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Dell and Toshiba are each bringing tablet PCs into the enterprise market this week, with both vendors offering their users touch-screen capabilities with the new models.

The Dell Latitude XT tablet PC marks the first time the OEM has offered its own tablet PC for customers. Before this model rolled out Dec. 11, Dell had partnered with other vendors, notably Motion Computing, to deliver tablet PCs to its customers.

Toshiba also made a tablet announcement, saying on Dec. 10 that it plans to update its tablet portfolio with the Portege M700 series. While Dell’s tablet is the first in its PC lineup, Toshiba, with its North American headquarters in Irvine, Calif., has been selling tablets for years.

Both the Latitude XT and the Portege M700 series are offering 12.1-inch WXGA (1,280-by-800-pixel resolution), LED-backlit displays with touch-screen capabilities that enable users to either use a pen or a fingertip. A big difference is price. While the Toshiba starts as low as $1,699 for a basic configuration, the Dell tablet starts at $2,499.

In addition to offering similar configurations, Dell and Toshiba are both looking to expand the tablet market from a niche PC mainly used in the health care and education markets to one that is more open to the mainstream enterprise market.

Read more here about Dell and the enterprise market.

Margaret Franco, product marketing director for Dell’s Latitude line, said the work force is changing, with younger employees more comfortable with some of the technology typically found in tablet PCs, such as the touch-screen feature.

“You have a lot of people entering the work force that grew up with texting and using devices that have multiple features,” Franco said. “In the past, you had standard hardware, but now you have users looking for more choice and IT buyers [looking] for a way to solve those end-user needs.”

The market for tablet PCs appears ready for growth over the next five years. According to research firm IDC, tablet shipments accounted for about 3 percent—about 3 million units—of all worldwide notebooks shipments in 2007. By 2011, IDC is predicting that number will grow to 7.9 percent, or 12.6 million units.

One reason for the increased interest in tablet PCs is that Microsoft has incorporated most of its tablet features into the Windows Vista operating system, which means users will not have to buy a separate operating system for tablets. Both Dell and Toshiba offer Vista as well as the Windows XP Tablet Edition. The fact that Dell is getting into the tablet market at this time could also signal a change in enterprise attitudes toward tablets, said Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research.

“I think a company like Dell might play well in a market that is still not mature,” King said. “I’m not sure if the market is waiting for the right combination of technology or for a groundswell of vendors to become interested in tablets, but the Dell tablet is a solid product and I think it will do well.”

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The Dell Latitude tablet, which weighs 3.5 pounds, comes with one of Intel’s ultra-low volt processors, including the Core 2 Duo U7600 chips with a clock speed of 1.2GHz, 2MB of L2 cache and a 533MHz front-side bus. The tablet also offers an integrated ATI Radeon X1250 graphics chip, up to 3GB of RAM, a hard disk drive with up 120GB of capacity and 802.11a/g wireless LAN technology. In addition, Dell offers a solid-state drive (SSD) option with up to 64GB of capacity. The tablet can also offer up to 9 hours of battery life.

The two models in the Toshiba Portege M700 series—the S72002 and the S70001X—offer similar configurations, including the 12.1-inch display, up to 4GB of RAM, a hard disk drive capacity of up to 160GB and 802.11a/g/draft-n wireless technology. The Toshiba tablet does use a standard Intel Core 2 Duo processor—the T7500 with a clock speed of 2.2GHz, 4MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz FSB—along with an Intel X3100 graphics card.

The Toshiba tablets are available immediately, and the Dell Latitude XT is available later this month.

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