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Will Tablet PCs replace laptops on college campuses?

February 9, 2003

Waltham, MA - Preliminary research from the first phase of a three-part Bentley College market research study provided early indications that the Tablet PC is a strong contender to become the technology of choice for students, faculty and staff at the nation¿s leading colleges and universities, indicates Marketing professor Perry Lowe, who is overseeing the project.

Bentley College students are joined by a number of corporate partners in the research who supplied varying amounts of confidential information. These included Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba, Acer, Motion, Fujitsu, CDW, PC Connection and InfoCater. All students, faculty and administration working on the research signed Non-Disclosure Agreements before the first class. The project is managed by student use of Groove Workspace desktop collaboration software from Groove Networks, Inc.another a corporate partner in the study.

Focus Group interviews conducted during January 2003 at the Bentley College Center for Marketing Technology, confidential corporate partner research, and a review of eight major electronic databases all confirm high interest levels in moving to Tablet PCs as the primary personal computer of the future, said Lowe.

"The Tablet PC was not only well received on an overall basis, but also for its potential use in the classroom by both students and professors. The stylus-based input system, wireless capability, light weight, convertible form, and competitive price were benefits of particular interest to college students. Although this is the very earliest stage of our research and provides qualitative rather than quantitative information, the broad-based interest in Tablet PCs is intriguing as colleges and universities look for the next level of technology for teaching and learning," Lowe said.

Not all of the early research was supportive. Students voiced strong concerns about the Tablet PCs ability to support their need for outside of the classroom entertainment and communication uses. "IM (instant messaging), music, movies, and games are as important as classroom note-taking and group collaboration in the 24/7 world of college students," said Lowe. "Any successful personal computer serving the higher education market will need to address all of these needs."

Among the most important early indications from the Bentley College research was the students' willingness to pay a premium price for Tablet PCs. Although this information was based on a non-representative sample of all college students, it points to the importance of the quantitative research to be conducted in the next two phases of the project.

Bentley College was among the first colleges in the U.S. to require students to have laptop computers, beginning in 1985. As the nation's first business university, Bentley has made technology a significant component of teaching and learning across the curriculum and students are well-versed in the integration of technology and commerce.

The Spring 2003 research project, which is part of an undergraduate honors marketing class under Lowe's supervision, is designed to survey end users, administrative decision-makers and those who influence purchasers of campus technology on whether Tablet PCs can and should replace laptops, desktop PCs and Palm-style PDAs across the spectrum in higher education. Next steps will focus on decision-makers in campus computing and will use web-based, PDA-based, and Tablet PC-based Perseus surveys to broaden research beyond the Bentley campus.

Tablet PCs are about the size and shape of a hefty spiral-bound notebook but with the mobile computing power of a laptop. Users carry and hold Tablet PCs like a pad of paper and use a stylus to write or draw directly on the screen. Bentley research includes attitudes regarding both slate-screen tablets and convertible models, which are hinged for use as a standard notepad or, by rotating the screen, conversion to a familiar keyboard-and-screen combination. Among advantages attributed to Tablet PCs are wireless technology, ability to convert handwriting to text, drawing capability that enables groups to collaborate and review design work, and full configuration that equals a laptop computer, all in a single device.

Tim Danahy, Acer¿s Director of Business Development, Eastern US, is a liaison working with Bentley students on the project. "Acer stands to gain a lot of market knowledge from this research, not least of which is that gained from Bentley's laptop program over the past 18 years, which is a lot of real life experience," said Danahy. "Bentley's Center for Marketing Technology is amazing. It's second to none and better than most corporate environments for this kind of study."

"We have smart guys in our laboratory at Acer," Danahy continued, "but we want real world feedback from students, faculty and staff. They are the experts who use the technology every day."

Phase 2 findings of the Bentley research project will be released by late March.

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit www.bentley.edu

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