At IBM, they rarely even hint about products before they're unveiled. But Big Blue couldn't resist revealing in January that it's working on a tablet computer. IBM wants to make sure it isn't left behind as American and Japanese rivals tap into an explosive new market.
What's the big deal? A decade after the IBM PC made personal computers a huge business, Big Blue and the others sense another, possibly larger, market in the making. Why? By letting people "write" information directly on a computer screen with a special pen, rather than type it on a keyboard, tablets may finally deliver on the industry's pledge to make computers easy enough for anybody to use. "There is a whole market of people who've never touched a computer before," says James A. Cannavino, general manager of IBM's personal-systems group.
The prospect of a new computer craze--just as the desktop wave is cresting--has PC executives slaphappy about tablets. Just a year ago, Grid Systems Corp., a Tandy Corp. subsidiary, unveiled the first pen-and-tablet PC. But researcher BIS Strategic Decisions figures that so many PC makers are putting so much into tablets that sales will soar to $1.5 billion by 1995 (chart) and to $7 billion in 10 years.
A NATURAL. Early versions are usually the size of a fat spiral notebook and weigh about 4 1/2 pounds. Models due out within 12 months will use Intel Corp.'s 80386 chip and are expected to sell for around $5,000. They will recognize printed handwriting, transform it into letters on the screen, and store the data. That makes tablets a natural for anyone who fills out forms. Insurance adjusters are using them to write up estimates, cops are testing them for filing accident reports, and nurses at Kaiser