Motion pushes tablet PCs to feds

Motion Computing Inc. hopes new distribution deals and a new office will boost sales of its tablet computers to the government.

Motion now has distribution agreements with Dell Computer Corp., GovConnection Inc. and Microwarehouse, and will list products on those companies' General Services Administration schedule contracts.

Motion expects the new reseller agreements to expand its reach rapidly. It already has 23 government clients, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Navy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, NASA and three of the Energy Department's national laboratories.

Austin, Texas-based Motion, founded by former Dell employees, has also opened a Washington, D.C., sales office, staffed by one person whose role is to give agencies and resellers personal attention and education about the computers, said Scott Eckert, Motion's chief executive officer.

"It's a unique product," Eckert said. "You need a subject-matter expert who can explain how it can be used in various government activities."

This week, Motion is launching its newest tablet PCs, the M-1300 line. They're powered by a 1GHz Intel Corp. Centrino processor and come in various configurations of memory and hard-disk size. They include built-in 802.11b wireless receivers, allowing them to connect to the Internet any time they are close to a wireless access point.

Pricing depends on configuration, but an M1300 with 256M of memory and a 20G hard drive lists for $2,099. The same model with 512M of memory, a 40G hard drive and a CD-ROM costs $2,466.

Base prices under GSA's schedule are the same as retail, but Motion will negotiate volume discounts, said Tricia Traeger, the company's director of corporate relations.

Tablet PCs are relatively new in the portable-computing world. Each computer is about three-quarters of an inch thick, with vertical and horizontal dimensions similar to those of a clipboard.

Powered by a customized version of the Microsoft Corp. Windows XP operating system, tablet PCs can record handwritten data in specialized forms, as well as applications such as e-mail. The computer can convert relatively neat handwriting into printed text, enabling the user to customize fonts and formatting. It can also record the original handwriting, even sending handwritten e-mail messages through Microsoft Outlook.

Users can also snap the computers onto a detachable keyboard, or docking station that allows the use of standard PC peripherals, letting machines be quickly converted to desktop units.

One common use of tablets, Eckert said, is "form replacement." Users who walk around with clipboards recording information on forms can now do that on the computer with the same portability. Once the data is entered, it can be drawn into databases, stored as computer files and used for analysis.

"They get much better data capture and better use of it," he said.

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