Pricey ThinkPad TransNote a market leader: analyst

Aiming to dazzling office professionals from physicians and attorneys to the financial sector IBM Corp. has released the ThinkPad TransNote, a notebook with an attached notepad that can capture hand-written notes and sketches, and transfer them to the computer.

The TransNote looks like a binder, weighs approximately 5lbs. and is two-inches thick. Overall, the unit is slightly bigger than an eight and a half by 10-inch piece of paper.

“It’s not targeted at one specific sector over another, but it’s not an optimal solution for field workers,” admitted Harry Wttewaall, national sales manager of mobile solutions for Big Blue in Markham, Ont. “TransNote is ideal for anyone who needs to share data, especially freehand data or forms.”

The TransNote opens like a book. Inside on one side resides a mobile computer with a pivoting touch screen that can be used flat or raised to any angle to expose the keyboard. On the other side sits the notepad. By using the accompanying transmitter pen on any paper, users are able to write on the pad as it is digitally transferred to the computer. Models are available for both right- and left-handed writers.

“As an organizational tool, it allows you to keep track of meetings and catalogue them to your calendar or send information by e-mail,” Wttewaall continued. “It’s not meant to take writing and transfer it to a [word processor], but rather to capture the image.”

One down side: don’t lose the pen. Without the $65 utensil, TransNote loses its note-transferring ability. Wttewaall chuckled when it was suggested IBM might want to consider tying the pen to TransNote similar to a pair of mittens every kid’s mother made them wear.

Despite this, and according to research director Warren Chaisatien, Big Blue’s TransNote is a beauty. Once more, it appears IBM is changing the face of technology, this time it’s the laptop world, tomorrow it could be winter wear.

“This product is first in the market in terms of digital transcribing, and it will appeal to a wide range of professionals, particularly those who need to be mobile,” said Chaisatien of IDC Canada in Toronto. “Overall, it’s a good product but there are some challenges in price and technology there.”

Although Chaisatien praised the TransNote as a complementary addition to IBM’s ThinkPad line, he said it isn’t without its shortcomings: no hand-written recognition capabilities, steep price.

“It captures writing as either a PDF or a JPG which I think to a large extent limits further processing capabilities,” he said. “With the kind of money IBM is asking for, if I’m a business customer I’d have to weigh out that purchase pretty carefully…there’s a lot one can do with $4,000.”

It’s no secret mobile computing stands to flatten the desktop PC market. According to Dataquest Inc. – The Gartner Group’s IT mobile consulting service – recent figures showed a widening gulf between the two product categories. Worldwide, notebook shipments grew 21 per cent year over year, compared with a paltry desktop PC growth rate of 1.6 per cent. In the U.S., notebook shipments increased six per cent over Q4 1999, while desktop PC shipments stalled at 0.1 per cent growth.

With apologies to desktop PC-enthusiasts, additional figures from Reston, Va.-based PC Data indicated retail PC sales in the U.S. declined in 2000, while notebooks showed solid growth, up 13.6 per cent in units sold and 10.7 per cent in revenue over 1999. Relevant data also suggested that with the rise in consumer demand, so too did the price of notebooks in general.

TransNote’s brain, dubbed ThinkScribe, is the digital notepad itself, and it automatically turns on when you open the binder. Wttewaall explained the status display tells the user the current page of the digital notepad, which is needed to match the paper notepad being used. The almighty transmitter pen slides into a groove to flip between digital pages.

No doubt IBM is plotting bigger and better things for TransNote, but Wttewaall was hesitant to discuss what his company might have in store for the unit. However, he did mention the portable PC is capable of functioning wirelessly using 802.11b or Bluetooth.

Running on the Windows 98 or 2000 operating system and protected by an Endurimer cover, the TransNote comes loaded with IBM’s Ink ManagerPro software. It’s also equipped with a 600MHz Intel mobile Pentium III, and it boasts 64MB of memory and a 10GB drive.

The TransNote pricing begins at $4,499.

IBM Canada in Markham, Ont., can be reached at (905) 361-5000 or via the Internet at


IBM ThinkPad TransNote quick facts:

Weighs less than 5.5lbs. and is 1.3 inches thick (complete with digital pen and paper pad)

Optimized for wireless connectivity through optional 802.11b wireless LAN or Bluetooth PC Cards for short-range workgroup collaboration

Available in both right- and left-handed users

Pivoting 10.4-inch FlipTouch screen, allowing the display to be flat or raised, exposing the keyboard. Both the screen and image can be inverted to share work with other users

Its 2MB of flash memory can save up to 50 pages of notes, even with the PC off, and transfer them once the system is turned on using the Ink Manager Pro software

A note management system, which allows users to save notes and retrieve them, insert them into e-mail, word processing documents and presentations

Unique FlexFold design allows users to compact the system in one fluid motion to use either side independently, even while standing.