2010 was, if anything, the year of the Tablet. Apple kicked matters off convincingly unveiling the iPad in January, although it would be a couple of months before anyone could buy an official model locally. Since then, we’ve seen the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and a couple of very low-cost Tablet alternatives from Telstra and Optus, along with a lot of noise about potential models from other manufacturers, but precious little to actually put your hands on.
2011 will see some of these models come to market. I recently attended the launch of Viewsonic’s range of tablets, called (not that inventively), Viewpads. Viewsonic will launch with two models; the Viewpad 7 and Viewpad 10. The 7 inch Viewpad 7 isn’t that dissimilar to the Galaxy Tab; it’s a 7″ Android based tablet running on Android 2.2, and at an RRP of $699, it’s also a fair chunk cheaper. That’s at least partly because it’s a lower specification tablet, with a slower processor, lower resolution screen and less internal storage. My brief initial hands-on suggests it’s a decent enough machine, although the units I tested with were early production samples, and it did show. I suspect there’s a solid enough market for lower-priced Tablets, although it’s still more than the comparable Telstra T-Touch Tab or Optus MyTab, both of which sell for less than three hundred dollars.
The Viewpad 10 is a slightly different critter. At $799, it’s not that much more expensive, and it pops the screen size up to an iPad-competitive ten inches. It’s also dual-boot capable between Android and Windows 7 Home Premium, which at least sounds interesting. To accommodate both operating systems, though, Viewsonic’s limited itself to Android 1.6, which limits the applications that’ll run on the Android side. On the Windows side, while Windows 7 is touch capable, that’s a different thing to being touch optimised. Windows software will run, but not always as you’d expect it to, and often in a way that’s less than ideal, as you struggle with onscreen keyboards and software that just assumes you’ve got a real mouse and keyboard. From my brief hands-on with the ViewPad 10, it also didn’t appear as though you could easily swap data from one boot partition to the other, although again this was an early unit and that might change.
Research In Motion, makers of the Blackberry line of smartphones, also have an upcoming tablet product that should be made available here in the first half of 2011. The Playbook’s a WiFi-only tablet, which in itself is an interesting gamble. The idea is that RIM will sell it primarily to existing Blackberry owners, and most Blackberry owners enjoy unlimited Web access via their Blackberry smartphones. Tether a Blackberry to a Playbook, and what need do you have of inbuilt 3G? Other than the lack of 3G, the Playbook certainly sounds like it’s decked out with impressive hardware, including a dual-core processor, two HD cameras and inbuilt Adobe Flash support. Whether the larger, non-Blackberry using market will get all that excited about the PlayBook remains to be seen, especially as the device pricing remains a mystery.
Speaking of mysteries, there’s Apple. The company is famous for not saying anything about upcoming products, but the rumour mills are churning right now with speculation that an iPad 2 (for want of a better name) announcement is likely in early January. It’s taken most of 2010 for competitor tablets to catch up to Apple’s first iPad release. Whether Apple will reinvent the category again, or merely tweak around the edges with a new release will be very interesting to see indeed.