Investors and gadget junkies are waiting for Apple to debut a tablet computer later this week, reportedly called the iSlate. I don't know much about it, but I'm learning quite a bit about other touch-based computers, printers and mobile devices. Though Apple gets credit for triggering the touch-computing landslide with its iPhone and iPod, it won't be the first company to offer a computer controlled by the touch of a finger.
Touch-enabled PCs and printers from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), laptops from Dell (DELL) and Lenovo, and smartphones from Motorola (MOT), Samsung and HTC have been popping up in stores in recent months. While many of these units show promise for small enterprises, they can also be risky investments.
Here's what you need to know before you buy a tablet for your firm:What you get: Without question, touch-based PCs offer nifty ways to interact with your clients. Take the H-P TouchSmart line of notebooks and desktops. The black and silver items we tested were elegant, easy to set up and softened the line between a simple PC and a public kiosk. I could easily imagine one of these black-and-silver computers in a bakery or doctor's office, where customers could type in their data, enter sweepstakes, get coupons or answer questions without the clunky keyboard. And they're cheap compared with purpose-built business devices, such as Restaurant Pro Express. Touch either one of these units, and you see touch is a great small business idea.
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