Clover Trail tablets pitched as workplace-friendly

PC makers say their Windows tablets are business-friendly, but one analyst said it's still consumers that drive the market

Some of the tablet makers at a launch event for Intel's "Clover Trail" processor emphasized the business smarts of their products as a way to distinguish them from Apple's market-leading iPad.

Dell, Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard, Acer and other vendors are all banking on the new version of Intel's Atom chip, officially called the Z2760, coupled with Microsoft's Windows 8 OS, to give them a fighting chance in a market dominated by Apple.

Intel invited PC makers to show off their Clover Trail Windows 8 tablets at a launch event Thursday in San Francisco. The new Atom is a dual-core processor that runs at up to 1.8GHz and offers a "full PC experience," according to Erik Reid, general manager of Intel's mobile client platforms group.

Clover Trail tablets will play up to 10 hours of video on a single charge and last up to three weeks in standby mode, he said. Some models will be only 8.5 millimeters thick, he said, a hair's breadth thinner than the iPad.

Taking on Apple will be tough, but emphasizing how Windows tablets fit well in an office environment is the best hope for PC makers, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

"I don't know if it's going to be successful, but it's their best shot at success," he said.

Because the tablets run Windows on x86 processors they will be able to drop easily into a Windows 7 environment, working with PC technologies like Active Directory, Domain Join and Group Policy, Reid said.

"This is very easy to manage and deploy, it goes right into a Windows 7 environment," said Lenovo's Tom Butler, describing the company's Thinkpad Tablet 2.

They'll also run a broad range of productivity applications, such as Office and Quicken. Intel showed a sales application it developed with SAP that had a Metro-like interface, and a medical application doctors can use to look up patient records and view x-rays.

Dell went furthest in positioning its tablets for business. It will offer its Latitude 10 with an optional finger-print scanner and smart card reader built into the back, for security authentication, and its tablets also have a removable battery, for "shift workers" who need to swap out a battery before they can get back to a power supply.

The company will offer tablets for "multiple budgets and industries," and applications for vertical industries such as health care will be certified for its tablet at the outset, said Bill Gordon, Dell executive director for end user computing. "We also have a docking station that turns this product into a desktop," he said.

Indeed, nearly all the devices shown Thursday could snap into a full-sized keyboard. Some had a separate battery in the keyboard. "Most of the time, when you unplug this tablet piece by itself it will be fully charged," because it's been in a dock all day, said Hewlett-Packard's Fredrik Hamberger, who showed HP's Envy X2.

The X2 uses magnets to make snapping the screen back into the dock a one-handed operation.

Bret Berg of Samsung's mobility group said he expects users to have its Series 5 tablet docked during the day when they're creating content, then undocked at home when they're watching video or listening to music.

All the vendors played up the consumer appeal of their tablets as well, but there was an underlying theme that x86 and Windows are a better fit for the workplace than iOS.

"It's about having a product that can transition seamlessly between the consumer and the enterprise," Reid said.

Industry analyst Rob Enderle said it's true that IT departments would rather deal with Windows than iOS tablets. But it's not IT departments that are driving the tablet market forward, he said, it's consumers who buy them for themselves or request them at work.

For that reason, Enderle said, PC makers still need to win over consumers in order to challenge Apple.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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