First thoughts on CES and tablets

Call it the Jobs factor, in spite of all the amazing news coming out of CES 2010 including 3D TV, 240 Hz TVs, helicopters, robots, tiny computers, new phones, etc. etc. etc., many of the first press reports are all about tablets and we're no different. Kathleen Maher writes a few first thoughts on seeing the latest in eBooks and tablets at CES.

Robert Dow

CES has dawned bright and clear. The crowds have come and there is interest in buying – or at least that’s how it’s looking now. Plenty of news is coming out of CES, but in the PC world, tablets are consuming the attention of the buyers in the aisles as well as reporters, and we’re pretty fascinated as well.

Marvell's processors are going into new devices

For the past couple of years, Amazon and Sony have helped make a convincing case for the eBook as people are not only buying the devices, they’re downloading and reading more as well. In fact, according to a December report from the Association of American Book Publishers (AAP) eBook sales for the period of January-October 2009 reached $130.7 million compared to $46.6 million in 2008 – a 180.7% increase.The eBook uses an electrophoretic display and is designed to duplicate the experience of reading a book. The technology can offer customers extremely long battery life and most allow users to buy books from a variety of sources. The exception of course is the Amazon Kindle, which slightly changes their format for Amazon books so they cannot be read on other types of eBook. Amazon has, however created a nifty reader for the iPhone that can track your progress so that if you leave the Kindle at home, you can catch up on the iPhone. There are also ePub readers for iPhone including Stanza, claimed to be the most popular ePub reader and now owned by Amazon (conspiracy theories abound).

Clearly, the eBook is catching on. There was booth after booth of eBook after eBook all supporting the ePub standard (Sony joined the open crowd in August, but most eBooks are already there.

And then there’s the tablet or the slate or the great whatsit from Apple. The tablet can be many things but, in 2010 it seems to be a flat pad that’s light, inexpensive, and suitable for lolling around for a good read or a maybe a movie. The goal is that tablets be delivered for $200 or less.

Asus Prototype Tablet

Adobe has developed its Air technology for just such a device, and Microsoft has been working on Silverlight to do anything that Adobe does … better. Adobe has been working with the publishing industry to create a platform for published material that can improve on the experience of reading newspapers and full color magazines or books. For instance, the New York Times could host full color, animated ads and the crossword puzzle can be filled in. The full color glossy ads that make Vanity Fair go can be reproduced in glorious color and animated or linked to more information.

Before CES it seemed the whole world was waiting for Steve. What would Apple introduce to save the publishing world? But during CES, Steve faded into the background as a variety of options for publishing sprang up. Doubtless, the fascination with Apple will ramp back up when everyone gets home and CES starts to fade from memory – about 2 seconds after the plane lands, but the gauntlet has been thrown by the PC world … or rather, lots of gauntlets have been thrown by the PC world and Apple might not get to define a segment as it has with the iPod and the iPhone.

In all this, however, there are several big ifs. Delivering a tablet capable with sprightly internet connections, streaming, video play, and at least some interactivity (if not full-on 3D gaming) for $200 doesn’t seem possible in the real near future.

Nvidia showcased tablets at CES

But, and it’sa mighty big but, if tablets did get introduced at $200 or even $300 they are going to make life very, very tough for all those eBook vendors. They have no recourse but to dive for the bottom – competing on price.Over 2010, there’s going to be a lot of talk about tablets and by June or so, around the time of the Computex conference in Taiwan, there will be a variety of devices introduced and the prices will start creeping down. People will buy eBooks without a second thought, people might even have several eBooks, and the book stores will get new business.

There’s a lot to look forward to – maybe writers will start getting work again and artists will see new demand for their talents in creating new ads. Heck, trees might even breathe easier as the demand for printed materials declines.