by Tom Kaneshige

What We Learned About Tablets at CES

Jan 10, 2011
Enterprise Applications

Expect the iPad to dominate the high end, Android to capture volume and new competitors galore.

More than 80 tablets walked down the proverbial red carpet at the Computer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas last week. Some flashed cool hardware features, others showed off brand new interface looks.

So what did we learn from all this tablet pomp and pageantry?


Well, tablets are super hot right now and will probably continue to be the talk of the gadget town for most of 2011. Everyone wants a piece of last year’s iPad magic, and the emerging tablet market seems potentially bigger and more diverse than Apple can handle by itself. I know, not exactly ground-breaking news.

Diving deeper, though, all these new tablets will likely ignite a price war on the low-end of the market—that is, just a few tablet makers will want to go head-to-head with the iPad on the high-end. And the early pick to make the biggest splash are tablets running Android 3.0, also known as Honeycomb, which delivers a high-resolution display.

“Honeycomb looks really good at this early stage, and companies are thinking through unique user interfaces to create loyalty to their brands and lines,” says technology analyst Rob Enderle. “Lines from Dell, Samsung and Vizio were the most complete, though the Motorola tablet seemed to be the best in its class.”

This means Android tablets might outsell iPads by year’s end, just like Android smartphones have recently done to the iPhone. While Apple reaps higher margins of the iPad, Android could be the more prevalent platform. (Android, of course, has numerous device makers and is mired in ongoing litigation regarding IP ownership.)

Another note about tablets is that there’s room for unconventional thinking. Most industry watchers figured iPad set the standard for screen size with a 9.7-inch screen. But the Galaxy Tab with its 7-inch screen has done well since its debut late last year. In other words, it’s still a guessing game on what consumers want from tablets.

Many tablets announced last year never made it to market, and it’s a good bet a few shown at this year’s CES won’t make it to retailers’ shelves, either. Nevertheless, the tablet drumbeat will be deafening given all the new entries.

How will this affect Apple?

In a cluttered market, advertising will be key to success (or even survival). Yet many startup tablet makers don’t have the marketing chops to compete with the likes of Apple and other major brands.

Moreover, many new tablets shown at CES will be delivered to market around the same time as the iPad 2, analysts say. This means the next-generation of tablets will be competing against new iPad 2 features, as well as Apple’s powerful marketing machine. Advantage: Apple.

On the other hand, Apple might suffer from heightened tablet noise drowning out iPad news. Apple had the corner on tablet news last year with its market-making iPad but no longer.

“There is a chance that there may be too many tablet products in the second half, confusing customers,” Enderle says, “which could work for Apple or hurt the entire class.”

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at