The ever-growing public interest in and popularity of the iPad has spawned a new conference platform, in this case one narrowly focused on the tablet, a relatively new multimedia device. Held at the Westin Hotel in Times Square, CleanSlate 2011 was a one-day conference on tablet devices that surveyed the dramatic sales growth and cultural impact of tablet devices after the launch of the iPad in 2010.

20% of U.S. households are expected to get a tablet in the next two years. Research shows that 62% of the people with tablets use them at night; they are a “pass-around” item in families and a tablet's ability to distract (and silence) small children is transforming parenting, according to many of the speakers at CleanSlate.

But tablets have also led to the "App’lification" of the consumer technology industry and "transformed software development by encouraging developers to focus on discretionary, disaposable software," said Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and director of research, Consumer Electronics Association, who said the average consumer uses a newly downloaded app for about a month. "Software was not like that in the past." Gigi Wang, chief research officer at the Yankee Group, said that 2010 was "a year of change for the tablet, driven by the growth of mobile networks; 4G networks and a perfect storm of consumer interest."

"Tablets and e-readers are the fastest growing category of devices in recent history," said Ross Rubin, executive director of Industry analysis consumer technology at the NPD Group. Core tablet users, he said, skew young and the average owner is 35 years old. Women tablet owners on average are 3 years younger than male tablet owners and the number of women owners increases as the age demographic increases. Rubin attributes the popularity of the device to its "versatility," noting that people use it for watching video, playing games, reading books and magazine and reading to children—in the dark—and even reading sheet music. "Video, podcasts, reading all at hand on the device; touchscreens are a breakthrough and iPads are in a class unto themselves," said John Kosner, sr. v-p, digital & print at ESPN, “we’re discovering things you can do on it."

Tablets—once again, that pretty much means the iPad—have captured the public’s attention and CleanSlate offered a continuous slate of experts probing the phenomenon. (On Apple: iOS devices—Not Mac PCs—account for about 1% of global web browsing, a “huge” number, said Yankee Group director of consumer research Carl Howe). Nevertheless, tablets are often considered awkward to use in business and software environments designed for physical keyboards and a mouse. But they’re starting to migrate to business usage because of their tremendous popularity among a growing number of consumers. "They’re considered ‘executive jewelry’ for CEOs; they’re not for productivity, you can’t run powerpoint on them," said Evan Neufeld v-p marketing, Ground Truth. But about three-quarters of all CEOs seem to have them--partly because cloud computing keeps all their reading close at hand and because tablets signal smart tech and cool.

Although Apple has built what seems to be an insurmountable market share in the tablet category, the CleanSlate experts predicted that other tablets still had a small chance to get a stake in this market. They predicted the newly released devices from Galaxy Samsung (Android OS) and HP TouchPad (WebOS) had an "opportunity" in the current fast-moving market and there were predictions by Neufeld of a Windows 8 device as well as new tablet devices from Sony (Windows and Android devices, he said) and, which is reported to be developing an Android color tablet device.

But this is a fast-changing tech marketplace and much of the day was spent peering into the crystal ball of monetization—the tricky process of figuring out how to make digital platforms generate revenue in a period of volatile change and innovation. In an afternoon panel called,"Innovative Monetization Strategies For the Content Industry," The Daily sr. v-p Christine Cook, Pandora director of mobile media, and Corinne Helman, HarperCollins Children’s v-p, digital publishing, surveyed the models, especially advertising. Not an option for HarperCollins Childrens: "No ads for me," said Helman, "parents don’t want to see ads." Helman outlined the challenge for her as a kids publisher: no ads, consumers resist any price above $4.99, "although it cost as much to make the app as it cost to make the book."

Helman said Harper has about "50% success rate" with its book aps, including Al Yankovic’s bestselling When I Grow Up multimedia kids app. But while Android phones now compete with the iPhone, all the panelists said they were focused on developing pretty strictly for Apple’s iOS devices, while monitoring the numbers of people using Android devices. “There’s not enough people on Android and its too expensive,” Helman said.

Helman also said that while Apple can be invaluable if they decide to feature your app in an iTunes/iBookstore promotion, they’re also ”extremely difficult to work with; its their way or the highway. But they are the gatekeepers and you live or die with their promotions.“

There was high praise for Apple’s innovation, vision and tech insight, and complaints about their reach and over control. That was a pretty typical refrain during a day spent analyzing a device that seems more popular than ever (Apple sold 20 million iPads in the most recent fiscal third quarter) and a tablet marketplace kickstarted and now dominated by the Apple iPad.