Whatever else it does, Windows 8 is helping to generate a wide range of form factors for a new generation of computing Relevant Products/Services devices, such as laptop/tablet hybrids. One of the latest incarnations, being unveiled at this week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, is Lenovo's new 27-inch, "interpersonal PC" touch-tablet, which is designed to lie flat.

Called the IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC, the multi-user, multi-touch device is intended to create what the company described as a "shared computing experience." It can lie flat on a surface so that up to five people can share the screen simultaneously for productivity tasks or gaming, and it can support interactive gaming accessories.

When it's flat, the Lenovo Aura multi-user, multi-touch user interface automatically activates. The Horizon features Intel Relevant Products/Services Core i7, a backlit screen with a wide viewing angle, and NVIDIA GeForce graphics. The company also offers a stand that allows the angle of display to be adjusted in a range of positions, up to a "wall-like mount" of 90 degrees.

'Bring People Together'

Microsoft Relevant Products/Services's large interactive screen-table, which was called Surface before the technology giant appropriated that name for its new tablet, found some modest success in restaurants, tourist centers and other social locations. Lenovo is clearly interested in picking up that mantra, not only with the 27-inch IdeaCentre Horizon, but with a 39-inch concept table screen called Gamma that it is also showing at CES.

Peter Hortensius, president of the Lenovo Product Group, noted in a statement that, in addition to desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone form factors, "there is still room for technologies like Horizon that bring people together."

He said the device can help create "shared, collaborative experiences among several people," such as sharing different photos, music, video and games on the same screen. The company is targeting its table-like tablets at families and schools.

Pricing and Apps

A special set of accessories is offered, including e-dice and four joysticks/strikers, and the Horizon provides exclusive access to, or pre-loaded versions of, games and educational apps that have been optimized for the device. These include painting and color apps, the software version of Monopoly, and Ubisoft's racing game Draw Race 2 HD.

Although such large screen, flat-like-a-table devices could point to one future track for tablets, the IdeaCentre Horizon has several drawbacks derived from its pioneer status. First, the $1,699 price makes for a steep entry point for families or schools that may want to try out this approach to group computing. It also has a very limited battery life of three hours.

Another major disadvantage pointed out by analyst Brad Shimmin of Current Analysis is the lack of applications designed to take advantage of multi-user, simultaneous interaction. However, he didn't rule out the possibilities for such a form factor, and added that the idea of group interaction over a common screen was "basically sound."

He suggested that it could result in such uses as people exercising, gaming, or conducting team projects on a physical screen -- or possibly, if Kinect and other gestural-based interface devices continue their growth, in the air in front of a physical screen.