The big tablet launches (one down, two to go)

My week started out with having dinner with a VP from HP, who told me that I should show up at an event on February 9th so I could see their Tablet.

This is a category that Apple rejuvenated with the iPad and, of course, we’re all waiting for the iPad 2 launch. There are rumors on the CES floor that Apple will delay the iPad a bit due to shortage of memory, but I don’t believe it. If Apple delays too long it’ll hand a major gift to the folks who are ready to pounce.

And ready to pounce they are. Motorola, two days ago here at CES, announced the Xoom tablet. I got a look at it with my friend Sascha Pallenberg (who knows EVERYTHING happening in the mobile and netbook spaces and writes about such on NetbookNews.com), and while the hardware is ready to go they weren’t able to show it with Google’s “Honeycomb” Android OS, although they said it is the first tablet designed for it.

Samsung's new convertible tablet

In addition to Motorola, there were a ton of similar tablets announced this week at CES. Lenovo, LG, Asus, and many others. But the journalists I talked to last night at a private dinner said the Motorola is the best of the series that they’ve seen. So, let’s count that as the first of the big tablet launches that are coming between now and February 9th.

Apple is the other one. Of course that’s probably the one I’m going to buy. Rumors are that it’ll be a lot like the Motorola one, with a higher resolution screen, two cameras, better speed, and all that. We’ll see, but the real question is the price and what Apple is going to do to provide some more software magic.

Palm/HP? Folks who’ve seen it say it’s very good. The WebOS is definitely interesting and they could have some real tricks up their sleeves to disrupt Apple (much of the Palm/HP team came from Apple and they love smacking Steve Jobs upside the head with some new ideas). Look at the superior Facebook integration with the WebOS, for instance, for some hints as to what could come.

Notice that I didn’t talk about RIM or Microsoft. I just don’t see them as being big players in the tablet space. I’m having dinner with RIM folks tonight, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how much more bullish I get after they buy me a couple of glasses of wine. Microsoft? Everyone yawned at their tablet plans last year and this year Ballmer didn’t do any better and, instead, stuck to the script of talking about Kinect wins in December (eight million of them sold).

Anyone else out there? Well, Samsung has this convertible tablet that was attracting large crowds on the opening day of CES. The thing is it’s running Windows 7 (which is still clunky for touch) and they weren’t discussing price. It’s convertible because the keyboard slides out to turn it from a tablet to a laptop-style thing. We’ve had Windows tablets like this from Compaq and others in the past and the market ignored them for the most part until the iPad came along.

It just seemed uninspired to me and I don’t see that Samsung’s going to be able to get many buyers excited by this, although Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the 7-inch leader at the moment (running Android) and I don’t see anyone taking away its lead there.

So, to recap, there are going to be three big tablet launches.

1. Motorola.
2. Apple.
3. HP.

After all these launches are done, let’s see which tablet you and I will buy this year. See you February 9th.

UPDATE: yeah, I should mention the Notion Ink Adam. Engadget loved it, but give me a break, it is a no-name company and won’t be considered alongside a Motorola, Apple, or HP.

Why the car companies are at CES (and why tech world should pay attention)

Audi booth at CES

The car companies are here in force at CES. Well, at least Audi and Ford are (Ford, later today, will announce an electric car on stage here, and they gave me a 2012 Ford Explorer pre-production model that has all sorts of interesting technology which I’ll tell you about next week).

What’s going on? Why are car companies introducing cars and showing off their wares in big booths?

Because consumers are deciding on cars on things OTHER than horsepower, handling, and design. Yeah, those are still important, but what really is going to differentiate cars in the future are the features that are inside. Almost all of them technology focused.

Audi e-tron R8

Listen into a lunch I had with Audi’s CEO, his head geeks (from left is Mathias Halliger, head of architecture MMI Systems, Rupert Stadler, CEO, and Ricky Hudi, head of electronics development) and several journalists from blogs like Engadget and Autoblog (part I, part II). What did we talk about? Horsepower? The joy of driving? No. We talked about assisted driving technologies. How they were integrating devices into the driving experience. What they were doing with voice recognition and bringing up data from web systems.

Whoa. Web systems. That’s why +we+ should pay attention to the car companies. Some of the tech companies already are. Pandora, for instance, has been making lots of deals with car companies and at CES announced two deals with BMW and Toyota. In Las Vegas we’ve heard stories of Pandora executives taking press out for rides in the desert in the new BMW cars.

But, clearly, the car companies are thinking of something like Siri, which you’ll talk to, and it’ll find things for you. Need coffee at 1 a.m. your car will find it. Need to make reservations at a restaurant you are driving toward? Your car will do it (opportunity for OpenTable). Headed toward a Ritz for vacation? Make a spa reservation. Opportunity for SpaBooker.

Can the tech industry do more in conjunction with the car industry? I think so. We spend so much time in our cars. Especially for those who have families, you are already probably using things like iPads to entertain your kids. That makes more sense than a built-in entertainment system. Why? Because they are connected. I hate the screens in my Toyota minivan because they display so little (usually only DVDs) while our iPads can stream videos, music, let you play games, do research for school papers, and more.

Where is this going? It’s clear the car industry is reaching out to the tech industry and asking us to help them differentiate their products in the future. This feels like a shift in an industry that we’re just at the beginning of (and I think it will culminate in robotic cars like the Google self-driving cars — Audi’s CEO is proud of their involvement with the Stanford Center for Automotive Research (CARS). We did lots of videos at that lab, too, that you should watch if you missed them. (Part I/drive by wire; Part II/autonomous cars; Part III/solar research).

We should pay attention. Big market and great way to get a captive audience. I know I’m already captive to Pandora. Aren’t you?