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Tablets: The Ultimate Crossover Product

If there ever is a vote held to name the official “Jack of all Trades CE Product,” my ballot would be cast for the tablet PC.

The tablet is the ultimate crossover tool.

A tablet can be a desktop computer, laptop, portable video player, music player, phone, video conferencing device, game console, e-book reader, digital camera and a drink coaster. Although I would be careful with that last one unless you have a very good warranty.

It is so multifunctional that the tablet is almost a device out of science fiction.

If one had a machine where all of the products on display on the show floor could be boiled down into one gadget, that gizmo would be a tablet PC. One of the few exceptions is in the major appliance area where tablets have yet to prove themselves capable of drying clothes, but I would bet there is an app on the market somewhere allowing a homeowner to control their Internet-ready washer and dryer with a tablet.

The tablet is possibly the culmination of what has been an ongoing trend at CES. For the past 15 years products being introduced at the show have gone from niche and category-specific to all-encompassing. Instead of just playing music, a portable device must be a phone, GPS and camera. A TV has to connect to the web; a home audio system needs a satellite radio receiver; speakers must connect to an iPod.

In addition to the tablet’s grand technological achievements, the devices are unique in that the entire category is, as of right now, dominated by just one company: Apple, which controls upward of 70 percent of the market.

While dozens of other vendors have entered the field, with many not staying long, none has garnered much notice on until the recent introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Fire. At half the price of an iPad, the Fire, and its near-cousin the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, could be poised to shake up the category.

Possibly the best aspect of the tablet boom is that in the long run they will not end up killing another product category, but will be an add-on sale.

Because while they can be used to do a myriad of different tasks, laptops and desktops are still better computing and production platforms, TVs are better for movie viewing, and game consoles are more fun to play on.