Year of the tablet

One of the most incredible annual phenomena of the technological world is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

It was held this year from 6-9 January and was truly remarkable for the fact that, although open only to the trade and media, it is still attracted 140,000 visitors.

Represented were something like 2800 technology companies who, between them, launched over 20,000 new products to tempt an unsuspecting public.

There were mobile phones, photographic products of every description, home entertainment, in-car technology, gaming products and all manner of other gadgets, including robots and fitness monitors.

One thing that all the many commentators mention was the huge number of tablet computers which were launched by various manufacturers to compete with Apple’s game-changing iPad.

Tablets are small lightweight devices, mostly with touch screens and without keyboards, which can be used for many computing tasks but will probably the most popular for reading books, playing games, watching movies or listening to music.

Rumours that Apple would launch a tablet computer were in circulation long before the launch in April, 2010, but other manufacturers were obviously not convinced that tablets would be all that popular with the public.

Talk about getting things spectacularly wrong because Fortune magazine estimated that, in the first six months, Apple probably sold 8.5 million of the things. Sales have been so good, in fact, that they have not even reached these shores yet.

Other manufacturers soon noticed their their success and began to rush to get their own product out the door. I’ve seen various estimates about the number of tablets launched at CES, ranging anywhere between 50 and 100.

Some of these new products have already shipped but a number were merely announced at the show, with others expected to be available for sale sometime in the future.

Some of these, notably in the Motorola Xoom, did attract enthusiastic responses from those who saw them, but we’ll have to wait and see what impression that they make in the market.

I personally think that the manufacturers have not reacted quickly enough and have allowed Apple to gain a market-leading position, just like they did with their iPod music players.

There are, of course, plenty of different brands of portable music player including many which work out way cheaper than the fashionable Apples, but the majority of users still want an iPod if they possibly afford one.

I have mentioned that iPads have not been on sale in South Africa but quite a few, bought in the USA, have found their way here and a friend brought one along, the last time we met for coffee.

The thing is that these devices are actually incredible and I have to say that I couldn’t believe how good the graphics were in the games that I was shown. These included the hugely-popular Angry Birds and a motor rally game.

The iPad touchscreen was fantastic to use and the number of programs, or apps, which are available for it, is massive. I defy any geek to see an iPad and not want one and, by the looks of things, a huge number of other people agree.

One potential snag for local users is that music and some apps, including all games, are not available from the South African version of the Apple iTunes Store. There are ways around this which are described here and here.

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Breaking News

I learnt after we went to press, that the iPad was to be launched in South Africa at a very competitive price.  The 3G version with 64Gb of RAM has a recommended retail price of R7599 ,which compares very favourably with the $829 they cost in the US. iPads were to be in stores including Apple iStores, and some Incredible Connection and Dion Wired branches, by Friday, 28 January.

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