It's tablet time at CES 2011

It's tablet time at CES 2011

Summary: It is shaping up to be the year of the tablet at CES. The shadow of Apple's iPad hangs over the show, forcing a wide range of companies to announce plans for tablets. Here's what I'm expecting to see.

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This year the Consumer Electronics Show, in early January, is shaping up to be the year of the tablet. Yet the most (some would say "only") successful tablet to date is the one that won't be at CES. Apple sold 7.5 million iPads in the first six months and no doubt millions more this holiday season. Its shadow will hangs over the show, forcing a wide range of companies--chipmakers, computer hardware and consumer electronics companies, software developers and wireless carriers--to announce plans for tablets. Here's what I'm expecting to see.

An Android assault Google's mobile operating system has been a hit on smartphones, but even the most recent version, Android 2.3 or Gingerbread, available on the Nexus S, isn't really designed for tablets. As the first to market, Samsung has had some success with the Galaxy Tab, which runs Android 2.2 (aka Froyo), but most reviews have noted that the 7-inch slate feels more like an over-sized smartphone than a true tablet. The first version that will be designed for tablets, known as Honeycomb, will be out sometime in 2011. At the D: Dive Into Mobile conference earlier this month, Google's Andy Rubin surprised the world by demonstrating a Motorola tablet powered by an Nvidia dual-core processor and running Honeycomb. The Android Market seems to have good momentum, but it remains to be seen how Google will distinguish between smartphone and tablet apps once Honeycomb is launched.

Apple designs its own A4 chip for the iPhone and iPad (widely assumed to be manufactured by Samsung), but Android is more of a free for all. All of the same companies designing ARM-based chips for Android smartphones--Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Freescale, Marvell and others--offer processors for tablets. The Galaxy Tab uses a Samsung processor with a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 core. Other companies such as Broadcom, Nvidia and MediaTek are trying to push their way in as well. There are rumors that Nvidia's Tegra 2, an SoC with 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 dual-core processor and powerful graphics, is the "reference platform" used by Honeycomb's developers. In addition to Motorola's tablet, Tegra has been linked to future tablets from Acer, Asus, MSI, Samsung and Toshiba. Intel also supports Android, and the company said Asus, Cisco and Lenovo are among the companies building Atom-based Android tablets.

The details on all these tablets remain sketchy. We will almost certainly get the goods at CES, but for now here's what we know. Acer is planning to release 7-inch and 10-inch unnamed Android tablets in April. Similarly Asus will reportedly release both 7- and 10.1-inch Eee Pads--using either Nvidia or Qualcomm chips--running Android in March or April. LG canceled its Android 2.2 Optimus Pad earlier this year and decided to wait for Honeycomb (there have been some leaks about an 8.9-inch tablet using Tegra 2 in the first quarter of 2011). Motorola has posted a CES teaser video for its tablet, which may or may not be dubbed Xoom. MSI is planning to release a 10.1-inch WindPad with some version of Android in early 2011. Samsung hasn't said much on how it will follow-up the Galaxy Tab, but it will no doubt release new versions with Honeycomb, perhaps in March or April. Toshiba's plans are a bit unclear as well. Its early efforts with the Folio 100 did not go well, but there are reports it will be back at CES with several new tablets including a 10.1-inch Android model.

RIM has a new playbook This one is much simpler: there's one new device, the PlayBook, running a new operating system. The PlayBook is a 7-inch tablet that is based on a dual-core processor (RIM isn't saying which one yet) that will be released sometime in the first quarter of 2011. It does not use the BlackBerry operating system; instead RIM has developed a new OS based on QNX, a Unix-like operating system widely used in embedded systems. RIM acquired QNX Software from Harman International in April 2010. The PlayBook won't run existing BlackBerry apps, but it will support Adobe AIR, a so-called runtime the lets developers use Flash, HTML and JavaScript code to build Internet applications. RIM sees Flash support as one of its big differentiators--the iPad doesn't support it. RIM needed a new operating system for tablets, but the drawback is that it will a separate set of applications perhaps distributed through its own app store, even as RIM has struggled to build critical mass for the BlackBerry's App World. But RIM is really after a difference audience here. Much of the recent growth for BlackBerry has come from appealing more to consumers, but with the PlayBook RIM is piggy-backing on all of the security and management features that made BlackBerry a de facto corporate standard for e-mail. Exactly how all of this will work remains to be seen, but if RIM does pull it off, it could convince a lot of companies using BlackBerry to try its tablet.

The return of webOS Since acquiring Palm, HP has updated webOS to version 2.0, released a new software developer kit and pushed out the Palm Pre 2. But HP has consistently said it has much bigger plans for webOS including tablets in "early 2011." Though there have been rumors of a PalmPad, code-named Topaz, that looks similar to the HP Slate 500, HP has been tight-lipped on details of its webOS tablet(s). HP isn't exhibiting at CES, but that wouldn't necessarily stop it from demonstrating a tablet elsewhere in Vegas. The webOS operating system has a lot of advanced features including true multi-tasking, but Palm wasn't able to convince developers to build apps for yet another smartphone platform and few people bought Palm Pre or Pixi smartphones. HP will somehow need to solve this problem in order to make webOS a success on tablets and smartphones.

What about Windows? The big news here is that according to Bloomberg Microsoft will announce a version of Windows for ARM-based tablets at CES. This would seem to contradict a lot of what Microsoft has said to date regarding tablets.

Windows 7 includes support for touch input, but Microsoft hasn't done much to customize the interface or develop apps that would work well on tablets. Furthermore the company has said that it would not release an interim version of Windows for tablets, though better tablet support is one of the features on the list for Windows 8. A scaled-up version of the new Windows Phone 7 also seems to be off the table. It is more likely, as ZDNet's Mary-Jo Foley wrote, that Microsoft has come up with a new version of Windows CE--which already runs on ARM chips--for tablets. This tablet version of Windows CE could use something similar to the Metro user interface on Windows Phone 7, which is designed for touch input. This would buy time while Microsoft works on the tablet features for Windows 8, which is likely to be released in late 2012.

In the meantime, there's nothing stopping computer companies from releasing tablets combining Atom and Windows 7. HP released the Slate 500, a Windows 7 slate, earlier this year, but it was targeted at businesses and only available in limited quantities. Next year Intel plans to release an updated Atom platform, known by the code-name Oak Trail, for both tablets and netbooks. Oak Trail should provide better battery life, but it is still unlikely to match the ~10-hour battery life on ARM-based tablets such as the iPad.

A long list of companies including Asus, Dell, Lenovo, MSI and Toshiba are all believed to be working on Oak Trail tablets running Windows. Asus plans to release a 10.1-inch Eee Pad in March. It has also posted a video of its 12-inch EP121 "Eee Slate," an enterprise tablet that will use a Core i5 processor making it, in effect, an ultraportable without a keyboard. (Several companies have tried the 12-inch Windows slate in the past without much luck.) The EP121 should be available in January. An MSI exec recently told Engadget it will have one of the first Oak Trail tablets on the market, a 10.1-inch model. There have been plenty of rumors about Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba tablets of all shapes and sizes, but we'll have to wait until CES to see exactly what they are planning to do with Windows.

What about MeeGo? I've seen plenty of demonstrations of MeeGo going back to Computex in June 2010--and it always looks pretty good--but as Nokia says, "MeeGo is a 2011 event." Until we really see it on real products, it's tough to know how it really stacks up. The offspring of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo, MeeGo is a Linux-based operating system that was first announced at Mobile World Congress in February 2010. Intel started Moblin several years ago because at the time Microsoft wasn't developing versions of Windows for mobile and embedded devices running Atom, though MeeGo will also run on ARM. In October, the group released MeeGo 1.1 with versions for netbooks, smartphones and IVI ("In-Vehicle Infotainment). The MeeGo project is also working on a version for "connected TVs," but the tablet version is MIA. In October, Intel has launched its AppUp Center, but it is focused primarily on app for Windows XP and Windows 7 netbooks.

Though several smaller companies are building MeeGo tablets (the WeTab with a 1.66GHz Atom N450 shipped in September), the only major company committed to releasing a MeeGo tablet is Acer. At Computex in June 2010, Acer said it would build both tablets and netbooks running MeeGo, but it hasn't said much about it since then. Nokia still plans to use MeeGo in its high-end smartphones starting next year, but so far there's little evidence it will be a serious player in tablets.

So what does it all mean? First, to state the obvious, the tablet market is about to become a lot more crowded. Second, there will be lots of different operating platforms and application stores to choose from. It is tempting to state that a shakeout is on the horizon, but that's wishful thinking. The smartphone market seems to be doing just fine with lots of choices, and there is no reason to think tablets will be any different. Apple will compete with an army of Androids for the consumer market. Whether Windows can depends less on what operating system it is running under the hood, and more on whether Microsoft and its partners can create a good tablet experience. Finally the battle to build the brains behind tablets is only just beginning. The ARM contingent has the upper hand because so far tablets are developing along the lines of large smartphones--not small PCs--and Oak Trail isn't likely change that, but Intel's next 32nm solution could make it a closer race in 2012.

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Tablets, Windows

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  • Motorolla

    It's interesting to see motorolla take a dig at the iPad in their new tablet promo video by saying that it is merely a big iPhone.... Can't wait to see how there tab could avoid being called a big droid. It's kind of like saying, 'the 27" iMac is just a big 11" MacBook air", "well it is generally speaking, they both run the same OS". Idiots. Their tablet will undoubtedly be superior to the iPad (in terms of harware (and multitasking)), shame it's a year late- kind of diminishes their criticisms.
    Jwdowling
    • If they don't........

      @Jwdowling

      deliver big, they will look a bit stupid. Personally I think that video was a bit risky.

      Given that all the Android devices will use essentially the same HW and SW, it will be somewhat difficult to really shine in that market.

      As for Apple, I would (iWould? ;-) ) rather let my competing products do the talking for me than taking a jab at Jobs' products. Apple runs very good ad campaigns. Don't give them too much ammunition. It is likely to be used very effectively against you.
      Economister
    • RE: It's tablet time at CES 2011

      @Jwdowling The real irony, is they are actually saying the iPad is a big ever popular and very successful iPod. Ummmm where is the dis. The iPod touch is successful and people like it. So Apple made a bigger one that runs just as great. Wow. Burn?!???
      spikedstrider
      • RE: It's tablet time at CES 2011

        @spikedstrider LOL I laugh at all those who purchased the useless ipad. It for sure is a waste of money which you can't even do anything just view things boring.... People get Windows Slate it way way better. You can connect HDMI, SD Card Slot, USB 2.0, Front face camera for video chat using skype, Watching live Video Stream like Hulu, Netflix which uses Flash and Ipad can't even watch live video due to NO Flash. So maybe it best Ipad will not be in CES because it will be total embarrassment and will show people of it useless features.

        So my money is on Microsoft Windows Slate. It worth money and has all important features.
        ipadsucks
    • RE: It's tablet time at CES 2011

      @Jwdowling : isn't the iPad running the same iOS version as the iPhone? If so, I don't think your argument is very strong. However, those 2 devices may be running different OSs and you may have a point.
      nomorebs
      • iPad and iPhone/iPod touch OSs are different and these are *incompatible*

        @nomorebs: I mean those OSs can only be installed and work on devices which they are meant for.

        Also, iPad version of OS (even though it does not have separate number) contains not only specific interface and software designed for the tablet, but also whole lot of specific programming classes for tablets, which makes applications for iPad <b>not compatible</b> with iPhone/iPod touch.

        The whole point of all current iPad's competitors being ridiculuos is exatly that Google is year behind in presenting tablet version of OS.
        DDERSSS
  • Thank you

    A balanced and comprehensive blog. You have helped restore some sanity to the tablet debate.

    I am curious about your thoughts on how Shuttleworth's plans and ambitions with Ubuntu may fit into all of this.
    Economister
  • the power of innovation

    The rest of the computer industry, HP, IBM, Dell, Gateway, MS etc. all have fallen asleep at the wheel of innovation. Only Apple has consistently invested and delivered. Why go back to folks that don't really have the customer's experience as their driving force. I don't own any Apple products yet but I feel totally ignored by my current suppliers and that will have consequences for their brand.
    stillwater-sc
  • By most accounts these seem to be first gen products

    and they seem to be compared to the iPad at least in many of the "tablet" articles I've read in the past few months. Now does anyone have a guess as to when the iPad 2 will be out? For instance I hear that the guess on the Playbook from RIM will be out around March. Does it sound reasonable that the iPad 2 could be out around that time? My point being unless Apple has been very foolish it is likely they have been developing the iPad 2 since the day the iPad was first shipped or even sooner than that.

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
  • We need the robust functionality of Windows 7 on a tablet

    The features of Android and iOS pale when compared to Windows 7. We need a manufacturer to release a tablet device with Windows 7, and have it as responsive and fast as Android tablets and the iPad. I'd love to pick up from my desktop PC, grab my tablet and go with all the same data and software, but the convienence and ease of a tablet. Check out more at www.tabletaccessoriesstore.com
    tabletpro
    • No we don't

      @tabletpro <br><br>We need a small, light and efficient OS with enough power to run the applications we need on the go, and with a touch interface.<br><br>Winows 7 may pale in comparison to Solaris, but if you do not need Solaris' features and strengths, the comparison is rather irrelevant.<br><br>Only two kinds of people make the argument you are making:<br><br>1. People who really need to run Windows SW, and<br><br>2. MS fan boys.
      Economister
      • He has a point

        @Economister

        Imagine being able to sit down at your PC, do your thing, and being able to continue that work on the go. I'd love to have a system like this where the LCD monitor could then double as a Windows tablet, and then when I get back home, I could then sit it in a dock connected to a more powerful system that would then be utilized.

        It can happen, and is a valid scenario.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Yes, of course

        @Cylon Centurion 0005

        and for those users it MAY be great, but the applications you use have to be touch centric, otherwise you might as well just use a Windows netbook. Then you have all the functionality you need, as well as the portability.

        Maybe that is an important point here. Windows is not touch centric. Taking the Windows environment with you on a touch centric tablet is one HUGE challenge. It is not going to happen any time soon.
        Economister
      • RE: It's tablet time at CES 2011

        @Economister

        Well actually u can run Windows software on the tablet via software such as ThinServer

        http://www.aikotech.com/thinserver.htm
        bojanwojan
      • RE: It's tablet time at CES 2011

        @Economister

        I think you missed people with jobs ;-)
        tonymcs1
  • RE: It's tablet time at CES 2011

    What most of us geek webizens fail to realize is that HP, Acer, Dell, et al are all "computer companies". They are run by geeks and listen to geeks needs and desires. Apple on the other hand dropped the word 'Computer' from their corporate name quite deliberately a couple of years ago and few in geekdom took notice other than the occasional pot shot.
    Apple is a consumer electronics company. A repeat is in order, a CONSUMER electronics company. They couldn't really give a rat's petoot about geeks. There are only so many geeks in the world to sell to, and then Apple competes in the race to the bottom computer commodities market.
    No, Apple is selling the iPad to your Mom, your Uncle, your Sister, not to you. USB port? Does Mom even know what one is? Camera? Well, might be nice, but look all I have to do is swipe my finger and it does neat stuff! ARM processor? Who cares so long as the 'magic' gets done.
    Apple appears to continue to leave geek catering companies in the dust in markets that those same companies have failed in due to a total lack of understand of what the end user wants.
    Will Apple's iPad have some 'competition'? Certainly, but it will take a different sort of company to come up with anything close to the iOS experience for the end user. Oh, Android you say? Sorry, between market fragmentation and Google's need to appeal to geeks Android is in the same trap as the rest of them.
    An entire industry caught clueless and pantsless doesn't bode well for being competition. Let Apple announce the 'next great thing' and they'll all be scrambling about wondering why they didn't think of it.
    dheady
    • I was with you almost till the end.....

      @dheady@...

      and then you got carried away. You are writing Android off way too lightly at this point, forgetting about Chrome OS and totally ignoring price, for example. While you have mentioned many very valid points, you conclusions are a bit more like wishful thinking than a logical extension of a thorough analysis.
      Economister
  • The only one that looks like it won't have a shot....

    ...is Nokia with their Meego OS. It just seems like such a half-hearted 'me too!' effort. There's nothing that sets it apart from all the other entrants, aside it being Linux on a tablet.
    Theseus
  • Can't Wait To See Ballmer Flounder

    Microsoft needs to completely remove this man and bring Gates back.

    Since his takeover at Microsoft the only thing he's done right is Windows 7 and XBox 360, although the XBox was Gates baby to begin with.

    Ditch this bloated whale and get the real muscle back in..Apple had to do it with Jobs, now it's time to do it with Gates.
    cyberslammer2
    • You could not .......

      @cyberslammer2

      pay Gates enough to come back. He probably saw clouds on the horizon and decided to bail while he still looked like a genius.

      As much as I dislike Ballmer, pointing MS in a different direction, given its history, size and heavy reliance on its Windows and Office cash cows, is an extremely difficult if not impossible task. I am not at all certain there is a CEO alive who could pull it off. MS is under threat from a whole new computing paradigm/ecosystem and may need to cannibalize its current life lines to compete, and historically has not been a really innovative company.

      Frankly, I do not envy Ballmer at all.
      Economister