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What is a Tablet PC?
A tablet is a portable computer whose primary input device is a touch screen. Typically they are rectangular in shape and slimline. All have audio jacks, while most have USB or micro-USB ports. They can connect to the internet by wireless or 3G, depending on the model, and are powered by a variety of operating systems (often shortened to OS). Some are proprietary ones like Apple iPad iOS, Amazon FireOS or HP webOS, but the majority of tablets run on various editions of Windows and Android, the operating system created by Google.
Tablets are increasingly useful and new ways to use them are found every day. Applications include surfing the net, word processing, photo editing, drawing, messaging, consuming media (music, TV, and movies) and playing games.
A Brief History of Tablets
Tablet PC computers derive from many different technologies and ideas from the past. A digitizer (a graphic tablet with handwriting text recognition) was presented back in 1956 as a replacement for the keyboard. The concept of the tablet PC is also related to pen computing, where a pen or stylus is used as a user interface instead of a mouse or keyboard.
One of the tablet's predecessors was the PDA device, a somewhat clumsy handheld personal computer used for taking notes and storing data like phone numbers. These devices date from 1980 when Psion launched its first PDA model. The idea was taken on by Apple with its Newton and by US Robotics with the Palm Pilot. These revolutionary ideas and products were way ahead of their time and they sank into history almost forgotten, except by those who had to use them!
The next major step was the introduction of a special Microsoft XP Windows OS named Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in 2001. This edition incorporated support for a pen-sensitive screen and handwriting input. Microsoft also contributed the name "Tablet PC" - they were the first to use it. Various attempts to perfect the tablet concept were made in the years after, but the final breakthrough came again from Apple in the breathtaking form of the iPad in 2010.
After creating the modern tablet market and dominating it for years, Apple's market share was slowly eaten by voracious rivals such as Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung.
Today (September 2015) Apple is still the dominant force in the market, with market share of 26.8% (and industry-thrashing profit margins). Samsung is second on 19.1%, followed by Lenovo and Asus on 5.3% and 3.8% respectively.
Global tablet shipments are rising and although some markets are saturated, there is still tremendous room for growth in developing countries and in the business sector. The only thing stopping the tablet market from being considered the hottest item is tech is the rise of the 'phablet' - gigantic smartphones bigger than any known pocket. If you consider the phablet as a sub-set of tablet, then tablet market growth in the last 6 years has been little short of stratospheric and is set to continue.
Forms of Tablet PC
You can find many different types of tablet PCs on the market. A tablet PC comparison can be made according to their form. These are the standard forms of tablet computers:
- Slate tablet PC - A classical tablet PC in the form of a pad with one touch screen and without a keyboard.
- Convertible tablet PC - Basically a notebook with touch screen capability. They come in the form of a base and a screen that can be rotated/swivelled around by 180 degrees.
- Hybrid tablet PC - Convertible tablets with detachable keyboard.
- Booklets - A dual screen tablet that can be folded like a book.
- Rugged tablet PC - Tablet PCs resistant to and adapted for atmospherically challenging conditions. A platform for mobile computing in the countryside, up mountains, in deserts, etc.
- Phablets - oversized smartphones which cross over into tablet territory.
The hardware of a tablet, especially the screen, is prone to damage as they are carried around and used in various situations and environments. (Even waterproof tablets are fiddly and prone to water damage.) Compared to larger personal computers such as notebooks and desktops they have lesser capabilities. Video editing is possible but not advisable on most tablets, while few tablets can handle high-end games. The minimalist ergonomics of a tablet can make typing a frustrating experience, although great strides have been made in the form of multi-touch (some Apple devices can take up to ten touch points simultaneously) and better keyboard software. Finally, a traditional keyboard with a wrist rest and screen at eye left is much more comfortable than using a tablet for long periods.
The obvious advantage of tablet PCs compared to notebooks are their small size and light weight. Due to their portability, they are very practical and can be used while sitting on the sofa, lying in bed (or a hammock), to record a live concert (but please don't) or just walking around. Being more or less book-sized and as light or lighter than a book (I'm looking at you, Jonathan Strange!) while being able to store tens of thousands of e-books in its memory, a tablet is a superb alternative to print.
Some of the latest tablets allow you to play Playstation 4 games on them, or stream TV from your home to your tablet, anywhere in the world. All you need (in addition to your tablet) is a Slingbox.
Since the iPad first launched in 2010, tablets have carved out a niche not only in the technology space, but in society. Tourists take photos of Big Ben, architects show clients sumptuous 3D renderings of their future homes, and trains beam adverts and journey information - all to affordable devices that 10 years ago might have seemed like science fiction.
Are you ready to join the ranks of happy tablet PC owners? Take a look around the site, find one you like, or check out the Tablet Deals section to jump right in.