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January 28, 2010

Talking with Paul Moore, Fujitsu's Senior Director of Product Development

The other day I had a very interesting hour-long conversation with Paul Moore, who is Senior Director of Mobile Product Development at Fujitsu. The call was arranged by Fujitsu's ever helpful Wendy Grubow to give me a chance to talk with Paul about the Fujitsu Lifebook T4410 Tablet PC that's currently in the lab for evaluation and testing.

Fujitsu, of course, has been into tablets longer than most and probably has the most experience of any Tablet PC and convertible vendors. Fujitsu had the PoquetPAD and 325Point tablets a decade before IBM reinvented the Tablet PC in 2002, and the company is now in something like the 40th generation of tablet technology. Yes, the 40th. During the 1990s, Fujitsu built a successful business around vertical market slate computers, most notably the Point and Stylistic models, with the latter line carrying on to this day. For a while Fujitsu also offered Windows CE-based devices such as the PenCentra line. Fujitsu also offered small business-oriented notebooks with pens when almost no one else did. What it all boils down to is that there's no one who has more corporate DNA in tablet and slate computers in any number of form factors.

Paul pointed out that at this point, Fujitsu is the only company that offers both slate AND convertible computers. There are many that have a notebook convertible in their lineups, such as Dell and HP, and there are some that only offer tablets, such as Motion Computing, but no one offers both in their market (one could argue that DRS ARMOR and a couple others do offer both platforms, but those are in the heavily rugged markets).

Anyway, it was interesting to hear Paul tell that Fujitsu is seeing a heavy migration from tablet to convertible. Customers are transitioning from the Stylistics to the more conventional Lifebook convertible notebooks that can also be used as slates by rotating the display and laying it down flat on top of the keyboard. That probably explains why Fujitsu is now down to one single model in the Stylistic line, the Stylistic ST6012, whereas the company offers no fewer than six different convertibles (the Lifebook T1010, T1630, T2020, T4310, T4410, and T5010).

With Panasonic making a big issue out of their rugged computers still being made in Japan, I asked Paul if the Fujitsu tablets and convertibles are also still made in Japan. The answer was yes, all Lifebook tablets are made in Japan, and all E-Series machines as well. However, while with Panasonic it was pretty clear that they made a connection of made in Japan = much lower failure rates, Fujitsu makes no such claim. Paul said failure rate stats are compiled, but given the vast differences in markets served makes any meaningful comparison essentially impossible.

I asked Paul why Fujitsu does not market its computers as "business-rugged," "semi-rugged," or one of the other ruggedness categories. The unequivocal answer: We don't have rugged tablets. Ours are durable, well-built, according to the markets we serve. We don't lose many customers because of ruggedness requirements. Fair enough. Full or even partial ruggedness can add a lot of cost and weight, so if it is not needed, why add it. Paul points out useful features that prolong the life of a computer, like a user-cleanable dust filter, accelerometer-based hard disk protection, a display hinge that rotates in both directions so it won't get damaged by inadvertently turning it the wrong direction, and so on.

With reference to the rotating display hinge, I asked Paul whether he knew why all Tablet PCs since 2001 have been designed with the same exact rotating hinge that lets users rotate the display and then fold it flat on top of the keyboard, LCD facing up. This is a good solution, but in notebook mode, the display flexes when you tap it with the pen. In the 1990s there had been several alternate solutions that minimized or eliminated the flex problem, but they are all gone. Paul said he wasn't aware of any patent protection or other reason why designers should be limited to the rotating displays, but it's a solution that works, flexing is not an issue when the device is used in tablet mode, and with the increasing importance of touch, flexing again is not an issue. Cost, too, might be an issue in staying with standardized solutions.

We also discussed the inherent suitability of a full desktop operating system for tablet and touch use. In my opinion, Windows itself has always been a major factor standing in the way of widespread tablet adoption; it's simply not suitable for pen operation. Paul felt that Windows 7 has made great strides towards better usability, but that in vertical markets it's really all about custom applications anyway, and those are usually optimized for whatever input medium is used.

With the recent advent of Intel's new Piketon and Calpella processor/chipset platforms I asked Paul what Fujitsu's plans were for the Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors. His answer was that, for the most part, they prefer to use standard voltage processors that generally cost less, offer better performance, and represent an overall better value for users. Based on the benchmark result of our review unit that's equipped with a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo P8700 with a thermal design power of 25 watts, we see no immediate reason for a chip upgrade: the T4410 scored the highest overall performance results of any Tablet PC we have ever tested, and it still had an idle power draw of just 9.9 watts, barely more than most Atom-based systems.

Posted by conradb212 at January 28, 2010 06:35 PM