A tablet or a tablet PC is a flat touchscreen portable computer, which works with a stylus, digital pen or with fingers. Technology research firm IDC says that devices with 7-12 inch colour displays, harnessing ARM-based processors and running on lightweight operating systems such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS can be classified as tablets.
At present, the tablets can run on a number of operating systems, namely, Apple iOS, Microsoft Windows and Android.
However, there is major confusion around the word ‘tablet’. There are some who go by the definition given by IDC (above), and others who say that tablets can be classified into three types – slates, convertibles and hybrids.
Slates are the most popular of all forms and resemble a writing slate. Users can work on them using their fingertips or a stylus, or using an external keyboard. They usually come with a screen size of 8.4 to 14.1 inches.
Convertibles have an attached keyboard, and are usually heavier and larger than slates. The keyboard is attached to the screen at a single joint called a swivel hinge or rotating hinge, which allows the screen to rotate through 180 degrees.
Hybrids are a combination of slates and convertibles, and come with detachable keyboards.
Tablets available and awaited internationally
The most popular tablet today is Apple’s iPad. The 9.7 inch touchscreen tablet was launched by Apple in January this year, and by the end of July, the company had sold 3.27 million units. As of now, the device is not available in India.
Dell Streak or Dell Mini 5 is another biggie that is much awaited. Google’s Android operating system based Mini 5 will come with a five inch touchscreen and will be driven by a Qualcomm’s 1GHz Snapdragon processor. Mini 5 is currently available only in three countries, and is expected to be launched in India by the end of this year at a price of about Rs 25,000.
UK-based company X2 had launched a tablet called iTablet in April. X2’s tablets are available in a range of screen sizes starting from 10 inches and going up to 12.1 inches. These devices are powered by 1.6GHz Intel Atom processors and run on Windows 7.
ASUS will launch the ASUS Eee Pad globally in the first quarter of 2011. The Eee Pad EP121 will feature a 12.1 inch touchscreen, and will be powered by an Intel core duo processor.
Another model of Eee Pad, EP101TC, will be launched simultaneously by ASUS. The tablet will have a 10 inch screen. Alex Huang, country manager for systems, ASUS India, says, “While it’s a little early to bet on huge success for tablet PCs that will be launched in India, we have received encouraging feedback at the debut of the ASUS Eee Pad and Eee Tablet at Computex 2010 held in June.”
“We are, however, confident that tablets will be assimilated easily into the Indian market, as a separate segment, since the Indian IT market has huge potential and the number of people who are turning tech savvy is increasing by the day,” he adds.
Another popular tablet internationally is the Lenovo IdeaPad U1. The hybrid, which can function as both a laptop and a tablet, will be launched in China early next year. It features an 11.6 inch screen and runs on Windows 7 till the screen is attached to the keyboard. When detached, the touchscreen operates as a tablet on a Linux operating system.
Lenovo also has plans to launch a tablet PC called LePad which will run Android OS. The device is expected to be launched at the end of this year.
Lenovo’s chief marketing officer David Roman had told The Wall Street Journal that the company is yet to decide if the IdeaPad U1 will be sold as a hybrid PC, or whether the company will sell the tablet portion of the computer as a standalone device.
Chinese telecom equipment company ZTE also is reportedly developing a tablet, called SmartPad V9. The device will run Android 2.1 and feature a 7 inch touchscreen. SmartPad will be launched later this year in Europe, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwanese electronic giant Acer is also going to launch two Android-based tablets globally by the end of this year. The 7 inch and 10 inch tablets will run Android 2.2, and will be powered by an ARM processor.
Last but not the least; HP too is slated to come out with a tablet by the end of this year. The HP Slate will have an 8.9 inch display and will run on Windows 7. The device will be priced at about $545, but there is no word around its launch in India.
Tablets in India
According to IDC, the market for tablet PCs in India is below 1,000 units a quarter. Still, there seems to be a lot of hope around these devices. This is evident from the increasing number of electronic and IT giants planning to launch tablets in India.
Huang of ASUS says, “Since tablets are a niche product offering, they are expected to be in good demand from consumers who want to play all kinds of flash videos and other interactive content which will be made available with the large number of applications that we are designing. Besides, touch interface is one of the most intuitive and natural interfaces to use.”
The Olive Pad VT100, developed by Olive Telecom, is the only tablet currently available in India.
Android-based 3G Olive Pad was launched in the country in July at a price of Rs 25,000. It comes with a 3 megapixel camera, and a lower resolution front camera for video conferencing. The device can also be used as a notebook with touchscreen. Olive expects to sell around one lakh units of Olive Pad by February 2011.
Another very popular tablet to be released in India is the so called $35 tablet,(or about Rs 1,500) device called Sakshat which is to be officially launched early next year. The device has been developed by students of the Indian Institute of Technologyand the contract to manufacture the affordable touch screen has been given to HCL Technologies.
Sakshat, which is targeted at students in the country, was showcased by the Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal. The tablet will support web browsing, video conferencing and word processing, according to its developers. It is based on Linux and has 2GB of RAM and USB ports, but does not have a hard disk.
Apart from the obvious iPad, other tablets awaited in the country are Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, BlackBerry PlayBook, Dell Mini 5, ASUS Eee Pad and Huawei SmaKit S7.
Samsung Galaxy Tab is expected to hit the Indian market in October. The 7 inch tablet is expected to be priced at approximately Rs 40,000 in India. Galaxy Tab is Samsung’s first Android tablet and will run Android 2.2 Froyo. It features a 1GHz processor, 7 inch TFT screen, and support for WiFi and 3G. Research in Motion’s BlackBerry PlayBook is likely to be available in the USA in early 2011 while roll outs in other markets will start in the second quarter of next year. The tablet has a 7 inch display and is powered by a 1GHz dual core processor, 1GB of RAM and the new BlackBerry Tablet OS. It also supports Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Adobe Mobile AIR and HTML 5. There is no word on its launch in India.
Huawei too has plans to enter the tablet market in India. Its Smakit S7 Android tablet which had been showcased at the Mobile World Congress will soon be introduced in India. SmaKit S7 has a 7 inch screen and supports information sharing across screens to present the same content simultaneously on computers, mobile phones and TV screens.
APAC to drive tablet growth
IDC expects tablet shipments in the Asia Pacific excluding Japan region to grow from 1.3 million units in 2009 to 9.6 million units in 2014, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 65 per cent.
Bryan Ma, associate vice president, Asia Pacific devices and peripherals research, IDC, says, “IDC remains cautiously optimistic about the longer term potential of the tablet segment. In Asia in particular, the iPad is likely to spark off intense competition from Asian brands, leading to a wealth of offerings in varying price tiers.”
“With operators migrating towards 4G networks in the coming years, media tablets will further become a strategic vehicle for increased mobile data usage. There are certainly roadblocks, but the media tablet appears here to stay,” Ma concludes.