CES 2020 So Far: New TVs, New Headphones, New Laptops

I am not at CES 2020 this year. I haven’t gone in a couple of years, and I wish I can say I’m upset. But I’m not. And it’s not because my interest in technology is waning but more because there is a lack of interesting technology.

So far, CES 2020 seems somewhat interesting, even if the products being shown aren’t blowing me away. But they are causing me too look. And here are some of them:

New Television Sets: Welcome to the 8K Revolution

Click to play in YouTube.

If you thought 4K was a big thing, think again. Now, it’s 8K. Sony, Samsung, LG, and others have introduced new expensive 8K television sets that look dreamy. But remember, you will only get an 8K picture with 8K content, which there isn’t enough of yet.

Perhaps the most interesting 8K television set is Samsung’s Q950TS, which has a practically bezel-free QLED screen that goes right up to the edge. It sort of reminds me of a HUGE Dell XPS 13, except it’s not a laptop. Many claim that the screen is unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Of course, the picture isn’t the only appeal of Samsung’s latest television set. It also includes top and side-firing speakers, the ability to rotate 90 percent, and the fact that it comes in three sizes: 65-inch, 75-inch and an 85-inch version. There is no price information, but expect all three models to cost thousands of dollars.

Wireless Earbuds

After Apple stunned with the AirPods Pro a couple of months back, more companies are looking to follow the same type of hype in 2020. Like the Pros, most of these new earbuds have active noise cancellation.

CES 2020 has introduced us to Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC300TW,  Panasonic’s RZ-S500W buds, Klipsch’s T10 buds, and Edifier’s TWS NB buds. Unfortunately, Bose hasn’t shown off their new wireless noise-cancelling buds yet, but it’s possible we’ll be hearing about them very soon.

New Laptops

This column’s obsession with the Dell XPS 13 continues, and this time, Dell has done a major rework with its flagship laptop. Not only are the bezels even thinner, but the keys are larger and the aspect ratio has changed from 16:9 to 16:10 to add more vertical space. The trackpad, which was nearly perfect with 2013′s version, is now nine percent larger. I can hardly wait to spend time with Dell’s latest masterpiece. 

Lenovo's ThinkPad Fold is a real geek magnet.

However, Dell isn’t the only company making waves at CES with new laptops. Lenovo also introduced the ThinkPad X1 Fold that has been talked about for the past year. It has a plastic OLED screen that allows you to fold it all the way out and use with an optional keyboard, fold in half (and use the other half as a keyboard), or just use as a tablet. Is it ready for the mainstream yet? Probably not, but it’s still fascinating and could predict the future of laptop-tablet hybrids.

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AirPods Pro: Apple Wins ‘Best Product Of 2019′ Award

Product of the Year

Okay, it’s now 2020, so this will be the absolutely last “look back at” post for a while. But we have to mention what was the best product of 2019, and that absolutely goes to Apple’s AirPods Pro.

In my first impressions review, I was more than impressed. And the feature that I liked the most was the noise cancellation.

“The biggest star of the new AirPods Pro is noise cancellation. It’s shockingly good given that these earbuds are so small. The noise cancellation is on par with that on Sony’s WH-1000XM3 buds, but feels a little smoother with your eardrums feeling less pressure.”

As the months have gone by, I appreciate the noise cancellation even more, especially after trying other noise cancelling or noise isolating buds. I just wish the battery lasted longer so I can sleep with them all night. When I need a nap or know I only have four hours to sleep, these Apple buds are absolutely wonderful, even if my ears end up hurting a little afterwards.

The AirPods Pro have great noise cancellation and sound quality.

I also appreciate the sound even more. While the sound can’t compare to a $300 – $400 pair of Sennheiser, Sony, or Bose over-the-ear wireless headphones, they come quite close and are about 1/10th the size. The bass comes in very clear and punchy when I listen to Post Malone’s new album, especially the song “Circles.” I also love using the AirPods Pro for podcasts.

I’ve also loved the simplicity of switching Apple devices with the AirPods Pro on. There are no buttons to press or restarts to complete. My Pros know when I’m changing devices. Sometimes, it takes more than 10 seconds to switch devices, but it’s not much of a disability since I expect it.

Apple's new earbuds come in a "Landscape Mode" case that is still very portable.

Then, there are the phone calls. While the Pros don’t cancel out as much ambient noise as the $400 Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, they are good enough. I’ve been able to have conversations in my car driving down the highway (and concentrating on the traffic, of course), at Starbucks (when loud music isn’t playing), and even in the locker room at 24 Hour Fitness (not in the actual exercise area).

Once again, Apple took a little longer to come out with a product than other companies (Sony came out with first noise-cancelling buds two years ago), but the wait was worth it. The AirPods Pro buds are the best thing Apple has released since the first AirPods in late 2016. Now, we’ll patiently wait for the Apple over-the-ear wireless headphones that are rumored to be released in 2020.

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Google Glass And Microsoft HoloLens: The Decade’s Biggest Tech Failures

The Google Glass defined failure.

There was a lot of technology to celebrate over the past decade. However, the 2010s were also overstuffed with gadgets that promised a lot and did very little. When the initial hype died down on several products, they turned into a joke. Let’s take a look at the two biggest tech flops of the past decade.

Google Glass

Oh, my! Where do we start with this one? Do you remember (especially if you lived in Northern California) going out and seeing people with a weird thing that looked like glasses attached to their head, except it wasn’t really glasses? If you don’t, you certainly didn’t miss much.

The Google Glass, which started out at $1500, had a square light prism that beamed information into your eye. It was supposed to help you while driving, but it actually was more of a distraction.

To make things worse (or better for perverted ones), you could easily take pictures of people without them knowing. I’ll never forget using these at 24 Hour Fitness, and people complained to the front desk. I was angry then, but I completely understand now.

Google’s Glass could be voice-operated, but one could only expect it to recognize what you say three out of five times. Whatever it could do, the Glass couldn’t do for long since the battery barely lasted an hour. If you charged it several times, the battery depleted. It was one of the most frustrating and useless things I’ve ever owned.

Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft's HoloLens sold for $3,000

The best thing that could be said about Microsoft’s HoloLens is that it really did seem to have a purpose — at least when it was announced. The $3,000 price tag was very hefty, but one could take solace in the fact that they could sell it for more if they wanted. (I sold my HoloLens $4,300 after using it for a month.)

The HoloLens aimed to be the first major Augmented Reality device. Unlike virtual reality devices, which brought you into completely different worlds, AR put objects on top of your world. You could look at your wall and see an alien come out. You could even set up your own AR movie screen on your wall (the thing I did the most with my HoloLens).

The HoloLens actually ran on a 32-bit version of Windows, which really wasn’t nearly powerful for a lot of tasks. It ran on several different finger and hand gestures — all which worked to varying degrees of success. If you were doing simple things like displaying a dancing ballerina in the middle of your room, the flimsy hand gesture controls weren’t too much of a disability.

The fatal flaw of the HoloLens was the very narrow field-of-view. For example, If you placed an AR globe on your chair and looked directly at it, you were likely to see the whole thing. However, if you moved your face too much in any direction, the globe would be “clipped” and your immersive experience would be ruined.

At the beginning of 2016, everybody was talking about the HoloLens. At the end of 2016, nobody cared. The HoloLens is a rare hardware failure for Microsoft, who has otherwise done pretty well this decade.

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2010s: The Decade Of The Smartwatch

At the beginning of the decade, the idea of the smartwatch was laughable. We had smartphones and tablets already. Wasn’t it overkill? Apparently, not. But the smartwatch industry didn’t take off right away.

The decade started with failed (but somewhat innovative) smartwatch offers from Pebble. In 2014, Asus, Samsung, and Motorola released the first batch of mainstream Android smartwatches. However, it was the release of the Apple Watch in 2015 that had insiders believing that the smartwatch industry would take off. However, Apple’s first smartwatch received mixed reviews.

The first Apple Watch in 2015 was anything but a hit.

“Apple’s much hyped smartwatch is carefully crafted with a masterful design, but poor battery life and confusing software mean curious consumers should wait,” the Guardian claimed. However, this blog said the Watch certainly had potential, and it would soon be realized.

By 2017, Apple had finally created the smartwatch people had been waiting for — one with long battery life, cellular capabilities, and decent exercise tracking. After two years, you could finally see a good amount of people walking around with an Apple Watch.

Apple owns the biggest share of the smartwatch market, but Samsung is on their heels. They released the first Gear S smartwatch to mostly apathy in 2014, but the Gear S2 (which had 3G service), made consumers take notice. It ran Samsung’s own Tizen operating system and was just as productive as the Apple Watch.

Samsung's Galaxy Active is one of the most popular smartwatches this decade.

Samsung has expanded on their hero smartwatch, now known just as the Samsung Galaxy Watch. The sportier version of the Galaxy Watch, the Galaxy Watch Active 2, is one of the  best-reviewed smartwatches out there, and it is compatible with iOS devices. However, don’t expect to get the same sort of experience with the Watch Active 2 that you get with the Apple Watch.

Competing with Samsung and Apple is Fitbit, a company that — as USA Today notes — tracked out steps before Apple. In 2019, you have the Fitbit Versa 2, Fitbit Inspire, Fitbit Charge 3, and many others. In fact, Fitbit, whose watches work on both iOS and Android devices, has the most diverse selection of smartwatches available today.

So, where does the smartwatch industry go from here? Many are still waiting for LTE (or even 5G in the future) smartwatches that can be set up independently from a smartphone. You can currently use an LTE smartwatch, but it’s always connected to your smartphone through Bluetooth or cellular. The smartwatch that is actually a “phone on your wrist” has yet to appear. But that’s something that will likely change within the next three years.

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Sony Enters Wearable Speaker Market With SRS-WS1 Wireless Neck Speaker

Sony SRS-WS1 Wireless Speaker

Two years back, I was really enthusiastic about the Bose SoundWear Companion wearable speaker. I thought Bose ushered in a new era of wearable speakers. At the time, the device ran for $299, and I never saw anybody wear it besides myself. My SoundWear Companion was eventually stolen. I can’t say that I ever missed it.

Now, Sony is trying to give Bose a run for their money — at least it looks that way at first. Like most Sony products, the SRS-WS1 is well designed and looks comfortable. The speaker vibrates to provide a more immersive environment. You can connect it with your stereo, television set, or even smartphone. The big problem — you can’t connect it through Bluetooth! Sony apparently forgot that it’s almost 2020, not 2000. .

Devindra Hardawar of Engadget says Sony’s new device is baffling.

“It’s also astounding to me that a wireless product doesn’t support Bluetooth, the most widely supported wireless standard out there. You can use a USB-C cable to quickly connect the speaker to a smartphone or tablet, but you’ll still have to deal with the battery draining eventually.”

Hardawar goes as far as to say if you are even considering the SRS-WS1, you should have a friend try and talk you out of it first. Ouch!

Unfortunately, Engadget has been the only site to provide a full review. But I did some research and found out that the SRS-WS1 is anything but new. It has actually been out in Japan for the last two years. It apparently hasn’t been a huge hit over there, but the people who do own it like it.

Perhaps the only way wearable speakers can break though commercially is if they are put on things that people usually wear, such as sunglasses. About a year ago, I reviewed the Bose Frames, and thought they were good, but not for everybody.

Bose Frames fit comfortably.

The sound on Bose’s sunglasses is rather tinny, although not awful. But they fit very comfortably and even with the volume on them turned high, the audio leak is barely there since the speakers are aimed right into your ears. The phone quality was very good, even when compared to Bluetooth headphones.

It will be interesting to see how the wearable speaker market develops in the next couple of years. Perhaps we’ll see wearable baseball cap speakers, wearable headband speakers, etc. Anything is possible.

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The Decade In Smartphones: Samsung, Apple, and HTC

Samsung's innovative Galaxy S3 was introduced in 2012.

The main difference between January 2010 and December 2019: Everybody has a smartphone. That includes grandmas, grandpas, little kids, etc. The flip phone with the numeric pad is now an antique. And so are phones with thumb keyboards. Let’s take a look at the most important smartphone brands of the past decade:

iPhone

The iPhone has remained popular throughout the entire decade.

Apple’s iPhone was the biggest technology innovation of the 2000s, and it continued to be a popular smartphone throughout the 2010s. The iPhone 4, released in June of 2010, is thought to be the most defining smartphone from Apple this decade. Not only did it bring in the Retina display, but it offered a high quality 5MP camera on the front that could compete somewhat with digital cameras. It also was the first iPhone with a front-facing camera.

Of course, the iPhone 4 arrived with an array of problems. Antennagate occurred when Apple put the antenna on the metal rim of the iPhone casing rather than on the inside. This initially caused many dropped calls. Eventually, Steve Jobs offered iPhone 4 owners a free bumper case that would stop interference with a person’s grip and the antenna. By the time the iPhone 4S was released in October of 2011, the antenna was a non-issue.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Click to play in YouTube.

You can say that this is the smartphone that made Android relevant. At first glance, Samsung’s Galaxy S3 was a mobile user’s dream come true — a large beautiful HD screen, a quad-core processor, 4G LTE, an extremely light casing (the plastic would become controversial in future devices), an eye-tracking camera, and a speaker that offered great sound.

By early 2013, Samsung had passed Apple in worldwide smartphone sales. Samsung would continue to innovate for the rest of the decade.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Samsung's Galaxy Note brought back the stylus.

When the first Galaxy Note was released in 2011, it received decent reviews. It offered a gigantic (for its time) 5.3-inch screen and a digital stylus for taking notes. Critics thought of it as a huge niche device. However, by the time Samsung released the Galaxy Note 2 in October of 2012, it was a huge hit.

The Note was basically a larger and more powerful version of the Galaxy S3 in which you can jot down anything at any time. It was also an amazing multimedia device. Samsung continued to develop the Note and hit a brick when the 2016 Galaxy Note 7 had a battery issue that caused the device to catch on fire. Samsung has slowly gotten their groove back, but the Galaxy Note device isn’t as popular as it was during the middle of the decade.

HTC

The HTC One didn't survive the competition.

In May of 2010, it looked like HTC would become the most innovative smartphone maker of the decade. The EVO 4G was the first mainstream 4G smartphone (though it only ran on Sprint’s WiMax network, which was very limited). With a high resolution (for 2010) display, an 8MP camera, and 720p video recording capabilities, the EVO 4G became the best phone Sprint ever had.

Unfortunately, the HTC EVO 3D came in 2011, and it was every bit of a gimmick as most 3D devices. But HTC did make the first innovative stereo speakers on a smartphone with the HTC One (M7) in 2013. Unfortunately, the smartphone maker just couldn’t keep up with Apple and Samsung.

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The Decade In Laptops: For A While, Apple Took Over

The MacBook Pro Retina came out in 2012.

As the new decade started, Microsoft looked like they were on the comeback trail with Windows 7 after the whole Windows Vista debacle. Still, the damage was done. And people who were normally hooked on PCs moved to Apple’s MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. The release of Windows 8, an operating system that confused the hell out of the average notebook user, didn’t help.

The MacBook Air really set the tone for the new decade. At first, people thought that a laptop without a CD or DVD drive would fail, but soon almost every laptop — PC or Mac — was the same. This made the laptops thinner and more portable. And who needs a DVD drive when you can stream or download?

Perhaps the most significant laptop of the early 2010s was the 2012 release of the MacBook Pro with Retina screen. The notebook, which carried a powerful Intel Core i5 processor, was just slightly heavier than the MacBook Air, which was still extremely popular the first half of the decade. The MacBook Pro Retina ushered in an era of laptops with high contrast ratios, making them great for viewing pictures or watching movies.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

The second most significant laptop (really a laptop/tablet hybrid) was the Surface Pro 3, released in 2014. As discussed in the recent article about this decade’s top tablets, the Pro 3 was the first real laptop/tablet hybrid that could be used decently as both. The Surface Pro 3 could be configured in versions that were as powerful and as fast as competing laptops from Apple or Dell.

Speaking of Dell, it was certainly a comeback decade for the manufacturer. They were previously known for making cheaper laptops that many schools and workplaces purchased. Even though the first arrival of the Dell XPS 13 was met with quality control issues, further versions solidified it as the PC laptop of the decade. The ultra-thin bezels, the bright and crisp screen, and the power of a desktop fit into an ultra thin laptop convinced people to switch from the MacBook Pro.

Dell's XPS 13 was a huge hit.

Speaking of the MacBook Pro, it didn’t maintain its dominance by the end of the decade. Windows 10 proved to a robust operating system that came close to the fluidity of macOS and allowed manufacturers to make many touchscreen or pen-enabled PCs — all while being cheaper.

However, don’t count Apple out yet when it comes to notebooks. Even if they don’t produce a touchscreen notebook, they’ll probably come out with something groundbreaking that we don’t realize we need yet. The next decade should be an interesting one when it comes to laptops.

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Has Dell Finally Made The Ultimate Laptop Hybrid With XPS 13 2-in-1?

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (2019)

There are so many 13-inch 2-in-1 laptops these days (I own one from HP) that it’s hard to keep up. I’ve been to the Microsoft Store and Best Buy, and even though I don’t see myself purchasing it anytime soon, my eyes and hands can’t stop flirting with the new Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Dell tried to succeed with the 13-inch 2-in-1 in early 2017 and came very close. The screen was more crisp and colorful than the regular 13-inch XPS 13, the digital pen worked well, and the device brought virtually everything to the 2-in-1 that people loved about the XPS 13. The main issue was the Intel Core i5-7Y54 and i7-7Y75 processors (otherwise known as Intel Core M), which were (and still are) noticeably slower than the regular processors.

Cut to late 2019, and Dell has updated the 2-in-1. The reviews have been unanimously glowing.

“With the new XPS 13 2-in-1, Dell finally has a convertible that’s just as great as its XPS 13 laptop,” writes Joshua Goldman of CNET, adding that the redesigned laptop is improved in every category – design, features, and performance.

Like CNET, Tom’s Guide also gives Dell’s new laptop 4.5 stars.

“The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is one of the best convertible laptops around, sporting a gorgeous display, blazing Ice Lake performance and long battery life in a stunningly slim design.”

Reviewer Michael Andronico says the only flaws are a somewhat shallow keyboard and soft speakers, the latter being an issue for consumers on the regular Dell XPS 13 as well.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 uses a shallow "MagLev" keyboard.

Engadget gives the XPS 13 2-in-1 a score of 94 percent — one of the highest ratings for a laptop in years for the esteemed website.

“Well, Dell has already managed to one-up itself with a revamped 2-in-1 version of the XPS 13 that is thinner and can rotate into different orientations. Honestly, it even looks better,” says columnist Devindra Hardawar, adding that the device is more of a sequel to the regular XPS rather than a companion.

One of the standouts of the XPS 13 2-in-1 appears to be the battery life. Some are claiming over 14 hours of use on the 1080p version of the laptop hybrid, and those who own the 4K version are claiming up to 9 hours. That’s incredible for a 2.9-pound device with such a vivid screen.

Perhaps my favorite new aspect of the XPS 13 2-In-1 is the 16:10 aspect ratio of the screen, which allows more vertical space than a 16:9 screen without compromising one’s ability to watch widescreen movies. Who knows, maybe this will be my new laptop in 2020. Could it be yours?

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iPhone 11 Pro Max: Two Months Later

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the best smartphone of 2019.

In my review of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I noted that it wasn’t just an incremental upgrade as it was initially thought of. The much-improved camera, which can take professional quality pictures, really made a difference. Here are some of the things that stand out and don’t after two months of use.

Night Mode

Taken in almost pitch-black with iPhone Pro Max

This is still the best thing about the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Some of the night shots I’ve taken are unbelievably day-ish. It’s hard to comprehend how the camera technology could take such pictures, but the “coolness” factor of it just doesn’t wear off.

Battery Life

This really is an all-day smartphone, even more so than the Galaxy Note 10+. I don’t keep the phone on full brightness, but  I never need to. I could drive an hour with the GPS, watch a couple of half-hour Netflix shows, make at least five phone calls, and answer emails and text messages all day without the batter completely trickling down. It’s great not having to carry a charger with me everywhere I go.

Screen, Notch and Bezel

The screen is still the best I’ve seen with the possible exception of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. I find myself wanting to watch movies more on my iPhone rather than my laptop or even the budget iPad 7. The only problem is that compared to other smartphones, the bezel, although thin, still takes up a little too much space.

Then, there is the infamous notch, which some people like. I think it takes away too much space from the screen and makes viewing pictures and videos less immersive than newer Samsung Galaxy devices, which have a hole-punch camera instead. However, it’s only a minor disability to the overall excellent device.

No Apple Pencil Compatibility

The iPhone Pro Max isn't compatible with the Apple Pencil.

Although the Apple Pencil is quite large, it would have worked great on the 11 Pro Max. The only reason it doesn’t isn’t for any technical reasons; Apple just wants you to buy an iPad. But if they don’t make the next iPhone compatible with the Pencil, they’ll fall way behind. Of course, that’s what I’ve been saying for the past couple of years.

Stereo Sound

Since purchasing the AirPods Pro on October 30, I really have no desire to listen to sound through the built-in speakers. But when I do, I notice that even though the stereo separation is great, the sound is a little tinny when compared to the Galaxy Note 10+ or even the OnePlus 7 Pro. Still, the sound is definitely good enough for those times when you don’t have a Bluetooth speaker or headphones. 

The Right Choice

I made the right choice by making the iPhone 11 Pro Max my main smartphone. It was a close call between this and the Galaxy Note 10+, which I ultimately found too large for my use. Then, there’s Android, which still needs improvement. That said, I am already looking forward to the 2020 iPhone, which is said to offer revolutionary changes.

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2010s: The Decade Of The iPad And Other Tablets

I was one of the first owners of the very first iPad in 2010.

I still remember the Saturday of April 3, 2010 when I picked up the new iPad at the Apple Store in Brea, CA. There was a line that seemed to go on for blocks. I don’t remember exactly how I was one of the first people in line, especially since I didn’t camp out. In any case, I got the iPad in my hands. April 3, 2010 was a historic day for the tablet.

We had tablet computers in the previous decade, but those all failed. Attempts to put Windows on a small 11-inch or smaller touchscreen led to nothing but failure. People made fun of Apple for putting the mobile iOS system on the iPad, but it ended up becoming a wise choice.

The iPad 2, released one year later, was the most sought-after computing device this decade. Apple Store retail locations had lines every day with people hoping to grab new stock. There were lots of fights, lots of scalpers, etc.

The iPad had a lot of imitators. There was the Galaxy Tab 10.1 from Samsung, a series of Google tablets, and even the hyped but ultimately doomed Blackberry Playbook. However, none were able to break any significant market share.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the iPad was Microsoft’s Surface Pro, which ran a full version of Windows and came out in early February of 2013. Microsoft advertised it as a tablet that can also be your main laptop. The first and second versions of the Surface Pro were riled with issues, especially battery life. But in June of 2014, the Surface Pro 3 redefined the laptop/tablet industry and ushered in several other similar types of PC tablets from Samsung, Dell, HP, and others.

Microsoft Surface Pro 3

However, the iPad still succeeded because it was the perfect consumption tablet. While the Surface Pro tried to be the perfect tablet and PC, it was neither. The iPad didn’t need to be a hybrid until the iPad Pro came out in 2015. Then, Apple was claiming that their new device could be both your tablet and computer. Unfortunately, they were wrong; iOS wasn’t and still isn’t robust enough to run a computer. But just don’t tell Apple that.

By the end of the decade, tablet sales were decreasing just as smartphones were increasing in size and could be used in place of a tablet. The iPad is still a hot product, but it doesn’t produce the same fire it did earlier in the decade. Perhaps, when Apple decides to ditch iOS and put macOS on their iPads, the tablet industry will be completely revived. The next few years will be very interesting for the tablet industry.

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