Why 2010 Will Be the Year of the Tablet

After years of enticing rumors, ambitious prognostications and flat-out blather, 2010 may finally be the year that the tablet PC evolves from being a niche device to becoming a mainstream portable computer.

The tipping point comes via word to from a well-connected industry executive that mainstream heavyweights Dell and Intel are collaborating on a touchscreen tablet due for release next year. Though our source has learned little about specifications of the device, what's apparent is that the tablet will serve as a subscription-based e-reader for displaying newspapers, magazines and other media, giving Amazon's Kindle - particularly, the nearly $500 large-format DX model - a run for its money.

As notable as the format is the business model: The tablet will be free for consumers who opt into a contract subscribing to one or more digital media subscriptions, according to our source. That's similar to how telecom companies currently subsidize cellphones when customers agree to two-year contracts.

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