Think CES, Think Tablets: This Year’s Trade Show Goes Small Screen

Tablets, tablets and more tablets.

A swarm of iPad competitors is what we should expect from this year’s CES, the nation’s largest consumer electronics trade show held this week in Las Vegas. I arrived at the show last night for the opening event, and most vendors seemed singly focused on the expected hockey stick like increase in tablet sales this year.

Major manufacturers Toshiba, Motorola and Microsoft are anticipated to introduce devices at the event or address the space. Hewlett-Packard and Research in Motion will similarly showcase their new offerings.

By the way, according to early reports the Toshiba device is said to run the Android operating system from Google (watch this space) and come with an easy-to-grip rubber backing.

It may surprise many people that tablets aren’t quite as new as Toshiba or Motorola might like to think. More than 60 models from around 50 manufacturers are available in markets around the world.

But it is clear Apple’s introduction of the iPad last year set off a consumer storm. In excess of 24 million tablet computers are to be sold in the United States this year, up from 10.3 million last year, according to Forrester. As many as 42 million could be sold worldwide.

As of October 2010, Apple sold 7.46 million iPads, and Samsung’s Galaxy, which became available in November, sold 1.5 million units.

The big question is: what are people doing with the devices? Up to now, watching high quality video and films, playing games, and viewing photographs are among the top uses. This year, vendors forecast an expanding role. Content consumption will be meshed with content and media creation, with devices taking on the capabilities of a laptop or netbook.

This was certainly the idea behind Lenovo’s first Windows 7 based tablet (pictured below), which it showed off at CES last night. The device targets the work market with an ability to handle Microsoft Office files. It does this by running a 1.6 GHz Intel chip.

Lenovo says it and an Android based device will be available during the first half of the year, with the Android device starting at $500 and the Windows device coming in above $600 (to cover the Windows software).

I think the new role of the tablet is an exciting development and it will be interesting to see how other vendors position their new gear. There seems to be real substance at the show this year, unlike last year when we were supposed to be excited by the charlatan called 3D television.

Oh, and by the way, here is a cool device I ran across (pictured above). It is an iPad charging stand from Mophie.