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A lot of personal computers and consumer electronics makers have introduced or showcased their first tablet systems recently in an attempt to address growing demand towards multimedia on the go and electronic books. A lot of people are enthusiastic about such mobile Internet devices (MID) and therefore tablets will grab some market share from netbooks, however, the question is whether tablets can really transform themselves into very popular products.

PC Makers Show Off Tablets

At consumer electronics show there were at least 30 tablet PCs showcased by different manufacturers, which is a clear evidence that makers have been working on those sleek devices with touch-sensitive screens, no keyboards and hardly any expansion ports for some time now. This is explainable because the demand towards various classes of MIDs has been growing rather rapidly in the recent years and this year a lot of different types of mobile Internet- and media-centric devices will emerge on the market. In fact, chief exec of Nvidia Corp. even said that the year 2010 will be the year of tablets since the company has formally announced its next-generation Tegra system-on-chip designed specifically for tablets. 

Hewlett-Packard Slate, Windows 7-based tablet

“2010 is the year of the tablet, this is a category that’s got our [Tegra] name on it. We have been weaned on the iPhone with this idea of touch and tablets, all of these kinds of behaviours have been taught to us now and consumers are comfortable with them,” said Jen-Hsun Huang.

Hewlett-Packard Slate, Windows 7-based tablet

Tablets may be incoming in a good time. The global economic turmoil seems to be getting a little easier and consumers may start spending again, paying attention to new kinds of devices and services.

Roadblocks Ahead

However, even though tablets will capture some market share from netbooks and will allow manufacturers to hike up average selling prices of MIDs, they may face the same problems the netbooks did: disappointed customers whose expectations failed to materialize, lack of services that take advantage of all potential capabilities, poor performance and so on.

“I looked at probably 30 tablets at CES and [their makers] were talking about the hardware – the screen size, the storage, the weight, the operating system – but when I asked them about how people were going to use it, they really hadn’t thought about that,” said Geoff Walker, marketing manager at touch-screen supplier NextWindow.

Jonney Shih, chairman of Asustek Computer, the company that released its netbooks first, believes that it would be premature to launch a tablet today and predicts the devices will not be successful until there are easily accessible online stores of electronic books, music, videos, games and other content tailored to the form-factor.

"Content is still not attractive enough today to the customer. We have those kind of devices in our labs, but we are watching to see when this is enabled,” said Mr. Shih in a recent interview. 

Pros and Cons

Tablets that will emerge this year will compete against netbooks, smartbooks, smartphones and, to some extent media players or e-book readers, as a result, it is logical that many PC makers expect them to be used for services that are already utilized on the aforementioned types of products.

Tablets do have a number of advantages compared to the aforementioned devices:

  • They are expected to be smaller than netbooks or notebooks due to lack of keyboard.
  • Their user interfaces are supposed to be more intuitive in general and more tailored for usage on the go compared to netbooks, smartbooks or e-book readers.
  • Tablets should be naturally better for watching videos, blogging and reading than smartphones or portable digital media players. Even though e-book readers are better for reading, they do not feature video playback, built-in camera and so on.
  • Tablets are supposed to be more usable for various video games and entertainment software than smartphones, players or electronic book readers.
  • Tablets will certainly be better than smartphones, players or e-book readers in anything that includes media content, it will be more convenient to manage photos, videos and even documents thanks to large screen.

But tablets have a number of drawbacks that will greatly reduce their competitiveness on the market:

  • The lack of keyboards will not allow using tablets for type-intensive tasks, e.g., heavy usage of email or blogging. Hence, netbooks and notebooks will remain preferable choice for Internet browsing.
  • Battery life of tablets is unlikely to be as long as that of e-book readers or even premium smartphones aimed at business users.
  • The vast majority of casual video games are designed for keyboards, thus, PCs will still have an edge over tablet PCs.
  • Actual performance of tablets is likely to be lower compared to netbooks or smartbooks due to power constraints and other factors.
  • Tablets will still be larger than smartphones or media players.

But the main disadvantage for tablets is that everything is tailored for keyboards and mice. It will be nearly impossible to use certain programs or services on tablets. Even PC manufacturers claim that services for tablets should be released prior to devices themselves. In fact, today's slate PCs may be considered as oversized personal digital assistants that lost the battle to smartphones several years ago.

It is rather obvious that for some people the balance between pros and cons of tablets will be just what the doctor ordered. However, at this point it does not seem that tablet PCs will become massively popular among general users, at least, not this year.

Tags: , , , Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Tegra, PowerVR, Slate, Hewlett-Packard


Comments currently: 6
Discussion started: 01/26/10 10:01:12 PM
Latest comment: 01/31/10 09:46:52 AM
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> The vast majority of casual video games are designed for keyboards, thus, PCs will still have an edge over tablet PCs.

That's not true at all. The vast majority of casual games are controlled by mouse left clicks only. Some of the "casual games for hardcore gamers" require more than this, but they're the exception, rather than the rule.

I agree that the market for tablets isn't clear. I'm sure they'll eventually replace e-book readers, since current e-book readers are very limited, but I still can't see them easily beating smartbooks and smartphones.
0 0 [Posted by: ET3D  | Date: 01/26/10 10:01:12 PM]

I like to think of the Tablet PC's as my monitor without the need for cables or a tower. If necessary, surely, there will be a USB port or two (or bluetooth) that will allow a keyboard/mouse to be used. Heck, the (max)iPad has a stand, dock, and add-on keyboard. As long as this is as powerful as a netbook, I will be satisfied.
0 0 [Posted by: lh3nry  | Date: 01/27/10 07:34:53 PM]
- collapse thread

iPad even does not support multi-tasking, hence, it cannot be compared even to the cheapest netbook.
0 0 [Posted by:  | Date: 01/28/10 05:29:05 AM]
I agree- I refuse to be trapped in apple's "app world." I would've been semi-interested in the iPad if it had snow leopard optimized for touch interface. Who needs an obese iPod anyways.
0 0 [Posted by: lh3nry  | Date: 01/28/10 05:34:36 AM]

iPad?? No multitasking, no USB ports, no camera, no native phone capabilities, no SD ports, etc, etc.
In one word, EPIC FAILURE!!!!!!!!!!!!
0 0 [Posted by: TAViX  | Date: 01/30/10 02:20:13 AM]
- collapse thread

EPIC FAILURE are 2 words!
0 0 [Posted by: dudde  | Date: 01/31/10 09:46:52 AM]


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