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After release of the Apple iPad, rivals offer hybrid hand-helds

Just as Apple’s iPhone shook up a complacent cell phone industry, the company’s iPad is provoking PC makers and non-PC makers — to fight back with new devices.

Google — a search and advertising company — is soon expected to begin selling its version of a slate computer, like Apple’s iPad, while Nokia — the world’s biggest cell phone maker — is planning to enter the digital book market through a slate-cum-e-reader as well.

Microsoft, the maker of computer software, is flirting with the idea of selling its own version of a slate, joining traditional computer companies like Hewlett-Packard that have already committed to such products.

In part, these companies are feeling the pressure to respond to the iPad, which went on sale April 3. But their decisions to develop the hybrid products also demonstrate their desire to expand their core businesses, and to experiment with varying kinds of business models and technologies.

For consumers, it could all be good, as more companies offer their version of the slate, a new breed of consumer electronics, in a design free-for-all. The products, which will generally cost less than $600, provide different, and in some cases unusual, features that reflect the companies’ visions of what matters most to people.

Microsoft introduces 2 phones aimed at social-networking set

SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft is trying to home in on a younger, chattier demographic with two new cell phones centered on social networking.

The Kin One and Kin Two allow users to keep closely synched with sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The start menu displays a montage of photographs from friends with notes about what they are doing rather than a more traditional menu that caters to phone functions. The Kins also have touch screens, links to the Zune music service and high-powered cameras for capturing photographs and video.

Phone makers like Nokia and Samsung have long built a variety of models, including those aimed at younger buyers, many of which also link to social-networking sites. But in its focus on social networking, Microsoft has taken one of the more aggressive stances in going after this market, which the company believes is receptive to a fresh pitch.

Microsoft could use a runaway cell phone product since it has been steadily losing market share despite selling mobile software for far longer than Apple.

John Harrobin, a senior vice president at Verizon, said he expected the video-capable Kins to cost less than the popular Flip video cameras sold by Cisco Systems, which start at about $150.