Tablet PC shipments fizzle out

Tablet PC shipments fizzle out

Summary: Despite a much-hyped launch and an influx of new vendors, tablet PCs are not exactly flying off the shelves, according to new figures from Canalys, which says Microsoft is to blame

TOPICS: Emerging Tech
The nascent tablet PC market is underperforming even the most conservative expectations, according to a report published late on Tuesday, with shipments in the second quarter of this year 23 percent lower than in the first quarter even though more manufacturers entered the market in that period.

The tablet PC market is small -- less than 1 percent of notebook sales, and amounting to less than 100,000 units since the category launched last November -- according to analyst group Canalys. However, it has been the subject of much publicity by Microsoft, which jump-started the product category in late 2002 with its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, as well as by manufacturers such as HP, Toshiba, Acer and new entrants such as China's TDV Vison.

Tablet PCs are portable computers that let people input data by writing on the screen, although some double as conventional notebooks.

Sales in the US have been slightly ahead of conservative estimates, but in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) they are sinking steadily, according to UK-based Canalys. "The first year was always going to be slow, but it is particularly disappointing that shipments have declined this quarter," said Canalys analyst Rachel Lashford in a statement.

HP led Q2 shipments, but shifted only 7,550 units, down 35 percent from the first quarter. Fujitsu Siemens Computers, the second-ranked vendor, shipped just 3,460 for the quarter, down 54 percent from Q1.

Canalys analysts argued that tablet shipments will not amount to much until the devices broaden their appeal outside specialised industries, which they said is largely a marketing challenge. Canalys director and senior analyst Chris Jones also pointed out that all currently shipping tablet PCs fall into the category of smaller form-factor notebooks, which account for only about 5 to 10 percent of vendors' notebook shipments, suggesting that greater popularity might depend on making tablets more like conventional, mainstream laptops.

Currently, tablets are limited by the touch-screens they incorporate -- the larger sizes are short in supply and are more expensive than traditional laptop LCDs. Ironically, laptop sales are currently one of the few segments of the PC industry showing healthy growth, with sales rising at about 40 percent a year.

Canalys pinned most of the blame for the category's failure on Microsoft, and argued that the software giant should subsidise the devices' operating system, vendors' marketing costs and even vendors' expenses for widening their tablet product portfolios. Canalys also said Microsoft should establish a dedicated EMEA tablet PC marketing team and attempt to raise awareness around a new version of the Tablet PC operating system due later this year.

"The PC industry, perhaps more than ever before, needs to innovate, be seen to innovate, and show commitment to those innovations, constantly improving them and delivering business benefits to customers, and it cannot do this without Microsoft's help," said Jones in a statement.

CNET's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • I was initially enthused by the Tablet PC, but have still not bought one. However, my reasons are fairly simple: cost, weight, lifespan, resolution and operations.

    Problem one: price. While a case could be made as to why convertable Tablets like the Acer have to be more expensive, other Tablets are essentially normal laptops with the keyboard removed. Logically, they should be *cheaper* than a normal laptop, not more expensive.

    So much of the cost has to be in the digitizer. For some reason Microsoft encourages using a Wacom-style EM digitizer which is expensive and quirky when used through a thick LCD panel. A much cheaper technology - resisitive film, used by companies like Fujitsu, would reduce the price and eliminate the need for a special stylus.

    Problem two:operations. When you use the existing tablets, there's a noticable and irritating lag between the time you move the stylus and when the cursor catches up. This lag makes writing uncomfortable, but makes painting and drawing almost impossible. Another problem is the UI. Guys - WindowsCE. Microsoft already has a good solution for this product domain - why did they abandon it to come up with an entirely different, and in my opinion,harder to use UI?

    Problem three is the screen resolution. 1024x786 is rapidly becomeing the 'minimum' screen resolution and is the low end price point, making the Tablet PCs seem even more overpriced.

    Problem four: weight. and size. Many of these beasts are HEAVY and thick. They are awkward to hold and use. Again Fujitsu and a couple of other companies are much closer to the sweet spot, but a four pound notepad is unacceptable.

    Problem five: battery life. Always too short. I know this is unreasonable, but anything less than eight hours on a charge isn't going to sail.

    I believe it is possible to take existing technology and with a little reworking, make a tablet which will meet most of, if not all of these requirements. It's just that none of the existing offers do.
  • They can improve the tablets as much as they want, but the underlying problem is that this market does not exist. Gadjeteers may find them interesting, but these tablets cannot compete with PDAs for the PDA market, which itself is not growing. And they compare poorly with real laptops for the laptop market (less bang for more bucks?). The tablets have not succeed in creating a new market, either. Until the market issue is resolved, the product can be 5 five star-wonderful, but they wont sell.
  • I really love the idea of tablet PCs, but they're way to expensive and I've been reading about various software glitches with servers. If you're going to splash out on something that's more expensive than a laptop, you expect it to work beautifully.