This year’s edition of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has just concluded. And as the heady fog of geeky indulgence clears, there are only tablets to be seen. Dozens and dozens of shiny tablets. According to CES’ own data this year’s show had manufacturers exhibiting approximately 80 tablet computing devices.
The boom in tablets this year has been fuelled by both supply and demand. Apple’s iPad device has been a thumping success. So much so that it took a market segment that had languished for a decade—especially at the hands of Windows and its hideous Tablet PC OS—and made it viable again. Apple is estimated to have sold around 12 million tablets in 2010. (This is after launching in April.)
This demand has emboldened other manufacturers to step in. (Into a somewhat bizarre synthetic market that either wants an iPad, or something like it but cheaper.)
On the supply side, the new manufacturers had access to Google’s Android operating system. The open operating system has evolved into a capable competitor to Apple’s phones and, increasingly, tablets. Most of the 80 tablets—BlackBerry maker RIM’s PlayBook was a notable exception—ran on Android.
So all indications are that 2011 will be the year of the tablet. Later this year there will be tablet devices to suit every segment of the market—from iPads and Motorola Xooms at the tap, through smaller Samsung Galaxy Tabs, and Dell Streaks in the middle, to cheap hardware-agnostic no-name Android-powered gadgets at the bottom. Presumably by then, developers will also have a slew of useful apps for these platforms.
However, predicting the future based on CES presentations is a little like believing everything that a well-travelled but well-drunk uncle says at a wedding reception. Some of it might be true. But most of it is make-believe.
CES has a history of hits and misses, and not in the best ratio. It has missed with tablets before. Even at last year’s show, there were a dozen or so tablets displayed. The iPad at the time was merely a strong rumour. Hardly any of them—HP Multitouch, Lenovo Ideapad U1 Hybrid, Archos 9, Freescale, Pegatron—matter anymore.
A handful of this year’s 80 devices could achieve scale. But are we on the threshold of a world where everyone has a tablet in his or her bag? Not quite.
Is the euphoria over tablets premature? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org