The Future Of Tech (Part 2)

6/8/2013 3:41:51 PM


Tablets have evolved at a lightning-fast pace. In 2013, we expect another year of rapid and significant change in areas such as performance, displays, battery life and price.

Just two years ago, the tablet market was in its infancy, dominated by Apple’s iPad. Android tablets were saddled with an inappropriate smartphone operating system.

Today, we have competition and diversity. Apple’s iOS-based fourth-gen iPad and iPad mini still dominate, but Android-based tablets are making inroads. Leading the way is Google’s own Nexus line-up, consisting of the affordable Nexus 7 ($239) and the Nexus 10 ($479) with its crazy-high resolution.

Nexus 7: Google challenges the iPad

Nexus 7: Google challenges the iPad

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD has done well. It’s a competing $238.5 7in tablet built around Amazon’s media and services and running Android apps sold through Amazon’s own store. And now Windows 8-based tablets are here, led by Microsoft’s own Surface tablet running Windows RT.

So what lies ahead? Big growth, for one thing: research firm IDC expects worldwide tablet shipments to hit 165.9 million units in 2013, up from 117.1 million in 2012. And by 2016, IDC says, worldwide shipments should reach 261.4 million units.

Windows 8 tablets

Windows 8 tablets

This growth will come at the expense of traditional laptops and desktops, and it will foster a growing acceptance of tablets as tools in everyday life, whether as a second screen to accompany your TV viewing, as an e-reader or as a productivity tool.

One of 2013’s big stories in likely to be an impending processor battle. That may sound strange – after all, you rarely buy a tablet for its processor alone. And you get what you get – not a lot of customization or variation can be had for any particular model. But that circumstance doesn’t lessen the vigorous competition over tablet performance, and the processor inside can make all the difference in how snappy your tablet feels, how well your favorite games play.

That’s where nVidia’s Tegra 4 system-on-chip platform comes in. This quad-core (plus a fifth, low-power core) processor is likely to be favorite choice in leading Android tablets in 2013.

That’s where nVidia’s Tegra 4 system-on-chip platform comes in

That’s where nVidia’s Tegra 4 system-on-chip platform comes in

Its use of four ARM Cortex-A15 processors, up from the Cortex-A9 in use the Tegra 3, puts Tegra 4 on a par, if not ahead of, the Qualcomm S4 Pro and Samsung’s Exynos 5. nVidia claims the new processor is twice as fast as the Tegra 3 in tasks such as web browsing, uses 45 percent less power and could provide up to 14 hours of HD video playback on a smartphone – less, of course, on a tablet with a bigger screen.

You won’t see more tablets running Texas Instruments’ OMAP platform (currently on the Amazon Kindle Fire HD and Barnes & Noble Nook HD). TI has pulled out of the highly competitive mobile market to focus on embedded systems.

Another processor battleground in 2012 pitted the aforementioned ARM-based platforms, with their efficient battery life, against x86-based platforms such as Intel’s Clover Trail Atom and AMD’s Hondo. These processors may possess more performance oomph than the ARM processors, but battery life can lag, their big benefit for Windows 8 tablets is that they can support full Windows and all legacy applications that run in desktop mode. Few Clover Trail tablets shipped in 2012, but look for a deluge in 2013.

Microsoft Windows 8-based tablets will be 2013’s biggest tablet wild card. With Apple’s iOS tablets firmly entrenched and Google’s Android challengers looking more polished and appealing than ever, can Microsoft tablets hold the same allure and appeal? That remains to be seen. However, the confusion between Windows RT and full Windows 8 tablets may worsen once Microsoft unleashes its highly anticipated Surface Pro tablet, which should be any time now.

Apple’s iOS tablets

Apple’s iOS tablets

We expect more high-pixel-density tablets to hit the market in 2013, continuing a trend begun by Apple’ iPAd with Retina Display. Look for 1280x800-pixel resolution to become the norm on 7in tablets, and 1920x1200-pixel resolution to pick up stream on 10.1in tablets. Optical bonding, which eliminates the display’s air gap and reduces glare, should become more common, too,

Competing with Apple’s breadth, other tablet software ecosystems continue to struggle. Google has made progress, albeit slowly, while Microsoft remains far behind in the number of available apps. We expect both Google and Microsoft to expand their respective ecosystems; the trick is whether their quality and quantity can compete with Apple’s strong base.

Look for more connected tablets, too. In late 2012 some finally hit eth market. One was Google’ affordable, unlocked Nexus 7 Wi-Fi + 3G, which works with more than 200 carries worldwide. By the end of 2013, we’ll look back on eth connected Nexus 7 and realize that it was the start of a new trend.

Meanwhile, we expect to see prices continue to plummet over the course of the year. As demand skyrockets, so do production and in response, prices fall. Given today’s cutthroat competition, it wouldn’t shock us to see a top-tier 10.1in Android tablet selling for well under $300 by the end of 2013.

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