NEW YORK — While the release of the iPad in 2010 popularized tablet computing, 2011 may be the "year of the tablet," said Dan Woolley, a real estate technologist who moderated a technology workshop today during the Real Estate Connect conference.

But the cost of the tablets — even with more devices hitting the market — is still prohibitive for many, said Mark Lesswing, chief technology officer for the National Association of Realtors and director of NAR’s Center for Realtor Technology.

"The platform itself has to come down (in price)," Lesswing said. He shared projections that suggested the price of tablet computers could sink from between $700 to $800 in 2010 to nearly $300 per device by 2014.

Other data projects about 20 million tablet users by the end of this year, roughly double the number in 2010.

And as more competitors to the iPad are introduced, Lesswing noted that trends in the use of smart phone operating systems may carry over into the realm of tablets.

A spike in the sale of smart phones using Google’s Android operating system may foretell a rise in the sale of Android-based tablet devices, for example, he said.

And those who considered themselves to be "young and cutting edge" to be using Apple mobile devices in recent years may have a wake-up call: "The generation behind you are more Android-type people," he said.

Apple’s market share in smart phones appears to have stabilized, while Android devices are gaining rapidly — Web metrics company comScore reported last week that the market share for Android-based devices had risen to 26 percent in September, October and November among smart-phone users 13 and up, compared with Apple’s 25 percent.

While Apple’s so-called "walled garden" approach to having direct control over the device and operating system can produce platform stability, he noted that the Android’s approach tends toward divide and conquer — more devices that collectively may hold the greatest market share.

He shared with the audience one new Android-based tablet device that features a camera and a 7-inch screen, which is smaller than the iPad.

Also, while Apple’s App Store has been popular with consumers and Apple’s first-mover advantage there gave it an early lead, Lesswing predicts that the battle of the app markets may ultimately give way to a computing environment that is more operating-system neutral, he said.

"If you’re a software developer, you have to develop for four platforms," he said, to reach the largest audience — those using either the Apple, Android, Windows or BlackBerry operating systems. "It ain’t going to work."

So the battle in tablet computing and mobile devices in general may have more to do with Web browsers than app stores, he said, if Web-based tools replace the need for mobile app downloads. For example, will the Google Chrome operating system become the operating system of choice for a next generation of tablet devices?

Lesswing noted that usage of Chrome has been spiking while that of market-leading Internet Explorer has been falling. He said it’s important to follow the money — to watch where the big tech players like Google are making investments. "You have to be aware … where they’re capitalizing," he said.

Browser-based tools can also assist brokerages that are seeking to turn more of their operations over to the "cloud," or a remote computing environment that can reduce or eliminate the need to build and maintain their own technology systems.

CRT, said Lesswing, is conducting a study of how many operating functions a real estate brokerages can transfer to the cloud.

Lesswing encouraged real estate tech developers to build more mobile-accessible tools for real estate professionals, as there is a void in the app marketplace.

"You should be thinking about (developing) things that aren’t consumer-oriented so you can differentiate yourself a bit," he said.

View Mark Lesswing’s presentation slides:

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