Apple iPadApple’s new tablet computer, the iPad, seems to have hardly left the front pages of technology news websites across the world since the company first mentioned its upcoming release. It wasn’t going to be long before other leading technology companies jumped on the bandwagon, so news that Microsoft, Sony, Dell, HP and others are adding the finishing touches to their own devices was unexpected. Whether these technology giants can compete with Apple’s stranglehold on the portable devices market remains to be seen, but no matter what happens it seems that we are on course for the battle of the tablets to begin.

Initial scepticism over the usefulness of tablets, as a crossbreed between a touch operated smartphone and a netbook computer, seems to have vanished into the mist. Many market experts are now predicting great things for these devices that boast the computing power of many PCs, but can be carried easily and connected to 3G broadband plans to provide access to the internet from anywhere. Combine that functionality with the ability to read your favourite books and magazines, watch your favourite videos or TV programs, and even play your favourite games and tablets suddenly seem very appealing.

In 2010 alone we can expect to see the launch of up to 15 different tablet devices from a range of different companies, the majority of which will run using Google’s Android software. PC manufacturers have already announced that they will stock rivals to the iPad, as well as the Apple device, so there is likely to be some serious competition for the dominant market share in this, the “industry’s next hot platform”, as coined by the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

While certain tablet devices still bear an uncanny resemblance to Apple’s iPad, such as the HP Slate, many others will offer a different appearance. Microsoft’s Courier, for example, will actually feature two 7-inch screens that will fold together as a book and can be manipulated by both your finger and an included stylus. Sony’s rumoured development on the other hand, will likely be in keeping stylistically with its well know PlayStation brand, as they boast that their tablet will have the ability to play your favourite PlayStation Portable games. Dell has also voiced that it will be launching a range of tablets in differing sizes later this year.

The majority of tablets will set you back around $500, though there may be a more affordable option soon as Kogan, the Australian online technology brand, has mentioned preliminary plans to bring a more affordable option to the marketplace, costing around $200.

Prices for Apple’s iPad itself have yet to be released for the different models on offer. Though, to fully utilise the 3G mobile broadband network to access the internet, separate iPad data plans will be an essential requirement, adding an additional monthly fee on top of the initial cost.