Personal Computers

Dell Rattles Tablet Niche With New Touch Tech

Even though tablet PCs have been around for about five years, it’s a category that until now Dell had not set foot into. That, however, is about change, and it will happen before the year is over.

The PC powerhouse announced Monday it will begin shipping its new Latitude XT tablet PC this month. The 12.1-inch convertible laptop-tablet XT starts at US$2,499, and Dell said it’s the industry’s only sub-four-pound convertible tablet with pen and capacitive touch capability.

The capacitive technology senses finger touches, Dell said, and will be the forerunner to emerging multi-touch capabilities that can use more than one finger for tasks like zooming. Apple’s iPhone already uses multi-touch, and even though Apple doesn’t use the technology in any of its laptop or desktop computers, it may only be a matter of time before that changes.

In addition, the new XT boasts touch response times that are faster than those of the Lenovo X61T, a competing touch tablet, Dell said.

Accidental Bumps

The XT uses a digital palm rejection technology, Dell said, that helps prevent inadvertent contact that disrupts pen input when users tap or touch the screen as they use the pen. Some tablets use resistive touch, which depends on force to identify the input, and these systems can sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between a pen and the side of a user’s palm.

Dell will offer the new XT with either an Intel Core 2 Solo ULV processor running at 1.06 GHz or an Intel Core 2 Duo ULV running at 1.20 GHz, with ATI Radeon X1250 UMA integrated graphics. The 12.1-inch WXGA (wide extended graphics array) screen comes in at 1,280 by 800 pixels and may be upgraded to an optional LED-backlit display and optional outdoor viewing panel.

Memory starts with 1 GB, but is upgradable to 3 GB. The XT’s most efficient battery will deliver nine hours of usage, and hard drive storage ranges from 40 to 120 GB, with a 32 or 64 GB solid state drive (SSD) option. The OS is Windows Vista Business, Windows Vista Ultimate or Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005.

Tablet Use on the Rise

“Tablet use is slowly growing,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld.

“It was expected to grow much faster, but the technology didn’t transition to regular monitors and so didn’t mainstream … older touch screens sacrificed appearance and durability and still didn’t work that great,” he explained. “Finally, these things tended to wash out outside, and that was often where folks wanted to use them.”

The iPhone, said Enderle, helped showcase what could be done with touch screens. “As a result, we are seeing some interesting work in this space, and there has been enough success that Dell felt it was time they entered,” he noted. “The market is moving to touch, then multi-touch, and Dell is wisely getting active in this space.”

Current Niches

Tablet PCs “have long remained a niche solution for industries like health care, education, the public sector, retail and manufacturing,” noted Benjamin Gray, an analyst for Forrester’s infrastructure and operations practice. Because Microsoft decided to include tablet functionality in Windows Vista — and because Dell has entered the market — Forrester expects 28 percent of enterprises to increase their usage of tablets over the next year.

Despite Dell’s strong penetration into North American businesses, Dell will still face competition from HP, Lenovo and Toshiba, all of which offer tablet solutions — and at starting prices around $900 less than Dell’s entry XT offering. Still, Dell may have the industry influence to give the tablet PC a kick in the pants.

“Dell’s plan to enter the tablet PC market will help promote the platform among its large number of customers and help facilitate the product category to go mainstream,” noted Doug Bell, an industry analyst for IDC.

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