Why You Can Ignore CES: The Great Tablet Hype


The Consumer Electronics Show takes place every year in Las Vegas, and each year, everyone complains. There are so many vendors and announcements -- and yet when you look more closely, all you see is pointillist marketing nonsense. Does the show really have any larger significance for those interested in technology? Because it seems that if you ignore the news from the show, you don't seem any less wise down the line.

Well, here's a test case. Let's say you paid close attention last year to the tablets that were hyped at the show. How important have they turned out to be, one year on?

We broke down the trajectories of 17 tablets from CES 2011. In the final tally, I think you could say one is a qualified success (the Asus Eee Pad Transformer), one did OK (the Motorola XOOM), and several flopped (Dell Streak, RIM Playbook) or made no impact (Coby Kyrus, Cydle M7 Multipad, Naxa NID-7001). Nine never were heard from again.

This is why it's OK to ignore CES. Most of the product announcements (the majority in this case) lead nowhere, and if some product is really important, you'll hear about it via some other avenue.

Asus Eee Pad Transformer: This tablet came out in the spring of 2011, though production was quite limited. By summer, it was supposedly shipping 400,000 units a month during the summer and has shipped a total of 1.8 million units. It got an upgrade for the holiday season that Engadget crowned the best Android tablet. All in all, this was probably the most important tablet on display at CES 2011 -- and, well, it's no iPad. In 2012, Asus hopes to ship 3 to 6 million tablets total. (That's about how many iPads Apple sells every month and a half.)
Asus Eee EP121
: This is a large 12" tablet with a pricetag of around $1,000. There's no telling how many units have been sold since its launch in early 2011, but it's not nearly as hot an item as the Transformer.
Coby Kyrus: This low-end tablet went on sale in 2011. The company has said nothing about it aside from plugging them as "top-selling."
Cydle M7 Multipad: Apparently, the Cydle went on sale, and you can buy one from Amazon, but few people appear to have ever seen one outside a CES conference hall.
Dell Streak 7: The 7" Dell Streak was announced at CES in January 2011. It was discontinued in December 2011 after a rough year of reviews and lackluster sales.
Lenovo Ideapad U1 Hybrid: This gadget first debuted at CES 2010 and then made another appearance at CES 2011. Still can't buy one.
Lenovo LePad Slate: Though Lenovo has put out a tablet, the LePad Slate never showed up.
MiNew M-Pad: All the coverage of this tablet appeared out of CES 2011. No one's heard about it since.
Motorola XOOM: The XOOM was one of the big announcements from last year. A real iPad competitor! But then the XOOM failed to sell well, shipping 250,000 units in the first quarter it was available, but selling less. The next quarter saw a price cut and slightly better sales, but it's no longer considered much competition for Cupertino's tablet.
Naxa NID-7001: This relatively unknown company showed and launched the Naxa in 2011. It's a low-end 7" machine that you can buy online in 4 and 8 GB versions. 
Netronics Tablet: A Netronics tablet showed up at CES in 2011, and hasn't really been seen since.
OpenPeak Tablet 10: This gadget, which was supposed to be the big brother of the OpenPeak Tablet 7, debuted at CES 2011. Nothing appears to have happened with the tablet since.
Panasonic VIERA Tablet: Ah yes, another tablet that appeared to considerable hype at CES 2011 and then disappeared.
RIM Playbook: The Playbook was played up at least year's CES, too, and it came out of the gates strong, selling 500,000 units in its first three months. Then, sales faltered, and by the end of the year, RIM had taken a $485 million charge on its tablet business and was fireselling its devices.
Samsung TX100: Samsung showed off the TX100 at CES and it appeared ready to launch in May. But then it slipped into the deep tablet abyss, ne'er to be seen again.
Samsung Sliding PC 7: This didn't exactly come out, but Samsung did come out with a product called the Samsung Series 7 Slate that could be considered a replacement and that some think is a nice device.
Viliv X70: This gadget made an appearance at CES and then ... Well, it's unclear what happened to it after that.

Inspired by Tim Maly

Image: Reuters. That's a RIM Playbook. Everyone smiles at CES.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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