Home Page ContentPress Releases Tablet Computers, Smartbooks to Come of Age in 2011

Tablet Computers, Smartbooks to Come of Age in 2011

by david.nunes

At the Consumer Electronics Show last January, all the buzz was about tablets and smartbooks, inexpensive and highly mobile devices. The idea was that these devices would be used for web browsing, email, games, social networking, and online applications such as Google Docs or Microsoft Live services.

As 2010 actually developed, however, hardly any of these products made it to market. Instead, the story of the year was the runaway success of the Apple iPad, announced just after CES ended.

Next year is likely to be very different, as the iPad gets a lot of company. Gartner predicts sales of 19.5 million tablets this year, about 80 percent of them iPads—not surprising since Apple had the field to itself for most of the year with a few competitors, such as the recently released Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Next year, Gartner sees sales jumping to 54.8 million and soaring to 154 million by 2013.

Tablet Operating Systems

There’s really no mystery to the dearth of non-Apple tablets and smartbooks this year: There’s no software to run on them. The operating system of choice for these products is Google’s Android, but Google has actively discouraged manufacturers from using current versions of Android on these larger devices.

Version 3.0, called Gingerbread and due out before the end of the year, will be optimized for smaller tablets with screens up to about 7 inches. The next version, Honeycomb, expected around the middle of 2011, will support larger tablets or smartbooks, with displays up to about 10 inches.

Android is not the only answer. Research In Motion has announced the PlayBook, a business-oriented BlackBerry companion slate based on a new RIM operating system. Google itself has a second software option, called Chrome, designed for keyboard-equipped smartbooks that will run all their apps in a browser. Palm will have a slate based on webOS.

Microsoft’s Position

The obvious piece missing from this field is Windows, but Microsoft seems willing to stay on the sidelines, at least for now. Asked whether Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 7 software could be used in larger devices, Group Product Manager Greg Sullivan reiterated the company’s position that it believes Windows 7 should be used on slates.

Although Windows 7 tablets have found some acceptance in specialized markets, such as insurance and health care, their poor support for touch screens, limited battery life, weight, and cost has prevented them from becoming broadly popular and has discouraged manufacturers from bringing out Windows slate products.

New Devices Coming

The new crop of slates will range in size from 7-10 inches (Dell’s 5-inch Streak, a sort of oversized phone, looks like it’s one of a kind) and in weight from under a pound (450 g) to about a pound and a half.

Gartner refers to them as “media tablets,” but analyst Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies takes issue with the name, saying that they represent a much broader “touch-computing paradigm that will change how we use computers.”

Some, like the iPad, will be used heavily for media consumption and games. RIM’s PlayBook is designed for business documents. Cisco is bringing out the Cius, an Android tablet designed specifically for TelePresence videoconferencing and other business communications applications.

We are also likely to see a second chance for the stillborn smartbook. Like Android tablets, these were deferred by a lack of suitable software, and then all but forgotten in the rush to tablets ignited by the success of the iPad. There’s still a place, though, for simple, lightweight connected devices that include a real keyboard, and that need will be filled by a variety of 2-pound and under smartbooks running either Android or Chrome.

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