iPad Killers Skip CES

Apple fiction trumps Android tablet fact at the Consumer Electronics Show, where serious iPad competitors failed to show up.
Despite Apple's absence from the Consumer Electronics Show, its iPad looms over the event. Reports of the iPad 3 continue to push real news about announced hardware from the top headlines. The latest information suggests that manufacturers already are ramping up production of the iPad 3, which might arrive as early as March.

The iPad 3 is being assembled by long-time Apple partners Foxconn and Pegatron. The iPad 3 is said to switch the panel component away from Samsung and LG to Sharp-- perhaps due to the many legal entanglements Apple has around the globe with Samsung. It is said to be thicker than the iPad 2 and a bit heavier, though it will still work with the existing Apple Smart Cover.

So what, right? Apple hasn't announced a new iPad and won't until it's ready to. Another rumor for the pile.

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas on Monday, hardware makers churned out a handful of new Android-based tablets. InformationWeek detailed some of the best here. They run Google's Android operating system and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The problem is, none of them will steal a significant share of the tablet market from Apple's dominant iPad.

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Of the tablets announced so far, perhaps the best is the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7. This Android-based machine is bound for Verizon's LTE 4G network in the coming weeks. It has a small 7.7-inch display and is just 7.9 mm thick. It is light at only 340 grams (0.75 pounds), and includes a dual-core 1.4-GHz processor. Although it will ship with Android 3.2 Honeycomb and not Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Samsung's partnership with Verizon Wireless on the device gives it a little bit of a competitive advantage. Why? Verizon will offer it at a subsidized price in order to gain data customers.

Of the other tablets announced at the show, the Pantech Element is the other with a solid shot at adoption. The reason is its distribution deal with AT&T. The device will be sold by AT&T for a low price of $299. The Element can access AT&T's LTE 4G network and it is waterproof with an IP-57 rating, meaning it can be submerged in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The Element runs on Android 3.2 Honeycomb and includes a crisp 8-inch, 1024-pixel-by-768-pixel screen, front- and rear-facing cameras, and a rich Web experience with full HTML and PC-like tabbed browsing.

The rest of the tablets--the Toshiba Excite X10, ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF700T, Huawei MediaPad, and others--certainly are worthy entries, but are unlikely to gain much traction with U.S. tablet buyers. There are several reasons for this.

First, distribution deals with U.S. network operators is key for gaining mind share in the crowded tablet space. Without them, buyers have to discover also-rans on their own. The prices don't help. Although the Pantech Element is a relatively inexpensive $299, many of the rest are priced close to $400 or more. Finally, they run a mix of Android 3.2 and Android 4.0. For whatever reason, the Android experience on tablets lags that of phones.

Apple's iPad is a juggernaut in the tablet space, and this year, serious competitors failed to show up at all.

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