Just two years ago, the tablet market that is so large today was in its infancy, dominated by Apple's first-generation iPad. Android tablets were barely getting off the ground, and were saddled with an inappropriate cell-phone operating system slapped into a tablet's larger case.
Today, we have competition and diversity. Apple's iOS-based fourth-gen iPad and iPad mini still dominate, but Android-based tablets are finally making inroads. Leading the way is Google's own Nexus lineup, consisting of the affordable 7-inch Nexus 7 (which starts at $199 and goes up to $299 with HSPA+ mobile broadband connectivity), and the 10.1-inch Nexus 10 (with its crazy-high resolution). Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, a competing $199 tablet built around Amazon's media and services and running Android apps sold through Amazon's own store, has done well, too. And now Windows 8--based tablets are here, led by Microsoft's own Surface With Windows RT tablet.
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. 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 is 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, or how well your favorite games play.
That's where Nvidia's expected refresh of its Tegra 3 system-on-chip platform comes in. This quad-core (plus a fifth, low-power core) processor has been a favorite choice in leading Android tablets for the past year, and it's ready for a refresh.
A leaked roadmap that surfaced in 2012 indicated that the next platform, code-named Project Wayne, will incorporate four ARM Cortex-A15 processors, up from the Cortex-A9 in use in Tegra 3. Its use of A15 will put Tegra on a par with the Qualcomm S4 Pro and Samsung's Exynos 5. With the new processor, we anticipate better system and graphics performance, along with better power management, which should translate into improved battery life, and LTE support. You can expect to see additional tablets based on Qualcomm's S4 Pro as well as on ARM's Cortex-A15 in the next year.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.