Tablet, Slate or eReader: What Will Survive?

One of the amazing things about CES is the number of tablets and eReaders that were announced or showed up before and during the event. It's almost difficult to keep track of them all. In addition to Kindle, Nook and Alex, there is now Skiff, QUE, HP tablets (Windows, Android), Lenovo, Gii Nii, Dell, Camangi Webstation-- and on and on.

BusinessWeek covers the segment asking the question which ones will be around a year from now? And of course there's the highly anticipated Apple tablet, allegedly coming at the end of this month. 

Consumers have failed to adopt tablets in the past but with the success of the iPod Touch (in particular) and Kindle the market has been conditioned for these devices. As with animal species that didn't survive evolutionary pressures many of these tablets will die off. Perhaps a better analogy is the MP3 market. After iPod there were only a few competitors that had any share at all.

If the pricing rumors about Apple's Tablet are correct and it's up near $800 or $1000, however, it may not become a truly mainstream device. But the anticipated full functionality (color screen, media player, lots of RAM, WiFi-enabled, Internet browser) that it will offer will become the standard for one surviving line of these devices. Another surviving group may be lower priced eReaders focused primarily on reading without the color screens and media player capabilities. At a sub $300 price point we may seem them flourish and there may be two or three devices that succeed here. 

There will be a shakeout, probably after Xmas this year that will see a few tablets and eReaders emerge as winners and others fade into obscurity. Yet netbook tablet substitutes that do nothing elegant with the form factor will likely fail because they will simply be seen as less-functional alternatives. One of the interesting things to see will be how Apple solves the keyboard issue for this larger iPod Touch. 

Another question: will the Web-enabled versions of these devices be more analogous to the PC or to smartphones, with accompanying widgets and apps? Some of the Android tablets will offer Android marketplace apps. The rumored Apple Tablet is supposed to have a developer SDK; does this mean a new category of apps? That would seem foolish on Apple's part. 

In addition, most or many of the WiFi-enabled devices will become phones with Skype, Vonage, Truphone or Google Voice. So the success of tablets may also be a boon for these VoIP companies. 

Related: A Deluge of Devices for Reading and Surfing