Tablets giving dealers a headache

Tablets giving dealers a headache

Recent remarks from Toshiba in the US on an initiative to break down the barriers to tablet PC adoption are yet to be reflected in Australian attitudes to the fizzling format, according to tablet resellers.

"Sales are extremely low - only about one per month," computer reseller Expansys' country manager, Michael Smart, said.

"Most people are disappointed in screen size and the units are too expensive.

"Because very few resellers actually use them, there is little support base. It also depends on how PDAs evolve - the market hasn't matured yet."

Sydney-based dealer, TechBuy, which sells Acer, Toshiba and Compaq tablet PCs, is also having trouble shifting units.

"Not many people are interested in them," sales support manager, Joel Reeves, said. "We're looking at adding more products in future but, at the moment, they are not worth the extra couple of thousand dollars for the additional functionality."

Manufacturers, however, continue to throw weight behind the format, citing improvements to applications and lower costs as heralding predicted adoption acceleration next year.

"We are expecting tablets to represent 3.5 per cent of our total volume by the end of 2004," Toshiba Australia general manager, Mark Whittard, said.

"We are selling 300 - 400 units per month. A year ago, it was half that."

He said that a lack of applications, in conjunction with high prices, was stalling tablet adoption.

"We've already dropped prices from $3500 to $3000 for some units, and they will be sub-$3000 by the end of the year," Whittard said.

"It is also still very early - Microsoft's operating system is only on its third major revision."

He hinted at some alterations to form factor coming in the next releases of Toshiba Portege products, including improvements to the hinge mechanism.

Panasonic has concentrated its resources on the ToughBook rugged notebook range.

"There are compelling reasons for fully ruggedised tablet PCs with more screen real estate than a conventional PDA," ToughBook group manager, Steve Hall, said.

"In a forms-based environment there is no real alternative.

"We feel that we have found a very good market sector with clearly defined boundaries."

Hall said that the ToughBook division of Panasonic expected 250 per cent growth in 2004 over last year, with more than half of the sales being of tablet-style notebooks.

PC and notebook manufacturer, Pioneer Computers Australia, is attempting to crack the tablet market through competitive pricing, according to sales manager, James Cook.

"Tablets are not the largest part of our sales by a long way," he said. "But they bridge a gap between a sketchpad and a notebook and are useful for workers who haven't used a computer before."

Acknowledging the saturation of PCs in business and the opportunities appearing in new segments, Cook said: "Most of the growth in the IT sector as a whole will soon come from education and the home convergence market."

Figures from IDC indicated tablet PCs will represent 0.5 per cent of the worldwide PC market in 2004.

Research from Gartner last month into Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 said that updates to the operating system were insufficient to drive mainstream adoption.

"These updates are not sweeping and do not provide the full level of integration with the operating system that Gartner believes is needed for tablet PCs to become mainstream," a press statement stated.

"Microsoft will likely not resolve these issues until the Longhorn OS ships in 2006."

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