By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click
Tablets combine the tech from smartphones and netbooks
Over the past few years touchscreen technology has made a big impact on next-generation smartphones and laptops.
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the technology was packaged into a new category of device - dubbed slates.
The devices, also known as tablets, have an interface similar to a smartphone and, with no keyboards, are lighter than netbooks.
PC manufacturer Dell announced its first device will launch this summer. The Mini 5 will feature Google's Android operating system, SIM card, wi-fi, and offer multiple windows for social networking.
Users can also make phonecalls, but the device is not designed to replace a handset or even a netbook.
Freescale Semiconductor, which supplies chips and other small components for netbooks, also showed off its own slate prototype.
The design allows the screen to part from the keyboard and be used as a stand alone tablet. The firm said could be made for $200 (£125).
"It's a device that combines the features of a smartphone, and of a netbook in one device," explained Freescale's Brad Stewart.
"We're looking to find manufacturers to take this concept and build it into products that can be sold perhaps this year," he said.
Chinese PC manufacturer Lenovo plans to launch a similar device for around $1,000 (£613) in June, while Apple is rumoured to be unveiling its own slate type product in San Francisco at the end of January.
'No killer app'
However, Stuart Miles, editor of the technology blog Pocket Lint, questioned the purpose of slate devices.
"If I want to surf the internet around my home I have my phone for that, I've got my netbook, my laptop, or my PC. There are lots of options already," he said.
Freescale hope to launch their slate later in 2010
"There doesn't seem to be a killer application," he added, "Apart from reading a digital magazine on it - they're just very pretty to look at at the moment."
Large touchscreens are also power-hungry so battery life could also be a limiting factor.
As a result, he said, consumers may be slow to adopt tablets.
But Hewlett Packard's chief technology officer, Phil McKinney believes slates will appeal to consumers as their web habits begin to change.
The firm showed off its Windows 7 powered machine during a Microsoft event at CES.
"People are enjoying more and more content from the web. And the real challenge is there aren't any good consumption-designed devices," he said.
"All devices today have keyboards which are really designed for input but there's a large population that really just want to consume whether it be video, text or audio.
Watch Click on the BBC News Channel, Saturday 16 January, 11.30 GMT