Steve Ballmer's keynote address at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) did not unveil the rumored Microsoft Courier tablet PC. Ballmer did take the opportunity, though, to reveal an HP tablet PC dubbed the "Slate".
The HP Slate was underwhelming, to say the least. Hailed by Ballmer as "something that's almost as portable as a phone and that's as powerful as a PC running Windows 7", the demonstration showed a flat panel computing device that seemed more equivalent to a color Kindle than to a Windows 7 wonder-tablet.
Dell followed in HP's tracks, revealing details of its own slate device. Apparently the PC world has decided to co-opt the rumored name of the Apple tablet PC, "iSlate", by adopting the term "slate" to replace "tablet" as the default name for the flat-panel form factor. Of course, HP took it a step farther by actually naming its device the Slate to further confuse things.
The legions of Apple faithful are quick to speculate that Ballmer and HP called an audible at the line of scrimmage and rushed out the HP tablet primarily to try and preempt the rumored unveiling of the Apple "iSlate" allegedly scheduled for later this month. With hype and speculation over the Apple tablet at a fever pitch, and Apple stock going up accordingly, perhaps Microsoft and HP thought they could steal its thunder by beating it to the punch with a tablet of their own?
If revealing the HP Slate at Ballmer's keynote was, in fact, a scramble to try and steal Apple's thunder and be the first out of the gate with a hot new tablet...I mean slate PC, it backfired. Exploiting such a high profile event as Ballmer's keynote speech at CES for an underwhelming presentation of a mediocre device just lowers the bar for Apple.
When January 27 rolls around and Apple holds its rumored press conference about its alleged tablet...I mean slate PC, which may or may not be called the "iSlate", it won't have to do much to impress and awe. If the mythic "iSlate" is half of what it is rumored to be, it will still be twice what Microsoft and HP unveiled.
It certainly seems that 2010 will be filled with entries in the tablet PC market, though, providing users with a variety of options for flat-panel, touch-screen, Web-enabled devices to replace more cumbersome netbooks and notebooks.
It remains to be seen if the Apple "iSlate" or Microsoft "Courier" will actually materialize, but HP, Dell, Lenovo, Fusion Garage, and a plethora of other manufacturers are all lining up a diverse array of tablet PC's to release this year.
The challenge will be to clearly define to consumers and businesses why they should invest in tablets vs. netbooks or notebooks, differentiate the devices from glorified Kindle or iPod Touch devices, and deliver them at a reasonable price in relation to the functionality they provide.