Call it a “slate” or call it a “tablet”, the technology world is suddenly awash with a novel category of mobile devices seeking to grab the spotlight from a hugely anticipated product launch by Apple Inc later this month.
Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Dell, Motorola and Lenovo are among a barrage of companies showing off thin, touchscreen, multimedia devices at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.
The sprawling show floor was flooded with prototype and concept devices in an array of sizes, as vendors test the waters of an as yet unproven market. These wireless gadgets can stream video, download music, surf the Web and play games, aiming to win over consumers by bridging the gap between smartphones and laptops.
They are jockeying for attention ahead of Apple’s widely expected announcement of a 10- to 11-inch tablet computer in late January, which could redefine the category much as the iPhone did for phones.
But some analysts doubted if consumers would take to tablets or slates, which join a market crowded with netbooks, e-readers, smartphones and laptops of all configurations.
Gartner analyst Van Baker is skeptical of the category as a whole, saying he doesn’t understand what functionality tablets offer that would compel consumers to shell out hundreds of dollars for them.
“Apple could pull it off,” Baker said, however, noting that the iPhone, iPod and Macbook maker already charges premium prices for its products so it may be able to persuade consumers to buy a tablet priced in the $500 to $800 range.
Most of the tech vendors were coy about pricing or potential launch dates.