What's The Allure Of Tablet Computers? Apple is launching a new product, widely thought to be a tablet computer, this week. But it would be entering a crowded market. While tablet computers are a small fraction of computer sales, many companies are selling or plan to sell tablets in the near future.

What's The Allure Of Tablet Computers?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand.


Im Robert Siegel. And its time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: If the rumors have it right, and in this case they probably do, Apple will introduce a slate computer, sometimes called a tablet, later this week. Other tech companies are expected to follow suit later this year.

NPRs Laura Sydell reports on what a slate computer is and why anyone would want one.

LAURA SYDELL: If youre not sure what a slate computer is, you arent alone. A few years back, many HP executives couldnt really figure it out either.

Mr. PHIL McKINNEY (Chief Technology Officer, HPs Personal Systems Group): Im trying to convey what a slate device was five years ago. Little hard to get the executives understand, you know, what would be the use for that slate.

SYDELL: So, HPs Phil McKinney took them on a trip to the final frontier.

(Soundbite of movie, Star Trek)

Unidentified Man: These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise.

SYDELL: For many years, slate computers have been popping up in Star Trek. In the show, they are flat computers without keyboards used to enter data and retrieve information.

Mr. McKINNEY: The future for slates is youll have slates just laying around the house. Youll just have them laying around the office. Youll be able to pick up that slate. You should be able to connect to your information. You should be able to have the interactive experience that you want.

SYDELL: For slates, the future is now. McKinney says even though there have been attempts to market them over the last decade...

Mr. McKINNEY: What youre seeing is really a perfect storm of innovation from the standpoint of processors, operating system, touch technologies and the ability to bring that all together to hit a mainstream price point.

SYDELL: At this years Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed an HP slate during his keynote address.

Mr. STEVE BALLMER (CEO, Microsoft): I think many customers are going to be very, very excited about.

SYDELL: It was thin, about the size of a novel with an all glass front. It offered up everything that Amazons Kindle eReader has, but more.

Mr. BALLMER: As you see, I can flip through the book, using the touch experience. I can experience the book in full color. I can, of course, go and buy and download more content from Amazon.

SYDELL: There are long standing rumors that Microsoft will release a new slate computer of its own. In an interview with NPR, Microsofts Ballmer played down the size of the market.

Mr. BALLMER: Well sell 300 million PCs in the next year. There will be 150 million smartphones sold in the next year. And most of the forecast are for single-digit millions maybe of slate computers.

SYDELL: But theres a good chance that Apple is going to try to prove Ballmer wrong. Right now, rumors are flying that Apple will release a slate PC later this week. Gartner Research analyst Mike McGuire says theres a reason so many people are excited about a new Apple product.

Mr. MIKE McGUIRE (Analyst, Gartner Research): What Apple does is it takes those existing paradigms that are nice, functional devices and turn them into something unique. It may look familiar, but the total experience it delivers is unique.

SYDELL: The iPod was not the first MP3 player, the iPhone was not the first smartphone. But Apple made them popular. McGuire believes an Apple slate is likely to offer not just books but videos, music and movies, all with interactivity and an Internet connection. So, imagine youre watching a movie on your slate, you cant remember the name of the particular actor.

Mr. McGUIRE: And instead of having to go like scan through the movie to the end credits, just say wait a minute, title of the movie, you know, whos the guy in the blue suit.

SYDELL: When Dr. Jakob Nielsen, an expert on technology usability, tries to describe a slate PC, he doesnt look to science fiction, he goes directly to magic, Harry Potter.

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Dr. JAKOB NIELSEN (Usability Consultant): The newspaper is called The Daily Prophet. It comes with these photographs that are all kind of moving images because of the magic of Harry Potter and the wizards. But in a tablet, all the photos could be - could be video clips.

SYDELL: Nielsen sees two possible technological hurdles for Apple or any company to overcome. Tablet PCs cant be too expensive, and they have to have enough battery life. Still if Apple nails it, at least some analysts believe that tens of millions of people will buy slate and tablet PCs this year.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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