Will 2012 be the Year of the Tablet?

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is right around the corner. For the third straight year, we will see a veritable army of tablet competitors intent on challenging the dominance of the Apple iPad. Maybe 2012 will be the year that some of these rivals actually gain some traction.

I’ve lost count of how many tablets have been announced, displayed, or otherwise unveiled at the last two CES events. It’s a lot. However, it seems like relatively few of the tablets that are revealed at CES ever make it from concept to launch, and those that have launched have been largely irrelevant to the iPad market share, if they haven’t failed miserably altogether.

Recent reports have suggested that all non-iPad tablets had managed to sell a combined total of just over a million units for all of 2011 (up to that point). That number is barely a rounding error to Apple, which sold over 11 million iPads just in the last quarter.

It is also worth noting that the leading tablet among the non-iPad rivals was Hewlett-Packard Co.’s TouchPad, which is actually from the miserable failure camp. HP pulled the plug in its webOS tablet due to anemic sales. It was only when HP clearance out its inventory for $99 that the TouchPad caught fire.

Then we have the BlackBerry PlayBook. RIM seems to have invested more in inflated marketing hype and fanfare than in the tablet itself, and launched a half-baked tablet missing crucial features. It has yet to rebound from the initial disappointment of the PlayBook, and recently wrote off nearly half a billion dollars to offset its losses from unsold tablet inventory.
To sum up, despite grandiose claims and lofty intentions, no tablet rival has been able to scratch the surface of Apple’s dominance, never mind denting it. However, it seems the tide is finally turning.

The Amazon Kindle Fire, built on Amazon’s own proprietary flavor of the Android OS, has been selling over a million units a week since its launch. The Asus Transformer Prime is getting rave reviews ahead of its launch, and the Samsung and Motorola tablets seem to have what it takes to compete.

There will probably still be a fair number of devices on display at CES 2012 that will never see the light of day. And, there will probably still be more duds than bombshells, more losers than winners. But, it seems like there are finally enough worthwhile tablets that we might actually be able to legitimately call it a “tablet market” in 2012, and not just an “iPad market.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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