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From tablets to black holes: 2010's hardware stories of the year

Apple iPad creates "third category of device" - and nature hates a vacuum...

Apple iPad creates "third category of device" - and nature hates a vacuum...

As we prepare to draw the curtains on 2010, silicon.com takes a look back at the biggest hardware stories of the year.

The biggest hardware launch of the year was undoubtedly tablet-shaped. Barely had 2010 begun when Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the official wraps off the long-awaited iPad.

The device may not have instantly exceeded expectations after all the months of hype - at least one commentator dubbed it "a big iPod Touch" - but CIOs were quick to cotton on to the iPad's potential for the enterprise: Apple iPad for business? Yes please, say CIOs.

Throughout the year businesses, including the law firm Eversheds, started kicking the tyres of the iPad to see what it had to offer: Apple iPad becomes lawyers' work PC.

silicon.com did a little tyre-kicking of its own as we looked into whether the tablet shaped up for the enterprise, in iPad vs laptop: Can Apple's tablet be your office computer?.

By mid-2010 Apple had sold more than three million iPads and by the autumn analyst house Gartner was predicting tablet sales will boom over the coming years, driven in large part by the popularity of Apple's iPad: Tablets sales to hit nearly 20 million this year.

Where Apple walks, scores of tech companies are bound to follow. No surprise then that networking giant Cisco not only clocked the tablet bandwagon but leapt aboard - announcing it would be launching a dedicated enterprise tablet in 2011, called the Cius, running Google's Android OS. silicon.com took at look in: Photos: Cisco means business with Android tablet.

Samsung also gave Apple a run for its tablet money with its own hardware: Photos: Samsung unveils Android tablet, the Galaxy Tab. Launched late in the year, the Galaxy Tab soon shipped more than a million units.

Not to be left out, BlackBerry maker RIM showed off its own take on the tablet: Photos: BlackBerry PlayBook - RIM unveils first tablet. The device, due to launch in 2011, will run an all-new OS, rather than RIM's smartphone-oriented BlackBerry OS. Alas, how it will perform against the competition remains to be seen - the tablet remained behind glass at the official unveiling.

With so much tablet action on the table, silicon.com editor Steve Ranger wondered whether the rise of the tactile rectangle signified an end to a well-known peripheral: Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and the death of the keyboard.

Other big hardware stories on silicon.com in 2010 included a series of articles looking at the state of robotics, among them an examination of the issues related to the advent of AI: Artificial intelligence: The robots are coming but are we ready for them? and this fascinating video interview with Noel Sharkey, professor of robotics at the University of Sheffield: Artificial intelligence: Noel Sharkey on the inexorable rise of robots.

silicon.com also looked at chips and computing hardware - asking whether Moore's Law has reached the end of the road - and what might supersede the incredible shrinking transistor in: After silicon: What will power computing for the next 10 years and beyond?

Gazing into the far-distant future of computing hardware, silicon.com also explored quantum computing - asking how far research has come and what a quantum machine might be capable of: Quantum computing: Beyond computing's final frontier.

This investigation ended the year with a bang - specifically the intriguing notion that quantum gravity might impose an ultimate limit on future computing hardware. Push your machine too hard and it might just collapse into a black hole...