MS TabletPCs to debut in 2002 at laptop prices

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates unveiled the first public showing of a TabletPC prototype Sunday during his keynote address at Comdex in the US.

The company has been working in earnest since July of last year on the device which will be manufactured by OEMs, according to Alex Loeb, general manager of Microsoft's TabletPC. The hardware draws on Microsoft technology such as handwriting recognition which has been in development at the software giant for a number of years, she added.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed that the device appears sometime in 2002," Loeb said. "It's a lot of work." In terms of the identities of the TabletPC OEMs, the major laptop manufacturers are the most likely suspects, she added, with the device costing around the same price as laptops.

Microsoft is also intending to include its speech-recognition technology in TabletPC devices from "day one," according to Loeb. "My theory is that there's a very vocal minority who want speech," she said. The company may also use speech as another user interface for the devices, Loeb added.

Currently, there are a couple of hundred TabletPC prototypes in existence and Microsoft is already talking to OEMs about the devices, Loeb said. Microsoft's core TabletPC development team is about 100 people, but factoring in the company's use of its other technologies in the device, the number of company staff involved in the project is anywhere between several hundred and a thousand employees, she added.

Microsoft eventually plans to use the TabletPC technology to create whiteboard-sized devices, but development is not yet underway, according to Loeb.

Charlton Lui, Microsoft's development manager for TabletPC, said that the device will also run games and will operate as a full-function laptop. He mentioned that Microsoft research had revealed that over 50 per cent of people get irritated by the noise their colleagues make when typing on their laptops at meetings, a problem TabletPC resolves since users handwrite onto the device using a stylus.

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