For e-readers and surfers, gadgets to come in plenty

Tech trek

For e-readers and surfers, gadgets to come in plenty

Those products are part of a new wave of slender touch-screen tablets and electronic reading devices that dozens of companies, both well known and unknown, brought to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Some of these gadgets allow people to read for long periods of time without eye strain and without killing the batteries. Others focus on allowing their owners to surf the Web, watch video and play casual games without being tethered to a bulky laptop and its traditional keyboard.

Tablets, of course, have been around for years. Now, advances in technology and manufacturing are belatedly making good on the early promise of this idea. As a result, companies have been able to build a wider range of devices, including thinner products with longer battery life.

At the same time, the big Asian manufacturers like Foxconn of Taiwan have been adding capacity and are now capable of churning out these devices at an ever-decreasing cost. Recently, anticipation for new tablet computers has been almost absurdly focused on the magical product that people expect to emanate from the mind of Apple Chief Executive, Steven P Jobs. Analysts close to developments think that an Apple tablet will ship by the end of March, and that Apple will hold an event to introduce a new product by the end of this month. However, many high-tech giants are not necessarily waiting around for Apple to make a splash. Microsoft CEO Steven A Ballmer recently showed off a new HP tablet running Windows 7. HP is working on an array of tablets, including one about twice the size of the iPhone that will run Google’s Android operating system.

Lenovo, showed its flashy Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid Notebook, appearing to be a regular laptop, until the screen pops out of its shell like a snake shedding its skin and becomes a slender, touch-screen tablet.

Other firms are aiming at the more focused market for reading devices, believing that the black-and-white screens, will survive an onslaught of colour ones.  E-readers at the show came in many shapes and sizes. Plastic Logic, a British company, unveiled its Que proReader, an impossibly thin 10.7-inch display with a starting price of US$649. Other players in this field are trying to distinguish themselves with devices that have more than one screen. EnTourage Systems, based in McLean, Va, demonstrated a 9.7-inch touch-screen colour display, married with a rotating hinge to a similarly sized black-and-white screen. The device —– eDGe —– will cost US$490. Spring Design, showed off a dual-screen e-book device, the Alex, that has a 3.5-inch iPhone-like colour display and a 6-inch Kindle-like black-and-white display. Many of these companies and their products may sink when exposed to a competitive marketplace that could be dominated by efforts from the tech giants.

At the very least, the smaller companies will have to stay nimble and keep on top of rapidly evolving technology.

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