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Screen time to splinter as tablet computers add to gadgets

Is there room in your life for another screen?

If you’re like most Americans, you already spend time with screens of three sizes that deliver a mix of information and entertainment.

The small screen is in your pocket or handbag or hanging from a belt or purse strap. It’s a phone with one degree of “smartness” or another. This is the one you don’t leave home without and the one you spend the most time with. Chances are, it’s within arm’s reach even when you’re sleeping.

The medium-sized screen is one attached to your computer. More and more of these are on laptops, as desktop computer sales continue to decline. The large screen is one you plop down in front of in a living room or tricked-out home theater.

Many of the smallest screens can now play the same programs people watch on their biggest screens. And the biggest screens are getting smarter all the time, as many of the newest televisions now have ports that accept Internet connections. The TV is morphing into the computer and the smartphone is morphing into the TV.

Going by size, the phone category screens fall into the 1-inch to 5-inch range; the computer screens are 13 to 27 inches and the TV screens are 27 to more than 100 inches.

There’s a gap in the 5-inch to 15-inch screen size, although the smaller netbook computers and electronic readers, like the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook are starting to fill that void.

Waiting the wings, and what you’re starting to hear more about, are tablets. If done right, this could be the next “must have” screen. The buzz around Apple’s pending announcement continues to grow, and several new tablets were introduced during the International Consumer Electronics Show, which wraps up today in Las Vegas.

The Consumer Electronics Association, the nonprofit group that stages CES, released results of a study of how and where people use smaller netbook computers. Surprisingly, the data show, the majority of the use is in homes, as people are browsing the Internet while also watching TV, said Shawn DuBravac, CEA’s chief economist and research director.

Netbook use in American living rooms and bedrooms is greater than use away from home, the study shows.

“Portability isn’t as important as once thought,” DuBravac said.

Does this mean computer tablets, which will likely fit into that fourth-screen-gap parameter, will find a place in American homes and lifestyles?

I’m eager to see what Apple has in store, as a tablet with a content marketplace as simple and thorough as the company’s iTunes Store will be a game changer. Done right, electronic readers and netbooks may soon be replaced by a tablet that does it all.

I have a hunch there’s a new screen in my future. Yours, too.

Share your Internet story with me at agibes@reviewjournal.com.

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