I believe the “near” future still belongs to Apple. As far as the 2015 future is concerned, I’m not sure that we can accurately see that far. I’m breaking up this post into the “near” future that carries us to the end of this year and the “distant” future. I believe that although four years away, 2015 is very distant considering where mobile was in 2007. I’m also going to begin bringing e-Readers into the tablet mix. I didn’t put them in Part 1 because I think they speak more to the future than the present.

Color Nook

Barnes & Noble Color Nook

Let’s start with the e-Readers. Barnes & Noble launched a great new update to its line with the Nook Color’s 1.2 upgrade. This puts Android 2.2 under the hood. This brings email, Flash, an Android app store, and much more to the device. Still, it’s not a table and not trying to compete in the tablet market. However, at $249, it’s where I think the Android tablets should be.

While the iPad is a business favorite, the Nook Color is a female magazine favorite. The Nook Color has surprised publishers of women’s magazines like O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health by igniting strong sales that rival — and in some cases surpass — sales on the iPad.

The iPad and other tablets seem to be men’s toys, while the Nook Color and other e-readers are more popular with women. According to data from Forrester Research, 56 percent of tablet owners are male, while 55 percent of e-reader owners are female. Women also buy more books than men do — by a ratio of about 3 to 1, according to a survey last year by Bowker, a research firm for publishers — and are therefore more likely to buy devices that are made primarily for reading books.

 

Kindle

Amazon Kindle

Recently, Amazon announced a lower-priced Kindle if you want ads. Although $15 isn’t much of an incentive from me since I believe time is money and I don’t have that much to spare, I think they are headed in the right direction. I believe they could have really made a killing on the offer if they dropped it to $99 with ads. There’s just something magical about under $100 for us common folk. You know they’ve already made a huge profit on selling the ad space anyway. It’s not like they’re losing money on this deal. Sorry, I got sidetracked.

The other big announcement from Amazon, concerning Kindle, is that Kindle books are outselling paperback books, 115 to 100 and three times as many Kindle books as hardcovers. Next stop, newspapers? Magazines?

U.S. Technology Adoption Rate

Smartphones, e-Readers and tables have all made a nice jump in ownership from Q4 2010 to Q1 2011. But note, tablets are only owned by 5% of U.S. consumers. e-Readers are only at 9% but took a 3% rise from the last quarter. I keep going back to price. Although some sectors of the economy are doing better, it’s still difficult to shell out over $500 for a piece of tech that is more of a luxury than a necessity along with the monthly data plan and app costs that add up over time. I think the Nook Color stands a great chance of bridging the gap and eating away at Android tablet sales.

Here’s what’s rumored to be released for the next several months

HTC Flyer 7” Android 2.3 1024×600 May 22 $499
HTC Puccini 10” Android 3.0.1 1280×800 June $599+
Acer 10” Android June $449
Toshiba 10” Android June $450
HP TouchPad 10” WebOS 1024×768 June $499+
HP 7” WebOS September

 


HTC Puccini

HTC Puccini

Both HTC tablets come with a “Magic Pen” stylus. So far, the HTC products have had great reviews and drawn a lot of interest from early touches of at recent mobile conferences.

 

Supposedly the Toshiba is supposed to be superior on price and features compared to the iPad. Early rumors had it priced at $499 which isn’t superior, however, NewEgg has the 8GB version listed at $450, 16GB for $500 and the 32GB for $580. Plus each model accepts up to 32GB via SDHC memory cards.

HP TouchPad Tablet

HP TouchPad Tablet

By this summer, we’ll have a fourth OS enter the tablet market, WebOS. (Sorry I don’t consider running desktop Windows on a “tablet” computer to figure in this race.)

To me, the ultimate question is who’s going to come in with a QUALITY tablet for $300-$400? Toshiba is going to have to be remarkably better and thousands of apps have to come out for the Android Honeycomb-based tablets before many will consider choosing them over Apple. Some hardware companies are banking on the fact that if you buy an Android-based smartphone that you’ll want to have the same OS for your tablet. I think this is a reach at this point, especially since, just because it’s Android, it’s not necessarily the same version and there’s not been a great need to sync every device together yet.

Lenovo ThinkPad

Lenovo ThinkPad

Also in the mix, Lenovo is working on a business Android 3.0 ThinkPad tablet. It has some bulky Windows 7-based tablets but nothing that can compete with the iPad. The question will be, are they going after iPad or will they go after the RIM PlayBook users. Those that are more likely business-oriented and probably easier to pluck. Estimated to release sometime this year. They already have one in China.

Other rumored tablets of note:

Reports are emerging that Amazon maybe planning a lower-range model, codenamed “Coyote”, and a higher-ranged device codenamed “Hollywood.” If Coyote comes in around the $300 range as a baby step above the Nook Color and lower than other Android-based tablets, we may have the entry I’ve been looking for that will start to chip away at Apple’s stronghold and catalyze development efforts for Google Apps. They already have a strong presence with their Android app store and understand the business and competitive pressures. I’m guessing they’ll be ready for the Christmas shopping season.

 

Sony S1 and S2

Sony S1 and S2

Sony is working on two Android tablets, codenamed S1 and S2. S1 has a 9.4” screen and will be heavier on top when viewed in landscape mode for more comfortable use. The S2 will have dual 5.5” screens. Sony will tie into its PlayStation suite of games and has been laying the groundwork for a huge range of content services like movies, music, games and books.
Both of these entrants into the tablet market could be extremely significant, not only because of their marketing power but more importantly, their existing content services. With the maturity of Apple iTunes/app store, the content services are critical to possible success and potentially leveling the playing field.

One thing that all other tablet hardware makers have lacked was the content. Sony and Amazon can bring that to the game. Sony may be, however, trying to resurrect the dieing PlayStation. They have repeatedly come out with attempts to make it in the handheld game market. Last year they came out with a smartphone that was, essentially, a PSP that could make calls.

Smartphone versus Tablet Media Consumption

Smartphone versus Tablet Media Consumption

Publications like those developed by TigerSpike, which include The Economist and The Australian, see an average app engagement time of 30-34 minutes. This is much higher than the newspapers’ web sites and page views are five time the average.

Users are starting to spend more time on tablets.Among laptop owners, 32 percent say they are using them less or not at all; among desktop PC owners, the number is even higher, at 35 percent. e-Readers are not immune, either: 27 percent report using those devices less or not at all, while 25 percent of portable games device owners said they were using those devices less, too.

Reasons for Tablet Use

Reasons for Tablet Use

Finally, I leave you with Gartner’s outlook for the tablet market.

Worldwide Sales of Media Tablets

Worldwide Sales of Media Tablets

I wouldn’t have ever thought Android would get that close that fast until I saw the news from Amazon and Sony. I think they may be able to take a shot at them if their price is right and the 2012 number could end up being much closer than what Gartner estimates. I have a feeling that Amazon will succeed but Sony will fall flat once again.

I think the “other” category is underrated and overlooked. Do you really believe that Microsoft isn’t, at some point in the next three years, going to enter the tablet race with a mobile OS similar to what they are doing with Mango (Windows Phone 7)? Do you think they will be content to sit back and let Google and Apple dominate and not even try? Did they do that with the smartphones? I don’t think so. After they buy Nokia, beware. Their global foot in the door will give them a real boost.
Remember the earlier stats that tablets are eating away at laptop and PC usage. Microsoft will have to regain that revenue and they’ll do it by building tablets and integrate them as an extension to your desktop, or something like that.

Keep your eyes and ears open for Windows buzzing around by the end of the year.

What’s your take on the future of tablets?

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