Above: Toshiba's Portégé 3500 Series Tablet PC
Microsoft trotted out the person credited with making the first laptop computer at the launch in Auckland yesterday of the Tablet PC.
GriD Systems founder John Ellenby, whose company released a portable computer 22 years ago, hedged his bets at the launch of the latest mobile technology.
According to Ellenby, the Tablet PC might represent “a step along the way” toward the semi-mythical Dynabook, a mobile computer dreampt up in the 70s by American Alan Kay. Kay and Ellenby both worked in Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre in California, where technologies like the graphical user interface, ethernet and laser printers were invented. But Ellenby says Kay’s futuristic Dynabook still can’t be built.
The Tablet PC is Microsoft’s second go at making more of pen-based computing than merely a niche market. Its first effort, Windows for Pen Computing, was released in the mid-90s, but failed to take off.
The handful of hardware makers present at Friday's launch showed a variety of devices built on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. They included models with detachable keyboards, notebooks which convert into tablets by rotating the screen and folding it flat on the keyboard, and keyboardless “slates”. Their starting prices are in the $5000 range.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has predicted they’ll represent the majority of PC sales within five years. Ellenby says their success will depend on software and robustness; he quotes the inventor of the IBM PC, Don Estridge, who said the emotional response to PCs “was more important that what they did”.
In demonstrations at the launch, the devices showed convincing handwriting recognition accuracy.