The world of computing is at the crossroads. The primary computer for most users today is not a PC; it’s a phone. While the PC sits on a desk at the office or on a coffee table at home, smartphones go everywhere with us and integrate into every part of our lives. But despite getting smarter and smarter, phones are too small to replace PCs completely. We need a device that bridges the gap between what PCs do and what mobile phones do. That device has arrived. Welcome to the age of the tablet.
The concept of a tablet PC isn’t new, but its definition has radically changed. What we used to call a tablet was just a laptop with a screen that swiveled around and folded back, a bulky machine that was uncomfortable to carry as a tablet and awkward to use as a laptop.
Today’s tablet is exactly what the name implies: a thin slab, dominated by its screen. These slender systems generally weigh around half a kilogram. The software for tablets has changed, as well. Instead of struggling to run a full-fledged version of Windows, which requires a significant amount of processing power and isn’t optimized for use with a touchscreen, most new tablet models released nowadays run a relatively lightweight, touchscreen-focused mobile operating system such as Apple iOS or Google Android.
The most popular tablet so far is the Apple iPad. The iPad measures 9.5 inches tall by 7.5 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and carries a 9.7-inch screen. Because the iPad is about the size of a typical spiral-bound paper notebook, it looks and feels familiar to most users on an unconscious level.
But a number of new devices, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab, are challenging the notion that so large a tablet is ideal for mobile use. The 7-inch screens that these machines carry make them more portable than the iPad, and major wireless carriers are lining up to offer them with 3G service.
Meanwhile, at the larger end of the spectrum, a company called Kno is producing a line of Linux-based tablets aimed at the textbook market. Inspired by bulky college texts, the Kno tablets measure 14 inches diagonally; a planned future release promises a foldable double-tablet format that will enable students to view two full-size pages at once.
If you want a tablet with a roomy screen but 14 inches is too big for your taste, you can look forward to another contender from an established laptop manufacturer: Asus has announced that it has plans to begin producing a Windows 7-based tablet equipped with a 12-inch screen.
It’s too early to tell whether users and the industry will ultimately favor a particular size and format for tablets, though the diversity of early tablet offerings suggests that if a standard does eventually emerge, it won’t happen for quite some time.