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CES 2011: Revenge of the Other Tablets

by on January 4th, 2011

If memory serves, CES 2010 was the year Tablets came into common parlance to mean more than just pills or ancient runes found in archaeological dig sites. In fact, tablets were so big last year at CES, that every manufacturer and OS maker were pushing their contender in the space including Microsoft, Palm, Dell, Fusion Garage [remember the JooJoo], Notion Ink, and countless others.

Sadly, most of those are still vaporware or became dead on arrival when the iPad was announced only days later.

So what’s different this time round? Why are there so many posts on our favourite tech blogs about Microsoft having another go at the tablet, or HP[alm] announcing a few tablets this year too? Do they possibly think they could stand a chance with the giant iPad elephant in the room?

Of course they do. Each of the contenders this time round spent the past year looking at Apple’s success in building this seemingly inexistent space, looking for holes and attacking them with fervor. A prime example would be Samsung’s Galaxy Tab. While it’s not perfect, it’s attacking Apple from their weakness in their large form factor. Here’s a quick look at what some of the interesting tidbits that’s floating online.

A true tablet OS war is looming

One of the big lessons learned through 2010 is that not every OS is meant to be on a tablet. WebOS, probably a very suitable tablet OS, was scrapped after Palm was acquired by HP earlier last year. Windows 7, while seen as a viable contender, didn’t have the touch UI support needed to make the experience intuitive. Android, while free and open source, wasn’t optimized for the tablet, and won’t be until Gingerbread [or even Honeycomb] is released, a full year after tablets began to surface. Let’s also not forget the QNX running on the Blackberry Playbook. Yea…let’s not forget that. [I actually forgot about the Playbook.]

2011 is proving to be very different. Not only is HP reviving the WebOS for the tablet, but we’re also expecting to hear from Microsoft about Windows 8, which is rumoured to be built with tablets in mind. Google’s agile development framework is finally paying off and we’ll be expecting plenty of juicy tablet features in future versions of Android. With 5 competitors vying for dominance, 2011 could be the year where the tablet OS matures.

Meeting Form with Function

As I alluded to earlier, the form factor [and not just size alone] will play a big role in how competitors react to Apple in 2011. Samsung’s opening salvo of a 7″ tablet is potentially pre-mature, and may turn off others from a similar size. Dell’s Streak, at 5″, could thrive in a niche micro-tablet market for folks who don’t want an iPhone/iPod. However, there are a variety of ways other hardware manufacturers can approach the form factor question. A tablet that sits in between the iPad and the Galaxy Tab could fit quite well. Also, changing the screen’s aspect ratio could become a game changer in itself [though I have my doubts about it].

There’s definitely a lot of room to explore here. For example, take a look at Dell’s Inspiron Duo [the detachable tablet/netbook concept] recently released was quite innovative too. However, I fear that most manufacturers would try harder to become innovative than to focus on the user experience and focusing on form and function. This might be the fatal downfall of other tablets.

Why Competition is Ultimately Important

So as fans of the iPad, we should sit back and ask ourselves – is competition really that important? Wouldn’t it be better if Apple just owns the tablet space in 2011 just as it did in 2010?

The answer is a resounding no.

At the end of the day, Apple can’t think of every brilliant idea that can fit in a tablet, nor would they opt to include every feature that they develop. Competition allows for the users and the open market to speak out on which features are needed but missing [multi-tasking and copy-paste], which ones simply don’t work [external antennae], or which ones are sorely wanted but will never make it in [Flash].

Besides, it’s about time that the iPad proves that it’s the best machine out there…until the iPad 2 gets announced. So I say bring on the competitors at CES and let’s see how everyone reacts this year.

Based on what you, our dear readers, have seen online, which non-Apple tablet or feature excites you most? What would be the biggest surprise this year at CES? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Cschinghlaniel

    I think ASUS will surprise us a lot as well as the PlayBook from RIM.

  • http://twitter.com/scwleung Sam Leung

    ASUS sounds like they may have a chance, but judging from what I’ve heard from some developers who have been playing with PlayBook development, I’m having my doubts.

    Still, it’s still pretty early to tell though, and I’m sure there will be more surprises in store this week.