It's been predicted, and the CrunchPad-Joojoo fiasco almost pre-empted it, but the event is happening now: The first tablet PCs are dropping in, ahead of the stormfront that's expected in 2010. One is impressive, the other... not so much.
Notion Ink's Android Smartpad
Due to be properly unveiled at CES, Notion Ink's unnamed tablet PC has not only got a pretty face—it's a damn capable machine.
It has a 10.1-inch 1024-by-600-pixel screen, an Nvidia Tegra T20 chipset for full 1080p video capability, WiFi, tri-band 3G, Bluetooth, A-GPS, accelerometer, proximity and ambient light sensors, USB and HDMI sockets, and a 3-megapixel autofocus camera. There's either a 32GB or 64GB solid state drive and an SD slot for augmented storage.
As if that weren't enough, with the tablet acting something like a super-sized, super-charged Android smartphone, that touchscreen is actually a PixelQi unit. If you don't know what that means, then you ought to: PixelQI's technology is a spin-off from the early inventions of electronic paper, and it's combined with an LCD. In other words, it's a dual-purpose screen that behaves pretty much like the e-ink display on an e-reader for daylight, long battery-life performance (and movies too, since it's faster than e-ink) or as a traditional full-color backlit LCD.
That's the device's real killer feature, placing it as a direct competitor for the growing numbers of e-readers, and a direct replacement for the netbook. Because why carry two devices around, each for a specialist purpose, when you can carry Notion Ink's machine in your bag? The all-important price is unknown, though over at SlashGear they're speculating on about $300 with carrier subsidy if you buy it with a 3G data contract.
Archos 9 Internet Tablet
This device has been expected for a while, but is just beginning to hit the streets now. With Archos' long history of good portable media players, you'd expect the Archos 9 to be a capable device. But it's almost crippled by many of the choices Archos has made.
Its styling is much more pedestrian than the Notion Ink, it's got a smaller 9-inch screen, and instead of the powerful Tegra chipset, it's running on an Intel Atom at 1.1GHz with integrated Intel graphics—which will be a limit for some high-end uses. But the oddest decision is to run Windows 7 Starter Edition on the device, which actually doesn't have any of the tablet-friendly touchscreen/mutlitouch powers that you'd pretty much expect on a tablet PC. In other words, the Archos is a netbook collapsed into a tablet format with a touchscreen. It doesn't have 3G connectivity either.
The Joojoo has emerged from the Crunchpad debacle as Fusion Garage's own version of the Internet tablet PC. It's running a custom UI and OS, which limits it to being a net-surfing machine entirely—no apps or traditional software like the the Archos 9 or Notion Ink.
The CrunchPad was due to have launched by now, but Fusion Garage has a different timescale, and having taken pre-orders it'll launch sometime early next year. Assuming it actually does emerge as a genuine product: Crunchpad's lead man Michael Arrington has filed a lawsuit alleging Fusion Garage is violating IP as well as other questionable business practices, and Fusion Garage has just responded officially. According to them, Arrington's accusations are baseless, the Joojoo is well on its way to being produced by a new hardware manufacturer. Whether or not that proves true we'll have to wait to find out. But it's hard to see the legal issues helping matters. It looks like the Notion Ink device is going to hit the scene and probably mop-up many potential Joojoo buyers as it's a more capable machine.
One more thing...
All of this news, of course, raises that old favorite question: What about the Apple Tablet? There's still no concrete news, as you'd expect from Apple with its incredibly tight pre-release product security. But with all these tablet PCs arriving imminently, there's even more support for the idea that the iTablet is real, and really on its way soon.