New Round Of Tablet PCs Invading Consumer Electronics Show - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

New Round Of Tablet PCs Invading Consumer Electronics Show

USATODAY.COM - If last year's Consumer Electronics Show was overshadowed by Apple's about-to-be-announced tablet computer, the iPad, no-show Apple will have an even bigger presence this week in Las Vegas.

Richard Doherty, an independent analyst at the Envisioneering Group, says that more than 100 companies will attempt to ride on Apple's iPad coattails with their own versions of a tablet computer. This comes at a time when Apple is expected to soon announce a second version of the iPad, tech analysts say.

Toshiba, Motorola, Research In Motion, Asus and Acer are among the companies expected to unveil tablets at the multiday tech orgy that is CES. "There's no question Apple blindsided everyone in the industry with the iPad" last year, says Tim Bajarin, an analyst at technology research firm Creative Strategies. "Everyone's playing catch-up."

CES could attract as many as 140,000 attendees this year, up from 126,000 attendees in 2010, says Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which stages CES. CEA expects total electronics sales, including everything from TVs and computers to video games and Blu-ray players, to top $182 billion in the United States.

"The show is off the charts," he says. "Consumers are having a love affair with technology. Even in a recession, they didn't cut back."

 

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The iPad was the best-reviewed tech product of the year and created a category in tablet computing, with a portable entertainment device that ditched the keyboard for a touch-screen and made it more fun to watch movies and TV shows, play games and read books.

Gartner expects sales of tablets — the iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab — to top 20 million units in 2010, growing to more than 60 million in 2011.

Helping the companies with their tablets is Apple competitor Google, whose Android operating system has overtaken the iPhone as the fastest-growing platform for smartphones. A version of Android created for phones is being used for many of the new tablets. But Bajarin and other tech analysts say it isn't yet powerful enough to run larger tablets.

"Many of them will barely run," says Doherty. "Consumers will be very upset."

If 2011 is the "year of the tablet," as many are expecting, "It won't begin to happen until the third quarter," when Google is expected to release its new, more powerful Android, called Honeycomb, says Bajarin.

Tablets from Toshiba and Motorola, for instance, won't be introduced until the second half of the year. "We're waiting for Google," says Toshiba Vice President Jeff Barney. He won't release his new 10-inch Toshiba tablet (expected price: about $499) until Honeycomb is ready for release, because the extra power is needed to run the unit, he says.

Omar Khan, chief strategy officer for Samsung's mobile division, which released the Galaxy Tab in November, says Android 2.3 has worked fine for his tablet, which has a 7-inch screen. "We proved we could provide a very compelling tablet experience," he says.

The Honeycomb release "will only further enhance the experience" on bigger tablets, he says.

Flash comes up again

Many iPad clones are expected to follow in the Galaxy Tab's footsteps, offering what consumers saw as important omissions in the current iPad.

The Tab and Toshiba's tablet, for instance, have two cameras for video and photos, a USB port and a slot for SD memory cards for photos. They work with Adobe Flash software, which is used to play more than 75% of online video.

Apple doesn't support Flash for the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch for various reasons. (Apple CEO Steve Jobs says Flash is "buggy.") So consumers using Apple mobile products aren't able to view video-heavy sites such as Nickelodeon's Nick.com and most websites from car manufacturers, which use Flash extensively.

"One of the reasons the iPad was so popular is because so many iPhone users already knew how to operate it, since it has the same operating system," Barney says. "They didn't have to relearn the navigation system. The same is true with Android: They already know it."

Google declined to comment for this story. But at a recent industry conference in San Francisco, Andy Rubin, a Google vice president who runs the Android division, showed a prototype of the upcoming Motorola tablet which, unlike the iPad, had no buttons on the device. All directions are done via touch-screen.

Even though the iPad has just one button — the home button — "You still get a little lost," said Rubin.

Rubin said Google has worked closely with tablet manufacturers to come up with software that can work more efficiently with tablets. "We're not in the business to build just one tablet."

In competing with Apple, Samsung's Khan says the biggest selling points have been offering a smaller tablet computer "that fits in the pocket" and being part of the Android family. "There's a significant community that's using Android on the phone."

But not all device manufacturers are working with Google. Research In Motion's PlayBook will use its own BlackBerry operating system. Hewlett-Packard, which bought longtime device manufacturer Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010, is expected to show off a new tablet at CES using Palm's WebOS system. And Microsoft, which has been shut out of the tablet market even though the original concept was touted by co-founder Bill Gates in the 1990s, is expected to show — but not offer for sale — a new line of tablets powered by Windows.

Meanwhile, a new iPad

But the 1,000-pound gorilla at CES will be the product that isn't there: Apple's sequel to the original iPad, which could be announced within days or weeks of the event.

A new iPad isn't a stretch. The company historically refreshes its lines with new features every year.

Several tech blogs have spent the holidays speculating on what the new iPad will look like. The sequel is expected to have most of the new features that will be touted by rivals, except for Flash. They include a camera for photos and video; a slightly smaller, thinner design; and a sharper Retina display, like 2010's iPhone 4.

Is Apple CEO Jobs worried about the competition?

Apparently not.

On a recent conference call with analysts, Jobs predicted that the new tabs would be "dead on arrival." The chief problem, he said, is that many competing devices will look too similar to the iPad and be too small — most with a 7-inch screen. "Seven-inch tablets are tweeners — too big to be a phone and too small to compete with the iPad," he said.

Time will tell if Jobs is right.

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