Tablet Market Set to Take Off
There is no doubt that the personal computer is morphing. In 1981, when the first IBM PC appeared, it was a huge desktop device with a large CRT monitor. Moving this computer system from room to room took a major effort.
Today a netbook is smaller than a magazine, can be toted anywhere and is much more powerful than that old IBM PC.
Although the netbook surged in popularity in 2008 and 2009, it is already in danger of being replaced by another PC design - the tablet. The tablet-type of PC is something that seems very new. Most people's first look at a tablet PC was the recently released Apple iPad.
The idea of a tablet computer, however, is actually pretty old. Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a big proponent of the tablet computer.
In fact, the Microsoft Tablet PC was a pet project to which he dedicated a lot of time and effort at the beginning of this decade. Microsoft showed off a prototype of its Tablet PC at the big COMDEX trade show in 2000.
Microsoft kicked off the actual Tablet PC at COMDEX in late 2002. In his keynote speech that year, Gates said, "The Tablet is a PC that is virtually without limits - and within five years, I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America."
The operating system, called Windows XP Tablet PC edition, was released in early 2003. Toshiba, Compaq, HP and several other large manufacturers produced tablet PC hardware.
Gates invested a lot of money into the Tablet PC. He wooed the press that year with one of his biggest Las Vegas COMDEX parties.
Artists roamed the floor of the plush Aureole restaurant in the Mandalay Bay, drawing pictures of guests on Tablet PCs. Waiters wandered about with their Tablet PCs showing how they would be used to take orders. Food and drinks flowed freely, while Big Bad Voodoo Daddy provided the entertainment.
Gates himself was authentically motivated. Even in small groups, he talked of nothing but the potential of the Tablet PC.
After COMDEX, Microsoft poured a lot of resources into the Tablet PC, but to no avail. It was a total and complete flop, garnering less than 1 percent of the computer market in 2003. In comparison, Apple's iPad tablet sold more than 3 million units in less than three months.
What a difference a day makes! Or in this case - seven years. Microsoft's Tablet PC used a stylus. It had rudimentary hand-writing and voice recognition. It was heavy. It was slow.
The iPad is thin and light. It has a touch screen and an accelerometer. It is fast. It has built-in wireless. It can use the cellular network to access the Internet. It plays music and movies. It can be used to read books. It can run hundreds of thousands of apps from the Apple iTunes store.
Just this quick write-up of features may make you want to go out and purchase an iPad. If you must have one now, go right ahead. But my advice would be to wait for Apple's competitors to announce their tablet computers. Apple produces both the hardware and the operating system of the iPad. So there will be competition in both of these areas.
Given the history of the Tablet PC, it is not surprising that Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, has already announced that it will be venturing into the tablet PC market with tablets running a specialized version of the Windows 7 operating system.
The Google Android operating system, which is currently used on Android mobile phones, is sure to have a place in the tablet market. HP has announced that it will produce a tablet running on its newly acquired Palm Web operating system. Asus, Samsung, Sony, Dell and Toshiba are just a few of the manufacturers who are currently working on the hardware for a tablet-type PC. They are expected to begin showing up for the holiday selling season.
Because of the large variety of operating systems and hardware, we are sure to see a lot of different ideas and different implementations. As the personal computer continues to morph into something more portable and more useful, we will be presented with a lot of options.
We can all look forward to an interesting year in technology - one where our purchasing power will give us the ability to help mold the future personal computing.
Send your computer-related questions for publication in this column to Sandy Berger at Computer Living Corp., P.O. Box 5895, Pinehurst NC 28374; or by e-mail a firstname.lastname@example.org.
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