Will IFA Herald the Beginning of the Tablet/Slate Tsunami?

Next week in Berlin the IFA consumer electronics show is shaping up as another big event for those that are interested in Tablets and Slates. We’ve seen sneak peeks of some announcements, early press releases, and heard lots of promises, from companies like Asus, Acer, Archos, Samsung, Viewsonic, and others. Of course most of this is centered around Android Tablet/Slates, and as we’ve been hearing since January, more Tablet/Slates than we can count are coming this year, many before Christmas. Or are they?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there will be plenty of announcements of new Tablets and Slates. We’ll see videos, we’ll see promotional pictures, we’ll hear tales of what they look like in display cases. I’m sure we’ll hear the phrase iPad Killer more than anyone wants to. But the way to watch the news coming out of Berlin is to pay attention to the following:

  • Will bloggers and journalists get to go hands on with a device, or will they be closely guarded by PR mavens? If a blogger gets to spend time videoing a device, there’s a good chance it might actually appear. If a PR rep won’t let it out of his/her hands, don’t hold your breath.
  • Caveats about operating system updates coming soon will a key. Already some Tablet/Slates are being dismissed because of running early versions of Andorid. (Hello, Dell.) Basically, anything running anything older than Android 2.x doesn’t stand a chance.
  • Will the Android OS (regardless of version) be a licensed version capable of running all of the Google Apps package (including the Android Marketplace)? If not, there’s potentially trouble ahead for those looking for a full Android experience.
  • Watch for release dates and prices. If release dates are specified as Q4 or later this year, don’t hold your breath. Q4 begins less than 30 days after IFA kicks off. If prices aren’t specified yet it doesn’t mean we won’t see the devices this year, but it increases the odds we won’t.
  • Price point. If a price is mentioned there’s a chance it will make it to market, but if that price point is above $600 forget about it succeeding. If it is below $300, I’d look really, really closely at what it has to offer.
  • Get past reading eBooks, showing HD video and running FLASH, all of which will be promoted heavily. Pay attention to how the touch interface works (if those covering the event can go hands on), and the battery life claims. Also see above regarding Android licensing.
  • Anything under or in a display case won’t be seen this year. If ever.

The bottom line is that to make the holiday rush, these devices need to be in the pipeline already and well on their way in the manufacturing cycle.

HP has already intimated that its WebOS slate won’t happen until 2011, and I’m guessing many of these other Tablet/Slate wannabes will end up doing the same. We might see a Windows 7 Tablet or two. While we’ve heard that Best Buy is getting ready for Tablet/Slates, perhaps with a re-brand carrying its own label, and some other rumors, my sense tells me that unless things are ready to go right now, much of what is announced won’t roll out until next year at the earliest. What does roll out this year will only do so in limited qualities as the manufacturers try to gauge demand. If it’s high, you’ll see more in 2011. If it is low, you’ll be looking at an orphaned device inside six months. And if history is any judge here, most of that won’t happen until Apple comes out with an announcement in January or February on its next version. Unless you’re one of those that believes Apple is going to do something later this year. I’m not in that camp.