What They'll Look Like
The first generation of tablets has been pretty thoroughly vetted. We have a handful of WP7 devices, a small avalanche of Android slates and the whispered promises of a webOS tablet in Q1 2011. MeeGo tablets could also end up making a splash in the world market.
While those are all wildly different operating systems, the tablets they follow will be largely similar and based mainly on the iPad. Apple holds 95.5% of the tablet market right now. They've set the standard: 9-10 inches with a 1 GHz (ish) processor and the ability to handle 720p HD.
Most of the "first generation" Android tablets are likely to pack Tegra II processors, and between 1 and 2 GB of RAM will likely be the standard for non-Apple devices. A small selection of tablets (from Samsung, ViewSonic and Archos to start) also cluster around the lower 7" tablet display size.
Qualcomm says that "over ten" companies have dual-core Snapdragon tablets in development. Those are likely to show up at CES 2011. January is also expected to bring a rush of new LTE tablets, mostly on Verizon. I'd be surprised if we didn't see at least one 4G WiMAX tablet launch on Sprint's network too.
Most first-gen tablets will clock in around 1 GHz, with a fair amount of dual-core Tegra II devices (like the Adam) expected. Most second-gen tablets will probably pack dual-core Tegra or Snapdragon processors. We may see some Tegra 3 devices hit near the end of 2011/ early 2012, but that's too far ahead for any meaningful speculation.
Samsung expects to see 7" AMOLED tablets hit in 2011. We'll almost certainly see a sequel to the Galaxy Tab with an AMOLED display, and other manufacturers will be free to order them as well. At the rate things are developing, we may even see a 10" AMOLED tablet hit in 2H 2011.
Color E-Ink is expected to arrive before the end of 2010. This will open up the field for a whole new sort of low-cost tablet in 2011. A $200-300 color E-Ink tablet could bridge the gap between e-readers and tablets. Imagine a low-cost color e-reader that can browse the Internet and maybe even display video (faster response times ARE expected), while still delivering iPad-range battery life.
I'm curious to see what color E-Ink means for the future of the Pixel Qi display. This could mean the next-gen Adam will be able to switch between color E-Paper and a traditional LCD display. Exciting.
In terms of hardware, I think the next six months of competing with Apple will show manufacturers that high-end tablets need a comparable battery to the iPad. 1080p will be the new standard for tablet media display, and a few 3D tablets are will trickle out later in 2011. Some may even be glasses-free.
While the high-end of the market will see longer battery life, better screens and cooler media options, I think we'll see low-end tablets start to merge with e-readers. Once you add in a browser, color and media playing, what really separates your e-reader from a slow tablet PC? 7" seems like the display-size sweet spot for this type of device.
This possible 10" Samsung tablet gives us a good idea of what to expect from high-end Android slates in mid-2011. It will have Android 3.0 and could use a 1.5 GHz triple-core Marvell Armada processor, with 1080p HD 3D video. Ten hours of battery life are expected.