Microsoft's Gates: I still believe in Tablet PC

After failing to break into the mainstream of computing, the Tablet PC might have been written-off by many, but it still has at least one strong supporter. Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corp., said Monday he still believes in the form-factor and repeated a prediction that, with better hardware and software, it could still dominate over traditional laptop PCs.

Gates showed prototype Tablet PCs at the Comdex show in Las Vegas in 2001 -- a year ahead of their 2002 launch -- and at the show said in a company news release, "It's a PC that is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."

It's now a little over three and a half years into the time period he set and to-date Tablet PC has managed to do only marginally better than the now defunct trade show. A handful of vendors market Tablet PCs, but specialist markets like health care account for a large percentage of sales. Other users and those in business have yet to take to the form-factor in a big way.

Approximately 640,000 Tablet PCs were shipped in 2004 and this year shipments are expected to hit 1.2 million units, which corresponds to about 2 percent of the global portable PC market, according to a February report from IDC. "IDC continues to believe that tablet PC technology will become an integral part of future portable PC designs, but adoption of the technology will be slower than originally anticipated," the report said.

"We need to keep investing, both in the hardware and software side, before it moves into the mainstream," said Gates at a Tokyo news conference on Monday. "It's not yet in the mainstream. I totally believe in the tablet."

Gates praised Toshiba, with which the news conference was held. The two companies said they were broadening their relationship to include work on interactive video disc technology and future computing platforms based on the upcoming Windows Longhorn release, including Tablet PC.

"I think we see very good gains in the sale of tablet, particularly in the health-care area and the insurance area. What we need to do is get the form factor to the point where every student and every business person who goes to lots of meetings feels like the need that extra capability," Gates said.

"There will be a substantial improvement in the tablet software as part of the Longhorn release and that's just one of many areas we are working on with Toshiba and so I will again, without an exact date, predict that most portable machines will be tablets in the future and I would hope that over the next 3 to 5 years the software and hardware refinements will make that a reality."

On the importance of Longhorn, IDC agrees. It said it believes the software will help make 2007 be a key year for the form-factor and lead to shipments of around 4.9 million units followed by 9.7 million units in 2008, which is expected to represent around 11 percent of portable PC shipments, according to the company's prediction.

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