The dust is settling from the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, and the positioning has begun. One of the hottest questions is which product will emerge as the second-place contender against Apple's iPad, the leader in the tablet category.
Going into CES, Samsung had a credible claim to second place with its Galaxy Tab being distributed by all four major U.S. carriers. The company said it shipped a million units in the first two months of release.
More Than 85 Tablets
But CES can reshuffle perception and momentum, as Nintendo's Wii and other devices can demonstrate. But while the gaming-console category is a battle between three contenders, including Microsoft and Sony, there was no shortage of tablets at this year's CES.
Some contenders included tablets from Lenovo, Dell, NEC, Acer, Motorola, Research In Motion, Toshiba, Samsung, ASUS and others. By some counts, more than 85 tablets were announced at the show.
Two tablets receiving a great deal of post-CES attention are Motorola's Xoom and RIM's PlayBook.
Motorola stoked anticipation for its tablet with a pre-show, highly engaging video that literally put its product on a pedestal -- under wraps as the latest evolution in a museum exhibition of the greatest tablets in history. The lineage started with the Ten Commandments.
As unveiled at CES, Motorola's Xoom sports dual-core processors, compatibility with 4G, HDMI-out, a two-megapixel camera in front and a five-megapixel camera in back, and a 10-inch screen. It also uses Android 3.0, known as Honeycomb, which has been optimized for tablets. And it has a secret asset -- a built-in barometer for measuring atmospheric pressure in case you want to predict your own weather.
RIM's PlayBook contains a one-gigahertz ARM processor, a seven-inch screen, 1GB of RAM, HDMI-out, and two cameras -- a three-megapixel in front and a five-megapixel in back. There's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and, for 3G connections, the PlayBook connects through Bluetooth to a BlackBerry smartphone.
Whither Sony, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard?
Other tablets that gained attention include Toshiba's, with a 10-inch display and what the company calls Adaptive Technology to automatically adjust visual and audio settings to match the environment. Vizio's Via Plus has three speakers for left, right and center spatial separation and an infrared emitter that can act as a universal remote for home theaters.
The ASUS Eee Pad Slider features a slide-out keyboard, and Lenovo showed the IdeaPad U1, which can flip between being a Windows 7 or Android notebook, or an Android tablet. And a dual-screen tablet from NEC, the Cloud Communicator, shown at CES as a prototype, could point to the next generation of tablet form factors.
Three companies were conspicuous in their absence at CES. Sony said it deliberately did not release a tablet for CES because it's carefully studying the market to find how its product can be differentiated. Microsoft, which so far is not a player in this category, has said it will be. And HP has said that early next month it will announce a lineup of products based on the Palm webOS, presumably including one or more tablets.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, said Android Honeycomb tablets in general will become a big challenger to the iPad. He noted that Sony has said its tablet strategy is based on Windows 7, which "so far has not been very successful."
Gartenberg pointed out that Microsoft talked about creating a Windows version for ARM mobile processors, but "didn't really talk about tablets all that much."
Current Analysis' Avi Greengart said that Xoom starts with three assets -- it's the first Honeycomb tablet, it has 4G LTE built in, and it will initially be distributed through Verizon Wireless. Because it's a 4G tablet, he said, "it is likely Verizon will advertise it, at least as a way to promote their new network."
Greengart said RIM's decision to tie its PlayBook to an accompanying BlackBerry smartphone isn't a good idea for the consumer market. But for the enterprise market, it's "a unique value proposition," he said, because "it's a boon for IT managers" who can more easily manage such a device as part of a fleet.