said it will preview its Tablet PC at next month's TechXNY trade show, and the device is expected to ship later this year. Many other tablet PC makers are also expected to show off their designs during the trade show.

The tablet PC was announced in November 2000 at Comdex by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.