slow to swallow tablet PC technology
Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business
April 17-23, 2007; issue 912
High Tech Office column;
easy to have an image of our high-tech office environment as always
changing. There’s the cliché that by the time you get a new piece of
equipment out of the box it’s already obsolete.
Bill Gates introduced the Windows XP Tablet Edition in 2002, adding
touch sensitive screens and handwriting recognition to notebooks or
dedicated portable slate computers. So now, five years on, we’re all
using them, right?
Well, no. While standard keyboard-based
notebook computer sales are booming, tablet PCs represent a tiny
fraction of that market even though the price differential has dropped
to $200 or less. Tablet PCs are most often found in areas like health
care, where users might not always have access to a desk.
Still, some users find tablets just what they need.
North Vancouver’s SunTech Optics
is a distributor of sunglasses, reading glasses and accessories. It
started equipping its sales reps with laptops and portable printers
early – around 1991 – to allow their reps to easily generate invoices
and calculate the just introduced GST.
More recently, when it
was upgrading its back office software, it found a sales automation
program named EZRoute that worked with its Microsoft Great Plains
accounting system. It provided easy access to the top 10 reports the
sales reps need most often. EZRoute could run on any Windows system,
from a Pocket Windows PDA on up, so SunTech IT manager Mike Chang
and a team of sales reps
started evaluating hardware options.
were portable, but screen sizes were too small, and it seemed just too
hard to input information. And having to synchronize with a standard PC
just seemed like extra work.
Standard laptops were too bulky and
were hard to use standing in a retail outlet. The company tried out an
ultra-portable running a full version of Windows, but the tiny size
meant a tiny keyboard – difficult for users with big hands – and
miniaturization meant minimal performance for maximum cost.
In the end, SunTech standardized on $2,200 Fujitsu
Lifebook convertible tablet PCs, weighing in at about a kilogram (2.2
lbs) that work as standard laptops but with an 8.9-inch screen that can
be flipped around to turn it into a touch-sensitive tablet. Users can
work with them using their choice of mouse, built-in trackpoint or
With the Fujitsu’s seven hours of battery life, sales
reps have reported being able to make it through a week on the road
without having to recharge, while the built-in wireless lets them send
orders and invoices from any convenient hot spot.
As a result,
orders can often be processed and shipped the same day, and the sales
reps can track order status right in front of the customer.
a PDA, the tablets are fully functional PCs. Sales reps can use them to
go online, check e-mail and connect to SunTech’s network to update
The tablets can also be used to display
product information and PowerPoint presentations to customers. But
because the tablets are touch-sensitive, customers can sign off on
orders right on the screen. Try that on your standard laptop!
Chang reports that the sales reps are happy with the light weight and
functionality of the new systems.
took its time finding a software and hardware package that met its
needs and involved its end users in testing potential solutions. As a
result, Mike Chang has a drawer full of products that didn’t make the
But he considers the time and expense a bargain compared with rolling
out a “solution” that didn’t meet his sales reps’ needs.