The State of Tablet PCs in 2011

As many of you know I’ve been working with Tablets for well over a decade. I’ve owned countless Tablets, produced countless videos (and bloopers) and my enthusiasm has never wavered. Mobile computers have come a long way in the last year, and even a little over 13 months ago, as we were listening to Steve Ballmer’s declarations at CES and shortly afterwards being awed by Steve Job’s iPad, we knew 2011 would be special.

A little over one year later, the tablet PC market has exploded. With 17 million sales in 2010 and close to 50 million sales projected in 2011. There are dozens of new devices prepping to hit the market and some real competition and innovation in a market that has been overpriced and stagnant for the better part of the last 10 years. It’s a Tablet lover’s dream come true. Regrettably for many manufacturers however, sales success is only part of the story. The shift in the tablet PC market means much more, not only for consumers who will soon have unprecedented choices, but for manufacturers and developers who must adapt to the way of doing things that first Apple and now Google pioneered.

The untold story here is not about the Tablet but about the ecosystem it resides in. If you have not yet read Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s blistering memo about the current state of Nokia’s operating system do so now. As Elop says, Nokia was “standing on a burning platform” and their competitors were taking “market share with an entire ecosystem”, an indication that what was once a world leader, is now a manufacturer destined for the bargain bin due to its failure to see the mobility market as a living breathing organism that needs food, water and oxygen to survive (read: apps, developers and the internet).

If this applies to smart phones it surely applies to tablet PCs where the “ecosystem” model has flourished through iOS and Android. The hardware sold by manufacturers, while important, isn’t the primary selling point any more. Just look at the sheer volume of devices that waited patiently for Honeycomb. Their success is dependent on being a part of the Android ecosystem, complete with familiar functions for millions of Android phone users and the 150,000+ App Marketplace.

This year, we will see a number of new devices and the attempt by many of them to start new ecosystems. While Nokia seems to have at least partially thrown in the towel, others like RIM and HP are prepping the launch of their own platforms for tablets. The consumer will be spoilt for choice – but may also be confused. I wonder if the big players will win through Coca-Cola styled marketing campaigns, or smaller companies will blossom with unique and innovative solutions. If there is one thing for sure (in my eyes) this ecosystem will have its fair share of parasites and the birth of some new symbiotic relationships too perhaps. It will be the arrival and dismissal of many this year.

For years the tablet PC market was strictly dominated by Windows – first XP, then Vista and Windows 7. I am still very passionate about Windows and use it to this day. But, how can you not be excited by the other tools being developed. Android is finally coming into its own on a tablet through Honeycomb and if we do in fact see the Xoom on February 24th, the rampant comparisons to iOS will begin. Shortly after that, I expect we will see a flurry of information from Apple about their iPad 2. Who knows how many user wishes will be granted in the new iPad and iOS updates, but I’m sure it will be enough to keep driving the gravy train that is Apple’s market share.

Then there is the Meego push by Intel. When we will see a tablet running MeeGo other than the WeTab I do not know, but I am excited for it. WeTab has laid a great indication of things to come, and with OSVs (Operating System Developers) like Linpus, Meego may be the Tablet alternative to iOS and Android that consumers may turn to. If you’re looking for an alternative to Android or iOS that stands a chance, this open source operating system with the support of so many big name tech firms can do it.

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This is where I tell you how 2011 is the year of the tablet and technology will leap forward this year exponentially – and it’s true! I see the Tablet platform as standing on the edge of a precipice and the consumer will be the one that will decide if it flies or it falls. This year is about realizing the potential unlocked by 2010’s big sellers and enhancing upon that with an ecosystem designed to focus on making Tablets useful and not just available. This year is about lots and lots of unboxing videos and hopefully a thriving competitive field where new ideas can and will drive innovation. Whether Apple or someone else comes out on top in 2011, it will be a year to remember for anyone who enjoys tablet computing and technology in general. I’ll be around if you need to talk and look forward to getting back in contact with many of you, and meeting many new readers soon.

Comments

  1. Tim says

    Highly doubtful on the widespread use of tablets- if tablet means no-keyboard touchscreen devices larger than around 4 1/2 inches. And most devices up to around 4 1/2 inches are smartphones. Anything larger than that is too big to conveniently slip into the pocket. If one’s to carry a bag, then a laptop is going to be a more productive device than a tablet.

    • Leyland says

      I think you are right in terms of productivity, but these modern tablets are primarily designed for consumption, which is web surfing, youtube/video watching, ebook reading, gaming and light socializing (twitter, facebook, etc).

  2. GoodThings2Life says

    For 5 years now I’ve been backing the Windows Tablet PC platform, and as an avid Microsoft-based system administrator, I push their solutions any chance I get. I love my HP Elitebook 2740p, and while the HP Slate is an underperformer, I like the form-factor a lot. There’s a lot of functionality and maturity to the platform, and while Microsoft has dragged its feet on the platform (man I really miss Gates), there’s still plenty of room for them to grow and improve if they’ll just seize the opportunity.

    I think the Android tablets are among the most feature-capable devices, but I still believe that outside a corporate-dictated world they are still too complicated for most users. I believe Android’s succeeds because they are following the same model that Windows has thrived on for years– being open and compatible with anything you can get your hands on and providing choice.

    As much as I despise all things Apple, I can’t help but accept that they have the mind share in terms of simplicity, and I believe they make great “dumb” devices for the tech un-savvy who just don’t want to learn tech but can’t get away from it either. They have a great closed-door club (cult?) that undeniably works well for them.

    • GoodThings2Life says

      Also– While I think WebOS is a neat idea, I don’t expect HP will do any better with it than Palm did with it, and I expect it to disappear eventually. I don’t expect anything out of the other options either other than for them to be more like distributions of Linux– available but irrelevant.

    • Red197 says

      That very simplicity or “dumbness” that you deride for the supposedly tech-unsavvy (that wouldn’t describe most of the users i know) is the genius of Apple’s products — they work beautifully — the user is never fighting the OS. I moved away from Apple some 4 years ago because I wanted a tablet PC — but boy do I miss Apple’s seamless experience, and seamless integration with the hardware. Nobody does it like they do, and they have set the bar for everyone else. There are things to dislike about Jobs high-handed approach, but he probably could not have achieved what he has by not exercising an obsessive control over his products. It’s irrelevant whether they are a cult, it’s beside the point (nor do i think accurate anymore) — his real contribution has been to set the bar for everyone else and show us what a device can be. God help us if he hadn’t come along — I shudder to think what Microsoft would have inflicted upon us if Jobs hadn’t been there to embarrass them, in the way of comparison. To despise Apple is simply just not to get what it’s about — the importance of the user experience.

  3. Leyland says

    One thing I’ll say, as an artist these new tablets definitly throw confusion in the market. I’ve recently been wanting to find a tablet with a stylus and a decent screen, and these days that is a lot harder since a lot of tablets, including windows tablets, don’t have an active digitizer, and a lot of the news sites (gottabemobile for example) cover tablets in general, and don’t focus on inking experience like they used to.

  4. Fernando says

    “I have a dream”: close to the new Asus EP121, but with a bettery life of 8-10 hours (like the Viliv folks have shown is feasible). C’mon, just go ahead and do it. Maybe Hugo’s Tega 3?

  5. lexuk says

    After waiting for years for the tablet I want to be produced, I finally gave in about a month ago and bought a netbook for my mobile needs. This new rash of conversations about tablets only talks about slates, and (as someone else mentioned) those are pretty useless to me – I need a keyboard. So while I’m still pining after a great inking experience from the perfect convertible tablet device, I’ll stick with the netbook and remain one of those people who just doesn’t see the point of all of these slate devices – they don’t have any application in my world beyond being decorative.

  6. Gary Harrison says

    Somebody…anybody…please, just stick a new motherboard in a TC1100! For me, anyway, it’s still the perfect combination of function and form, and I keep nursing mine along, hoping one day something else comes close.

  7. Hugo says

    @Tim: I need to beg to differ – but that’s just me as I’ve devoted 10yrs to the form factor. The reality for me is that iPad, and consumers together, have spoken and the result is unanimous, i.e. if a device can functions as desired, with long battery life, and plug into a healthy ecosystem of apps and media, then size becomes less relevant. I believe we will always have a need for multiple devices and screen size will only be a decision based on desired functionality, i.e. the smaller the screen, the less interaction/creativity, and, the larger the screen the larger functionality/creativity of content. This is not a result of screen size but of the app ecosystem and operating system (and read: input methods) the device offered for cleverly, and quickly, catching content. Thanks for the great comment mate!
    @Leyland: I agree that this is the case today. Apple however and Google have both seen the writing on the wall. I bet my home on the fact that iPad 2 (and all the marketing material) will highlight new content creation enhancements. Why…because people can only “play” and “consume” so much before the need to create and interact come to life! Great comment mate.
    @GoodThings2Life: I miss Gates too man!  Like you I favour Android (outside of my Windows boxes) and feel as though their gmail-sync story with Android devices is what makes them extra special for productivity. I’m also with you with Apple. My hat goes off to them for creating a sexy night club image for computing. They have people lining up outside stores always wanting more. Well done to them. Like you I don’t hold hopes for WebOS but I do like the Meego story and am keeping an eye on that one.
    @Red197: awesome comment mate. I think (very strongly) that what is finally occurring is that people understand something about Apple, i.e. their success is mostly based on the fact that they control the hardware and software layers, and everything in between. This means that they have more control and better products, with less misinterpretation, than Windows flavours and their partners (don’t get me started on Android misinterpretation issues). Nokia has understood this (way too late) and have announced a partnership with Microsoft in order to be part of that ecosystem and part of the all-in-one unity that comes from controlling hardware and software. Nokia will die soon (shame but true) but they at least understood the issue. This is what apple does best.
    @Leyland: I’m back as the Tablet guru expert guy thingy. And will do what I can to assist you. I have access to all Tablets on the market and only need your questions and I will help you. Regrettably what Apple did badly, is that they drove down the price of the Tablets. I know this sounds silly for me to say, BUT, with the price coming down it means you will only see “good” features, like Active digitizer pens on “business grade” or “premium” tablets – or some BS marketing term like that.
    @Fernando: I feel the love mate. Thank you!!!
    @Lexuk: I think things will change soon as the ecosystems become tidier and more relevant (and perhaps specifically targeting) end-user needs. You’ll find medical, mining, sales, home automation, tele-skyping, and more specific flavours of Tablets soon. This is when it will be fun.
    @Garry Harrison: I totally agree. We still use ours and if anything, without any changes what so ever (especially when competing against the Atom) it could be released today and sell well. BRING IT BACK! 

    Thanks for the comments guys! @MrMobilePC

  8. Mike M. (Philadelphia) says

    First, my specific question- what device(s) would be recommended for a student (elementary through college) for a primary device to do schoolwork with. This means it needs to be:
    1) “Relatively” portable
    2) Able to take notes in handwriting, preferably with capability to search handwritten notes as well as handwriting recognition (which includes ability to boot up quickly, or at least boot up/ with limited functionality or wke up from hibernating unchanged, etc.)
    3) With a “usable” keyboard (virtual or real thing; built in/permanently attached vs detachable/docking station vs wireless connection)
    4) Able to interact with a wide variety of standard document and media software as simply as possible (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc., etc.)
    5) Obviously search the web, do some multimedia, etc.
    6) “Reasonably” priced

    Background- I spent a lot of time (not my primary job) the last years of the 90’s until about 2005 trying to devise a system of electronic medical record keeping usable for seeing patients in the home that would be easily adaptable to printed records in the office (for my personal use). As you can guess, I spent time working on laptops/laptops with voice recognition and PocketPC prior to Tablets becoming commercially available. (“Real Tablet Computers” a computer operating Windows XP with active digitizer input, not some device that you can write on a screen and make something happen with who knows what technology or what capability). Before (Real) Tablets became available I had worked out a system using a handheld PocketPC for data input and reference in the field synched with a PC when back in the office. This required working around differences between Word and PocketWord, or finding alternative software that was interchangeable between devices/platforms, learning about and using 3rd party software to maximize handwriting recognition performance, etc., etc.

    After not being actively engaged in following”Tablet” development for a few years, I see this explosion of devices using multiple platforms, with some of the best of what I’m accustomed to (like the HP Slate 500) being ineptly marketed (Still!!) It seems that since the Toshiba 800e Pocket PC (was that it?), about every device I would have wanted disappeared from the market before I knew it even existed.

    So now I have a child in school (4th grade), and even though we are enrolled in a cyber charter school, there is a little less than zero, nada, keine, zilch use of any pen-input (except for what we do with my NecVersa LitePad slate circa 2002 and paste into a Word document).

    There are thousands, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of students across the US enrolled in such schools. With the popularity of the iPad in the general market, everybody is doing the obvious, asking, “Hmm, I wonder if I can use an iPad to help with my school work?” my question, knowing the iPad has very limited functionality compared to a “True Tablet PC” is what kind of current device would be best suited for the student.

    A last question- if one of you reading this can leverage this problem into a multi-million dollar deal, can you at least give us one free device???? In the meantime, I know there are likely several thousand people waiting for this info before they go ahead and by an iPad- of course maybe HP and other companies don’t care about such trivial sales numbers.

    I will likely post this to another site or two.

  9. Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

    @Mike M: Thanks for your great comment and thoughts. To initiate I can definitely laugh, and agree, with your comment about inept marketing. No matter how good the product if the marketing it not compelling (read: sexy, dynamic, inspiring) then you’re dead. Win Tablet are famously bad at this!

    About your query specifically I would go for a convertible Tablet like the Fujitsu T730 (or T900) or the Lenovo X series Tablet. You could also look at the Dell but the price will often be unnecessarily spent. Ultimately you need the Active Digtizer functionality (preferably by Wacom, in my eyes) to write and use handwriting effectively. If you want to be more ambitious with your Tablet scenario, and you think you will get good at handwriting, look at a slate/external keyboard combination like the Sahara i400 as you will be more portable and able to race around town. I would stay away from most the Tablets as the processors are so slow (for a primary device) and the handwritten input abilities will vary from “poor” to “OK”.
    Ultimately choosing a Tablet just got harder so you need to be sharp and study carefully. The iPad is a phenomenon not seen before in the IT world, and one more associated to a rock concert or movie star frenzy. With that however comes a lot of blind faith. The main reason I say NO to very serious iPad use is that Apple has you very locked into their world (read: credit card through iTunes, and application development approval policies) and it would take very little by way of privacy, terms and conditions, or application integration changes to occur for everyone to be staring at a clearly flawed platform – and nowhere to run. Look at FaceBook cult-like appeal, yet when they changed privacy settings recently, and through lots of poor application development infrastructure, privacy was risked globally.

    Let me know if any of this helps or I should expand on something. Regards and thanks again for the great chat!

    Hugo, @MrMobilePC

  10. Digital Doctor says

    >>>>A little over one year later, the tablet PC market has exploded. With 17 million sales in 2010 and close to 50 million sales projected in 2011.<<<<<

    Hugo, you of all people should know the difference between Tablet PCs and Tablets. The Tablet market exploded, the Tablet PC market did not. Microsoft tried to make portable computers that people wanted (UMPC, Origami, Tablet PC), but Apple showed them what people wanted.

    I think Steve Jobs would be upset if you called the ipad a Tablet PC.
    In fact, I bet he'd be upset if you called it a computer.

    Apple never calls the ipad a computer.

    http://www.google.ca/#sclient=psy&hl=en&q=computer+site:http%3A%2F%2Fwww.apple.com%2Fipad%2F&aq=f&aqi=&aql=f&oq=&pbx=1&fp=6062905b4f890ab3

  11. Hugo Ortega @MrMobilePC says

    @Digital Doctor: I think you’ve misdiagnosed here! If you’re defending Steven, or speaking on his behalf, then I think it’s a little superfluous. My love for Tablet (and Apple) is well documented and whatever moniker you wish (or I wish) to attach to devices, by way of marketing terms, has little relevance today. PC in fact is a term that was around before Windows based computers, and I think we’re all aware that it’s an acronym for standing for “Personal Computer” – popularizing by IBM in their marketing, but well around before that.

    Thanks for your comment though! If you don’t mind, let’s pretend I’m here to help, I’m don’t want to analyse carefully everything I say about Apple, and we’re all here to have a conversation to help make mobile computer better. If we can both do that then hopefully you’ll forgive me with any generalisations and look at the greater point of the articles I write. Either way, I love that you commented. That’s even better than saying nothing at all. Stay well!

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