As reported on ZDNet and several other sources, Freescale has announced a 7" tablet design that puts it solidly in the "smartbook" category. ZDNet gadget reviewer, Rachel King, brings up a great point:
I’m yet to be convinced on the tablet concept. While Freescale has included an optional keyboard in some of its promo images, I don’t see how I could use this for work in the same way I would use a netbook. I’d rather use it as an e-book reader with more applications should the device support software like Kindle for PC/Mac, etc.
She's right - we wouldn't use it as a netbook or even a computer replacement. This is what 1:1 computing will look like in the coming years. In my obligatory 2010 predictions post, I said that "1:1 will be a reality, but not the way you think." Kids will be using smartphones, netbooks, and, to a larger extent, cheap tablet devices like this one to access books, the Internet, and communication applications.
Will Freescale actually be able to crank these out soon for $200? The jury is definitely still out, but the definition of a personal computer is changing rapidly. Similarly, where early 1:1 programs in schools had students carrying around iBooks and MacBooks, then lighter notebooks and netbooks (and still their share of MacBooks), mature programs will look at the most cost-effective and relevant ways to get students access to information.
While traditional PC users may struggle to adjust work habits to this form factor, we have already seen kids and schools find a lot of success with Intel's Convertible Classmate; anecdotal observation suggests that kids gravitate towards the tablet interface rather than the netbook/keyboard/touchpad interface. Give them a straight tablet with quick net access, e-books in color, and an on-screen keyboard app and I guarantee that they'll embrace it. The bean counters will embrace a $200 pricepoint for making 1:1 a reality where it was previously unattainable.
I know we've only seen test units (more than can be said for Apple's apparent Holy Grail of Tablets), but this is certainly a harbinger of good things to come. Bring on the tablets, folks. Keep them small, cheap, and durable, and both schools and applications will follow shortly thereafter.