Photographs by John B. Carnett

All Tablet PCs will have keyboards available, either as fold-away components or via docking stations.

The idea is simple: Take a full-fledged Windows XP Professional notebook and add a pen-shape electromagnetic stylus, touchscreen display, and the software to make it all work. This is the Tablet PC in a nutshell. The first generation, with models from Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba, Viewsonic, and others, will begin hitting the market this month.

Why would you want one? It’s all about the “digital ink.” Anything you write on the LCD can be edited, colorized, cut-and-pasted, boldfaced, searched, converted to text, whatever. You quickly find that visual information-hand-drawn directions, for example-can coexist with text in ways never before possible. Also, sometimes a keyboard is inconvenient (in a car), impractical (grocery lists), or unacceptable (at a cafe). And since most Tablet PCs include wireless networking, they make dandy Web pads.

As for price, expect a few-hundred-dollar premium over similarly configured laptops.