No matter where you turn these days, it seems people are talking about tablets. Apple is expected to have a super-secret "iTablet" under development, and today we've learned that Microsoft has plans for one as well. Meanwhile, Archos just launched a new line of Android-based tablets, while RAmos is expected to announce another Android tablet this Friday.
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Tablet PCs are coming out left and right. But are they here to stay? A lot of critics, including our own head editor Luigi, don't believe there is a substantial market for tablets. They deliver the same or less computing power than a netbook for (often) a much higher price. Many tablets and MIDs are just a little too large to fit in your pocket, but still too small for more than one person to watch a movie on.
It's clear that the very concept of the tablet PC has issues. But there are also a lot of potential benefits to the idea. The infamous "mystery" MID from RAmos looks like just about the perfect tablet PC from what we've seen. With a 5" touchscreen, it's small enough to fit into your pocket (as long as you don't wear jeans) and large enough to be great for Internet browsing and on-the-fly note-taking. Assuming the RAmos device comes in at a sub-$500 price point, I think it could do very well.
But there's a big difference between doing well, and becoming ubiquitous. Apple isn't going to get into the tablet game unless they really think the technology has a chance of going mainstream. There's no way Steve Jobs is going to stake his reputation as a visionary on a tablet unless he has good reason to believe he'll sell tens of millions of them over the next few years.
I'm not saying there's no iTablet in development. I'm just saying we'll never see it unless the market gives some sign that they really, really want one. And Microsoft probably won't roll out their tablet until Apple's hits stores. We could very well see a tablet war in the near future, but it is going to require a catalyst of some sort. A tablet or tablet-like product that sells well and gets some popular media attention.
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There is one other possibility, based on naught but speculation from me. IF Steve Jobs has hit upon a truly brilliant 'hook' to make tablet PCs marketable, the iTablet rumors might prove true. The Apple CEO has a history of finding new ways to twist and sell old ideas. It's possible he has some secret plan to popularize tablets. I sure as hell hope so.
Update: Hot! Microsoft Courier Tablet Unveiled.