CES: Buying a Tablet? Wait Until Spring (or Later)

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The Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing here in Las Vegas and, as promised, there are tablets as far as the eye can see.

Just about every major manufacturer has been showing off some sort of tablet or line of tablets here but the general trend seems to be that most of them aren’t planning to release their respective products for a few months. They’re waiting for Google’s tablet-specific operating system, Honeycomb.


Google’s popular Android mobile operating system has worked well for phone-sized devices so far. It’s also been ported to certain tablets; Samsung’s 7-inch Galaxy Tab series being the most common example.

But Google never meant for the current iteration of Android to be used on tablet-style devices. Instead, it’s getting set to release Android 3.0 (also known as Honeycomb) specifically for tablet-style devices with large screens.

Here at CES, there seems to be a pretty even split between companies that want their tablets on the market as soon as possible and those that are willing to wait until Honeycomb is ready to go (it should be available in the next few months). Most of the companies running the current version of Android—either 2.2 or 2.3 depending upon how far along they are in the development process—seem to be smaller companies, while the big guns such as Toshiba, Asus, Motorola, and several others are all content to wait until Google’s tablet-specific operating system is ready. (More on Techland: CES: Google Gives A Sneak Peek of Their Android 3.0 Honeycomb)

Calm Before the Storm

Here’s what’s going to happen in a few months’ time. We’ll have tablets from major manufacturers running Android’s tablet-specific Honeycomb operating system, we’ll have RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, we’ll likely have the next version of the iPad, and we’ll likely have a new tablet from HP that runs a tablet-specific version of Palm’s “webOS” found on Palm Pre smartphones.

All of these devices will hit the market at or around the same time—I’d guess an April timeframe, give or take a month for certain devices. Whatever the case, we’ll have plenty to choose from and all of them will be running operating systems specifically designed to work on tablets, not puffed-up versions of cell phone operating systems like we’re seeing now.

What About Microsoft?

We’ll see a version of Windows designed to run on more mobile-centric hardware, but we won’t see it for quite some time. Microsoft announced that it’s developing the next version of Windows to run on ARM-based chips similar to the ones found in some tablets and cell phones nowadays. We won’t see anything this year, though.

Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system will instead be present on certain tablets running Intel’s netbook-specific Atom processors and perhaps AMD’s Fusion platform. Certain hardware manufacturers will create custom touch-friendly interfaces overlaid atop Windows, but the end result will still be little more than an operating system meant for notebooks and desktops rejiggered for tablets. Battery life will be a little too short, the systems will run a little too slowly, and the entire experience will feel a little too forced. (More on Techland: CES: What’s Next for Microsoft?)

Microsoft’s doing the right thing by developing its next version of Windows to run harmoniously on both full computing hardware and more mobile-friendly hardware but, again, it’s going to take a while to get to market.

Wait Until April

If you’re looking for a tablet, I’d advise that you at least wait until April. By then, we’ll know which systems will be available and how much they’ll cost. Apple will likely have announced the iPad 2, HP will be gearing up to launch its Palm Pad (or whatever it’ll be called) and the BlackBerry Playbook ought to be in full swing. We’ll have plenty of super cool Android tablets, too.

More on Techland:

10 Mac Store Apps To Get You Started

The Tech Letdowns of 2010 (and Their Silver Linings for 2011)

Top 25 Tech Fails of the Year

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