Retina displays, better cameras and video features as well as smaller form factors are just some of the tablet advances we've seen in the past year. But innovation marches on in 2013. Here are some of the key technology advances you can expect to see in tablets in the year ahead.
High resolution LCD tablet displays from Apple and Google may have caught the eye this year, but the next step in tablet innovation on the display front is arguably OLED.
Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) displays have been niche up until this point – only featuring in select broadcast monitors and much smaller displays, but manufacturing improvements mean that OLEDs can now offer even color performance on much larger displays.
OLED displays promise much richer colors and enhanced contrast ratios, while the flexibility of the molecules could open up the possibility of bendable smartphones and tablets in years to come (the only tablet with an OLED display at the moment is LG’s Vue phablet).
DisplaySearch predicts that Active matrix OLED (AMOLED) display shipments will reach 191 million units in 2012, with its share of the small/medium display market to treble by 2015.
That said, display expert Ray Soneira reckons the technology still has room for improvement:
“OLEDs are too expensive, have low brightness compared to LCDs, are still power inefficient compared to LCDs, so are not yet viable for tablets,” said the display expert earlier this year.
USB 3.0 ports
Universal Serial Bus technology is commonly used for exchanging data and connecting peripherals on computing devices and, with the notable exception of the iPad, has been featured as an interface on tablets for a couple of years.
Now the next-generation of USB (SuperSpeed USB 3.0) is set to make things a whole lot faster.
USB 3.0 will bring about faster data transfer rates between devices, in fact speeds in theory up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (4.8Gbit/s compared to 480Mbit/s). Backwards compatibility is ensured with USB 2.0, although USB 3.0 devices plugging in there will be restricted to the former’s speed restrictions.
What does this mean for end-users? Well, with USB 3.0 likely to be included on the growing number of Windows 8 tablets coming to market in 2013, expect faster saving and sharing of tablet data.
Near-field communication establishes radio communication between close-by mobile devices, and already is a feature on Samsung Nexus phones.
Although commonly referred to as just for mobile contactless payments, Google’s Android Beam shows that there is so much more potential to this technology. One feature on Beam, for example, is the chance to bump phones together to share a photo.
The way you search information on your tablet could be transformed over the next year or so with the rise of voice dictation.
Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Now are the innovators in this space, promising to offer up web search results, map directions and even conduct messages on your behalf using your voice. And while Siri is restricted just to iOS devices, Google Now is coming to an increasing number of Android smartphones and tablets.
These two – as well as Nuance – may be the big players in the market, but there are a lot of other voice dictation specialists trying to get into this space and to establish partnerships with mobile manufacturers.
Faster processors with better battery life
There’s no denying that we’ll see faster and generally more efficient mobile processors next year.
This last year has seen the introduction of Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge processor and the emergence of the quad-core Tegra 3 chipset on an array of Android tablets.
But 2013 could well see increasing competition between ARM, Intel and now AMD in the Android and Windows 8 space. Intel is rumored to be negotiating with Apple over a contract to make chips for the iPad, currently powered by Apple's own homegrown ARM-based processors.
Such rivalry seems to be having an effect already, with Intel reportedly ready to release the next set of Ivy Bridge processors clocked from 1.1GHz Premium to 1.5GHz Core i7 which demand much less power than before (from 17W on the previous generation models to as low as 7W, say sources).
Specs have also leaked on Nvidia's impressive-sounding, Tegra 4 system-on-chip (SoC) with advanced battery-saving technology.
4G & WiGig connectivity
4G LTE connectivity offer a faster and more reliable connection than 3G and are sure to be featured on most new cellular tablets coming to market going forward.
WiGig connectivity could well replace WiFi in certain places too.
WiGig is a multi-gigabit speed wireless communications technology which allows devices to communicate with each other at data transfer rates of up to 7 Gbit/s. That’s around ten times faster than 802.11n WiFi, although the technology is reliant on both devices being within a 3m radius of each other.
A recent concept showed Panasonic using the technology on SD cards in a car, with a video indicating that Full HD DVDs could be transmitted wirelessly in a minute.
WiGig is not the only contender in this space. Chipmaker Silicon Image is also working on low-power 60GHz WirelessHD chips that can wirelessly transfer video to smartphones, tablets and TVs in the household. These receivers do not interfere with WiFi signals.
One of the crazes at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) show in Spain last March was of vendors submerging tablets in huge tanks of water.
An increasing number of vendors are looking into this waterproof capability, including Fujitsu and Motorola, as well as accessory makers like P2i, a spin-off of the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
Haptic feedback is already on certain smartphones and tablets, but could become more refined in 2013.
Haptic technology sends a sensory feedback to the user’s fingertips when using a touchscreen, and is often used to tell the user a task has been completed or to give the user a feel of different textures.
And, as Gartner explains, the possibilities of haptic feedback are limitless. There would be the possibility to add texture to advertising images, while app developers could integrate the technology in their apps to improve the user experience. Businesses deploying tablets will certainly be keen on this technology, not least because it could avoid tablet typing errors.
The way you control your tablet could change dramatically over the next 24 months and while today’s tablets support multi-touch, the future of tablet interaction could lie with gesture control.
Already used for Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect game console accessory, some CAD systems and on innovative TV remote controls, gesture control systems often rely on infrared camera sensors to detect movement.
In theory, this technology could well open up for some of tablets to be controlled by virtually swiping up, down and across, without having to touch the screen.
Indeed, the technology will be big business further down the road – a report by Gartner suggests that half of consumers will wave more to their digital devices than to their friends by 2016.
Eye tracking & behaviour recognition
Both of these emerging technologies remain incredibly niche but could come into public consciousness in late 2013.
Eye tracking and behaviour recognition have already been used for select public displays and Internet Connected TVs.
Behaviour recognition captures body movement and analyses this through software algorithms, meaning that tablet displays could (for example) lock if the user was looking away. Such technology is already used for Internet Connected TVs.
And while it may sound like something straight from Tom Cruise’s Minority Report, eye tracking looks like a real possibility for tablets in the future.
The technology essentially gauges where a user is looking on the tablet screen to adjust their content, a feature which could be a potential boon for digital advertisers.
Swedish company Tobii has a prototype Windows tablet with an eye-controlled user interface, while the Gaze Group eye research team from the IT University of Copenhagen has been looking to take its own technology, used by people with disabilities for some 20 years, to the masses via smartphones and tablets.
Perhaps it is a stretch of the imagination to think we’ll see many of these tablets coming to production in 2013, but it is something to look out for going forward.