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What a difference a year makes! JOHN HARRIS looks at how the great technology fad of 2009, the netbook, has gone from must-have fashion to forgotten with the arrival of a new fab form factor - the tablet.

What a difference a year makes.

During 2009, the hottest product in the computer market was the netbook – a sub-$1000 device that offered core computing functions and fitted comfortably in a small briefcase.

Today, the “hype wave” has washed over the netbook on to the latest form factor fad – the tablet, as pioneered by Apple’s iPad.

The iPad currently dominates the global market for tablets with an estimated 95 per cent of the sector in the third quarter of 2010, reports a survey by Strategic Analytics.

DisplaySearch sales figures claim that in the 12 months to the second quarter of 2010, sales of 10-inch-display netbooks dropped eight per cent to 6.5 million units.

Another market research firm, iSuppli, estimates that tablet shipments will grow by nearly 200 per cent next year, compared to just a 13 per cent increase in notebooks and other PCs.

Even PC chip giant Intel is paying attention to tablet sales.

Reuters reports Intel is planning a new, more energy-efficient Atom-based chip family, codenamed Oak Tree, for release early next year in order to establish a beachhead in the booming tablet market.

The tablet is winding up more than just propellerheads.

One-time Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch last week announced to The Australian Financial Review that he’s planning a newspaper, dubbed The Daily, designed just for tablet devices such as the iPad.

Aimed primarily at the US, the dollar-a-day cyberpaper, scheduled for launch next month, needs 800,000 readers to make it viable.

Murdoch reckons 30-40 million iPads will be in use by the end of 2011. "I believe every single person will eventually have one, even children,” the News Corp boss predicted.

Australians are already seeing the result of this iPad-emonium.

Samsung Australia has launched the $999 Galaxy Tab, a seven-inch-screen device with a built-in phone and 3G connection. Powered by Android 2.2, the 385-gram unit comes with the Navigon navigation software; a two-month trial of The Australian news app and the Need For Speed game.

Major Australian telcos will offer the Galaxy Tab on no-upfront-cost plans. Samsung will also sell Galaxy Tab car kits for in-car navigation.

Telstra has also got in the act with its T-Touch Tab, a $299 device that runs the Android 2.1 software, allowing you to use and buy apps from the Android Market.

Costing less than half an entry-level iPad, the T-Touch Tab has a built-in phone and 800x480 pixel screen plus WiFi, Bluetooth, and 3G connectivity. The half-kilo unit also contains front and back cameras and an expandable Micro SD card.

Optus has also signalled that it intends to launch a $279, seven-inch-screen tablet called My Tab.

Even Blackberry is planning to attack the iPad with its Playbook, due early next year.

Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion has announced that the planned Playbook device will link to its BlackBerry server and sync with BlackBerry smartphones. The 17.8 centimetre unit will include two high-definition cameras and support Adobe’s Flash software technology – setting it apart from Apple, which keeps Flash off the iPad.

John Harris is managing director of Impress Media Australia. www.johnharris.net.au

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