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5/24/2014
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Microsoft Surface Pro 3: 10 Tablets Paved Its Way

About 40% of Americans own a tablet or e-reader, but that didn't happen overnight. These 10 devices shaped the evolution of the modern tablet.
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The Tablet's All Grown Up

It seems just yesterday we were flogging Microsoft for its slowpoke tablet strategy. Yet we're already on the third generation of its Surface Pro line. Time flies when you're trying to keep up with a cutthroat, rapidly changing technology industry -- or however that saying goes.

Tablet technology isn't all that new. You can trace its roots back for decades. No, it didn't start with the iPad, even if that's the device that has more or less made the tablet an ordinary household item, like, say, a coffeemaker. Both Apple and Microsoft had tablet initiatives underway long before the iPad or Surface line, even if the term "tablet" wasn't as ubiquitous as today. They weren't the only vendors involved, either.

The tablet is indeed ubiquitous: the Pew Research Foundation's October 2013 update to its tablet and e-reader tracking found 35% of Americans age 16 or older own a tablet. That figure increases to 43% if you include e-readers like Amazon's Kindle or Barnes & Noble's Nook. Those numbers certainly grew during 2013's holiday season. That's a lot of devices.

So how did we arrive here? There have been some whopping hits -- the iPad, course -- and some whopping flops (we'll get to those) and many attempts in between. We've also seen a ton of evolution in recent years. The iPad may have quickly established itself as the gold standard in the tablet boom, but now tablets are anything but "standard" -- even the iPad has a little sibling, the Mini. Screens get smaller and smaller; screens grow larger and larger. Specs grow ever more impressive. Devices like the Kindle Fire HDX offer incredible video quality at a sub-iPad price. We've got luxury prices and low-end prices. We've got so much to choose from we need new names and categories for the darn things: convertibles, slates, transformers, phablets (something about that particular term inspires me to hit the gym), and on down the list.

If there's a common denominator across the modern tablet landscape, it's choice. Picking a tablet is no longer a matter of the iPad versus the also-rans. There's a model and a price point to suit a wide spectrum of users. You've got some thinking to do.

Enter the Surface Pro 3. Microsoft went big here. A Surface Mini may still be in the offing and diversity's a good thing, but for its flagship model Microsoft placed a clear stake in the ground: laptop replacement. This isn't your grandma's tablet. In fact, tablet might not even be the right word for the Surface.

The Surface Pro 3's success is far from guaranteed. It's a laptop replacement in more ways than one: Starting at $799, its price is more laptop than tablet, particularly as a growing number of low-cost alternatives (albeit often with much skimpier specs) hit the market. There's also the simple fact that the Surface line was late to the party; Apple and Google's Android have been having almost all the fun and continue to enjoy prime seats at the table.

Still, as InformationWeek's Michael Endler wrote, the Surface Pro 3 "represents Microsoft's best attempt yet at Apple-like harmony between software and hardware." This is no ordinary device. It's bigger yet thinner, loaded with features, practically begging for a second look from tablet and laptop shoppers. It's in many ways an emblem of the "modern" tablet, right down to the fact that "tablet" might not even be the right word for it.

The early days of tablets are behind us. Let's look back at 10 other devices that helped pave the road to this point. Which ones did you love and hate? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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HoratioF144
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HoratioF144,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/24/2014 | 12:32:28 PM
Writer 100% incorrect. Tablets came after.
Actually if you want to know what really happened the idea for Surface and all these models came up in 2005-6 and commercial that aired last year was mostly shot in 2007.  What happened is that Microsoft did not follow its value proposition and original marketing instincts and decided to be extemely conservative (they are very good at that) and wait for everyone else to pile in and witness success and failure in tablet land before launching what they easily could have 5+ years ago.

True.  Call Panos Panay and ask him!

Horatio
EddieJ123
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EddieJ123,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/24/2014 | 2:32:49 PM
Re: Writer 100% incorrect. Tablets came after.
I actually own 2 TC1100s...I use them every day. Other than the dimmer screens...the devices are still quite superior to most tablets under $500.

http://eddiejackson.net

 
anon8354898604
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anon8354898604,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/24/2014 | 4:24:11 PM
New Windows 8.1 - Android O/S
Also new this week is the first Windows 8.1 - Android O.S.Hybrid -- with Ramos technology partnering with Intel for the new Ramos i10 Pro- which was showcased by Intel at CeBit 2014 and features the first Dual boot tablet available to make it simple to use both Windows software and Android Apps on a single device--  and offers a 10 HD screen, Intel BayTrail CPU and battery 9 hours life; plus keyboard and case.

One U S.source with more on the Ramos i-series is-- iP r o T a b l e t
TreblaNoj
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TreblaNoj,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/24/2014 | 5:59:09 PM
Twenty years late
I'm guessing the writet is under 30 as he did not even mention the Apple Newton- the real progenitor. I got my Palm Pilot several years later.
celticlandcom
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celticlandcom,
User Rank: Strategist
5/25/2014 | 12:39:12 AM
Re: Twenty years late
Or before the Newton .... The Casio casiopeia, and even earlier organizers from Casio and Zaurus.... Some with stylus
PeteMacKay
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PeteMacKay,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/25/2014 | 2:30:14 AM
Re: Twenty years late
The Newton was Apple's knockoff of the Psion Organizer. Development of the Newton started 4 years after the Organizer was released. Psion's software later begat the original phone OS - Symbian.
anon4258667818
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anon4258667818,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/25/2014 | 4:29:23 AM
Re: New Hybrid
Another tablet launching this week is the first Windows 8.1 - Android O/S Hybrid -- with Ramos technology partnering with Intel for the new Ramos i10 Pro tablet, which was showcased by Intel at CeBit 2014 and offers the first Dual-boot tablet on the market that makes it easy to use both Windows software and Android Apps on one device, and features a 10-inch, full HD display, an Intel Bay Trail 64-bit processor and 9 hours battery life.

 More on this new hybrid model at the site -- i P r o T a b l et
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
5/25/2014 | 11:58:52 AM
Re: Twenty years late
No, the Psion was a much more primitive machine. You should learn about both before making silly comments.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
5/25/2014 | 12:00:14 PM
Re: Twenty years late
None of those were tablets. That's why no history of tablets mentions them.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
5/25/2014 | 12:05:43 PM
Re: Writer 100% incorrect. Tablets came after.
What? What world are you living in?
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