- Illustration by Mahjabeen Mankani / Dawn.com

We’re approaching the end of 2012, and so far, we’ve seen numerous advancements in the tech world. Every year, there’s one particular product category that’s on the rise. Smartphones are the usual suspects, but this year tablets have been at the center of a lot of innovation.

Most people looking to buy a tablet are overwhelmed by the choices at hand, since pretty much every electronic manufacturer is trying to get a piece of the action. Let’s see how various manufacturers have stacked up in this competition so far.

Apple introduced its groundbreaking tablet, the iPad, in 2010. By 2011, their competitors were quite at par with the original iPad, and Apple did what it always does- it raised the bar higher by introducing the iPad 2. Competitors knew it was time to do something that Apple allegedly won’t do, i.e. creating a smaller tablet.

Steve Jobs was highly against the concept of a smaller tablet; his idea was that a smaller tablet isn’t meant to be used at all. In 2012, Apple released “the new iPad” (3rd generation). As always, this product update was significantly better than its predecessor. But the competitors were on a different race track.

The tablet market was already divided into two categories, 10inch tablets and sub-10inch tablets (5-9inch). As a matter of fact, tablets smaller than 10inches were catching on so quickly that Apple couldn’t overlook it anymore and made a decision that wasn’t really expected of them.

They made a smaller 7.9inch version of the iPad, calling it the iPad mini. In addition to that, the 3rd generation iPad (unveiled only 7 months ago) was updated as well.

What made Apple do this?

It can be best explained by looking at what the competitors have unveiled so far.

Samsung came out with newer versions of its Galaxy Tab, namely Galaxy Tab 2 (7inch and 10inch versions) as well as 5inch and 10inch versions of Galaxy Note. To be honest, Samsung has rolled out so many tablets that it’s hard to keep track of them.

Just recently, Google appointed Samsung to take on the iPad, and created the Nexus 10.

It’s a super-high resolution tablet running Android 4.2, clearly designed as a rival to the iPad (built by Samsung, powered by Google, how much worse could it get for Apple?). Its display is what makes the tablet so special (keep in mind that Samsung builds the displays for Apple). So far, we cannot say who’s taking over the market.

For the first time, there is a chance that the iPad does not dominate the tablet market. Although the iPad (4th generation) is pretty good, and it might stand up to the just-announced Nexus 10, but you never know when things take an unexpected turn.

Samsung released a Windows 8 RT tablet (thanks to Microsoft for bringing Windows 8 to tablets). It's called the Ativ Tab, measures 10.1inches diagonally, and runs a special version of Windows designed for tablets powered by ARM processors.

Since Windows is a new and attractive platform for mobile devices, we can expect to see lesser Android tablets and more Windows tablets in the near future. Not restricted to Samsung, but from other manufacturers as well.

Amazon also rolled out an upgrade to its 7inch Kindle Fire tablet (that was released last year), calling it the Kindle Fire HD. In addition to that, Amazon also made an 8.9inch version of the tablet. This way, Amazon also joined the league of manufacturers producing a large and a small tablet at the same time.

One of Amazon's direct competitors is Barnes & Noble. Shortly after the introduction of the Kindle Fire HD tablet, B&N rolled out the Nook HD. And yes, it was competitive in terms of performance, specs, price, and even in terms of display size.

Nook HD was a 7inch tablet, and it had another variant; the Nook HD+ (designed to rival the 8.9inch version of the Kindle Fire). Size does matter, and no company left any chance to introduce their product in all size categories possible.

ASUS has jumped into the tablet bandwagon recently. It started off with its quite successful tablet, the ASUS Transformer (which later became Transformer Prime).

It’s an Android powered 10.1inch tablet, and stood out as a successful device earlier in 2012. But things really took a good turn for Asus when Google asked it to create a Nexus Tablet. Nexus is Google's name given to devices running stock Android OS, without any modifications.

We had seen nexus phones till now, but it was the first time that Google introduced a tablet, and it needed a manufacturer.

At the Google I/O 2012, the Nexus 7 was introduced; a powerful 7" tablet running Android, Jelly bean. The tablet market was really thrilled, because a giant had stepped into the smaller tablet scene. Initial reviews and customer response for the Nexus 7 was pretty good.

Seeing this, all other manufacturers buckled up to produce more and more 7" tablets, to get themselves in the race for the best 7" tablet. This was the biggest reason Apple also brought the iPad mini to the picture.

Asus is also expected to roll out a few Windows tablets as well. As a matter of fact, there's one already on the way. It's called Asus VivoTab RT (for the Windows RT platform). We can hope to see more Windows and Android powered tablets from Asus in the future.

We’ve discussed majority of the big manufacturers except the most important new major league player, Microsoft.

Windows 8, as you might know, is quite touch oriented, and we can see Microsoft's incentive behind introducing itself into the tablet market. Microsoft created two versions of Windows 8, namely Windows 8, and Windows 8 RT.

Windows 8 RT is only available to manufacturers so that they can build tablets running Windows 8 on a tablet friendly CPU (the ARM chip). Apart from doing just that, Microsoft also stepped into the hardware arena and crafted a 10.6" tablet of its own, and called it Surface. What's even better is that there are two versions of this tablet. Surface RT and Surface itself.

The RT version is just like Windows tablets from other manufacturers, more focused on running the "Modern UI" apps.

Since Windows 8 RT is specifically designed for the ARM chip, it doesn't run all the desktop apps that you're used to. But Surface has another variant, designed to run the full version of Windows 8, which means all your previous Windows apps could be run on this device.

People would definitely want a tablet that runs a full fledge version of Windows 8, and Microsoft has hit the target right on spot with this one!

So you see how different manufacturers have tried their best to take over the growing competition.

Clearly, there's no single winner here. Android is getting better (and so are Android powered tablets), Apple is refining iOS to make the iPad even more popular, and Microsoft has just entered this game with a blast. Only time will tell who will go on to become the king of the tablet industry.

Updated Nov 06, 2012 08:13am

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