The year of the tablet?

If you believe all the hype coming out of CES at Las Vegas this week, this is the Year of the Tablet, and the Year of 3-D Television. The latter is easily dismissed (maybe 5 years from now, but not 2010). As for the former: I repeat what I said nearly three years ago. There's a bunch of hurdles to be overcome.

There's a reason Amazon won't disclose the actual sales numbers for the Kindle. They suck. It's a special-purpose device serving a tiny niche market. There's nothing wrong with special-purpose devices or niche markets, but they do not create "Year of ______" conditions.

The only way tablets will succeed in the marketplace as mass consumer products is to be interactive, fast, easy to use, and fully connected to the real Web -- not some closed pay-per-view system. So you can forget any pipe dream you might have about tablets bringing us back to the good old days of huge newspaper circulation numbers and 30% profit margins.

Most of the products demonstrated at CES this year will fail, and many won't even show up in the marketplace. That's not unusual. It always works that way. If the real world worked like trade shows, we'd all have flying cars and silver suits.

Apparently everybody and their brother is showing tablets this year running Android, some other version of Linux, or some double-secret mutant Windows that you only get to see on stage. The funny thing is that some of the devices being shown really aren't new. Archos, for example, has been peddling Linux-based multimedia tablets for years with little success; showing up on stage with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer isn't going to make water run uphill.

Some of the devices I've seen pictured are just comic in their clunkiness.

Apple will announce its tablet in a few weeks. It won't be clunky; Apple doesn't do clunky any more. My prediction is that it'll be a Macbook Air with a touchscreen, no keyboard, and several layers of eye candy that will send the fanbois into their own private Xanadus. It might achieve a level of usability that makes tablets a viable product, but the price point will be shocking, and it won't save expired business/product models.

Another prediction: By the end of the year, the marketplace will be flooded with ARM-powered touchscreen pads running Linux and either Chrome or Android. They'll be priced somewhere between $200 and $400. They'll be very bad news for Microsoft, good news for Acer, Asus, and a bunch of Chinese manufacturing companies you've never heard of, and completely Web-focused.


How quickly it all falls down into insults and name-calling. Most of the people who resort to name calling or denigrating slogans really aren't capable or interested in discussions about real technology Clearly, Apple is not going to do a MacBook Air nor as some people who thing they are really cleaver, a Newton remake. This kind of silly speculation is ridiculous in a technology industry driven by doubling the computer processing power and halving the cost to produce almost every few years. Apple will make an integrated tablet (not one where the hardware is made by HP, for example, and the software by Microsoft or Google). Apple will make a product using its patients and best proven multi-touch technologies. Apple will extend its reach through the web and digital distribution services it has built up over the past ten years. Apple will continue to cultivate a legion of small and independent application developers who have spring-boarded their product designs to new users. Apple will continue tow work with valued partners to make the user experience the best it can for its customers. Apple will continue to leverage what works well for them as a company and learn not only from their successes but from their mistakes. No doubt their tablet will satisfy their dedicated base of fans who remain loyal to the brand because they are the most satisfied customers in the industry. Some people love Harley-Davidson and are willing to pay significantly more than a comparable motorcycle made by a different brand. Some people love Porsche automobiles an are willing to pay multiple times more for them than a Honda or Kia. And there are people willing to pay slightly (very slightly) more for a Apple product than they HP/Microsoft or Lunix/Google/Motorola mishmashes. To each their own. Why do you feel so compelled to denigrate others who choose not to imitate you?

and that is to kill e-readers completely. But neither the e-reader nor the tablet is going to save newspapers/magazines/old media.

Fanboi "anonymous" seems kind of touchy.

The Year of the Tablet has been proclaimed since the 1980s. Here's a blast from the past: A 16-bit Atari ST tablet prototype.

From the Atari Museum, which has lots of other interesting (and funny) images.