2010: Year of the Tablet

This year has seen netbooks decline in popularity and the tablet rise to a level few predicted. Apple (s aapl) set the stage for tablet popularity with the release of the iPad, which took the world by storm. Manufacturers of Android devices were quick to respond, with Samsung leading the way with the Galaxy Tab, which has sold over a million units. The tablet is just taking off, and will likely be the hot item next year as consumer awareness grows.

It’s easy to forget that tablets as a device class are nothing new. Microsoft (s msft) introduced the first Tablet PC in 2002, but was never able to reach commercial success with the platform. Early tablets were too expensive for consumers, and too heavy for serious tablet work. It didn’t help that they were saddled with the Windows operating system, which isn’t built around tablet functions. Even Windows 7, with touch capability integrated into the OS, falls short of offering a good tablet experience.

Current tablets are hot items due to three factors: mobile OS, form factor and pricing. Apple proved with the iPad that the benefits of a slate device running a mobile OS, designed for just such operation from the ground up, are significant. The iPad appealed to consumers immediately, as the popular iPhone user experience was duplicated on the larger screen, and even improved due to that screen. The thin, light form of the iPad was a first in the tablet space, and consumers flocked to the slate that is comfortable to use in the hands. The icing on the iPad cake is the good pricing that makes the tablet inch closer to the realm of the impulse buy. It’s not quite there yet, but far closer than the $2,000 Tablet PC of the past.

These factors that make the iPad a success are also brought to the consumer by Android tablets. The Galaxy Tab is even better on the form factor front given the smaller screen, and Android devices from 5 inches up to 10 inches are already in the pipeline. The Android platform is designed for touch operation like iOS, and the user experience on the tablet form is already popular as indicated by the sales numbers of the Galaxy Tab.

This year was definitely the year of the tablet, even with only a few models reaching consumers’ hands. Next year will see the genre explode, as dozens of models hit the market and pricing drops due to competition. There will be Windows-based tablets getting released in greater numbers next year, but the platform is not going to appeal to consumers like the touch-friendly competitors. It’s clear 2011 will be interesting on the tablet front as other companies come to play.

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