Any takers for tablet PC?

IDC has released its initial figures for the tablet PC market in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  March 29, 2003

IDC has released its initial figures for the tablet PC market in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

The devices only became available towards the very end of 2002, which naturally means that the market is still very much in its infancy, but initial figures don’t show a massive lift-off in sales by any means.

For the fourth quarter of last year, total tablet PC shipments numbered just 20,000—compared to nearly three million notebook PCs shipped in EMEA during the same quarter. This does mark a rather slow start for the tablet, which was supposed to revolutionise computing (again) especially when you consider that the overall EMEA notebook shipments leapt up by 19.5% in Q4.

There were several reasons why tablet did not make as strong a start as expected, according to Andrew Brown, IDC’s research manager for EMEA mobile computing. First of all, not all of the companies that launched tablets had them shipping in any great numbers, and they were launched at different times across the quarter.

Many buyers took a ‘wait and see’ approach, because the current tablet PCs are using the first edition of Windows XP Tablet. A lack of multi-language support also meant that the markets outside of the UK, Germany and France did not see any significant numbers, and with a price tag of around $2,000, tablet PC looks like an unconvincing purchase for most corporate IT buyers—60% said they had no interest in tablet PCs, and 25% didn’t actually know what they are...

Probably one of the most interesting points that is raised by these figures is the questions raised over the actual usage model of tablet PC. Tablets are supposed to be used by ‘corridor warriors’, those users that operate in one location, but away from a desk/terminal type space, such as doctors and so on.

Meeting the usage requirements of the corridor warrior has led manufacturers to go for two different form factors—the slate, a single, slab-like form, usually without a keyboard; and the convertible, a normal notebook with a screen that can either be removed or twisted around to use like a slate.

Early leaders in the sector were Acer and HP—Acer has a convertible model, while HP’s tablet PC comes closest to a slate form factor. While market leader Acer was already showing its tablet format in June, and HP could probably expect a good market share through its size alone, the fact that two different form factors are leading suggests confusion among buyers as to just how they want to use a tablet PC (or what they are buying it for).

And given that ultra-portables only make a small percentage of notebook shipments in EMEA anyway, could it be that users don’t really want portable anyway?

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