Last year’s Computex marked the first time UK low-power chip designer ARM decided to make a big splash at the event, effectively announcing itself as a player in the PC ecosystem – as opposed to the mobile phone one where its designs are already dominant.

At the time, netbook sales were peaking and Intel was already plugging a new mobile form factor – the thin-and-light notebook, which used Intel CULV processors to deliver what was effectively a device half-way between a netbook and a full-fat notebook. ARM, meanwhile was bigging-up mini-notebooks based on ARM-based SoCs, such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon.

A few months later at CES 2010, the ARM-based notebook’s momentum looked to be building, with the launch, by Lenovo, of the Snapdragon-packing Skylight. However not every ARM partner was sold on mini-notebooks, with NVIDIA staking the future of its second generation Tegra SoC on the tablet form factor.

A few months further on, all these products were put firmly in their place, as is so often the case, by the launch of a new Apple product – the iPad tablet. All the signs are that the iPad is a runaway success, so there’s clearly plenty of demand in the marketplace for the tablet form factor, despite the fact that that is falls fundamentally short as either a PC or a phone.

The question now is: how much of a lasting success will this form factor be? When we asked if netbooks were just a fad in the middle of 2008 (doesn’t time fly?), the consensus in the HEXUS.community was that they’re probably here to stay, but will end up being viewed as a niche, and that seems to be what has happened.

This year’s Computex promises to be a big one for tablets. NVIDIA has promised a raft of Tegra 2 tablet launches in Q3 and is already showing-off a prototype. Meanwhile ARM will be basing its Computex presence this year around promoting the Android-based tablet form factor, and HP has led us to expect a slate device, based on its newly-acquired webOS operating system, will make an appearance before the end of the year.

With all this activity, we’ve no doubt 2010 will be viewed as the year of the tablet in the same way 2008 was the year of the netbook. What we’re less sure of is how big a permanent piece of the mobile device market tablets will account for.

The fact still remains that a truly portable device needs to fit into your pocket and for productivity you still need a full-blown notebook. This new tablet form-factor (as opposed to swivel-screen notebooks) is also being referred to as a media tablet, inferring what it will mainly be used for.

Whether or not there is enduring mass-demand for media consumption on a semi-mobile device has yet to be determined.

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