Many of Apple's competitors displayed tablet devices at the recent CES 2010 trade show in Las Vegas, including Dell, Lenovo and HP. According to the annual report from Deloitte, Internet-focussed tablets will "break out" in 2010.
However, Albert Liang — ASUS Australia's notebook product manager — told PC World that he doesn't "see any growth in the tablet market at all in 2010." Liang said a high price point and poor form factor were responsible for this. "A tablet really needs to be 10 inches, probably 12 inches," he said, adding that multitouch is the most important feature for tablets.
ASUS has shown interest in tablet-like devices, offering touch screen–enabled netbooks like the Eee PC T91. The company — best known for its line of Eee PC netbooks — also showed a prototype tablet at CES 2010 that had two OLED screens which formed a single display when opened.
Not all competitors are pessimistic about the market. HP spokesperson Rob Berqvist told PC World that the "slate category is an exciting space." Berqvist said that a combination of Windows 7, ultra low voltage processors and continuing improvements in touch technology made the form factor "attractive enough for consumers."
HP has been involved in the tablet PC category since 2001, though the market has failed to win significant acceptance until now. The company's first iPad-like tablet, the Slate, was displayed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at CES 2010 running Windows 7. While there are no definite plans to release the product, Berqvist said HP is continuing to look at tablet devices designed for both "information snacking on the road" and content creation.
Matthew Telfer, Dell's retail sales director for New Zealand and Australia, told PC World that tablets had potential as always-connected "content consumption devices" for entertainment and social networking. Rather than being a converged, do-it-all device, Telfer said that tablets would likely complement existing product ranges, like smartphones, netbooks and ULV (ultra-low-voltage) notebooks.
Dell unveiled its Mini 5 Tablet concept at CES 2010. It offers a 5in display, Android operating system and smartphone capabilities. However, the Mini 5 Tablet was only a "conceptual proof of point of Dell's design and engineering capabilities" — part of Dell's development procedure to test "new products that extent the mobile experience to personalise people's relationship with the Internet."
Dell CEO Michael Dell showed off the Mini 5 again at the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland and hinted at a potential US launch in coming months. Telfer told PC World the company is exploring different form factors and markets, as well as continuing conversations with local telcos, but said a launch of the Mini 5 Tablet was not definite.
In an interview with PC World, Lenovo spokesperon Lindsay Tobin said that an increasing uptake in mobile broadband throughout 2009 as well as multitouch improvements from manufacturers meant that tablets would be viable as either a companion or dedicated device. Tobin pointed to software as weak point in the tablet market, but said that Lenovo "are working on it." When asked specifically about Apple's iPad, Tobin admitted that is an "interesting product and it will be good for the industry," but pointed that Lenovo is well suited to compete against it.
While Lenovo didn't produce a dedicated tablet at this year's CES, it did display a hybrid tablet/notebook. The IdeaPad U1 will be targeted towards consumers and features a detachable display which has its own independent processor and storage, allowing it to be used as both a fully fledged notebook and portable content consumption device.
The current batch of tablet devices and prototypes run a variety of mobile and desktop operating systems: HP's Slate was displayed at CES 2010 running Windows 7 while both ASUS' tablet-convertible netbooks and Lenovo's hybrid IdeaPad U1 offer a mix of Windows and Linux operating systems. Dell's tablet runs Google's Android platform, and Apple's iPad uses the same operating system found on the current iPhone and iPod Touch. According to Tobin, future tablets will have limited function, but will be more suitable to those functions that current netbooks and similarly portable devices. Stay up to date with the latest news, reviews and features. Sign up to PC World’s newsletters Follow PC World Australia on Twitter: @PCWorldAu