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Motion says new rugged tablet PC's LED display is easy to read in bright sun

Dismisses potential competition from cheap netbooks: 'We're not in disposable PC space,' exec says

By Eric Lai
March 16, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Motion Computing Inc. today unveiled its second generation of rugged tablet PCs.

The Austin company said the J9400 is tougher than its previous model, can run up to seven and a half hours using hot-swappable batteries, and has a 12-inch, stylus-sensitive screen that's readable under bright sunlight.

The latest crop of LCD displays feature LED backlighting technology that makes screens brighter but uses less power than previous technologies.

Motion's variation, which it calls View Anywhere, offers more than triple the increased contrast in sunlight compared with other LCD displays, according to the company.

The seven-year old company, one of the leaders in the tablet and rugged computing market, said it's not worried about potential competition from small, inexpensive netbook PCs, despite the cost-cutting pressures hitting most user companies today.

For instance, some doctors are starting to use netbooks instead of tablet PCs, according to Robert Castellano, an analyst at The Information Network.

"We do see some netbook adoption, but we're not quite in the same 'disposable PC' space," said Mike Stinson, Motion's vice president of marketing.

Motion is interested in the low-cost, low-power Intel Atom processors that run most netbooks, Stinson acknowledged, though the company is unlikely to replace the Centrinos and Core 2 Duos inside its tablets for at least a year.

"In hospitals, a tablet often has to send secure status updates in real time," Stinson said. "It really has to behave like a network node, and that takes more horsepower than you would think."

Motion released its first rugged tablet, the F5, a year ago.

Motion's best-known competitor is probably Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. The Japanese company offers a line ruggedized devices called ToughBooks that range from simple laptops to tablet PCs. The Toughbook T8 tablet that Panasonic introduced last fall weighs 3.3 lbs., uses a low-voltage Core 2 Duo processor and offers up to seven hours of battery life.

Other mainstream notebook makers are also bringing out rugged or semi-rugged offerings.

Last month, Lenovo Group Ltd. announced that eight of its ThinkPads had been certified as semi-rugged by passing relevant U.S. military standards.

Last week, Dell Inc. introduced a 9lb. Latitude E6400 XFR touch-screen laptop that is designed for military personnel and first responders. Pricing starts at about $4,299.

To compete, Motion touts the ergonomics of its 3-lb. tablet PCs along with other innovations aimed at its core users in health care, construction and outdoor retail or service fields.

For its health-care customers, Motion ensures that its tablets can be easily disinfected, Stinson said. For customers who demand durability, the new tablets have an internal magnesium frame. The internal PC components "float" inside the frame, he said, cushioned by foam mounted at key points. This, along with the rubberized exterior, reduces shock in case of drops, he said, without "having to make the tablet weigh six pounds." After Microsoft Corp. released Windows XP Tablet edition in late 2002, Motion was one of the first companies to release products running on the operating system.

Microsoft no longer ships a specific tablet operating system, though it continues to offer new tablet features in more mainstream versions of Windows. As a result, all of Motion's tablets ship with the Vista Business operating system, though Stinson said that most of its customers last year exercised their downgrade rights to move back to XP.

"This wasn't because the tablet software was incompatible [with Vista], but because the overall organization hadn't migrated to Vista yet at the time," Stinson said.

Motion has been testing Windows 7. "We're really positive about it, it seems like a really good mobile OS," he said, adding that the company will likely pre-install the Windows 7 Business version on its machines when it becomes available.

The base J9400 model with a standard LCD display costs $2,299. A fully loaded SU9400 with View Anywhere LED backlit display, a 1.4-GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, a 64GB solid-state drive, an integrated camera and GPS functionality lists for $3,515.

Motion Computing's J9400 rugged tablet PC
Motion Computing says its J9400 rugged tablet PC is readable under bright sunlight.

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