Dell (s dell) is using CES to offer a glimpse of its first tablet, an Android-based gadget with a 5-inch screen that’s a bit bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a netbook. The company is joining a crush of hardware manufacturers and software developers jumping into a white-hot tablet space, creating a buzz that has expanded beyond the tech sector to attract attention from mainstream media outlets such as USA Today and MSNBC.com. But is there really much demand for these little connected devices that aren’t phones?
At CES this week, Microsoft has trotted out an HP (s hpq)-branded tablet, Lenovo has showcased a laptop/tablet hybrid and Motorola (s mot) has offered a glimpse of an upcoming tablet product, to name just a few of the companies using the Las Vegas show to flash sleek new offerings. In the meantime, Apple (s aapl) is rumored to be readying a tablet as well. And many of the new tablets run Google’s (s goog) mobile operating system, which– as Google’s Andy Rubin rightly boasts — offers the flexibility to be leveraged on a host of different platforms (and which, as Om noted, could lead to the Androidification of everything).
But while Apple’s iPod touch — which is kind of a mini-tablet — has been a hit, tablet-like devices offered in the past from Microsoft, Fujitsu and others haven’t managed to find much of an audience. That could change in the next few years given the increasing presence of Wi-Fi and the deployment of 4G networks, and we’re likely to see a host of non-phone gadgets gain traction as connectivity comes to a wide variety of consumer electronics devices. But consumers will be asked to shell out at least a few hundred dollars to carry a gadget in addition to their existing phones — some of which function pretty well as mini-computers. Whether there are enough users willing to do so is far from clear.