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Lenovo Adds a Tablet to Think Line

Lenovo added another layer to its recently acquired Think line with a Monday announcement of the ThinkPad X41 Tablet.

The convertible machine offers both a full-size keyboard and a writable slate, and it weighs 3.5 pounds, which Lenovo said was 20 percent lighter than the closest competitor.

The ThinkPad X41 Tablet runs on the Intel Pentium M Low Volt or Ultra Low Volt processor, providing four or eight hours of battery life. It uses the Intel 915GM chipset, which can pack up to 1.5GB of PC2-4200 DDR2 memory, and includes the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900.

When Lenovo agreed to buy IBM's PC business in December, it promised to maintain the roadmap for the Think series of PCs and laptops.

In May it released two ThinkCentre models.

This is not Think's first foray into tablet computing. IBM introduced a ThinkPad convertible tablet in 1993, which, like other early tries, didn't do well.

Microsoft began a new round of tablet manufacturing with the release of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in November 2002. Toshiba, Gateway and HP added tablets to their offerings.

But despite constant hype from Microsoft , the market has been slow to take off.

Rob Herman, worldwide program director for the ThinkPad brand, thinks a few factors make this the right time for Lenovo to sell tablets. First of all, prices have come down.

ThinkPad X41
ThinkPad X41 Tablet
Source: Lenovo

The ThinkPad X41 Tablet starts at $1,899, so enterprise procurement departments can add the tablet feature for around $300, he said. Herman expects prices to go down even more and, as a result, adoption to go up.

Second, he said, handwriting recognition technology has improved dramatically, making tablets an effective option for filling out forms and capturing signatures.

Third, the larger screen and full-featured PC functions combined with the lower cost have started to make tablets a viable competitor to handheld devices running the PocketPC or Palm OS, which are being used in hospitals, manufacturing and by field force workers.

Fourth, Microsoft has been successful in its efforts to entice independent software vendors into creating vertical applications based on Windows for the tablet.

"The thing that's helped this market to be where it is today is Microsoft Windows tablet PC edition," said Herman. "You have an operating system that's ready to work with pen input. And they've worked with ISVs so well that the pen input technology has improved many fold."

Finally, Herman said, "There's definitely a cultural thing happening with tablets." He doesn't mean only the cool factor, but that writing on an electronic pad seems less intrusive than tapping away at a keyboard during a meeting or presentation.

Because of all this, Herman said, "Our marketing strategy has evolved. While we're still heavily focusing on vertical-industry sectors, we see an opportunity for this to go into more mainstream usage scenarios like education."