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After iPad, rivals offer variations on theme

Just as Apple’s iPhone shook up a complacent cellphone industry, the company’s iPad is provoking PC makers — and non-PC makers — to fight back with new devices, report Ashlee Vance & Nick Bilton.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2010 21:24 IST

Just as Apple’s iPhone shook up a complacent cellphone industry, the company’s iPad is provoking PC makers — and non-PC makers — to fight back with new devices.

Google — a search and advertising company — is soon expected to begin selling its version of a slate computer, like Apple’s iPad, while Nokia — the world’s biggest cellphone maker — is planning to enter the digital book market through a slate-cum-e-reader as well.

Microsoft, the maker of computer software, is flirting with the idea of selling its own version of a slate, joining traditional computer companies like Hewlett-Packard that have already committed to such products.

In part, these companies are feeling the pressure to respond to the iPad, which went on sale on April 3. But their decisions to develop the hybrid products also demonstrate their desire to expand their core businesses, and to experiment with varying kinds of business models and technologies.

For consumers, it could all be good, as more companies offer their version of the slate, a new breed of consumer electronics, in a design free-for-all. The products, which will generally cost less than $600, provide different, and in some cases unusual, features that reflect the companies’ visions of what matters most to people.

“We’re living in extremely exciting times right now,” said Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, the chief executive of Nokia. “It’s quite challenging to define what industry we are in because everything is changing.”

Historically, Microsoft has been the biggest champion of tablet computers, which let people scrawl on a computer screen with a stylus just as they would on paper. And over the last few years, the big makers of personal computers, like H.P. and Dell, have taken Microsoft’s software and built such tablets. But their devices have been similar, and limited in what they offer. The software, based on Microsoft Windows, never seemed flexible enough to fit a variety of mobile computers.

Now there is much more software and hardware available to build low-cost, capable, hand-held devices, called slates, that are thinner, lighter and typically omit physical keyboards altogether.