It's going to be an interesting year for the Tablets. It was only a few years ago when they were just a flash in the pan and no one really paid any attention. Almost all the models back then ran a poor version of Microsoft Windows and they weren't very functional or sexy. Then came along the Apple iPad and suddenly it was fashionable to be a Tablet. Nice screen, stainless steel shell, all the applications you ever wanted. Sure it had some faults, but no one cared. People lined up to see the sexiest member of the Tablet family and people brought them home and were the envy of their neighborhood. Other manufacturers wanted a piece of the action, but Microsoft was behind the times (and continues to remain behind the times) so they looked to the Google Android operating system; behold a plethora of Tablets are born. There are so many that it's hard to make a decision, but what it's going to come down to is comparison to the iPad, cost and innovative features. Of course there will be people who under no circumstances will purchase anything with the word Apple on it and there will even be some that will be hard pressed to purchase a product with the word Android on it. So what are the choices?
The number 1 choice will continue to be the Apple iPad. On March 2 Apple will announce version 2.0 of the iPad which promises to fix some of the issues of the iPad 1.0. The iPad 2 is suppose to be a little thinner and lighter, have a newer processor, and will have both a front and rear cameras (Facetime capable). However, what is rumored to be the best news is going to be the price. Apple will most likely either lower the price or keep it the same as the original iPad and then will lower the original iPad to beat out any competition.
The Motorola Xoom looks like the front runner for Android based tablets. Personally I am not a big fan of Motorola products, but this looks pretty good. One big drawback for me is the large Verizon label on the frame. I hate when companies do that. Good news is it will run the new Android 3.0 tablet OS (Honeycomb) and will be the first tablet to run on Verizon’s new 4G LTE network when available. Expected to be available in early March (aka around the same time as the iPad 2) it will have a 10-inch widescreen tablet and and have 1080p HD support. Unless Verizon decides to offer a large subsidy (thus a 2 year contract lock in) the price will be high, reportedly between $700-$800. There will be a Wi-Fi only version but that will not be available until Spring.
Two other Tablets that look sort of interesting are the HP webOS Tablet and the ASUS Eeee Pad Transformer. The only reason I find the HP of any interest is that it will use a OS created when HP purchased Palm last summer. I am not sure how that will turn out. Traditionally HP has been a great engineering company but has usually fell short when it comes time to market a new product. It will be interesting to see if HP can build an ecosystem for this product that can rival Apple or Android and if they will partner with a network provider. ASUS on the other had entered the PC business by offering inexpensive PC's running Linux or Microsoft Windows. They plan to enter the tablet market with four different form factors, but the most interesting one will be the Transformer. ASUS beleives that other tablets lack the ability to create content (e.g. documents) and really just run applications. ASUS plans on offering tablets that can be used to create content, thus the Transformer will offer a keyboard docking station that converts the tablet into a small PC with additional battery life. Well see if people like that capability and if ASUS can establish themselves in this space.
Lastly a word about Research In Motion or as many people know them by Blackberry. For no other reason than to get a piece of the action and compete with Apple, Blackberry plans on releasing a tablet called the BlackBerry PlayBook. It will be a smaller tablet (7 inch screen) and run a tablet version of Blackberry software. Assuming RIM integrates the PlayBook so that it can utilize the BlackBerry infrastructure, built by many companies worldwide, the appeal here might be to corporations that want to offer a tablet but do not want to build out another infrastructure to support them. I will assume they will offer the playbook with all of the wireless carriers in a similar way they do standard Blackberry's. If not then that might be an issue for some companies. We'll see when BlackBerry release this product in Q2 2011.
So as you can see keeping up with the Tablets is going to be hard this coming year. I have only spoken about a few of my favorites, there are many more. Manufactures like Dell, Samsung, LG, and HTC already do or will soon have tablet products available. In addition, the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes and Noble nook are tablet wannabes that offer some compelling solutions and may offer some level of application support in the future. Some people have taken the desperate step of hacking these tablet wannabes and loading Android with mixed results which I don't recommend.
In the end I believe Apple will continue to dominate this space solely because of the ecosystem (applications) they provide and the huge jump-start Apple has on the market (there is already a rumor of a smaller iPad 2.5 or 3). It will be up to the tablets running Android to come up from behind. Two things need to happen before these other tablets can make significant strides on Apple. First, provide a comparable system at a price point far below what Apple is willing to offer and second offer a system that does not lock one into a contract with a mobile service provider. At least I have a choice now with the iPad (Verizon & AT&T) if I want mobile access other than WiFi and with the iPad 2 or 3 the choices may increase. Until such time it's an iPad world.