Mobile Devices

Tablets Overshadow Smartphones

Samsung, HTC, LG, RIM, and other vendors unveiled the most promising round of iPad competitors yet, pushing phones from the spotlight, at CTIA Wireless.
Apple thinks 2011 will be the year of the iPad 2. Apple's latest device went on sale just 10 days ago, and has been a hot seller since day one. This week at the CTIA Wireless trade event in Orlando, Apple's competitors fielded some of the best tablets yet to take on the iPad. Let's look at how the tablet landscape is shaping up.

Samsung Galaxy Tab(s)

Samsung wasn't content to announce just one new tablet at CTIA Wireless, it introduced two. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Tab 8.9 are new, slim, lightweight Honeycomb tablets that are aimed directly at the iPad. Samsung now boasts three Android tablets, with 7-, 8.9-, and 10.1-inch displays.

The new Tab 8.9 and 10.1 are clearly aimed at would-be iPad buyers. The industrial design is close enough to that of the iPad that they are obvious competitors. Samsung did an excellent job of getting the buttons, controls, and other hardware elements into good positions on the device, and made sure to pack both Tabs with plenty of features.

Samsung will have to compete on price, and it has put a $469 tag on the Wi-Fi version of the 8.9 and $499 on the Wi-Fi version of the 10.1 (both with 16 GB of memory). Those price points are much closer to the iPad's $499 starting price than the original Tab 7 was, with its $600 price tag.

HTC Flyer

Sprint and HTC were showing off a new version of the Flyer tablet, now called the View 4G. This 7-inch Android 2.3 Gingerbread device has been re-skinned for Sprint and given some interesting new features. The international version HTC showed off at MWC in February was white. The Sprint version is a much nicer looking black. The Sprint representatives told us that it will likely be updated to Android 3.0 Honeycomb before release, though that isn't certain. The Flyer has HTC's Sense UI, and they've added a few new tricks to it. It has some nifty home page navigation changes that make it a little bit more fun to use. Exact pricing and availability haven't been determined yet, but these will play a big role in this device's success.

G-Slate Gets a Price Tag

There's no real new news about the LG G-Slate for T-Mobile other than the price. LG and T-Mobile announced that it will sell for $529. That's a good price point for a device that looks good, feels good, and works well. The G-Slate has an 8.9-inch display, which falls in between the 7-inch and 10-inch models being offered by others. This could be exactly what it needs to differentiate from the pack. The 3-D cameras (though gimmicky) might help it to stand apart, too. It also runs Android 3.0 Honeycomb. It still doesn't have a release date.

PlayBook Priced, Too

RIM announced initial pricing for the Wi-Fi version of its PlayBook tablet. It, too, will have a starting price point of $499 (16 GB). Prices will range up to $699 for the version with the largest amount of memory (64 GB). Pricing for 3G/4G versions of the PlayBook haven't been disclosed yet. It goes on sale at 20,000 locations starting April 19.

No News On . . .

HP hasn't provided any more information about its forthcoming TouchPad. All we know is that it is on schedule for release later this year, and will run the newest version of webOS when it debuts. Pricing is said to be targeting the $500 range, but that's not confirmed.

Motorola hasn't provided any new information about the Xoom. Its first Android tablet has been in the market for a full month now. There was a DigiTimes-sparked rumor on Tuesday that suggested Motorola was planning to kill off Xoom production as soon as June. Motorola refuted that report, however, and said it has no immediate plans to cease making the Xoom.

What's Missing?

I remember back in the day when CTIA Wireless used to be about phones. This year, it isn't. Sure, there have been a handful of new devices announced by the likes of Samsung, LG, and HTC, but tablets have been the dominant device at the largest wireless trade show in the U.S. Tablets have the momentum, for the moment, and that's where today's tech companies are focusing a lot of their resources.

For tablets to push smartphones out of the spotlight at an event that's supposed to be about phones signals an interesting change for the industry.