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CES 2011 was supposed to be the coming out party for products aimed at slowing down the iPad's march toward domination of the next wave of computing. Yes, I'm referring to tablets, which has become the generic term for these thin slabs of glass, plastic silicon and metal.

A whole lotta tablets goin' on

I didn't spend a lot of time trying to play with these iPad competitors, although I did pick up a few to check their weight and see how responsive they were. I briefly handled only the Creative ZiiO 7 and, although not really a tablet, the Samsung Galaxy Player that's essentially the Android version of Apple's iPod Touch. I thought of checking out the Blackerry Playbook, but didn't feel like fighting the crowd that was constantly mobbing that part of BlackBerry's booth.

No matter, since most of the Android-based introductions are waiting for Android 3.0 "Honeycomb", which will be the first version of Android that officially supports tablets, or as Google puts it "larger screen devices". Various reports say Honeycomb will be released in March, with tablets based on it due out by maybe mid-year.

I've been a (mostly) happy iPad user since my pre-ordered unit arrived...that is, when I can pry it away from my spouse. It quickly replaced our Sony Vaio kitchen laptop, which had a 15" screen and crappy knock-off replacement battery that gave it only about 30 mins of off-outlet use. Even though the iPad's screen is much smaller than the Sony's and it has no keyboard, its battery life and portability won the WAF contest hands-down.

While the iPad isn't much use without its constant Wi-Fi / 3G connection to the Internet, Apple doesn't really want it to be a cloud-based appliance, at least not the whole cloud. Apple is happy to let you buy stuff from iTunes and its App Store and access Internet content as long as it's not Flash based. But try to back up anything besides photos and contacts to DropBox or any other cloud storage services that have an iOS app, and you'll find the limits of Apple's version of cloud-connectivity.

When the first thing you do with a product is to connect it to a computer running iTunes with a USB cable, that's hardly a cloud-based approach. Contrast that with activating and using an Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Color Nook or any Android-based devuce. The only time my Nook Color has been connected to a computer was when I rooted it and I suspect that will probably be the last, too

Bob Cringely thinks Apple's approach is going to change. One of his 2011 predictions bets that the honkin' big data center in North Carolina will soon become (Apple) cloud-based storage (and more) for its growing line of sans-rotating-drive products. Some people think Bob is full of it, but I don't. In fact, I'd bet that the upcoming iPad 2 announcement is going to pull back the curtain on a new cloud-based iWork suite or something similar.

Because if Apple doesn't, despite its current lead in tablet computers, Android-based products are going to bury them. It's already happening in smart phones, and it will happen with tablets. There are simply too many companies out there with too much incentive to not let Jobs and Co. walk away with the next generation of computing. And Google is giving them the ammunition to do it with Android and a corporate DNA that has been based on cloud-based services since day one.

So this is going to be an interesting ride and SmallCloudBuilder will be there to help sort through it all.

For more details on CES 2011 tablets, check out Liliputing's coverage. Brad Linder did a great job of writing up longer hands-on descriptions of many of the popular and not-so-famous tablets introduced at the show.

Joanna Stern compiled a decent, although not comprehensive summary of CES 2011 tablets for Engadget.

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