Tablets go mainstream

The iPad line is still the king of tablets, but this year it got some competition from credible, affordable alternatives. Expect that to continue, as traditional PCs continue to give way to their more portable touch-screen cousins.

If you need proof that tablets are the go-to gadget of choice, consider this: 2012 was the year that saw three new iPad releases, along with the first-ever branded tablets from rival tech titans Google and Microsoft.

The wave of ultra-affordable 7-inch Android tablets became a torrent, with products like the Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook joining the Google Nexus 7, all delivering a great casual computing and media experience for a mere $199. October saw the release of both Apple's first-ever iPad Mini, as well as Microsoft's Surface leading the charge for an entire new class of Windows 8 and RT tablets, further blurring the line between tablets and PCs.

Make no mistake: the iPad line is still the king of the tablet mountain, but the marketplace at the end of the year is much more crowded with credible, affordable alternatives. Expect that to continue in 2013 and beyond, as traditional PCs continue to bleed marketshare to their cheaper, more portable touch-screen cousins -- an increasingly large number of which will no longer have an Apple logo.

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