With as many as 100 different models of tablet computers from dozens of makers expected to be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, market consolidation is a certainty.
Some of those tablet models won't be on the market within in a year, and some won't even last beyond the four day show that officially kicks off Thursday, predicted Shawn Dubravac, chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the show's sponsor.
"Every industry consolidates, and over time we'll see [tablet] consolidation," Dubravac said. "Some won't go beyond the show."
Dubravac predicted more than 80 tablets will be shown at CES, and possibly up to 100. "It's no surprise that tablets will be the key theme at this show," he said.
Many tablet manufacturers have hinted about tablets at CES following last year's April launch of the 9.7-inch Apple iPad followed by the 7-inch Galaxy Tab from Samsung, which runs Google's Android OS.
Tablets are expected from many makers, including Research in Motion, Motorola, HTC, Asus, HP, Microsoft, Toshiba, Vizio, Intel and Lenovo.
Which tablets will survive will depend heavily on how consumers use them and which tablet models become associated with certain uses, such as whether users favour book reading over emailing or watching videos, Dubravac said.
"The tablet category is nascent, and manufacturers will have to define user scenarios" to be successful, he said.
It is clear that some tablet makers will differentiate themselves for the education or corporate markets. CEA's survey of 82 tablet users showed that many are buying them and taking them into the workplace for work chores, he said.
That survey said that Internet browsing was the most common use for a tablet, followed by email, then watching video and then for reading books, with various other uses trailing behind.
CEA predicts tablet sales will hit about 30 million in 2011, up from 17 million in 2010. By comparison, black and white e-readers should sell about 19 million units in 2011, CEA said, a high number compared with predictions from some analysts.
Like some other industry analysts, Dubravac said he believes it is very hard to predict whether tablets will cannibalise sales of e-readers, netbooks or laptops.
He said there won't be enough manufacturing capability to support production of 80 million tablets and other devices such as e-readers in 2011, as some analysts predict. But he also said that tablets can be seen as "part of a broader computing experience [where] tablets make e-readers more valuable."
Ultimately, he said, "Multiple tablet devices can co-exist and serve different market segments and survey any type of consolidation."
Price will obviously have a bearing on what tablet models survive for a year, but Dubravac said he doesn't expect a drastic reduction in prices for tablets in 2011, at least as much as some e-readers went down in cost in 2010.
CEA's survey found that $335 is the "optimal" price consumers want to pay for a tablet, although that is far below the iPad's $629 starting price.