The industry is gearing up for what is promised to be the next step in the evolution of personal computing - the Tablet PC. A broad industry initiative aimed at injecting new life into the PC market and involving many of the big hardware, software and component manufacturers, the concept was to create a device as powerful as a desktop and more portable than a laptop with a wider range of interfacing options.
When demonstrating the Acer Tablet PC prototype developed in conjunction with Microsoft at Comdex in Las Vegas last November, Bill Gates labelled it company's most significant new product for 2002. The Acer Tablet features a detachable 10-inch screen that when removed from the keyboard section, becomes a stand alone "Tablet" on which data can be manipulated with a pen.
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As both a traditional clamshell laptop and a lightweight, notepad-style 'Tablet", the increase in functionality is obvious: the detachable screen is a self-contained PC capable of accomplishing all the tasks that the combined unit can using a stylus pen, and taking digital notes in lectures, meetings and countless other situations becomes far less obtrusive.
Tablet PCs will come in two main varieties: the "convertible" as described above and the "pure tablet" that features a plug-in keyboard and docks in a desktop cradle. Tablet PCs will enable input via keyboard, stylus, or voice, but advances in handwriting recognition that enable "ink" to be converted to digital print or preserved as "ink" (therefore allowing everyone to use their own shorthand) are the key to its usability.
Prototype Tablet PCs have also been produced by Compaq, Fujitsu, Toshiba and others, with Microsoft showcasing several products using its new Windows XP Tablet PC Edition platform at the TECHXNY show in New York during June. The Tablet PC is due to hit the market later this year both here and in the US, so don't throw out the laptop just yet. No word yet on the expected price but any major positive impact on overall PC sales may take a while to filter through, especially if the initial price is too high.