One of the biggest stories of 2010 was the explosion of tablets, a market that shot from prosaic to white hot. The fun was led, of course, by the iPad. The bigger picture is that the quicksilver progress of tablets as a category suggests that the transition of the PC from the center of the computing universe to a niche-a process that started in earnest with the smartphone-is accelerating. PCs still fill a huge niche, of course, but one that is destined to get smaller over time.
The year ahead will continue that transition. Among the most interesting and important issues will be the evolution of the tablet sector. Will the iPad continue its dominance, or will other devices move more fully into contention? Digitimes notes that the iPad 2 is rumored to be coming in the first quarter, and that such a launch "is expected to seriously weaken other PC vendors' tablet PCs." The story notes that demand is still limited and the ecosystem is over-optimistic about the market.
Perhaps. But other companies certainly are jumping in. There already are many tablets available, and an army of others is coming. Cisco's Cius is set for release in March, and Research in Motion's PlayBook is due early in the year as well. Dell also is set for an early year launch of the Inspiron Duo, which will act as a tablet and a laptop. The Galaxy Tab from Samsung was released this month, and Acer this week unveiled three devices, two based on Android and the third on Windows.
The position of writers Robert Strohmeyer and Melissa J. Perenson is clear in the headline of their PC World piece: "Why Your Next PC Will be a Tablet." The story is more of an appreciation than a market update. They point to the wide variety of tablets, why they are good and some of the challenges they will face. This paragraph sums up the attraction:
Today's tablet is exactly what the name implies: a thin slab, dominated by its screen. These slender systems generally max out at 1.5 pounds, and few of them take up more space in your bag than an old-fashioned composition book would. The software for tablets has changed, as well. Instead of struggling to run a full-fledged version of Windows, which requires a significant amount of processing power and isn't optimized for use with a touchscreen, most new tablet models released nowadays run a relatively lightweight, touchscreen-focused mobile operating system such as Apple iOS or Google Android.
Consequently, the tablet should be able to consolidate and build on the foundation established by Apple with the iPad, although it's hard to imagine that the iPad's blistering pace of growth through the last nine months of 2010 can be sustained, or emulated by other vendors in what will be a much more competitive marketplace next year.
Tablet makers certainly will take that deal: An overall slowdown, but the establishment of a vibrant marketplace. The fascinating uber-trend during the past few years is that the brilliant advances in several layers of technology-displays, wireless transmission standards and protocols, integrated circuitry, application development and battery life to name a few-has transformed telecommunications and IT and essentially ended the age of the dominant PC.