What's the Difference Between an iPad and a Coffee Table?

At CES this week, there have been several unveilings of 20 to 27-inch, Windows 8 tablets. The idea behind these tablets seems to be the classic coffee table book, artwork, video and board games. Will these new, giant tablets really appeal to consumers?

First and foremost, current tablets have made the grade because they are small, easy to use, provide great battery life, and are intensely personal. The iPad, the quintessential tablet, has been a success because it provides what people want in a comfortable lap: video viewing, book reading, browsing, email, Twitter, Facebook, shopping and games.

Now, at CES, we're bring introduced to this new size of "table tablet". (One could say that they're basically glass coffee tables.) Previously, we had already seen the Sony Tap 20 Mobile Desktop, and at CES, we've seen the announcement of the Lenovo 27-inch table tablet and the Panasonic 20-inch tablet with 4K resolution.

Image Credit: Lenovo

At first blush, these table tablets or mobile desktops look really cool. One can see immediate uses for a host of activities that might need to be mobile: 3-D CAD, artwork, magazine layout, family board games, conference calls, video viewing, movable kiosks and so on. I'm betting we'll see some in science fiction movies. Off the top, I can see a great use in the military for battle planning in the field with maps augmented by tactical information.

However, I see problems in the consumer space. They're certainly awkward to move around, especially the 27-inch in the Lenovo video. (See the link above where just exactly how those two small girls wrestle with it is not revealed.)

They run Windows 8, an OS that seems headed for failure according to the PC analysts and observers. From what I've read, the Sony Tap 20 only has a three hour battery life, and I'll bet that the Lenovo with a 27-inch display isn't any better. You're going to need a Tesla-class battery in these devices.

These are expensive toys. The Lenovo is expected to retail for about US$1,700. The Sony is close to $900. Heaven knows what the Panasonic will sell for with a 4K display. The utility to price ratio is just too small. These table tablets appeal to a very special portion of the market, and will not be mass market items. But they do serve the purpose of being flagship items, something that suggests the maker is thinking ahead, laying the ground work for commercially successful large tablets. TV ads look exciting - by design.

And I do believe that there will be larger iPads, and I'm thinking of 15-inches (38-40 cm). But they'l be very thin and light and won't need to be tethered to a power cord. Apple will sell millions of them.

However, for now, I see these coffee table tablets as luggables. They're first generation thinking, intended to throw something out and see if it sticks. Sales will be in the thousands, not millions.  One motivation seems to be getting out in front of Apple. But I can't see these early models being a vast commercial success. Rather they're just hefty toys, eye candy for the CES attendees to ogle. And expensive glass coffee tables for the wealthy.