The Return of the Tablet PC

Steve Wildstrom / October 9th, 2012
Photo of Acer Iconia W510 (Acer)

Acer Iconia W510

Microsoft’s decision to offer tablets in two flavors–Intel-powered slates running full windows 8 and ARM-powered units running Windows RT–has created a marketing and branding problem for manufacturers: How these very different products going to be distinguished for buyers?

One solution that seems to be gaining popularity is to call the Intel/full Windows versions “tablet PCs.” This seems to assume, probably correctly, that customers have little memory of the ungainly and, outside of some niche markets, unpopular, touchscreen laptops and slates that went by that name starting in 2003, and that they are willing to give the name, and the category, a fresh look with Windows 8.

Acer today announced its latest entrant, the Iconia W510 Tablet PC, a 10.1″ , 1.3-lb.slate powered by an Intel Atom Z2760 (Clover Trail) processor. The W510 will start at $499 for a 16 gigabyte version and $599 for 64 GB. A keyboard and battery dock that turns the tablet into a sort of notebook adds $250 and doubles the weight to 2.6 lb.

Hewlett-Packard is also using the tablet PC moniker, though it applies it to a broader ranger of products. On its small business website,  the Slate 2, an 8.9″, $849 pure tablet currently shipping with Windows 7 is called a Tablet PC. But so is the EliteBook 2760p, a more traditional 12.1″ touchscreen convertible (meaning the screen can rotate and flip over to form a bulky slate) notebook. It runs an Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processor, weighs 4 lb., and starts at $1,479.

Dell calls its current 10.1″, $679 Latitude ST Windows 7 tablet a Tablet PC. It also uses the name for a the Latitude XT3,  a design similar to the HP EliteBook but even heftier with a 13.3″ display. Dell’s web site does not make clear whether it will use the Tablet PC names for its upcoming XPS 10 pure Windows 8 tablet or the XPS Duo 12, a sort of old-fashioned Tablet PC with a novel screen that can rotate vertically.

Lenovo, interestingly, calls the ThinkPad X230, the latest version of a conventional Tablet PC that has been in its product line for several years, just a “convertible tablet.” Like Acer, Lenovo is also shipping Android tablets in addition to planning for the windows versions.

Microsoft, meanwhile, seems to believe its customers will know what its tablets are when they see them. It plans both Windows 8 and Windows RT versions of the Surface, which will come with a very thin membrane keyboard that doubles as a cover. But Microsoft is staying out of the naming game. Its web site avoids calling them either tablets or slates, let alone Tablet PCs. They are just Surface.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Defendor

    I think we are in the “Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” phase. I am not quite sure what will emerge out of this.

    Meantime I think a lot of average consumers are only going to find out the hard way that “Windows RT” means incompatible with all their “Windows” software. This seems like a epic branding mistake. Microsoft couldn’t come up with a unique name for its new Tile based UI?

    • FalKirk

      Agreed. I think the average consumer is going to baffled by the array of Windows 8 products being thrown at them. An “baffled” is not a good state for inducing a purchase. Consumers will either default to the iPad or they will default to waiting and seeing.

      • Rich

        When you’ve been asleep for 10 years, you wake up confused.

        When you wake up confused, you introduce confusing products.

        When you introduce confusing products, your customers don’t know if they should buy them.

        When your customers don’t know if they should buy them, you lose out in the market.

        When you lose out in the market, your CEO gets fired.

        Don’t make your CEO get fired. Get rid of confusion and upgrade to a clear view of your business.

    • Rich

      Microsoft loves the name “Windows” and it may very well cost them.

  • capnbob67

    Slightly Off Topic… but…

    What the hell just happened to the techpinions article “HP’s pleasant tablet attack” by Patrick M?
    http://techpinions.com/hps-pleasant-tablet-attack/11113

    Really – we are deleting posts now (even if they are weak)? The comments to a weak post are often succinct (in summarizing salient points) and enlightening but get lost in the collateral damage when a post is deleted.

    • steve_wildstrom

      I think this is a technical glitch. Checking on it now.

      • capnbob67

        Thanks. It’s back!

  • “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

    Who said that seems uncertain, but the sentiment sure seems appropriate here.

  • capnbob67

    Is this the return or the painful continuation of the Tablet PC?
    To me, most of these abominations you mention (except the Acer) have always been around, the OEMs praying that there is a large market of people who enjoy fatally compromised user experiences. Picking out the shameful remnants of these also-rans is not indicative of a new market.
    Listing the large ‘slate’ of new Win8 and WinRT tablets that have been announced at the trade shows might make the point. Acer, Asus, Samsung, Lenovo, etc.
    We have debated ad infinitum and slain the beast of Win8/RT in our minds on these and other boards (yes, they exist 😉 and all we can now do is wait for reality to play its hand and trump all our theoretical fulminating.
    I think baffled consumers and reticent enterprises will signal the slow irrelevance of the Win8 tablet market. I predict that they will sell a few, just like they did with these monstrosities mentioned above but that Apple will own the mass market with the content subsidized models cleaning up the scraps. But my opinion is not worth the electrons it takes to transmit them… c’mon Q4 2012 – show us the money!!

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