While 2011 has been deemed the “Year of the Tablet,” it has come up short of what many tech experts predicted. Instead of prices dropping and consumers jumping on board with their first tablet purchase, there has been a fading interest and promise in diverse-platform tablets during the past 12 months.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, tablets were the soup du jour. Nearly every major tech company came out swinging with its own interpretation of the gadget, many featuring different cameras, new processors and large amounts of RAM. All of those were powerful and cost-effective options that allowed anyone to become a tablet user.
Around the same time, Google announced its launch of Android 3.0, nicknamed Honeycomb. This mobile operating system was specially designed for the wave of tablets in production, and it promised to add functionality and fix technical issues that kept Android from working on a larger screen. Thanks to the new OS and impressive internal technology, the first tablet featuring Honeycomb, Motorolla’s Xoom, was a promising contender for the dominant iPad.
Now, midway into December, much of the tablet excitement and frenzy has faded as technology companies prepare for this January’s tech trade show, where new super-thin laptops, called ultrabooks, are set to dominate the floor. Consumers have lost some interest in tablets as flagship products like the Xoom and Honeycomb have had more issues than expected, and many of the mid-level tablets have blended together into a jumbled mess.
Throughout the year, companies have cloned similar devices, which have left consumers confused with no clear winner of the Android market — until Kindle Fire came along. Cheap but functional, the Fire has a custom build of Android that doesn’t look or feel like one with its app carousel home screen, which features a side-scrolling interface instead of the standard grid of icons. At an affordable $199, the Fire offers a quality user experience and appears to be doing well after only a few weeks on the market.
With the Kindle Fire capturing the low-end market and the iPad holding out at the top, there is clearly no middle track for tablets in the 2011 race. Apple defined the tablet experience, and Amazon has finally made it affordable to own a device. All other tablet makers are in an uphill battle against these two tech giants and won’t win without a sudden burst of creativity. It will either come down to quality or price as Apple and Amazon battle it out for “Tablet of the Year.”
TJ Gunther is a senior journalism major. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org