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Microsoft, HP blaze business tablet trail

With tablet market growth shrinking, Microsoft and HP are well positioned in the one market that still has decent growth potential: business.

The HP ElitePad 1000 inside its 'security jacket.' It is one of the first tablets to run 64-bit Windows 8.1 on Intel's quad-core Bay Trail processor. Hewlett-Packard

Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft think the tablet is more lean-forward than lean back. Are they right?

The PC has one (at least) distinct advantage over Apple. Windows 8.1 isn't a mobile operating system like iOS. In other words, the same 64-bit Windows 8.1 that runs on a brawny desktop PC now runs on featherweight 8-inch and 10-inch tablets.

And that may be a good thing because the tablet is in dire need of new markets, with predictions that the rate of growth will drop sharply in 2014.

"As consumer shipments slow in many markets, commercial (business) shipments will grow as a percentage of the overall mix," IDC said earlier this week.

Enter new HP ElitePad 1000. The tablet design itself isn't especially unique but the array of accessories that come with it, are.

All are aimed at making it a tablet for productivity -- aka doing work. Those add-ons (PDF) include a productivity jacket, a docking station, a security jacket, and expansion jacket, just to mention a few.

And it's one of the first to run 64-bit Windows 8.1 on Intel's quad-core Intel "Bay Trail" processor, which, until recently, ran Windows in 32-bit mode.

"The pressure for 64-bit, even in tablets that might not have 4GB of DRAM, is pretty strong because IT organizations want to standardize on 64-bit images and 64-bit apps," Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, said in a recent interview with CNET.

"Intel tended to characterize the first generation of (32-bit) Bay Trail tablets as consumer-oriented," he said.

Microsoft, for its part, has been making 64-bit tablets for a couple of years now, in the form of the Surface Pro. It led the way, for instance, on the tablet-as-a-PC concept with its Touch Cover and Type Cover keyboards.

But only with the Surface Pro 2, announced last fall, has Microsoft been able to make a convincing argument that it's also a tablet.

The power-efficient Haswell processor gives the Pro plenty of battery life, while still offering the 64-bit Windows desktop OS.

And like HP, its accessories are aimed at business. The Surface Pro docking station isn't unlike the docking stations HP has been offering on its business laptops for years.

So, maybe 2014 will be the year of the business tablet -- as the growth rate of Apple's popular tablet slows.

Surface Pro 2 Brooke Crothers