Dell streaks ahead with tablet device

Dell will launch the first in an expected wave of tablet computers from big PC manufacturers next month, selling a small version with a 5in screen in the UK through Telefónica’s carrier 02.

Dell, Hewlett-Packard – the biggest PC maker – and others are trying to benefit from the consumer appeal of Apple’s iPad, introduced in the US last month and due to go on sale in the UK and eight other countries this Friday.

The device will run Google’s Android system, which is providing the biggest competition to Apple in souped-up phones with thousands of programs created by outside developers.

The chip is based on a design by the UK’s ARM. Automatic updates later this year will add support for Flash videos, which Apple does not back, and video chat.

With added telephone functions and a much smaller screen, Dell’s Streak avoids looking like a me-too entry. But like the iPad, it lacks a keyboard and is still controlled by finger gestures.

“They are taking some advantage of Apple’s legitimising of the product category without getting stepped on” with too faithful an imitation, said analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates.

Apple’s iPad has a 9.7in screen and is designed to consume videos and electronic books and other previously printed matter.

Dell’s Streak will be far more portable, serving as a primary mobile phone, and more useful for staying in touch with contacts via social media.

Pricing and data plans will be announced by 02 soon. If the gadget carries a subsidy from the carrier, as some believe likely, it is likely to be much cheaper than the iPad, perhaps in the range of $100 to $200.

Dell said the same model would be launched in the US this summer. Analysts also expected it to introduce larger screens.

“We’re looking at a number of different devices and screen sizes,” Dell said.

HP had been set to launch a slate device in June, relying on a Microsoft operating system, but it shelved those plans when it bought Palm, the smartphone manufacturer.

A clearer picture of the PC industry response to Apple will emerge next week at the Computex trade show, when chipmaker Intel will announce configurations designed for tablet machines.

“I would expect major OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to stand up with Intel either simultaneously or soon there after,” Mr Kay said.

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