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Are tablets changing the way computers work?

        Tech | Tablet PCs

Phablets and Frames
Microsoft entered the tablet market with the Surface in 2012. The Surface Pro was released in early 2013.
Microsoft entered the tablet market with the Surface in 2012. The Surface Pro was released in early 2013.
Image courtesy Microsoft

Tablets are morphing the way we input commands, but they're also pushing along the evolution of hardware design. As evidence, check out so-called "phablets," which are smaller tablets -- sporting screens between 5 and 8 inches (12.7 and 20.3 centimeters) -- with the calling capabilities of a phone. Phablets have much of the power of a full-size tablet but in a smaller form factor, and they also let you ditch your smartphone.

Phablets are so small, though, that you'll be hampered if you try to create much content. Power users may prefer tablets with larger-than-average screens, in the realm of 13 or 14 inches (33 or 35.6 centimeters). Lenovo, Dell, Sony and other manufacturers are racing to offer all sorts of these bigger hybrid devices that blend elements of laptops with tablets.

For example, even Microsoft has gotten into this hardware war with its Surface and Surface Pro tablets. The Pro, in particular, might be one of the better examples of the direction that many companies will take their hybrid machines. It runs a full version of Windows 8, which means you can skip weenie apps and instead run full desktop programs, such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. The Pro is only half an inch (1.3 centimeters) thick, so you're getting many of the capabilities of a laptop computer in a device that's only slightly larger than most tablets.

Yet the Pro is just one drop in a sea of tablet-related products. Some computer industry pundits fully expect a whole new style of personal computer to emerge. Those computers might be called frames.

Frames will feature large displays and have an array of cutting-edge input devices, especially voice and touch inputs like those found on tablets. You'll wirelessly dock your smartphone or tablet to the frame when you need a large screen or a more powerful processor.

To interact with this kind of computer, you'll whip your hands around in the air like a symphony conductor and the frame's sensors will understand your commands. And when your stationary work is complete and it's time to hit the road, you'll just grab your portable device and go.

Cloud capabilities, again, will synchronize and coordinate all of your content between portable gadgets and motionless frames. This system will work so seamlessly and effortlessly that the lines between each of your machines will blur.

If all of this sounds like a pretty profound shift in the way we interact with our technologies, well, it really will be. And you can credit the proliferation of tablets with spurring many of these changes.

Tablets themselves may eventually go by the wayside. But for now, these ultra-portable computing devices are helping to shape the future of computers as we know them.