by Michael Rayfield

Recently NVIDIA’s CEO spoke to Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky about Tegra and the future of the tablet market. Let me add some color to that story and dive deeper into what we see happening with tablets as the new Tegra-based ones begin hitting the market this year.

The tablet computer has been waiting in the wings of the PC industry for nearly 20 years. Back in the early 1990s there was the MessagePad PDA built on the Newton platform. In 2001, Microsoft introduced the Tablet PC. None of these was a huge success, so why is NVIDIA so excited about the new generation of tablet computers?

For one thing, digital content and the web have become integrated into our everyday lives in a way that just wasn’t happening when earlier tablets were introduced. Take a look around your kitchen (or your kids’ friends’ kitchens). Chances are, there’s a notebook computer somewhere in the scene. These notebooks get left in central areas of the home and are used for email, checking the weather, surfing the web or watching videos. None of these use cases requires a lot of typing, and most would lend themselves to a great touch device. In addition, all of these applications are dependent on an Internet connection and a device that is capable of a full and rich web experience. Can anyone say tablet?

At the same time that consumers’ online habits have evolved, the web has evolved, too. The web of 2010 is far richer and more complex than the web of only a few years ago. For example, 87% of web sites use Flash, much of the video content is now HD and the most popular online games are Flash-based games like Zynga’s FarmVille, which is played by 75 million people a month. The web has become our “content store.” Sites like Hulu, YouTube, BBC iPlayer and Bharatmovies stream high-quality movies. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have people constantly connected and sharing songs, pictures and videos. Finally, books and magazines are moving to digital forms, with Amazon Kindle for books and Adobe AIR for magazines.

With all this amazing content available, we just need a way to consume it. And this is where Tegra comes into the picture. The new Tegra-based tablets can handle all the rich media on the web, and they do it in a way that takes full advantage of a tablet’s portability and interface.

Tegra is the first platform that enables the whole Internet in well under 1 watt of power. And it’s the first mobile platform to offload the Flash graphics processing pipeline onto the GPU. This means full Flash 10.1 on your mobile device, so you get to experience the web as it was meant to be – not some watered-down version built for phones. Plus, GPU processing power means 1080p video encode and decode, ultra low-power audio playback and incredible graphics for appealing and intuitive user interfaces. With Tegra, manufacturers can build ultra-thin tablets with days of battery life, plus amazing performance and portability. Combine this with the wireless carriers’ desire to sell connections, and you have the perfect storm of content, capability and a channel to deliver gorgeous and exciting mobile devices.

It’s going to be a great year for consumers.