I was in the New York City audience in November 2002 when Bill Gates strode onto the stage and introduced the world to the modern version of the tablet computer. With him were celebrities, including Rob Lowe and Amy Tan, and the CEOs of a handful of manufacturing partners, such as HP and Panasonic. Gates and Co. talked about tablet PCs as the future of computing.
Windows XP Tablet Edition, as it was called, relied on an active digitizer that interacted with a pen-sensitive screen to provide input. This hardware was combined with a suite of software so the digitizer -- a fancy name for a mouse in the shape of a pen -- could interact with on-screen buttons, as well as write text. Windows XP Tablet Edition was updated in 2005, but the revisions were minor.
More than seven years since that launch, Windows-based tablet computers haven't evolved into much. The form factors are mostly the same, even though touch technology has leapt forward in capabilities. The new paradigm of computing that Gates spoke of never unfolded. At least, not yet.
Apple is re-imagining the tablet category with its iPad. By taking a multitouch approach, Apple has opened up a whole new way to interact with its device.
For some, several features missing from the iPad's first iteration, call into question its future in an enterprise environment.
For others, the device is "naturally corporate." Its most fundamental design element -- that it can be held with one hand -- signals to one analyst, the iPad's potential to be a great business device. For the enterprise that wants to deploy tablet PCs today, the point is moot. The iPad is months away from shipping.
For enterprises that need tablet power today, out in the real, rough-and-tumble world (including out in the elements), the usual list of suspects has your back. Here are some examples of tablet PCs that are available today from Dell, HP, Lenovo, Motion Computing, Panasonic, and Xplore Technologies. We'll also take a peek at what's on the horizon from Dell, Lenovo, and HP.
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