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Do non-iPad tablets stand a chance?

At CTIA 2012, Walt Mossberg, Samsung, and Barnes & Noble weigh in on the state of slates.

Toshiba Excite 13
It's big, it's heavy, and it's hardly portable. Is Toshiba's 13-inch tablet already dead in the water? Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

NEW ORLEANS--A year ago, tablets were on the rise, and the industry forecast looked promising for expanding a market that Apple essentially pioneered. So why aren't non-iOS tablets doing better? That's the question posed at CTIA 2012 by All Things D's Walt Mossberg, who moderated a panel exploring the topic.

"Here we sit in May 2012, and it's still heavily an iPad world in tablets," Mossberg said, suggesting that Android tablets (and presumably Windows Phone and BlackBerry tablets, too) are hitting a dead end.

Yet while the market share left over for the other tablet players may seem like a slim slice of the pie, executives from Samsung, who makes a slew of Galaxy Tab devices, and Barnes & Noble, who makes the Nook family, say that there's tremendous potential yet.

This is a young category," said Samsung's Nick DiCarlo, vice president of product planning. "There's a lot of market to go."

Even if not every tablet is as much a runaway success as the iPad, there are still opportunities to profit with smaller successes that grow over time as brands solidify.

"In essentially two years' time, we've taken about 20 percent of the e-book market," says Jamie Iannone, president of digital products, Barnes & Noble, touting the experience of reading a book or magazine on their devices that leads to loyalty as original owners upgrade.

Iannone says that Nook's 7-inch form factor was deliberate, as was the emphasis on e-books. "When the customer wakes up in the morning, what do they want to do with their device?" A smaller tablet is easy to hold from a weight perspective, and a woman could slide it into her purse, he said, unlike the iPad's nearly doubled size.

In two-to-five years from now, Samsung's DiCarlo envisions a scenario where the majority of people who do not own tablets will begin adjusting to the idea of them. Just like data connectivity is becoming a de-facto standard, DiCarlo said, the cultural transformation of computing behavior will grow to include tablets.

Carrier input
The adoption of tablets may go easier if more people buy them through a carrier. "There hasn't been this intervening factor of carrier pricing or carrier loyalty," Mossberg pointed out, when positing why Android tablets haven't taken off as expected.

Wi-Fi-only tablets are more numerous on the market, but Samsung says that a significant portion of its tablet customers come through the carrier partners.

Wireless providers are starting to move toward shared data plans -- Verizon and AT&T's are expected soon -- which could make the additional data fee more attractive on devices that typically range from $200 all the way up to $700.

"Shared data plans are a powerful enabler," said Samsung's DiCarlo.

While carrier support could boost Samsung's and Barnes and Noble's Nook tablet sales, there are still scores of smaller-fry slates that could get left even further behind as the market separates into the iPad, plus a few other key players.

Catch all the latest news from CTIA 2012.