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HP takes a crack at tablet PCs

The PC maker plans to announce that it will introduce later this year a new Compaq Evo tablet PC that incorporates a 1GHz processor from Transmeta.

Hewlett-Packard will help make Microsoft's vision for tablet-style portable computers more clear with plans for new hardware on Monday.

The PC maker plans to announce that it will introduce later this year a new Compaq Evo tablet PC that incorporates a 1GHz processor from Transmeta. HP completed its merger with Compaq Computer May 3.

HP joins other companies in a rising tide of product announcements based on tablet PC designs put forth by Microsoft almost two years ago.

Examples of tablet-style PCs have typically incorporated a touch screen and pen to allow users to write naturally to enter data. So far the technology has only sold in small numbers to certain business sectors, such as healthcare. Overall, they represent a very small piece of the notebook market.

The search for a computing device that offers users a more natural way to input data--such as through handwriting recognition, rather than keyboard entry--has brought forth many ideas but few success stories. While several large PC makers, such as HP, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Acer have adopted the concept and plan to create tablet devices, others--such as Dell Computer and IBM--have been skeptical. Wall Street analysts aren't yet convinced, either.

"I am not optimistic about the tablet PC form factor as a slate," said IDC analyst Alan Promisel. However, "I think that the future of portable computing is going to a convertible form factor" similar to tablet-type PCs.

Proponents of the technology, including Microsoft, are looking to influence PC makers with a new "convertible" design for tablet PCs, designing them after more traditional notebooks. The tablet would open, like a clam shell, as notebooks do, but be able to flip all the way back to fold into a tablet-like shape.

HP is expected to show off its Evo tablet PC later this summer in customer trials and begin selling the device later in the year.

HP would not reveal specific details about its Evo tablet PC, yet said it plans to approach the device as a "notebook product with some additional capabilities," said Ted Clark, vice president for notebooks with HP's Personal Systems Group. The device could include a keyboard for quick data entry, but allow users to shed the keyboard when traveling or in a meeting. Compaq has experimented with similar notebook PC designs in the past.

Transmeta inside
HP will use a 1GHz version of Transmeta's Crusoe TM5800 processor for the Evo, making HP Transmeta's first North American PC customer. The vote of confidence is an important one for Transmeta, which is still battling chipmakers Intel and Via Technologies for business. The chipmaker is also working to recover from delays with its original 800MHz TM5800 chip.

With the Transmeta chip, Clark said, users will get a full PC experience in a smaller package. "This is not just for the road warrior. These customers want a fully functional, fully powered PC but with real battery life."

Microsoft will soon deliver the first beta version of its Tablet PC software. The software will be included as part of its Service Pack 1 for Windows XP, and is expected to be released within a couple of weeks.

The company may reveal more info about tablet PC plans close to the TechXNY PC Expo trade show, scheduled for June. Other device makers, including Motion Computing, Toshiba, Fujitsu and Acer, are likely show off new tablet PC devices at the trade show.