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CES wrap: let the battle of the tablets commence

Post-netbook era looking suspiciously like pre-netbook age

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History repeats... brrp

Indeed, it's very telling that almost everyone stressed that their tablet provides "the full web experience", code for supports Adobe Flash. Why? Because this is the only feature they can highlight that Apple's popular iPad lacks.

Interestingly, not one of them felt able to also say they were cheaper than the competition, so don't expect them to be.

Differentiation will be a real problem for tablet makers. Apple and RIM can at least highlight their operating systems and tight linkage to online services: iTunes and BlackBerry email, respectively. But most of their rivals showed little imagination here.

A notable exception is Panasonic, which is branding its Viera Tablet to tie the device into its range of HD TVs in order to promote it as a telly accessory as much as a personal computing device.

It's not hard to see how all this will pan out. Five years from now, we'll have Apple and RIM as minority - albeit large ones - players alongside a horde of me-too machines all offering a largely identical spec and running Google's Android.

Swap 'Google' for 'Microsoft', and 'tablet' for 'PC', and you'll have a market that largely matches the personal computer business of the late 1980s: one big software vendor, dozens of commodity hardware vendors and a few firms offering niche alternatives, one of them Apple.

You can substitute 'smartphone' for 'tablet' and you'll get the same result.

Ironically, Microsoft will be a minority player. Some vendors - Toshiba and Asus, for instance - showed Windows-based tablets, but all who did so also announced Android offerings. It's hard to see Windows 7 competing well in the market for media viewing machines, leaving Microsoft with the choice of making Windows 8 more bloated by adding functionality for modern tablets, or basing a new tablet OS on Windows Phone 7.

Microsoft wasn't the only player seemingly unsure of what to do about the rise of the tablet. Sony may have admitted it was working on one, it had no more to say about the subject. Acer and LG didn't say much, either, but they did at least announce tablets in 2010. These will arrive later this year when Android Honeycomb is ready. ®

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