ATandT: Tablets Will Replace Laptops

As AT&T readies for the loss of its exclusive Apple iPhone contract, it's looking to tablets, which officials say eventually will overtake laptops.

AT&T isn't yet mourning the upcoming loss of its exclusive relationship with the Apple iPhone-the expected influx of tablet devices is giving it hope.

Glenn Lurie, AT&T's emerging devices president, said that tablets, ranging in price from $300 to $1,000, will soon make laptops obsolete. "You're going to see those 10-inch pieces of glass become full-on computers," Lurie said in an interview with Bloomberg, reported Aug. 25.

While Lurie declined to say when AT&T's exclusivity contract with Apple will end-Verizon Wireless is generally expected to begin offering an iPhone in January 2011-he told Bloomberg, "We're still going to be plugging along with the kind of rates we're doing now and the kind of success we're having today."

AT&T CEO Ralph De la Vega similarly hinted that tablet devices will help to fill the void created by the end of AT&T's special status with the iPhone. "There's going to be a huge number of tablets, different sizes, different functions," De la Vega told Bloomberg.

A number of tablet devices are expected to debut in time for the 2010 holiday shopping season, with additional models joining the fray well into 2011. Research In Motion, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Verizon and Lenovo have all either introduced a device or announced their intentions to launch one. Nonetheless, says research firm iSuppli, it's the Apple iPad that will continue to dominate the space-just as the Apple iPhone, following its launch, was uncontested in the smartphone space for several years-until at least 2012.

In an Aug. 25 report, iSuppli predicted that the iPad will account for 74.1 percent of the global tablet market at year's end, slipping only to 70.4 percent in 2011 and approximately 66 percent through 2012.

"Companies are quickly developing products that match or exceed some of the surface hardware specifications of the Apple iPad. But it's still unlikely that any of the competitors will be able to equal the overall performance experience of the iPad," iSuppli Director Rhoda Alexander said in the report.

To view images of the Dell Streak tablet, click here.

As the for-now exclusive data provider for Apple's iPads, this gives AT&T one more reason to keep its chin up. (During AT&T's second-quarter earnings call, executives emphasized, too, that the iPad, particularly with business customers, has been a far easier sell than the iPhone initially was.)

Still another reason may be its similarly exclusive status with Dell's 5-inch Streak tablet-a clear example of the "device collecting" AT&T is doing in preparation for the iPhone's arrival elsewhere. Additional examples include the RIM BlackBerry Torch and the Android-running Dell Aero smartphone.

In July, ABI Research updated its tablet forecast for 2010 by nearly threefold, to a total of 11 million units.

"Assuming that competing tablets from other vendors do arrive in the second half of the year as expected, we believe that the iPad will account for a significant portion-but not all-of the projected 11 million units," ABI principal analyst Jeff Orr wrote in the report. "To capitalize on the usual fourth quarter sales boom, other tablets need to reach retailers' shelves by early September."