The Impending Tablet Flood — What to Expect

As a long-time tablet enthusiast, it is with amusement that I watch the “new” tablet space taking shape. The Microsoft (s msft) Tablet PC may have been around for a decade, but the newly released iPad (s aapl) has defined a new market for slates. Sales numbers for the iPad have been good, and tablet makers are racing to get their models to market late this year and early next year. Here’s what I expect to see coming down the pipe.

While Apple is enjoying the success of the iPad, rumors say they’re working on smaller models. According to DigiTimes, Apple is working on a 5.6-inch and a 7-inch version of the iPad to tap into the new market. These new iPads will have OLED displays, which have been in short supply recently. There is no indication yet from Apple that these new iPads will actually happen.

Android (s goog) is going to be a big factor in the tablet world with many different companies working on models for this year. There are slates of different screen sizes, from 7 inches to over 10 inches, all with touch screens. There are thin ones and thick ones in progress — just about every size and shape you can imagine for a slate. Some will have integrated 3G for connectivity, while others will rely on Wi-Fi.

Many OEMs are claiming that their new tablet will be able to access the Android Market for apps. This is significant as Google has only allowed smartphone devices to access the market so far. This will open the Android platform up dramatically and drive its growth even faster than the impressive pace it’s shown to date. With so many tablets expected in just a short while, development for them will surely shift into overdrive as apps for larger screens can typically sell at higher prices than the smartphone versions.

We can expect to see a few Windows tablets hit the market this year, according to Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. HP (s hpq) may have killed the Slate that was shown early this year, but it may still release one. Ballmer did mention quite a few hardware partners working on slates without detailing what any of them might produce. His definition of slate is rather broad, as he indicated some of them will have keyboards and some will not. It sounds like the convertible notebook that’s been around for years is being lumped into the slate category. Those are expensive compared to most of the tablets expected this year, so we’ll be paying attention to how this plays out.

HP may not release the Windows-based Slate, but the company has stated it will be producing a tablet running webOS this year. This is probably the most exciting tablet of the coming flood, as this hasn’t been done before and HP has a lot of resources to make this interesting. The image of a thin, light tablet running the touch-optimized webOS is quite intriguing.

The tablet space is going to be very active, that’s for sure. We can expect to see companies releasing slates of some type starting in the fourth quarter of this year. There will likely be a constant flood of press releases touting some tablet or another once the dam breaks. There is one thing I am confident OEMs must do with their tablets if they want to succeed: concentrate on the user experience, not just the form factor.

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