UPDATE: Typos and inaccuracies corrected on 5 January, 2011. We really are sorry, a beta-version of the article was published on the 3rd by a mistake. We really are sorry.
The year 2010 promised a lot, granted that in 2009 all the trends of the decade were very clear. However, there were not a lot of breakthrough products in 2010 and a lot of them were delayed till 2011. We did not see a lot of tablets, GPGPU-based applications and innovative devices in general. But this makes us believe that the year 2011 will bring the highly-anticipated changes in the industry.
Personal computing industry is getting broader as devices around us become smarter. This trend enables a broad set of various electronic products and mobile gadgets, but as they get more advanced, differences between them become less clear as functionality tends to get similar. As a result, the market for various digital content and games continues to expand at a rapid pace, mainly thanks to mobile devices.
So, keeping in mind the trend towards mobility, let's see what we can expect from 2011. Believe us, we have a lot of expectations!
Tablet PCs: The New Phenomenon of the PC Market
Personal computers in slate form-factor seem to be the logical extension of almost any reading device ever used by the humankind: from clay tablets to magazines to electronic book readers. In 2011 there will be at least 70 different tablet PC models released and tens of millions shipped.
It is hard to say who invented the tablet personal computing as a concept. Touch-screens (in one form or another) have existed for decades and were used in different applications. The first "tablet PC-like" digital devices emerged back in the mid-fifties, but those devices were not computers and were hardly available in mass quantities. Various tablets with hand-writing recognition were released by IBM and others in the eighties, but given limited functionality we cannot call them PCs too.
Fujitsu Stylistic 1000. Imaby by Winhistory.de web-site
Microsoft Corp. released Windows for Pen Computing back in 1991 with the aim to enable input using a stylus (or a pen) instead of keyboard or a mouse. A number of products, including Fujitsu Stylistic 1000 tablet with Windows 3.11 were released with Windows for Pen Computing. Around the same time little-known company Go Corp. released its PenPoint OS, which was eventually used by IBM ThinkPad and eventually IBM developed a number of other Pen-based input systems for a variety of its products (e.g., ThinkPad 730 TE). Microsoft updated its WPC to version 2.0 with the launch of Windows 95, but, just like in case of the previous version, the new one did not get widely popular and was only used on some special-purpose devices for vertical markets.
The first real attempt to popularize tablet personal computers occurred in 2001, when Microsoft unveiled its Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. Convertible tablet PCs running Windows did not get really popular, but they at least were used both by specialists and consumers. In early 2006 a number of PC makers introduced so-called mobile Internet devices (MIDs), which sported no keyboards at all, but supported all possible applications ever developed for Windows. Those products - which were available from companies like Asustek Computer, Samsung Electronics and Sony Corp. - were rather bulky because of power-hungry processors inside and did not get popular among consumers too. Even though Windows Vista included functionality of XP Tablet PC Edition, the only well-known tablet device based on it was HP TouchSmart tx2-series.
Since Windows for personal computers relied on x86 and it was impossible to make a really sleek and slim tablet based on any x86 chip with proper performance, a natural choice for tablets would be ARM-based chips as well as a non-Microsoft operating system. Recognizing that, Apple released its iPad slate with a modified iOS operating system in Q2 2010. Despite the fact that the iPad is still pretty heavy, it quickly gained popularity among those, who did not need netbooks and officially became the first tablet PC in history that was sold in millions. The success of the tablet was predictable and intentions to launch "over-sized" PDAs in 2010 were visible. To our great surprise, only Apple and Samsung actually managed to release popular tablets this year.
What we do know is that, according to Craig Ellis, an analyst with Caris & Company, at least 69 tablets from various manufacturers will be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show next week. So far the analyst predicts that there will be 18 Intel Atom SoC-based slates, 14 Nvidia Tegra-based tablets, 10 Freescale Semiconductor-powered devices as well as 6 slates with a system-on-chip (SoCs) from Texas Instruments shown at the CES. Other tablets are projected to feature SoCs from Marvell, Qualcomm and others. Intel itself said it had 35 design wins with its Oak Trail and Moorestown (Atom Z600) system-on-chips for 2011. Therefore, at least 86 different tablets will be available in 2011, and we can suspect that the actual number will be over 100.
At present all the leading makers of notebooks, mainboards and various high-tech devices are working on their tablets, including Asustek Computer, Acer Group, Cisco, Dell, Elitegroup Compute Systems (ECS), Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo Group, LG Electronics, MicroStar International (MSI), Research in Motion, Toshiba and many others are working on their slates that will be available next year.
Since tablet PCs will be based on very different hardware - Intel SoCs, multi-core ARM-based SoCs, high-speed single-core ARM-based SoCs, various generic SoCs - the actual devices will be very different from each other. Some of them will be tailored to deliver maximum performance and Windows experience, but their battery life will not be too long; others will deliver lower performance, but will offer longer battery life; third type of slates will have extreme battery life, but their performance and functionality will be compromised. In short, the market of tablets will be very segmented from day one and almost everyone will be able to pick up a product with the almost unique balance of price, performance and features. The 2011 is the year when the tablet market is set to explode.