Look around the room at any meeting these days and you see the back of a lot of laptop screens, with as many people catching up on email as taking notes or doing relevant research. We've even met managers who go around the room shutting laptops to kick off the meeting.
Microsoft has long touted the idea that a tablet is more polite, more socially acceptable because it doesn't stop you making eye contact (and it's a little more obvious if you bring up your email). Although most of the interest in non-Windows tablet devices like the JooJoo (nee Crunchpad), the rumoured Apple tablet and Toshiba's JournE Touch (the only device that's actually shipping) has been for consumers, could tablets gain a place in business?
Probably (every other consumer device apart from the games console has); but the JournE Touch isn't ready to make that jump yet. To be fair, it's being targeted at consumer applications, as a simple browsing and video device for the home. The JournE Touch is a 7" tablet, running Windows CE 6.0 R3.
It's a reasonably capable device, built around an ARM 11 chipset, with an 800 x 480 pixel touch sensitive display. There's enough memory for applications and downloaded media, with 1GB of internal flash, and a SD card slot that supports up to 32GB SDHC cards (as well as USB host capability, which allows you to use USB storage with the device). There's no accelerometer for screen rotation, so you're left working in a wide-screen landscape mode. Even so, the metal case makes it feel solid, and the device is pleasingly curved, with ridges on the left side for a steady grip - so you'll be typing one handed.
With Windows CE's Internet Explorer Mobile 6, there's certainly scope for it providing access to most AJAX web applications - though only some of IE7's more advanced features have been included in its mobile cousin. Sadly the browser is let down by its input tools. The standard keyboard is small, and awkward to use, and in many applications (including the browser) input fields are replaced by full screen text entry panels, making it hard to fill in forms effectively. There's also limited support for media and rich-internet applications. Silverlight support is promised for a future update, and there's also scope for Toshiba to take advantage of the upcoming Windows CE version of Adobe's Flash Player 10.1. Built-in Flickr, YouTube and Picasa applications aim to replace web site functionality, though their look and feel comes from the JournE Touch's photo frame heritage.
There's some prospect for installing Windows CE applications, though at the moment Toshiba controls the only way to install applications: the device's online store. There is some scope for delivering business information via the built-in RSS reader, but it's much more a tool for information consumption than interaction.
There are Microsoft Office and PDF viewers for Windows CE; Toshiba hasn't included them on the JournE because it's aiming at the consumer market. A forthcoming ebook reader will add PDF support (as well as screen rotation and the open EPUB ebook standard). Although Toshiba has an online store for content, it hasn't yet decided whether third-party apps will be available through the store and there isn't currently a way to install extra CE apps yourself so you couldn't create a custom image.
Toshiba is considering business-oriented tablets for specific vertical niches, but the JournE Touch isn't a general business tablet - and with the current software revision, it struggles at being a consumer device. The €249 pricetag is too high for an occasional use office machine unless you’re a small business who also needs a photo frame that can display weather reports and RSS feeds and Facebook updates and double as an Internet radio player.
When Flash and Silverlight come along the JournE will be more interesting for running line of business apps on, but the price is still high when you could do all of that on a netbook that could also run standard Windows applications.