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Why the tablet PC may finally be a big deal

After a decade, computer makers seem to have gotten the formula right.

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Microsoft founder Bill Gates has long been an evangelist for tablet PCs, laptops whose screens can be twisted around so that they’re on the outside when closed, instead of face to face with a keyboard. Back in 2001, he predicted that within five years, “the tablet PC will be the most popular form of PC sold in America.” While Mr. Gates still uses one as his everyday computer, few others do.

Perhaps ahead of their time, past attempts at tablets have meandered between being too kludgy, too bulky, and too expensive.

But the Web is now abuzz with tittle-tattle that two companies may have finally cracked the formula for an enticing tablet. The new approach? Stop trying to market them as inside-out laptops and instead make them feel like a smart phone’s big brother.

The CrunchPad, developed by the entrepreneurs behind Silicon Valley blog TechCrunch, is basically a Web browser in a box. Resembling a 12-inch iPhone, the entire front of the device is a touch screen. There’s no keyboard, just virtual letter buttons that pop up when needed. There’s no Windows, just a minimal operating system designed only to surf websites. There’s also no official release date or price, just a post in June saying it’s nearing completion and the long-term goal is to sell it for about $200.

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