June 3, 2005 3:15 PM PDT

First ThinkPad tablet set for debut

The first-ever ThinkPad that converts to a tablet PC will make its debut on Monday, CNET News.com has learned.

China's Lenovo Group is expected to announce its new X41 Tablet Series (X41T) in coordination with IBM, which developed the convertible laptop. This is the first computer released by China's Lenovo Group following its purchase of IBM's legendary PC business earlier this year.

With its signature black casing, eraser-size trackball and red and blue click buttons, the X41 Tablet Series looks like any other model of IBM's ThinkPad laptop line.

X41 Tablet Series

However, the 12-inch screen of the X41T can be rotated 180 degrees and pressed flat against the computer's keyboard, turning the notebook into a tablet computer. This was made evident in photos and internal documents supplied by IBM's Japanese laboratories mysteriously that began appearing on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission Web site late last month.

A spokesman for Lenovo said the company would be making a major announcement on Monday but declined to elaborate. The spokesman also declined to comment on the IBM papers circulating on the FCC Web site.

Internal specifications on the X41T were not immediately available, but pictures submitted to the FCC show that the X41T, like its ultra-portable X41 cousin, will have a Mini PCI card slot. The tablet PC is also expected to use an Intel Pentium M processor and run on Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

The new tablet PC is expected to compete with similar laptop convertible designs sold by Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu and Tatung instead of the clipboard or slate-like tablets made by Motion Computing or Itronix.

The FCC began testing the X41T back in March because the PC has a dual antenna embedded in its LCD screen for Wi-Fi connections, as well as one for connecting via Bluetooth wireless. The first batch of X41T computers were manufactured in China; Lenovo is expected to expand production as demand ramps up.

Tablets' best days may be ahead
According to Meta Group analyst Steve Kleynhans, Lenovo's entry into the tablet PC market could boost overall tablet sales, especially with the help of IBM, whose brand historically has held significant sway over the PC market.

"The big turnaround for the tablet will happen when we think of it not as a form factor but as a feature," Kleynhans said. "Tablets are inching toward the mainstream. Are they going to be dominant in the next six months? No. But one day we will look around and notice that a large number of units of tablet PCs are being sold."

However, demand for tablet PCs has not lived up to the expectations set when the first designs debuted in 2002. Research firm IDC reports a mere million units were sold through the end of 2004, with an estimated 600,000 tablets shipping this year. By comparison, Gartner's latest estimates suggest PC shipments worldwide in 2005 will exceed 202 million units, up 10.2 percent from the previous year.

"Any company that enters the market can help add to the momentum of the category, particularly if they have a good product to sell," IDC analyst Roger Kay said.

Kay said general purpose tablet PCs haven't really taken off, mostly because home and small-office users are more used to typing than using a stylus to enter information.

"The best usage model for tablet PCs is currently in the vertical markets," he said. "These are people with stylus in hand walking around, like in a hospital or steelyard, checking off an inventory form or a hospital form."

Both analysts said the only other motivation for home and small-business users to begin buying more tablet PCs would be the price, which has been hovering between $2,000 and $2,500 for the convertible style.

"Imagine the possibility where the vanilla product costs one number and the tablet version sells for about $100 more," IDC's Kay said. "That would be a huge motivator."

Prices for Lenovo's X41T were not available. But the base price for IBM's X41 starts at $1,499 with top-end models available for $1,999.

3 comments

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X41T not first tablet ThinkPad
For that matter, it's not the first convertible tablet TP, either.

The ThinkPad 700T, which was part of the first line of ThinkPads ever, was a "slate" style tablet. It was actually designed BEFORE the 700 (first ThinkPad ever) or the 700C (first color ThinkPad), but released after. In fact, the ThinkPad name was given to what became the 700T, and the others happened to get it.

The ThinkPad 750P was a convertible tablet, much like today's tablets. Look stuff up at: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:750P" target="_newWindow">http://thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:750P</a>

The ThinkPad 360P/PE (difference was CPU) were convertibles that folded... a bit differently.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:360P" target="_newWindow">http://thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:360P</a> and <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:360PE" target="_newWindow">http://thinkwiki.org/wiki/Category:360PE</a>

This is just the first tablet (or convertible) ThinkPad in over 10 years.
Posted by bhtooefr (3 comments )
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Tablet pc's- niche product
The keyboard will not soon be supplanted by the tablet concept. I bought a tablet nine months ago for work but soon found that just improving my keyboard skills was much less clunky then handwriting recognition. If you need to fill in short forms all day then, yes, a tablet pc is the way to go. But most of us don't do this as our major activity.
Posted by barryp3403 (7 comments )
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Tables Around Since 1997
I remember working on a Toshiba with the exact same feature, a laptop that you could convert into a tablet PC, and that was in 1997, so they've been around since before 2002.

Jerry J. Davis
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.jjdavis.net" target="_newWindow">http://www.jjdavis.net</a>
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