Unless you’ve been living in a cave you may have heard of the tablet PC. You probably don’t own one now and probably don’t even have much use for one. But I have a feeling that most of us will have one in the coming years. A tablet occupies a niche between full-blown laptop computers and smart phones such as the iPhone and Droid. Heavy, clunky tablets have been around for a while but have been mostly based on Microsoft Windows and optimized for use with a stylus. The new generation of tablets is designed to be operated by fingertip gestures and weigh less than a pound or two.
The success of Apple’s iPad is spurring the growth of tablet-based PCs. When the iPad was released back in April of this year, experts estimated that Apple would likely ship 7 million devices by the end of the year which is quite a success by any measure. Now those same analysts estimate Apple will ship 7 million in just the last quarter of this year for a total of 13.4 million by the end of the year.
With a price of between $500 and $800, competitors are salivating and have released (or will soon release) competing devices. Analysts predict that the tablet industry will ship 46 million units from dozens of manufacturers by the end of 2014. These new tablets are priced $200.00 to many hundreds. One of them is even “free.” Sort of.
Hewlett Packard has released a new printer called the Photosmart eStation for $399.00. The printer comes with a 7” (diagonal) touch screen display that serves as the printer's control screen. Equipped with Wi-Fi, it can be detached and used to download e-books from Barnes & Noble, play digital music, and connect to social media sites such as Facebook. HP is gambling that you will buy the printer for the “free” tablet PC then make their money from selling you their expensive ink cartridges.
The makers of the Blackberry phone are rumored to be releasing their tablet next week during a trade show. All tablets have Wi-Fi capabilities. Most come with the ability to connect to high speed cellular networks. One of the cool things that will set the Blackberry “Blackbook” apart is the ability to be tethered to a Blackberry smart phone for internet access on the road. It’s being touted as a “companion” to the Blackberry phone.
Another interesting entry to the tablet market is the HP Slate from Hewlett Packard. There is an unofficial video of the device on Youtube. Details are sketchy but the device will be running on a version of Windows 7 optimized for touch screens and appears to be aimed at business professionals.
All these tablets are designed to compete with the current king of tablets, Apple’s iPad. One of the most highly anticipated tablets is the Samsung Galaxy Tab. It is rumored to come closest to rivaling the iPad experience. It will be available from all four major US wireless carriers, T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and Verizon sometime this fall.