Tablets are going to be huge in 2011 – that much is clear from the feeding frenzy currently taking place at the Consumer Electronics Show. But will Android, Palm, BlackBerry or Windows be able to rival the iPad?
This time last year, the iPad was just a glint in Steve Jobs’ eye – and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer looked like he’d trumped Apple when he unveiled the Windows-powered HP Slate at CES 2010.
Twelve months on and things look very different: the iPad has been a phenomenal success, with the fastest adoption rate of all time – and the HP Slate never even made it to the shops.
The trouble with Windows
Full-fat Windows was never going to work on this new generation of tablets (after all, it didn’t make it on the failed Tablet PCs of 2002 or the failed Ultra-Mobile PCs of 2006). Yet Microsoft persists with its plan to shoehorn a massive, power-hungry desktop operating system onto a mobile device.
HP, meanwhile, is looking elsewhere. Having bought Palm last year, HP is expected to launch a Palm Web OS-based tablet at en event on February 9th. Like Palm smartphones, the WebOS tablet will probably be a joy to use. But without the brand magnetism of Apple or the multi-manufacturer approach of Windows and Android, it’s hard to believe the WebOS tablet will be anything other than an also-ran.
For the same reason, it’s hard to see the Playbook being a massive hit. Sure, it’s made by Blackberry maker RIM – but like all 7in tablets it falls between smartphone and proper tablet. And, given how RIM has struggled to make touchscreen Blackberrys work, I just can’t see it being a winner.
The age of lean-back computing is upon us
The Android Alternative
Which leaves good old Android. There are already a few Android tablets available, most notably Samsung’s 7in Galaxy Tab – but Google has barred bigger tablets from downloading apps from the Android Market. If you look hard enough you can find some 10in Android tablets (from the likes of Viewsonic and Toshiba) – but you’d be best advised to steer clear. In fact, cheap and not-so-cheerful tablets from the likes of Next and Toys R Us could have a detrimental effect on the future of Android as a tablet platform.
Because the reason for Google’s reluctance is clear: Android isn’t tablet-ready, and it won’t be until Android 3.0 Honeycomb arrives later in 2011 (see our Honeycomb gallery below). Once Honeycomb is available, though, the floodgates will open – and just as the iPhone finds itself under threat from a crowd of Android smartphones, so the iPad will be challenged by a variety of Android tablets.
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Even with multiple manufacturers, it’s going to be tricky for Android to match the iPad’s success – but there’s no doubt that 2011 will see a huge number of tablets sold, and not all of them will be made by Apple.
The good news for us is that Apple has set the bar high – whatever happens, it’s going to be a vintage year for lean-back computing.