As expected, CES 2011 was a tablet paradise. The majority of our pre-CES tablet predictions came true, including the debut of the 7-inch Dell Streak, and new arrivals from Acer, Asus, LG, MSI, and more.
Admittedly, some of our predictions were off. HP did not unveil a tablet running the WebOS platform acquired from Palm. The company is, however, announcing something big involving WebOS next month.
We also didn't see a 10-inch version of the Galaxy Tab from Samsung. Instead, the manufacturer offered up 4G and Wi-Fi-only versions of the Tab, along with a smaller Galaxy Player and an intriguing slide-out Windows tablet.
Outside of our predictions there were a few pleasant surprises. Vizio threw a curve ball with its 8-inch Android tablet, which sports an integrated IR blaster for pulling double duty as a universal remote. The Kno tablet made an appearance, leaving us a bit stunned by its two giant hinged panels. Dell teased a 10-inch Streak that we probably won't see again until CES 2012. And we also covered a few surprise announcements from NEC, Sharp, and ZTE.
Android Honeycomb--If you haven't heard by now, Honeycomb is Google's tablet-optimized Android 3.0 release. Thanks to high-profile Honeycomb tablet announcements from Motorola, LG, and Toshiba, we now have a much better idea of Honeycomb's user interface and capabilities.
Honeycomb's importance to tablet manufacturers (and consumers) can't be overstated. Aside from the Android brand name, the Honeycomb OS bears little resemblance to the Froyos and Gingerbreads you may know from the world of smartphones. Like the QNX operating system running on the BlackBerry PlayBook, Android Honeycomb has the unique bragging right of being built from the ground up specifically for use on tablets. With few exceptions, tablets from 2010 running adaptations of Android for smartphones have been met with less-than-great reviews. Honeycomb has the power to direct Android's consumer momentum into products that can better stand up to Apple's iPad.
Motorola's Xoom tablet on Verizon is promised to be the first on the market running Android Honeycomb (a fact that weighed significantly in the Xoom's Best of CES award). The Xoom is expected to become available within the first quarter of 2011. We're unsure how long a lead Google is giving Motorola before it will start sanctioning other Honeycomb tablets, but we will certainly see most major Android tablet manufacturers flock to the new OS before the year is through.
10-inch screens--After seeing several companies try in vain (with some exceptions) to sell consumers on the idea of smaller 5-inch and 7-inch tablets in 2010, I'm happy to see that CES 2011 offered more than a few 10-inch contenders. Part of the 10-inch trend is due to Honeycomb, which natively supports the larger, higher-resolution displays, and will hopefully usher in a wave of third-party apps designed for these displays as well. Not surprisingly, all of the formally announced Honeycomb tablets (Motorola, LG, and Toshiba) are spec'd at a 10-inch display.
Some 10-inch tablets, such as the Archos 101 and Notion Ink Adam, are running existing versions of Android and addressing the lack of native support with heavy UI skinning and handling apps outside of Google's official Marketplace. We're glad to see these products out there for those who need them, but the future trend for Android on a 10-inch screen would seem to be Honeycomb.
4G--The elephant in the room at every CES 2011 tablet announcement was the Apple iPad. There's no telling what networking capabilities the next generation of the iPad will have, but for the moment, the iPad's cellular connection commands only 3G speeds, and is locked to AT&T.
One way to trump the iPad (or future-proof your tablet against the iPad 2) is to promise 4G network compatibility. We saw this with the Motorola Xoom on Verizon, the LG G-Slate on T-Mobile, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4G on Verizon, and the BlackBerry PlayBook on Sprint. Time will tell what kind of pricing and contract commitments 4G compatibility will bring, and whether consumers will find the premium mobile speeds worthwhile on a tablet.