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An Old Name in a New Market

Italy’s Olivetti hopes its “OliPad” touch-screen tablet attracts business customers.
December 15, 2010

The Italian company Olivetti made a name for itself in the 20th century with beautifully designed products like the Lettera 22 typewriter, which is on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art, and innovations such as the Programma 101, an early programmable calculator that was first shown in 1965. In the 1980s, Olivetti became a large producer of personal computers, before competition caught up and nearly put Olivetti out of business altogether.

Now the company is hoping for a boost from a new market—touch-screen tablet computers. Beginning as soon as this month, Olivetti plans to sell the “OliPad,” which runs the Android operating system and is expected to start at $400. It has a 10-inch screen, slightly bigger than the iPad’s, and runs on Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Olivetti, which is now owned by Telecom Italia, has focused in recent years on products geared toward business customers. Now Patrizia Grieco, the company’s CEO, hopes to approach the tablet market by leveraging the Olivetti Application Warehouse, a set of software already used on conventional PCs in Europe. For example, in hopes of selling the OliPad to small and medium enterprises, the OliPad has a collaboration tool for sharing content within a company and its partners; a sales force management tool; and a digital catalog tool for the fashion sector.

Olivetti says one intriguing application is being developed in collaboration with Italy’s FS train company, which is exploring whether giving tablets to railroad repairmen could make train maintenance more efficient. One of the problems with train maintenance operations is the need to coordinate multiple steps, such as the planning of repairs and the ordering of parts. A maintenance worker in the field could be given an OliPad loaded with manuals and guidelines for procedures. He could use the device to take notes and pictures, and to quickly check the availability of supplies in stock, all on site, rather than having to return to an office.

Matteo Ovi is a reporter for Technology Review’s Italian Edition.

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