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iPad who? Tablets try again at CES

CNET editors predict the tablet and e-reader trends they expect to see at the 2012 Consumer Electronics show.

Josh Miller

2011 was the year when Android tablets broke loose and ran rampant over the annual Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. It was here that Motorola showed off the world's first Android 3.0 tablet and lookalike Android 2.x devices seemed to pop out of every booth.

The year that followed has been a tumultuous one for tablets. Big players like Hewlett-Packard and RIM released major products that quickly found their way to the bargain bin. Apple sent everyone back to the drawing board after the release of the ultrathin iPad 2. And Amazon reset everyone's expectations of what a tablet should cost, and what features consumers could live without.

What will 2012 have in store for tablets? There's no way of knowing for sure, but here are some trends I expect to see at CES 2012.

Thinner designs
With the iPad 3 release still months away, the competition still has some time to show off designs that are thinner and lighter than the current iPad. It's a particularly tough engineering challenge for Android tablet manufacturers, as Android fans have come to expect features such as microSD expansion and HDMI output, which bulk up the design. You also have to account for the thickness of LCD panel technology and the rechargeable battery pack.

Android 4.0
What Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) was to CES 2011, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) will be to CES 2012. The first question that will be asked of any tablet unveiled at CES will be whether or not the device is capable of running Google's latest operating system.

But unlike last year, no one company will be able to claim Android 4.0 exclusively. Google has already released the code into the wild and manufacturers should be able to demonstrate some basic functionality on the tablets.

Windows 8 tablets
Considering that Microsoft introduced Windows 8 at CES 2011, we're bound to hear about its progress at CES 2012. Much has been made of the software's suitability for use on tablets, but we haven't been able to get hands-on with yet. Perhaps we'll hear some official product announcements about Windows 8 compatible tablets.

Higher resolutions
One of the most expected features of the iPad 3 is a higher-resolution display that can rival the Retina Display used on Apple's iPhone 4 and iPod Touch.

Rumor has it that manufacturers are now capable of making tablet-size QXGA resolution (2,048x1,536 pixels) touch-screen panels with a pixel density of 264ppi, which is twice that of the iPad 2.

Flexible displays

Now playing: Watch this: Nokia's future phone concepts

We've seen companies like Sony and Samsung show off flexible OLED screen technologies in years past, but never yet on a product they had any intention of making available. Perhaps 2012 will be the year we see this technology become viable.

Recently, Nokia has been showing off its Kinetic concept device, which allows users to navigate through menus and zoom in and out of images by twisting and bending the screen. If a manufacturer at CES could demonstrate a similar concept on a larger, tablet-worthy screen, it would make quite a story.

Different sizes
The success of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet have show that the 7-inch tablet isn't the dud form-factor we thought it was. Samsung has clearly shown a willingness to try different screen sizes, such as its Galaxy Player 5 and Galaxy Tab 8.9. Maybe we'll finally see a tablet that dares to venture into larger 12-inch or even 15-inch sizes.

As noted in CNET's laptop predictions for CES, the worlds of tablets and laptops are showing signs of collision.

One of the hottest tablets on CNET currently, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime employs a detachable keyboard dock that makes it practically indistinguishable from a modern laptop. The release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, and its suitability for both laptops and tablets, will surely blur the line further.

The Asus Eee Pad Slider is a tablet with a full slide-out keyboard that blurs the line between tablet and laptop. Josh Miller

Because compatibility with high-speed 4G cellular networks is one of those features that the iPad doesn't have, we expect that it will continue to be used as a selling point for an increasing number of tablets. Whether or not tablet shoppers really want the contracts and fees that come along with 4G service, remains to be seen.

E-ink gets colorful
The color e-ink display is another one of those technologies that has popped up at CES year after year, but has yet to make it to a mainstream device. Perhaps this year we will see a more mature version of color e-ink that will help bridge the gap between black and white e-readers and tablets.