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Tablets in 2012: What to expect

Melissa J. Perenson | Dec. 9, 2011
As tablets move into their adolescence, what changes will we see?

We expect to hear about more tablets using quad-core chips--from Nvidia and other manufacturers--during the 2012 International CES trade show in January.

Higher-Resolution Displays

While the 1024-by-768-pixel iPad 2 offers only 132 pixels per inch, the upcoming Toshiba Thrive 7" tablet will arrive with a 1280-by-800-pixel display that boasts 225 pixels per inch, the same as on the already-shipping T-Mobile SpringBoard. (Due in December, the Thrive 7" is the smaller cousin of the 10.1-inch Thrive.)

The extra pixels are important, as they help smooth out the text so that you don’t see the dots that form the letters. Rumors are running rampant that a high-resolution display, akin to but perhaps not quite as high as the one in the iPhone 4S, will be in the next version of the iPad.

It's All About the Operating System

Tablet operating systems will evolve in a big way in 2012. Already, we know that Android 4.0--code-named Ice Cream Sandwich--is the mobile operating system that Google is touting as the great unifier between the divergent Android 2.x phone and 3.x tablet platforms.

Asus says it will offer a downloadable firmware upgrade for the Transformer Prime, to replace its shipping Android 3.2 OS with Ice Cream Sandwich. But that update won't be available until the beginning of 2012. In the meantime, you can get a glimpse of the new OS via Nvidia's video of Ice Cream Sandwich on the Transformer Prime.

The actual benefits and implications of Ice Cream Sandwich for tablets remain fuzzy, however, since no tablet has shipped with Android 4.0 yet. In addition to new tablets carrying Ice Cream Sandwich, some manufacturers have indicated that certain already-released Android tablets will get an update to the new OS, but details remain vague.

Windows 8 Tablets

Android isn't the only news on the tablet-OS front for next year. Microsoft's big coming-out party for Windows 8 is scheduled for 2012, and Windows 8 is bound for tablets in a big way.

Today, several companies offer Windows 7 slates, including Dell, ExoPC, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Motion Computing, Samsung, and ViewSonic. With prices starting at $650 and running to nearly twice that, however, manufacturers typically position these tablets for use in the business world, where the Windows operating system reigns supreme, and where buyers tend to have custom software already designed for the OS.

Windows tablets have remained a niche item so far due to their comparatively higher prices, shorter battery life, and lack of a touch-optimized operating system and apps, but that situation should change with Windows 8.

The Windows 8 interface, filled with big "Metro-style" tiles, is optimized for touch navigation. And, in contrast to the current Windows 7 tablet models, which run on Intel Atom CPUs, Windows 8 will be able to run on ARM chips.


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