With CES raining tablets, some will get flooded out

Show sponsor executive predicts that of possible 100 new tablets on display, some won't live on beyond four-day show

LAS VEGAS -- With as many as 100 different models of tablet computers from dozens of makers expected to be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, market consolidation is a certainty.

Some of those tablet models won't be on the market within a year, and some won't even last beyond the four-day show that officially kicks off Thursday, predicted Shawn Dubravac, chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the show's sponsor.

"Every industry consolidates, and over time we'll see [tablet] consolidation," he said. "Some won't go beyond the show."

Dubravac predicted that more than 80 tablets will be shown at CES, and possibly up to 100. "It's no surprise that tablets will be the key theme at this show," he said.

Many tablet manufacturers have hinted about tablets at CES following the April 2010 launch of the 9.7-in. Apple iPad and the October U.S. launch of the 7-in. Galaxy Tab from Samsung, which runs Google's Android OS.

Tablets are expected from many makers, including Research In Motion, Motorola, HTC, Asus, HP, Microsoft, Toshiba, Vizio, Intel and Lenovo.

Which tablets will survive will depend heavily on how consumers use them and which tablet models become associated with certain uses, such as whether users favor book reading or video viewing over e-mailing or Web browsing, Dubravac said.

"The tablet category is nascent, and manufacturers will have to define user scenarios" to be successful, he said.

It is clear that some tablet makers will differentiate themselves for the education or corporate markets. The CEA's survey of 82 tablet users showed that many are buying tablets and taking them into the workplace for work chores, he said.

That survey found that Internet browsing was the most common use for a tablet, followed by e-mail, then watching video and then for reading books, with various other uses trailing.

The CEA predicts that tablet sales will hit about 30 million this year, up from 17 million in 2010. In comparison, black-and-white e-readers should sell about 19 million units this year, the CEA said -- a high number compared with predictions from some analysts.

Like some other industry analysts, Dubravac said he believes it is very hard to predict whether tablets will cannibalize sales of e-readers, netbooks or laptops.

He said there won't be enough manufacturing capability to support production of 80 million tablets and other devices such as e-readers in 2011, as some analysts predict.

But he also said that tablets can be seen as "part of a broader computing experience [where] tablets make e-readers more valuable."

Ultimately, he said, "multiple tablet devices can coexist and serve different market segments and survey any type of consolidation."

Price will obviously have a bearing on which tablet models survive, but Dubravac said he doesn't expect a drastic reduction in prices for tablets in 2011.

The CEA's survey found that $335 is the "optimal" price consumers want to pay for a tablet, although that is far below the iPad's $499 starting price.

However, that's not so far below the $400 price tag for the Galaxy Tab when purchased with a two-year service plan from some carriers.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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