Tablet PCs: Sales still hard to swallow

Sales of tablet PCs have increased, helped along by improved software, but they're still not flying off the shelves

Tablet PC sales are improving, but overall take-up remains low, according to new research.

In the second quarter of this year, 33,570 tablet PCs were sold in Europe, an increase of 25 percent from the same period last year, according to figures released by Canalys. Sales of convertible tablets were up 93 percent, while sales of slate PCs fell by 45 percent, compared to the same period last year.

"For all the positive feedback that comes from users once they have had hands-on experience of tablets, mainstream business IT buyers will make a simple calculation," said Rachel Lashford, an analyst with Canalys. "Do the extra benefits justify the price premium over a comparable notebook? With today's price differentials and the lack of applications, the answer for most remains a no."

Canalys points out that the figures actually represent 12 percent drop in sales since the first quarter of 2004 and tablet PC sales have been slow since mid-2000.

Canalys blames the slow take-up of tablet PCs on the lack of applications specially designed for them, and also points out that European consumers often need language recognition software and country-specific vertical applications that are also unavailable.

There's also the high initial cost. Hardware prices start at around £1,000, and there's also a choice between the two formats, slate and convertible. The Windows OS is also said to be poorly equipped to take advantage of advanced tablet features.

Microsoft has had little competition in the market for its Tablet PC operating system, according to Canalys, and the company has been slow to react to consumer complaints. It is only now beginning to pump sufficient resources into Tablet development, and to market the platform as a viable product for IT professionals.

When Microsoft launches Service Pack 2 later this year it also plans to unveil Windows XP Tablet Edition 2004, in an attempt to kick-start the market for tablet PCs.

Microsoft says it has improved its handwriting recognition software by adding intelligent features such as the ability to recognise email addresses by the @ symbol.

According to Canalys, the key to driving up sales of yablet PCs will involve the creation of more specific Tablet PC applications, new tablet-standard operating systems, and hefty price cuts that bring tablet PCs much closer to notebook prices.

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