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2010 : The Year Of The Tablet

When Steve Jobs launched the Apple iPad in San Francisco on the 27th of January 2010, one could predict that 2010 was going to be the year of the tablet, which ironically is just a bigger version of the Personal Digital Assistant (or PDA).

The PDA, as a form factor, was single handedly launched by Palm back in 1996 after one failed attempt by Apple a few years before with the Newton. In April 2010, HP acquired Palm for $1.2 billion ending an era and kickstarting another one.

Fast forward to December 2010 and Apple is reigning supreme in a category that was non-existent only a few years ago and which now threatens to jeopardise more traditional form factors like netbook, laptops and even desktops thanks to millions of tablets sold.

The only other potent threat to Apple's crushing domination comes from Google and its Android OS Although Google doesn't seem keen to promote Android as a tablet platform, manufacturers have showed more enthusiasm.

Its chaotic and fragmented nature means that it is a minefield out there when it comes to finding a tablet that works. Cheap, no frills models, are not always that cheerful as we found out after purchasing a £65 tablet from China and other reported how dreadful even branded models like the Next Tablet can be (opens in new tab).

But it's not all bad though as the roaring success of the Advent Vega proved that a properly designed tablet with a honest price can sell like hotcakes.

At the beginning of November, we likened the current Android tablet situation to what happened to the Netbook market back in 2009 and 2010; same hardware & software manufactured by a handful of ODM/OEM companies in Taiwan and mainland China.

Things will change next year however as both Gingerbread and Chrome OS tidy things up down Android's avenue and bigger players like Sony Ericsson, LG, Motorola & HTC launch their tablets in the forthcoming months.

It's not all about Apple and Android as others like Microsoft, HP & Blackberry are likely to launch their own tablets following the success of products from the two aforementioned players.

Microsoft is rumoured to launch a Windows 7 edition for ARM at CES next Wednesday while HP is said to have plans to use its WebOS in a tablet. As for RIM, it has already announced its own QNX-based tablet, the Playbook, which should be available worldwide in the first half of 2011.

The very definition of what consitutes a tablet, however, is been challenged by devices like the Dell Streak (launched in May 2010) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (launched in November 2010), offering screen sizes of 5-inch and 7-inch respectively.

Expect this to continue next year as mobile handset manufacturers - even Nokia - release tablet devices and gradually squeeze out other smaller players out of the market (or to its fringes) altogether.

Like all electronic devices, tablets are likely to become better and cheaper next year with either Froyo or Gingerbread becoming the norm for Android-based devices and ARM extending its domination at the expense of Intel and AMD.

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.