Moses’ modern tablet

Josh King

When Bill Gates took the stage at the 2001 Comdex convention he ushered in the age of tablet computing, today it looks like the tech world is trying to prove him right.

Unfortunately for him it came several years too late.

“[The tablet PC] is virtually without limits and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America,” said Gates in a 2001 press release.

For years that bold prediction was the laughing stock of the tech world. Tablet computing struggled to break out of its niche market and into the moneymaking mainstream. For years Microsoft and its partners have tried to make Gates’ dream a reality while he dutifully carried his tablet to meetings while the rest of the world looked at the technology with apathy. And for years the tablet remained nothing more than an unfulfilled glimmer in the eyes of the geekiest of geeks, but it certainly looks like that is about to change.

Actually it could be said it has already changed. In January 2007 Apple, Inc. introduced the world to its iPhone, a platform that has grown and matured since its release six months later. The iPhone quickly became the most popular and successful touch-based gadget in history selling millions of devices to users who have now downloaded more than three billion apps. With that success came an astonishing number of “me-too” devices, all trying to chomp off a bit of the touchy-feely, finger-mashing goodness.

Today touchscreen devices are only a part of what is becoming the most sought-after and under-defined market in technology: that thing that fits somewhere between a fancy phone and a laptop, hopefully in both price and functionality.

With that in mind, 2010’s edition of the yearly technology juggernaut known as the Consumer Electronics Show saw more than its fair share of portable devices. More than 30 tablets, e-readers, big touch screens and slates were announced, released or otherwise blabbed on about in only a few short days. And that number doesn’t include the countless other no-name devices that didn’t get their moment to shine amongst the more than 2,000 companies vying for attention at CEs.

E-reading company Skiff then stole the title of largest screen on an

e-reader when it showed off its promising Skiff Reader. The device will sport an 11.5-inch flexible display when it launches with Sprint wireless connectivity later this year. Not to be outdone, tech company MSI set out to show that if one screen was good, then two must be twice as nice with an early prototype of a dual-screen e-reader that should ship before the year ends. From the comfort of its Web site, Amazon announced an international version of its popular Kindle DX. This after boasting to the world that the device was the most gifted item in Amazon history and that digital downloads outnumbered printed books on Christmas day.

However e-readers were only a small part of the announcements at CES. Big players like Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Sony introduced tablet computers to their upcoming product lineups. Many of the devices will run Microsoft’s latest Windows 7 and attempt to tackle the market as multipurpose devices capable of far more than the limited e-readers like the Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Yet perhaps the biggest announcement in the tablet computing market didn’t take place at CES, in fact it hasn’t even happened, but all eyes are on Cupertino, Calif., the home of Apple. The company recently announced what tech enthusiasts have known for weeks, that Jan. 27 Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Calif., will play host to Apple and its rumored device. Apple’s press invitations tempt recipients to “come see our latest creation” and feature an Apple logo on splatters of brightly-colored paint. The Wednesday event is rumored to be the announcement of the “iSomething,” iSlate and iPad are the latest winners in the naming rumors, a keyboardless, 10-inch touchscreen slate computer.

In typical Apple fashion, the company has been absolutely silent, yet the hype and hysteria surrounding the as-yet unreleased product continue to grow.

So the tech world waits, holding its breath, watching to see if 2010 can finally, once and for all, be “The Year of the Tablet.”

And Gates is sitting there thinking, “it’s about freakin’ time.”