If I had to pick a theme for this year's Consumer Electronics Show, it would be tablets. Tabletpalooza, you might say. Or perhaps the Tabletpocalypse. Competitors far and wide used CES to take on the iPad.
None of them looked so formidable as to portend the death of Apple's
Virtually every tablet I saw at the conference was based on the Android operating system, which makes Google
Google's "Honeycomb" version of Android looked like a genuine iOS alternative in demonstrations. Control buttons moved with the screen so that they always appeared at the bottom. Tabbed browsing replicated the PC experience. And GTalk video chat looked simpler to use than Apple's FaceTime.
Several tablet makers are likely to adopt Honeycomb, but Motorola Mobility's
Significantly, Google chose to demonstrate Honeycomb on a 10-inch device roughly the same size as today's iPad. The implication? Say goodbye to 7-inch tablets.
Most consumers I spoke with won't mind seeing the 7-inch tab go. These detractors say the screen is too small to do meaningful work or watch video. Proponents I spoke with countered that the 7-inch is sized for portability. I'm not buying it; I think Apple had it right when it made the initial iPad a 10-inch device.
Research In Motion
The PlayBook's connectivity limits squelch some otherwise interesting OS features, such as live toggling between open applications. But without built-in 3G, the device is too reminiscent of Palm's ill-fated Foleo smartphone companion.
Surprisingly, the most interesting tablet I saw at the conference is one I consider to be an also-ran. Only the foot-weary would find it, seeing as it was hidden in a far corner of an upper hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, in the booth for Warren Buffett's favorite Chinese stock: BYD.
Mostly known for its car-manufacturing prowess, BYD was at the conference showing smart home technology. But then there was this 10-inch tablet with a Windows 7 installation:
Booth personnel called the largely inoperable device a reference design. They said BYD was showing off its ability to manufacture a large-scale Windows tab in hopes that a global PC maker such as Dell
Across the hall from BYD was another three-letter Asian manufacturer, NEC. Long known as a Windows licensee, this Japanese electronics supplier showed off several new Android gadgets, including a dual-screen tablet that ran a lightweight version of the 2.1 version of Google's OS.
By the numbers, NEC's tablet was the largest I saw: 14 inches spread over two screens that open like a book. Built-in 3G and Bluetooth service increase the desirability of the device, but the custom implementation of Android was reminiscent of Hewlett-Packard's
Verdict: The iPad 'killer' is a myth
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the conference offered homage to the iPad and Apple's efforts to resuscitate the tablet from history's dustbin. But imitators are just that: copycats, and no better than the original.
It's going to be this way for a while. Initial reports say iPad 2 will be out in April. Judging by what I saw at the Consumer Electronics Show, that version could be ready for 4G LTE networks. Verizon has already lit up its 4G network, and AT&T is racing to begin its LTE roll-out by mid-year. There's already competition; Motorola's XOOM should also be 4G-ready in the second quarter. Either way, it's a good bet Apple will make sure its next tablet is as slick as its last.
iPad killer? There's no such thing, Fool. Instead, we'll see a feature-for-feature fight between all of the majors that's bound to last years. The so-called Tabletpalooza was only the beginning.
Now it's your turn to weigh in. What do you think of the tablet wars? Which stocks would you bet on? Use the comments box below to let us know what you think.
More Foolishness from CES:
- 4 Predictions From Vegas (Hint: Apple Investors Will Be Disappointed)
- Intel: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- The 4 Best Consumer Tech Stocks to Buy Now
What will be the big trends of the next five years? We asked our top equity analysts that question and they came back with five stocks we've put real money behind. We profile all five picks in a new special report. Get instant access by clicking here -- it's free.
Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. BYD and Google are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. Tim had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and of Apple, in which it has also written puts. The Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy wonders if -palooza is to events what -gate is to scandals.