What do you want for Christmas? Well apparently thousands of us will be hoping Santa brings us a tablet computer. Last year that wasn’t really an option (btw how much am I bid for a 2009 netbook?). On January 27th 2010, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs proclaimed “Netbooks aren’t better at anything!” (although to be fair, Steve, most are at least pretty good at multitasking and many even support Flash). He went on, as had been widely predicted, to introduce a ‘magical and revolutionary product’: the iPad (not iSlate, iTab or Maclet – OK I made that one up). And the rest already looks like history. What a difference a year makes.

Other tablets are already here and more are in the pipeline: e.g. Samsung Galaxy Tab, Archos 101, Blackberry PlayBook, plus offerings from Dell and HP, among others.

Apple has shipped 10 million iPads since April. Apps are selling well at around $5 each. According to a survey of 5,000 tablet users by Nielsen, 91 percent of iPad owners have downloaded an app and over half have paid for content. Early days, but looking like a success by any measure.

The rise of tablets has even offered the prospect of a new lease of life for the beleaguered Newspaper and Magazine industry, whose tough times have continued during 2010. We recently got the first results for the traffic on The Times and Sunday Times new websites with their new paywall (for a great analysis read this by Ashley Friedlein of Econsultancy). If Mr Murdoch can persuade large numbers of us to pay for the news, whether on iPads, Macs or PCs, the entire newspaper industry, and many outside it, will breathe a sigh of relief. And I, for one, will be surprised.

New iPad apps are currently being announced every day from a range of content owners including Wired, Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post. News Corp and Apple have said they will launch an iPad-only publication entitled ‘The Daily’, while Richard Branson’s new ‘Project’ will also be launched for the iPad only. Meanwhile, The Independent’s new newspaper ‘i’ will not be published on the web at all, rather it will be launched as a paid-for iPad app. The new Guardian iPad app is expected shortly.

Crucially, we should remember tablets are mobile devices and we are prepared to pay for mobile apps whereas we seem to expect everything we access on the web via our PC/ laptop to be free (eg. telegraph.co.uk and guardian.co.uk). Don’t ask me why this is; I blame the BBC and The Pirate Bay (unlikely bedfellows, admittedly). Interestingly, the new BBC iPlayer international service is launching exclusively as an iPad app…For what it’s worth, my prediction is that tablets and laptops will in time merge to form one class of machines with a wide range of specs and form factors. Until then, I’m sure Apple is happy to sell both iPads and MacBook Airs (often 1 of each to the same person!).

So much for the shiny new boxes and their glossy new content. But what about ‘ads on the pads‘? Check out Apple’s iAd mobile advertising platform, launching in Europe this month and offering ads within mobile apps on iPad,  iPhone and iPod touch; brands including Renault, L’Oreal and Unilever are among the first to book campaigns through the network. Allegedly and in typically bullish fashion, Apple won’t talk to UK agencies about advertising via iAd, its first ad network, unless they’re spending £600k+. Possibly too expensive for a new initiative of this kind in this market. But if consumers continue to consume increasing amounts of content on tablets, make no mistake, we WILL find ways to drive brand engagement on these nice new screens; especially the full 9.7 inchers (and even on Samsung’s and BlackBerry’s smaller 7-inch models of which Steve Jobs has been so publicly contemptuous).

So, yet again, Apple has invented a new category of device. Tablets have changed the game: things will never be the same. Cue gratuitous link to my favourite TV ad of 2010, for Yeo Valley… over 1,267,000 YouTube hits and rising; 3,348 Facebook ‘likers’ (remember this is for YOGHURT!!!), narrowly beating (in my book at least) P&G’s Old Spice Guy who started out on good old TV and then ‘went social’ (and indeed viral) at a much lower cost/000 (24,120,000+ YouTube hits, 1,166,000+ Facebook ‘likers’ and 120,000+ Twitter followers).

OK so maybe 2010 was the Year of iPad. And as for next year? Take your pick. Social Media. Location. HTML5. Mobile internet. Even faster Search. Windows Phone 7 (yes really). Android. Chrome OS. Facebook Places and Deals. Oh…and iPad 2 (new shell, camera, USB port but definitely no Flash).

Happy Holidays!