Going their separate ways

Pen tablets, cell phones, PDAs, notebooks, “beige box” PCs – the list of clients available to the enterprise continues to grow.

Where once analysts predicted convergence, diversity is the latest trend. Warren Chaisatien, a senior analyst with Toronto-based IDC Canada Ltd., said while client technology is still in its embryonic stage, there is not likely to be any real convergence.

“The market is filled now and there is no clear winner. Maybe once the dust settles in 2004 or 2005, then we will start to see freeware devices – in other words convergence,” Chaisatien said.

Ken Price, marketing manager for the personal systems group at Mississauga, Ont.-based Hewlett-Packard (Canada) Ltd. said there is definite convergence, but only really around some of the standards that make up a client – for example, a USB port.

He said these standards make it easier to bring in new clients.

“The PC is being reinvented in terms of ways people can access on client devices,” Price said.

There is a general acceptance of the beige box PC, and vendors and the enterprise are now looking at new ways of delivering access to information, according to Price.

The old desktop has shrunk, Price said. It’s also coming in a variety of flavours.

“Flip over to mobile. Ideas of mobility are starting to be challenged.” Price said the notebook tries to emulate the desktop. If a user likes that the desktop has everything built in, then a full notebook is the right client for that person.

“There are smaller, more portable notebooks for people who can leave some functions out,” he said.

Chaisatien said convergence, two-in-ones, or all-in-ones could bring a loss in functionality.

All-in-ones are for niche markets, he said. Chaisatien also noted that convergence almost always means an increase in price.

“When you buy combined devices, you can see a jump of $500 or more,” he said.

This price jump will be a hindrance to new or alternate clients ever replacing the desktop in the enterprise.

In the realm of the pen tablet PC, Chaisatien said acceptance will be hard-won.

“Desktops and notebooks have performed well in terms of meeting users’ needs,” he said. “As an IT manager, I am more comfortable rolling out and managing desktops and laptops.”

Acer America Corp. Canada general manager Terry Tomecek said Acer’s TravelMate 100 Tablet PC is being touted as a desktop replacement for the enterprise.

“It’s not natural to use a keyboard,” he said. “This is going to change how you think about using a computer in your business and in your life.”

The TravelMate is a pen tablet that folds out to become a notebook. According to Acer the price will be set to compete with comparable high-end notebooks. Tomecek estimated that could be about $3,500.

Chaisatien said the two-in-one aspect will give this tablet a leg up, but added that the pricing still sounded steep.

However, Price noted that IT has not addressed the mobile internal user – the person who moves from cubicle to cubicle, taking their laptop with them. He said this aspect of enterprise business is where the tablet PC can shine.

Price also predicted that growth in applications, such as management tools or security, will lead to better devices – even if they all remain diverse.

“In the future there will be simplified computing. There’s such an assortment right now. There are different views on how customers want to build infrastructures,” he said. “Security tools are becoming much easier to administer, to manage. Devices can only benefit from those advancements.”