AT IFA 2010 IN BERLIN J K Shin, the president of Samsung's mobile telecommunications business confidently told the audience at the Galaxy Tab launch event, “Between smartphones and PCs the tablet market is going to grow very quickly.“
That might be wishful thinking on his part but the outpouring of tablet designs this year and at IFA in particular means that either everyone’s market research is saying the same thing or the tablet phenomena will be the worst case of herd mentality since the NINJA mortgage lending that caused the worldwide financial meltdown.
Whichever it is, the logic of tablets could equally be a case of self serving corporate interests persuading a populace to buy into a technology they don’t need. It wouldn’t be the first time. The conspiracy theory is this, in a world where everyone has a smartphone and they would not want to use such a small screen to access the services mobile broadband internet will bring, the next best form factor can only be the tablet.
Then again HTC said earlier this year that it sees tablet users as mostly female. Finally IT may have found a product that is as friendly for the handbag, as they have been for the manbag, aka laptop case. In his confident statement Shin referred to 13 million sales in 2010, a figure he is likely to have got from an August Isuppli report that goes on to predict 30 million sales by 2012.
As such the likes of Shin are promoting tablets as if everything including their investment in 3D tellies depended on it. While surveys show that 3D is likely to be shunned by all but the most dedicated of early adopters, tablets are getting off to a better start after years of dead ends.
After the demise of Microsoft’s various attempts with its Windows for pen computing, its Tablet PC and then the Courier, which died before it even reached the market, the prospect of internet access and ergonomically friendly touch screens has led to a more positive reception this year. But Microsoft is still in the wilderness.
Beyond Apple’s Ipad and it’s built in market of fanbois other companies have been lining up to garner the moniker “Ipad killer”. This would seem to be a moniker too far if Isuppli’s report is to believed, that the Ipad will lead for years.
This is based on an analysis that concluded that the Iphone led the smartphone market because nothing had features to compare. But what IFA showed is that there are tablets already out there with more functions than the Ipad and 2011 might even see the first stereoscopic, that’s no glasses required, 3D displays.
So what do Apple’s competitors have to beat? Apple’s Ipad for UK consumers will cost £699 for a 13.4mm thick 730g slab that has 64GB of storage, WiFi, 3G, a 1GHz A4 chip powering GPS, Bluetooth and a 1024x768 resolution 9.7-inch touch screen. And the pad has a nine hour battery life when surfing the web via WiFi. A criticism of the Ipad has been its lack of Flash and few ports with no USB. It only has a dock connector port, a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and a micro SIM card tray. But this SIM card tray only comes with the WiFi and 3G model.
Most prominent of the Ipad challengers is the Samsung Galaxy Tab, to some degree because of the huge marketing spend the company can support its new product with. But there are also tech spec reasons why Isuppli is very probably wrong and Apple could see it lose the tablet battle.
The Tab uses the hugely popular Android 2.2 OS, its processor has a clock speed of 1GHz, a model with a 32GB of storage, an SD card slot for a further 32GB, GPS, it can be used as a phone, including video conferencing, with a Bluetooth headset, and can use its front and back 3MP cameras with a LED flash for photos, video and augmented reality for navigation enhancement. Its screen is TFT and while it can’t show 720p like Ipad it can output all HD content through its 30pin connector with a special cable. The Tab can play all the music files Ipad can and also has a 3.5mm earjack socket. The Tab has a 4,000mAh battery providing 7 hours of movie playing, however it is only a 7-inch WSVGA 1024x600 multi-touch TFT screen display but its only 380g in weight. And it has Flash 10.1.
While one report put its price at £670 others put it at half that. Either way, despite 30 per cent less screen and sub-720p resolution there is still more functionality and more ports for what will likely be a competitive price when the network operator contracts are finally announced. During its press conference Samsung was also pushing the Tab for business users. Samsung says it will only sell the Tab through network operators and Vodafone is already advertising it, suggesting third party confidence in Samsung’s marketing, or perhaps Ipad’s initial success.
Screen size and portability then could be the deciding factors for the winner of that Ipad killer mantle. Toshiba’s Folio 100 has aimed directly at challenging the 9.7-inches Ipad has to offer. The Folio has a 10.1-inch 1024 x 600 resolution touch screen, like the Tab it has Android 2.2 and supports Flash 10.1, has an Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 16GB of storage, WIFI, Bluetooth, accelerometers, has 1.3MP cameras, is videoconferencing capable and has ports such as mini HDMI for outputting 1080p, USB and an SD card reader able to take up to 32GB. While it can boot up in 30 seconds it doesn’t have 3G, which comes with a future model. It does weigh in at a hefty 780g but you get all of the above for a mere €399, which will probably mean £399 in the UK when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter.
At IFA Archos also produced a 10.1-inch touch screen tablet, its Archos 101 model, which is 12mm thick and weighs only 480g but it has also launched a series of other smaller “Internet tablets”. They are the 70, which is 7-inches, the 43, which is 4.3-inches, the 30 for 3-inches and the 28 for 2.8-inches. But which size will be the winner? This range of sizes is not unique, Viewsonic has launched a 7-inch Viewpad 7 and 10-inch Viewpad 100 tablet and Samsung is to unveil a family of tablets next year. Shin told the Tab press conference that a larger tablet that used Android 3.5, also known as Honeycombe, would be launched next year.
Then there is the emergence of what might be called the near-tablet products. Pandigital’s 7-inch Novel has all the hallmarks of a tablet, a Samsung ARM 11 mobile processor, 1GB of memory, Android 2.1 for its OS, a 800x600 colour TFT LCD touch screen, virtual keyboard, web browsing, it plays MP3, WAV and AAC files and MPEG4 video, has a 1,600mAhr battery, accelerometers for portrait or landscape orientation and an SD card slot for up to 32GB. And it will likely sell for under £200 as its $150 in the US. But for all that it is a hefty 540g.
However even these could pale in comparison with the tablet that will use Sharp’s stereoscopic 3D technology. Its IFA stand had a 10-inch stereoscopic 3D screen and Sharp told The INQUIRER a tablet product could appear next year. Apple may come to regret the market success that its Ipad had, because it has given companies the confidence to invest in products that beat Steve Jobs 720p drinks tray hands down in features and price. IFA could make 2010 be remembered as the year Apple’s gadget leadership began to falter. µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ