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Thursday December 30, 2010 2:44 pm

Tablets set to take the stage at CES 2011

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: CES, CES 2011, Features, Handhelds

tablet ces 2011

This time last year, the tech world was holding its collective breath for the "slate" device Apple was heavily rumored to be releasing. A few weeks after CES, we had the Apple iPad, and a new product category with a clear leader was officially born. Since then, it feels like someone poured water on the tablet category or fed it after midnight. The sheer multitude of tablets seems to multiply like gremlins, and many of the products are equipped with operating systems that have a few gremlins of their own. CES 2011, nonetheless, will be remembered as the opening bell for the year of the tablet. Thus far, only two true contenders, Apple's iPad and Samsung's Android-based Galaxy Tab, have emerged as viable, enviable tablets. In about a week, that will all change…maybe.

By far, the most anticipated product in the tablet category is the 10-inch device headed our way from Motorola, rumored to be called the Xoom—but remember, the iPad was supposed to be called the iSlate. What differentiates Motorola's tablet from all other Android-based tablets—and we'll get to them in a bit—is that it will run on Google's Android Honeycomb operating system. Honeycomb is the latest version of Android, but most importantly, it is optimized for tablets. As Motorola's viral marketing campaign suggests, the Galaxy Tab is running a version of Android better suited for cell phones. Expect the announcements from Motorola to dominate the headlines during CES.

Another hotly anticipated product at CES 2011 will be RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, equipped with a 7-inch display and RIM's own operating system. The PlayBook weighs just under a pound. We're excited to bring you hands-on stories for both the Motorola tablet and the non-Android-based PlayBook during CES. Count on it!

The arrival of Honeycomb, however, is truly the most significant development in non-Apple tablet devices since the category began, but that hasn't stopped a throng of manufacturers from making Android 2.2-based tablets and selling them at price-points slightly to significantly lower than the iPad prior to Honeycomb's availablity. At the top of the pile, the Galaxy Tab is a fine example of how Android—even non-tablet versions of Android—can be attractively and usefully implemented in a large, touch-screen device. At the bottom of the heap, the Cherrypal CherryPad shows us just how little having Android as your operating system means.

At the heart of this matter: Google is picky about whom it will support in terms of tablet manufacturers. So, Samsung and Motorola have clearly had help in designing their new products to work seamlessly with the Android OS. They have access to the Android Market, stream-lined graphics, and so on. Manufacturers of the Cherrypal ilk, from which I estimate there will be roughly a million representatives at CES 2011, do not receive support from Google, but are still able to use the open Android platform. Access to the Android Market—Google's answer to Apple's App Store—is, however, denied. Imagine the iPad without apps. Now imagine the iPad without apps and a lousy touch screen…you get the idea. Expect an abundance of such devices from CES 2011. We will be there to document as many as we can, with an open-mind, but, perhaps, lowered expectations.

Since Samsung has already introduced the Galaxy Player—a Galaxy Tab for the iPod touch market—in other countries, seeing one pop at CES 2011 for the U.S. market shouldn't come as a surprise either. Think of it as the best hope Android has of competing with the iPod touch—we are certainly intrigued, though it is not technically a tablet.

The implementation of Honeycomb, however, should be huge later on in 2011. I expect to see several affordable Honeycomb tablets by mid-2011 or so. Of course, by then, there will be a new iPad, probably with cameras and possibly in varying sizes, that tablet manufacturers will be scrambling to catch up to. And, of course, Microsoft always looms as a threat, but thus far, the 'Soft has stayed largely out of the tablet race. I expect to see a tablet-friendly operating system from Microsoft this year—intended to power tablets from partnered manufacturers, but rumors of a Zune tablet are, thus far, just that. A shame—the Zune HD was fantastic, just a little too late. A Zune HD Tablet, however, would be perfectly timed at CES…just don't hold your breath.

Here's hoping Honeycomb is all the tech world wants it to be, that Motorola's new tablet is the first of many options, and that 2011 sees the blossoming—not bloating—of the tablet market.

This article, written by Tim Gideon, originally appeared on PCMag, and has been syndicated on Gear Live with permission from Ziff Davis, Inc..

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