11 tablets worth watching

11 plus next-gen iPad that could succeed in 2011

More than 80 tablet computers were shown at the four-day International Consumer Electronics Show, and one expert predicted some wouldn't last beyond the event.

So which tablets have the greatest chance of surviving through 2011?

Computerworld asked several analysts to weigh in on which devices to watch. Most would only list six machines, including tablets already announced by Cisco Systems, the Cius and Research in Motion's BlackBerry Playbook. But at CES, it was learned that Verizon will carry the Cius on its LTE network and Sprint-Nextel will carry the Playbook on its WiMax network.

Here are some of the factors that will come into play in the flooded tablet market:

Price: Price will obviously make a major difference to buyers, although nearly all the products announced at CES didn't come with a price tag. Most tablets today range in price from $US400 to $650, with the AppleiPad starting at $629. Some vendors said to be competitive, they would need to come in below current prices.

Screen size: Consumers and workers seem most attracted to tablets with 10-inch screens, which is shown in the popularity of the 9.7-inch iPad, noted Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner. But the 7-inch Galaxy Tab has done fairly well in the market since its November introduction in the U.S., so it's not clear that 10 inches is the only ideal size.

Platform: Android was hot at CES and its latest version, Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb, will run on new machines including Motorola's Xoom), LG's G Slate and an as yet unnamed device from Toshiba -- all with 10 inch screens, or nearly that size, to support the higher resolution displays that Honeycomb was intended to support. Honeycomb tablets are judged by many experts to be the ones most likely to take on the next-generation iPad for screen image clarity and size.

User interface and apps: Having plenty of apps to buy from an online store such as Apple's App Store as well as a quick and simple user tablet interface rank high in buyer's minds, Dulaney said. But other experts have argued that once more than 100,000 apps become available, including those in the Android Market, will it matter how many apps a tablet platform supports? What will matter is whether there are just a handful of critical applications that matter, especially for workers who want office productivity capabilities for document and spreadsheet creation and editing.

Advertising: The big unknown in the coming tablets is how well they will be promoted. Apple has shown huge success in advertising through TV and other media and has also won in the first-to-market category, having launched the iPad last April. As soon as most of the CES-announced tablets are on the market, Apple will have launched a second-generation iPad, probably one with two cameras for video chat and other features.

The Apple brand, with its reputation for design and quality, speaks volumes about the intangible value of a brand, analysts noted. Behind that brand and image comes a whole range of factors that will matter, including a manufacturer's reputation for device support and repair or replacement as well as a maker's ability to quickly distribute devices to retailers, either through wireless carrier's stores or others.

Having in mind all these criteria, here are 11 tablets from CES to watch in 2011:

RIM (BlackBerry) Playbook: The 7-inch screen tablet is the first to run on Sprint's WiMax network, but a W-Fi-only version is expected. It features the QNX Neutrino operating systen that RIM acquired last year. RIM officials were quick to note the ability to pocket the device easily and to hold it with one hand, compared with the heavier, larger iPad.

Galaxy Tab: Samsung showed the same 7-inch Galaxy Tab body that has been on the market, but with a Wi-Fi-only version coming and another for Verizon's LTE. It seems fairly clear that the newer versions will still run Android 2.2, not 3.0. Galaxy Tabs today sell for $400 to $650, depending on the carrier, and only with cellular service, not Wi-Fi. Analysts believe a Wi-Fi-only version will be a big hit with customers who don't want to commit to a cellular plan.

Cisco Cius: Announced last year with a strong focus on the enterprise, Verizon will be the first to carry the Cius in the U.S. this spring. The Cius has a 7-inch screen with Wi-Fi and will include capabilities to help corporate IT lock-down unwanted uses. Some analysts said that having such a strong business focus will help Cisco sell more, but others disagreed and said the Cius won't compete against more popular devices like the iPad, which consumers also want to use at work.

Motion CL900: A tablet that fits in the category of rugged laptops, perhaps, it runs the Windows 7 OS and has versions with 30 GB or 62 GB solid state drives. It runs on an Atom processor from Intel. It will sell for less than $1,000 and will be available in early spring, the company said. Motion has long been a Windows-based pen tablet creator, selling into industry.

Motorola Xoom: An Android 3.0-based, 10.1-inch touch-screen tablet with an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core processor to deliver up to 2GHz of power. It will launch as a 3G/Wi-Fi device in the second quarter, and will then be available as an LTE / Wi-Fi device (on Verizon). It includes two digital cameras and enabled video chat. It weighs the same as the iPad at 730 grams and is slightly thinner at 12.9 mm.

LG G Slate: T-Mobile and LG officials announced the G Slate will run Android 3.0 and will go on sale in the second quarter. While the devices weren't available for reporters to handle, it appeared to be about 10 inches in size.

Toshiba tablet: So far, the device doesn't have an official name, but will be 10.1 inches and will run Android 3.0. It will ship as early as July.

Dell Streak: A 7-inch touch-screen tablet running Android 2.2. T-Mobile said it will be priced below existing tablets but didn't figures, nor did it say when the Streak will go on sale. The tablet also has an Nvidia dual-core processor and boasts an SD card slot to permit storage of as much as 32GB.

HP tablet: Many expected a tablet from Hewlett-Packard that uses the WebOS it got when it acquired Palm. HP didn't show a tablet at CES, but is expected to make an early February launch that might include it. Sprint is also planning an early February launch that might include the HP tablet that some are calling the PalmPad.

Lenovo LePad: Lenovo showed off a 10.1-inch tablet that runs Android 2.2, but also runs Windows when combined with the IdeaPad U1, a hybrid device that turns the LePad into a netbook. The LePad serves as the monitor, but can be detached as a tablet.

Asustek Eee Slate EP121: Running Windows 7, this 12-inch touch-screen tablet is available for pre-order at Amazon online for $1,100. It comes with a Bluetooth-linked keyboard. An Intel Core i5 processor is inside.

Apple iPad 2: It wasn't shown at CES but was on the minds of every vendor and potential buyer. The first version was announced last April, so it won't be long before the next generation is launched.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld (US)
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