Richard Wray reports on the runners and riders in the big battle of the small screens

Last week, Microsoft released tantalising pictures of its latest device which got bloggers talking about a tablet. The division of Microsoft behind the account, however, makes keyboards, webcams and mice so it’s more likely that the flat matt black device in the photos is Microsoft’s rival to Apple’s recently announced trackpad. Last month chief executive Steve Ballmer said developing Windows-based tablet computers is “job one urgency” for the software group. He added “We have got to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates”.

Google has long been rumoured to be working on its tablet computer, most recently in conjunction with Verizon. But there are questions as to why Google needs an own-brand tablet while many manufacturers are to produce their devices based on its Android.

The handset makers first out of the blocks will be a tablet from Samsung. There is also talk of a second device with a tablet screen on one side and e-book reader on the other. Domestic rival, LG, is also working on an Android-based tablet which is scheduled for launch by the end of the year.

RIM, the company behind the BlackBerry, is rumoured to be working on a rival to the iPad, dubbed the BlackPad, which is scheduled for launch in November. Nokia, meanwhile, tried to enter the so-called netbook market with its own 3G Booklet last year. Since then, the Finnish mobile phone company has teamed up with Intel to develop software better suited to laptops and tablets, under the MeeGo banner. The first device is likely to be a smartphone which could be out for Christmas.

Motorola is working with Verizon on an Android-powered tablet. The question is whether HTC will follow up its success in the Android-powered smartphone market with a tablet.

The PC manufacturers Tablets running Windows have been in the market for some time from manufacturers such as France’s Archos while Lenovo, HP and others have released laptops - called convertibles - whose screens swivel to turn them into tablets. Taiwan’s Acer and China’s Asus are preparing tablets with Microsoft software. The latter will also release tablets using Android. But many consumers will prefer a household name when they take the plunge into tablets. One of the first was the Streak from Dell, but it is smaller than the iPad and seems more like a smartphone. BT is developing a touchscreen version of the traditional landline telephone, which raises the unwelcome spectre of Amstrad’s failed eMailer device.

Toshiba has produced a dual-screen tablet running Windows 7 and is working on a single screen tablet called SmartPad, which may run Android. Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, is believed to have been working on a device called the Zeen which runs Android and looks more like an e-reader.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010