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How is a tablet computer different from other PCs?

A tablet computer comes equipped with a touchscreen and is best used for data output.
Feb 06,2010
Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Apple Inc., demonstrates the functions of the iPad, the newest product from the trendsetting company on Jan. 27 in San Francisco. [YONHAP]

Apple Inc. unveiled its latest creation, the iPad, on Wednesday in San Francisco, creating a stir in the media and attracting the attention of technology lovers across the globe.

Apple, the California-based consumer electronics and software program manufacturer, has enjoyed a great deal of success in recent years with the MacBook, iPod and the iPhone. The company’s success meant that industry watchers were keeping close tabs on Apple before the launch of the iPad and trying to make predictions about the next product it would release.

In spite of Apple’s efforts to keep the iPad under wraps before it was unveiled to the public, the product was rumored to be a tablet computer. The speculation about the new Apple product was so intense that it prompted other electronics companies to introduce their own tablet computers just to stay in the game. The California-based Hewlett-Packard and the Texas-based Dell, for instance, showcased their tablet computers at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.

In recent years Apple has been the tech world’s trendsetter, defining what’s hot and what’s not. But the big question among industry analysts is whether the launch of the iPad signals the dawn of a new era, that of the tablet PC, or the start of a passing fad.

But what is a tablet computer? And how does it differ from a laptop or desktop computer?

A tablet PC is a mobile computing device. It is also called a slate PC because it resembles a writing slate. It is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper, and its functions put it in a category that is somewhere between a smartphone and a netbook.

What really sets a tablet PC apart from a conventional computer, however, is the tablet computer comes equipped with a touchscreen and there is no keyboard.

When you think about what someone looks like when they are using a computer, an image of someone sitting at a desk with their hands on the keyboard or a mouse might come to mind.

With the arrival of tablet computers, however, that picture needs some adjustment - perhaps the person is holding the thin panel with one hand and entering data with the index finger of the other.

In that sense, the tablet computer is truly revolutionary. And that is why many industry observers say that whether or not Apple experiences as much success with the iPad as it did with earlier products like the iPhone, the company’s investment in the creation of a tablet computer is laudable.

Although it was the iPad that got people talking about the tablet again, the devices have been around for about a decade.

Microsoft first devised the concept for the tablet PC in 2001. The idea was realized a year later when Acer, the world’s second-largest PC maker, released the first tablet computer into the market.

At the Seoul Digital Forum two years ago, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said that “tablet computers will be used by people around the world by the year 2012.” But the truth is that most industry observers agree that tablet PCs have largely remained a niche device, used only in sectors such as health care, field work and education.

And it is the absence of a dedicated keyboard that gives the tablet PC its biggest advantage - mobility. Without a keyboard, the tablet PC is half the size of a laptop - and half the weight, too. That means you can be standing in a crowded subway or street and still be able to surf the Web.

A tablet computer is also extremely handy for people who frequently use non-character based information, such as diagrams and drawings, as well as mathematical equations and symbols. That might make the tablet a tempting choice for all of you designers and mathematicians out there.

Another benefit is that there is no longer a need for special keyboards for certain languages. So if you often need to switch between languages, look no further.

But like with all things in life, there are also downsides to these tablet PCs.

While tablet computers have a high capacity for output - making it easy to surf the Web, watch movies, read and play games - they are not the best option if you need a computer with a high capacity for input. For example, if you need to do a lot of fast typing or create elaborate documents, you might want to use a laptop or desktop computer.

In addition, some people in the industry argue that because the tablet computer screen not only functions as a display device but is also used for input, there is an even higher chance of the screen’s being damaged.

Lastly, people who are uncomfortable with touchscreens may not find these devices useful at all.

To address these concerns, most tablet computers can be connected to a detachable keyboard and a mouse. And there are other versions of tablet PCs called “convertibles” that come with an attached keyboard. With convertibles, the screen and the keyboard are connected via a joint that allows the screen to rotate 180 degrees and fold down on top of the keyboard.

Some industry analysts believe that the tablet computer market will grow rapidly in the coming years. Deloitte, a New York-based business advisory firm, has predicted that the new market could soon be worth more than $1 billion a year worldwide.

So does the arrival of tablet computers mean that laptops and desktops will soon be a thing of the past?

According to the Korea branch of International Data Corporation, a market research firm, shipments of laptop computers accounted for 48 percent of the market, while desktop computers made up 52 percent of the market as of the third quarter of 2009.

However, most industry analysts do not believe that the tablet will push other computers out of the market. They believe that since tablet computers are more useful for output than for input, they are more likely to be a threat to PMPs (portable multimedia players) such as MP3 players and e-readers like the Amazon Kindle.

Meanwhile, the Apple iPad will be available in Korea in March, at the earliest, and will sell for 600,000 won ($516) or 800,000 won, industry sources say. Observers expect a fierce competition for the business rights to the Apple iPad to emerge between SK Telecom, Korea’s largest mobile carrier, and KT, the country’s second largest mobile carrier and the local distributor of the iPhone.


By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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