Study points to slow start for Tablet PC in Europe

Shipments of Tablet PCs in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) have been everything but encouraging and Microsoft Corp., which provides the operating system software for the devices, is partly to blame, according to a market research report released this week.

Less than 100,000 Tablet PCs have shipped in EMEA since the product was launched in November, according to the report, compiled by Canalys Ltd., a market research and consulting group in Reading, England. In fact, second-quarter shipments fell 23 per cent from the first quarter, to 26,920, despite the arrival of new Tablet PC suppliers Intermec Corp., Motion Computing Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc., Canalys said.

“We expected shipments to be slow in the first year, but we view the decline in the second quarter as particularly disappointing,” Canalys analyst Rachel Lashford said.

Reasons for the slow take-up in the region are several, according to Lashford. First, the weak economy continues to put a damper on IT spending. Second, most of the new vendors, as well as Europe’s largest computer manufacturer, Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV, have focused on Tablet PCs in the “slate” form, which is the least likely to steal market share from mainstream notebook PCs, Canalys contends.

The research firm groups Tablet PCs into three types: the slate design resembles an enlarged personal digital assistant (PDA) with a touchscreen on which users can write directly with a stylus. The convertible design looks more like a laptop with a rotating touchscreen and an integrated keyboard. The modular design has a clamshell form with a removable keyboard.

Another reason for the slow take-up is that compelling applications for enterprise users are lacking, according to Canalys. And finally, the research company said, Microsoft has done far too little to promote the new product.

“Microsoft will need to become much more active to push Tablet PC sales if it wants this product to become mainstream,” Lashford said. Some big industry names such as Dell Inc., IBM Corp. and Sony Corp. are still missing, she said.

Canalys suggested a five-point action plan for the U.S. software giant to help kick-start the sluggish market for Tablet PCs:

– Subsidize the price of its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition below that of the standard Windows XP product for at least two years;

– Establish a dedicated EMEA Tablet PC marketing team and fund advertising and exhibitions;

– Provide funds to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to help them market themselves to big, well-branded manufacturers, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.;

– Offer funds to manufacturers to widen their product portfolios and develop new form factors, in addition to the existing slate, convertible and modular designs.

– Generate interest in the planned improvements to the operating system expected later this year.

Around 15 vendors are currently distributing Tablet PCs in the EMEA region, Lashford said. With a 28 per cent share, HP led the market in the second quarter, followed by Fujitsu Siemens with 12.9 per cent, Toshiba Corp. with 11 per cent and Acer Inc. with 10.8 per cent, according to Canalys.