This Week in Tablets: Display tech and far-out designs top CES 2013’s top tablet trends

January 12, 2013
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Thanks to CES, the second week of January is probably the only time of the year when people coming home from Vegas are actually happier than when they first arrived.

In terms of tablet hardware, it felt like CES started a little slowly. There were a few high-profile tablet announcements that dominated headlines for the first few days of the show, like Lenovo’s 27-inch tablet, Panasonic’s 20-inch 4K resolution Windows 8 tablet, and Asus’ Android/Windows 8 Transformer hybrid, which features two discrete processors.

(For what it’s worth, when I predicted last week that we weren’t even close to finished with form-factor evolution in the tablet space, I wasn’t envisioning I’m having a hard time calling a 27-inch anything a tablet. Let’s remove the “t” and call the IdeaCentre Horizon what is – a table. Not that it’s not cool.)

But as the week progressed, more and more news about other tablets started breaking. And, lo and behold, we started hearing some familiar names from the very first generation of tablet releases. Vizio. Dell. Gigabyte. And Archos, which announced a 9.7-inch 2048 x 1536 resolution Android tablet with an 8-core CPU inside.

To be honest, most of these tablets are fairly typical, and I can't help but think that we'll see another shakeout of tablet manufacturers at the end of 2013, much like we did at the end of 2011.

Regardless, by week’s end, a show that I initially thought would be more phone-oriented than tablet-oriented had become a showcase for our favorite device type, and proof positive that even though the tipping point may have arrived in 2012, the platform itself continues to evolve more rapidly than any hardware technology I’ve ever seen.  

Here are some of the high points.

Higher resolutions

I confess to being surprised at how fast we appear to be leaping forward in display technology. Just a few weeks ago, I was thinking that Apple would be the resolution leader for most of the year. And then boom, multiple tablet manufacturers announce super high-resolution screens.

The jump to 4k is good for everyone. Chipmakers get to flex their CPU muscles a bit more. Users get a massive boost in real estate, heightened productivity, and a future path towards true tablet multi-tasking (for better or worse).

Display makers are rejoicing because it looks they just found a new source of high profit margin displays to replace the rapidly shrinking sales (and profits) around HD televisions.

Flexible displays

Every CES, we see and hear about them. This year, Intel helped Plastic Logic roll out the latest incarnation—the Paper Tab, a flexible 10.7-inch plastic touchscreen display powered by an Intel CPU.

Touch is the key new addition here. The technology is still 5+ years away, but the flexible tablet feels inevitable. We’re more than likely looking at the future of the tablet here.

The nice thing about flexible displays is that, all of a sudden, bigger form-factors start to make a lot more sense when you can roll them up.

Learning and education

One of the most encouraging trends of CES was the emphasis on learning and education. The One Laptop per Child foundation announced a new educational tablet and a new Android-based learning system named XO.

Vinci, who I discussed a few months ago, was also at the show, demonstrating a ew 5.5-inch hybrid tablet-phone named the Tab MV.

Even Dell appears to be in education mode—the company made it clear that its newest Dell Latitude 10 “essentials” Windows 8 tablet would be targeted towards schools and small businesses. Acer is also targeting kids with its value line of tablets.  

The end of laptops?

More so than last year, touch was everywhere, and attached to just about everything imaginable on the show floor. Screens, laptops, even kitchen appliances.

SAP CIO Oliver Bussmann gave an interesting interview mid-week where he predicted the demise of the laptop. At the very least, based on trends emerging from CES 2013, it’s clear that the laptop will be forever changed by touched and by tablets.

The numbers are beginning to bear this shift out. As reported by NPD’s DisplaySearch quarterly mobile forecast, tablet shipments are expected to reach 240 million this year, which is greater than the projection of 207 million laptops sold over the same period.

As a writer, it’s hard for me to imagine ever giving up my keyboard, but as better tablet keyboards emerge—as well as OS support for fully functioning keyboards—that argument begins to melt away.

And really, when you think about it, what else is in the way?

This week’s Winner: Microsoft

Yes, Microsoft is still alive and kicking, and it gets this week’s winner award primarily because the company avoided screwing things up at the show. At the beginning of CES, we saw numbers indicating that Microsoft had sold in 60 million copies of Windows 8. That number is slightly inflated because Microsoft has sold numerous licenses that haven’t shipped yet to OEMs. But still—that’s a healthy start, one that matches the launch of Windows 7.

The hits racked up more for Microsoft over the course of the show as partners like Dell, Panasonic, and more trotted out Windows 8 tablet devices for the world to see.

Playing from this far behind is clearly not Microsoft’s plan. But by staying in the game, and by receiving surprisingly strong OEM and app support at CES, Microsoft lives to fight another day.

Not even Steve Ballmer’s guest appearance at Qualcomm’s CES keynote disrupted the companys’ tight messaging and partner support.

Samsung is a strong runner-up here. Between the TVs, phones, processors (including the new 8-core Exynos 5 Octa CPU), and other device types, the Korean electronics manufacturer was everywhere—literally.

This week’s loser: Intel

If I’m Intel, my stomach is twisting in knots over the course CES 2013 took. Sure, the company got to tease Bay Trail, its new Atom series CPU. But that part won’t be available until late 2013.

And while plenty of desktop PCs and laptops and ultrabooks are using Intel processors, the company is watching Nvidia (and other companies) gobble up processor market share in the tablet sector thanks to the Tegra series. Out of 240 million tablets sold this year, not a lot of them are going to have Intel inside.

And Nvidia is aggressively moving behind graphics chips. This year, the company announced a new Tegra 4 CPU as well as the company's very own gaming system, Project Shield, which a lot of media outlets called the biggest surprise of the entire show. (TabTimes rightly called it a competitor to Nintendo's Wii U.)

In Intel’s favor, device manufacturers will almost always flock to the fastest, most thermally efficient process for their devices. So if Intel comes out with a high-quality new CPU this fall, you can bet money that most companies will quickly begin snapping it into their tablets and other mobile devices.

In the meantime, however, the company is watching one of its rivals dominate media coverage coming out of CES, and making major inroads to a market that Intel should own.

On the horizon

It’s worth noting that TabTimes just announced its second set of Tabby Awards. This time, the awards ceremony will take place in San Francisco, and will have increased focus on consumer apps.

BTW, if you’re interested in serving as a judge on the Tabby Awards judging panel, make sure to check out TabTime’s story from earlier this week.


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