The year of the tablet

2009 and 2010 were the years in which netbooks really shook up the market. 2011 is already looking certain to be the year in which tablet PCs do the same. So, if you’re planning on spending some money in the coming months on a tablet PC, then it’s worth considering what’s heading our way.

Tablet PCs are not really new but a year ago they were barely talked about. In most cases they were considered to be underpowered toys; not something that serious PC users could ever want. Then Apple applied its famous marketing brush and suddenly tablet PCs were super desirable and the iPad kick-started an industry that had been waiting for some time for the spark to catch.

iPad2

Obviously there will be an iPad2. Naturally there will be much attention lavished upon it. However, it’s unclear how the second generation iPad will differ from the first. That’s probably not really a problem for Apple who seemingly manages to finesse even a few new features to get maximum mileage.

What is pretty certain is that that iPad2 will sport front and rear-facing cameras. Users want this and Apple has been making a big deal about its FaceTime video calling software for the iPhone 4. It’s natural to assume that FaceTime will also make an appearance in the second generation iPad. Not having a camera in the iPad now looks to be a major oversight.

What isn’t as certain is whether Apple will release a smaller version of the iPad. Steve Jobs has been fairly disparaging of the 7-inch tablet PCs making their way onto the market so far, and with the iPod already in the market it seems unlikely – but the rumours persist.

PlayBook

BlackBerry maker RIM had a tough year in 2010 with many suggesting that it was on a slippery slope. It also fielded regular criticisms that its BlackBerry devices were slow and underpowered. Hoping to make a big comeback play in 2011, Blackberry will launch its PlayBook. Like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet device which packs in a super powerful 1GHz dual-core CPU. Unlike the iPad, which had no cameras, the PlayBook sports two of them – one on the front and one on the back.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the PlayBook will be that it is going to be competing against the iPad and Android-powered devices. Both of these platforms have extensive application marketplaces. BlackBerry’s App World is nowhere as developed as Apple’s and Android’s. The PlayBook will also be released around the speculated time of the iPad2 which could make for stiff competition.

Honeycomb

Android’s phenomenal success to date has been based on mobile phones, but Android was not originally designed for tablet PC devices. Presumably Google’s Chrome OS was earmarked for that role. Now Google is working hard on a version of Android that will be aimed at tablet PCs as well as mobile phones. That version will be Android 3.0, otherwise known as Honeycomb.

Google has already done a demonstration with Honeycomb running on Motorola hardware which suggests that although Android 2.3 has not yet been released, Android 3.0 will probably be released in early 2011.

WebOS

HP is pretty much guaranteed to enter the tablet market with a bang in 2011. The question that still remains unanswered, however, is which path the company will choose to follow. HP’s Slate 500 device runs Windows 7 but earlier this year the company bought Palm, and along with it the WebOS operating system. With WebOS in its stable it makes a lot of sense for HP to create a tablet PC running WebOS. WebOS was designed by Palm for exactly these types of devices and while it had limited success with WebOS-based mobile phones, WebOS is a good platform for tablet PCs. The only hitch is that, like RIM, WebOS has no significant application marketplace to talk of.

Samsung

Samsung is the quiet power in the tablet market. The company tends to fly under the radar a little but while Apple is soaking up the media attention, Samsung is quietly producing products. Samsung’s Galaxy S phone and Galaxy Tab tablet PC show that the company is serious about Android and the future of small form factor devices. Despite Apple’s disparaging remarks on 7-inch tablet devices, Samsung has forged on and produced one of the year’s better tablet PCs in the Galaxy Tab. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the Android version used for the Galaxy Tab was not designed for the tablet form factor and new Samsung devices launched with the tablet-optimised Android 3.0 promise to be significantly better.

ChromeOS

Google is the company to watch. Its Android OS is already gearing up for the tablet market and late in December the company unveiled ChromeOS. Right now ChromeOS is supposedly aimed at netbooks but has already been spotted on a couple of touchscreen tablet devices. And Google has said that Acer and Samsung are likely to be the first companies to ship ChromeOS-based devices, probably around mid-2011. Of course Google already has Android moving into the tablet PC market so it’s unclear how the company will differentiate the two operating systems.

Big sales

Although the tablet PC market has been in existence for a number of years, it is only now starting to kick into high gear with sales of tablet devices expected to shoot through the roof in 2011. IT analyst Gartner is extremely bullish on tablet PC sales, predicting that tablet PC sales will reach almost 20 million units in 2010. That number is expected to treble in 2011. Clearly tablet PCs are going to be the market to watch in 2011.

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The year of the tablet