Tablet landscape to get crowded; 8 models by Q1 2011

The tablet computer space is going to heat up -- really soon -- and Apple's dominant iPad is going to be challenged by a raft of late-mover products from the likes of Samsung, Dell, RIM, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Cisco.

The tablet computer space is going to heat up -- really soon -- and Apple's dominant iPad is going to be challenged by a raft of late-mover products from the likes of Samsung, Dell, RIM, Acer, Asus, Lenovo and Cisco.

It looks like there could be as many as eight tablet computers (nine, if you count the rumored second-generation iPad) on the market by the first quarter from 2011 according to the WSJ.

Some people (like Om Malik) believe that Apple is developing a 7-inch iPad to better compete on price with lesser-featured, lower cost devices like Amazon's $139 Kindle, but it also stands to reason that Apple might also want a 7-inch iPad to stave off the impending attack of smaller (and less expensive) models.

Samsung's 7-inch Galaxy Tab is the odds-on favorite to be the first real iPad competitor and is due "before the end of the year" according to the company. Amazon UK pegs the release date at November 1 but WSl reports that that could jump to as early as next week when the company holds its Developer Conference in San Francisco.

Perhaps the most highly-anticipated slate on the radar (after Apple's, that is) is a top secret tablet from RIM, which some have dubbed "BlackPad" and is rumored to be released in the fourth quarter of 2010. The RIM slate is rumored to feature a 7-inch touch screen and one or two built-in cameras, according to the WSJ.

It will have Bluetooth and broadband connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone, these people said. Since the tablet won't be sold with a cellular service, it's not clear which carriers or retailers will sell the device.

So what does the impending crush of "me-too" tablets mean for Apple? I've always maintained that competition is good for the consumer because it forces companies to innovate and lower prices. A perfect example of this is Android. Where would the iPhone be if it weren't being vigorously chased by Google's Android team?

Ultimately, some real competition will force Apple to step up its game and Cupertino can't afford to squander its precious lead by resting on its iPad laurels.

Would you purchase any of the upcoming tablets over an iPad?

Graphic: WSJ

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