Handy guide to tablet warriors

Major CE companies prepare to take on iPad

High price helps iPad | New fronts in tablet war

Tablet tableau

Apple might have a tight grip on the tablet market today, but at CES, the competition will come at it with both guns blazing. Here’s a look at what you can expect:

The Android tablets

Google’s mobile operating system is the de facto choice for companies going up against Apple. The problem is it’s optimized for phones, not tablets. At CES, there will be a lot of talk about devices using Honeycomb, a new version of the OS designed for tablets. Asus, Acer, Samsung, Toshiba and others are expected to have new tablet offerings revolving around Honeycomb, which should hit the street sometime in the second quarter.

Playbook

Research in Motion’s 7-inch Playbook tablet will run on a proprietary operating system — but not the one used to power the company’s BlackBerry devices. That means it won’t support current BlackBerry apps, which is a possible hurdle, but it will support Flash, something the iPad doesn’t. RIM’s not directly chasing the consumer audience with the Playbook. It’s hoping to leverage its relationship with corporate clients to win over that segment of the market.

PalmPad

Hewlett Packard’s $1.2 billion buyout of Palm in April gave it a stake in the smartphone business. Now HP wants to expand that into the tablet world. The company has been quite transparent about planning using a revised version of Palm’s webOS system for tablets in early 2011. HP’s not at CES, but with its marketing budget, it’s sure to be a player in this market segment.

Windows tablets

During his keynote one year ago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off the HP Slate, which consumers never got their hands on. He’ll talk up tablets again this year, but with that gaffe in mind, expect to see products that you’ll be able to buy and hear more details about the company’s differentiating factors. Windows 7 isn’t really optimized for tablets, which leaves a lot of questions about how Microsoft plans to stay relevant in this space.

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