100 Tablets Unveiled at CES—What Does It Mean, and What's Just Hype?

Over 100 tablets and e-readers were unveiled at CES. (Full list here.) The statement itself seems unbelievable, but it's true: there were over 100 unique devices introduced. About 20 classify as e-readers, but still, that leaves approximately 80 tablets potentially entering the marketplace in 2011.

Also, according to AnythingIT.com, a website for value recovery and E-waste disposal, over the past 3 months they’ve seen a 62 percent increase (in the US) in businesses replacing laptops and notebooks with tablet computers. (Note the vendor did not provide the actual numbers of devices, only a percentage, so I have no idea if this spells a bigger trend or not.)

We can easily get into hypothetical predictions about the death of the laptop and the transformation of computing as we know it, but let's start with what we can surmise by these news items and what is just plain speculation.


Below are a few trends and points that seem fairly clear based on the growth of tablets seen at CES.

Manufacturers are investing heavily in tablets. Where manufacturers invest in terms of strategy, the money goes. So what's driving the growth—customer demand in lieu of the iPad's success, or marketing kerfuffle over the future of mobile computing? Probably a bit of both, but both will contribute to manufacturers focusing on tablets and consumers/businesses purchasing them.

As such, apps designed for tablets, management software for tablets, peripherals for tablets, etc. will explode. Just as with smartphones, enterprises need to have adequate management and monitoring functionality with tablets to ensure security and productivity. Fortunately, I've seen a number of releases already from leading mobile management vendors that their products are designed to support tablets just like with smartphones. But can these products truly offer the full range of features IT currently has with Windows laptops? Also, I'd expect an explosion of tablet-specific apps aimed at offering casual and business users the features they've depend on.

Android is hot. There are over 40 Android tablets on the list, which is more than half of all the tablets introduced at CES. In other words, many manufacturers see Android as the platform of the future. I can definitely see why, as Android 3.0 is a huge step forward, offering a UI truly designed for tablets and calming many concerns about Android tablets just being big, clunky Android phones. Below is a preview of Android 3.0



Windows 7 tablets are moving forward. In the list of 100 tablets, there are about 15 Windows 7 tablets coming up. The number is smaller, yes, but it shows that Microsoft fully intends to market Windows 7, not Windows Phone, as its OS for tablets. And for existing Microsoft shops (of which there are many), implementing Windows 7 tablets might be the most logical segue into tablets, assuming users are happy enough with the devices.


Below are a few examples of trends and predictions I'm reading about that aren't necessarily supported by evidence.

Tablets are the new standard of business computing. This is not only speculation, but to me it still seems fairly unlikely. The more likely explanation is that tablets represent a new, partially-competing source of profit for the computing industry, and manufacturers are wise to try and get in now before the competition is overrun. Techy types will likely want a tablet in addition to a laptop and smartphone; some casual users will be able to replace the laptop with a tablet. Tablets will grow, but it's unlikely that they will dominate until (1) they can offer full functionality for everyday users and (2) more importantly, can offer an interface and personal experience that is comfortable for an 8-hour workday. (To me, it seems more likely that tablets will take a chunk out of the growth of netbooks.) 

Android is taking over. I'm seeing a lot of sites hailing the tablet news out of CES as clear evidence that Android will dominate the tablet market. However, I'm not sure that that is really true—Android still has to catch up to the iPad, whether that's with an army of dozens of devices or a few really compelling ones (time will tell on that).

The iPad is going down. Not so fast—there's a difference between quality and quantity, and an envisioned 80 tablets is not a production-ready 80 tablets. While it's true that manufacturers are investing heavily in tablets, the challenge the manufacturers face is to differentiate between the many upcoming devices. Plus, in my experience with buying behavior of phones and tablets, most consumers start with the OS/platform they want, and then move on to the device within that platform, so even the lone iPad stands out as a compelling option and its own major category of tablets. (Not to mention, and I'm sure this isn't really that important, but Apple did sell almost 15 million iPads in 2010.)

So, is the news of 100 tablets the beginning of a new era, or an overhyped (but still exciting) evolution in the industry?

Follow Brian Reinholz on Twitter @breinholz

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