by Ken Brown

With tablet sales reshaping the computer landscape, several prominent industry leaders today discussed where the devices are going in a high-powered discussion at CES.

The panelists included Ryan Bidan, Samsung’s director of product marketing; Brian Higgins, Verizon’s VP of product development; Claudia Romanini, Head of Nook Apps at Barnes and Noble; and our very own Mike Rayfield, GM of NVIDIA’s mobile business unit.

Moderator Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Magazine’s chief editor, began by noting that 63 million tablets were sold last year, and that should grow to 326 million annually by 2016. That means they’ll outsell PCs in the next few years.

But it’s clear that one size does not fit all. Samsung and Verizon both offer a broad variety of slates starting at 5-inches, while Barnes and Noble’s Nook is a leading e-readers. The panelists agreed that the Nook Color eReader and Kindle Fire, both at $199, are putting competitive pressure on pricing.

NVIDIA’s Rayfield agreed that price is important, pointing out that the 7-inch ASUS tablet announced at NVIDIA’s press conference yesterday will sell for just $249.

With so many different design approaches, Spoonauer challenged the panel to make predictions about where tablets are going.

Rayfield sees lots of growth ahead.

“It’s important to recognize that these are all computers,” he said. “As an industry, we’re trying to find form factors that different people want. There will be high-end tablets and great low cost e-readers, but all of these designs are becoming more powerful. For some people, the Asus Transformer Prime can replace a notebook.”

The hybrid concept – a tablet with optional keyboard or an ultralight touchscreen laptop – seems to be getting traction. Spoonauer anticipates plenty of hybrid designs in the future.

Rayfield agreed, with devices running both Android and Windows 8. He said it’s clear that no one design will dominate the tablet category. Whether it’s a tablet or hybrid, Windows 8 or Android, it will be thinner, lighter, and more capable than today’s most powerful tablets.

“One day customers will forget how big and heavy their PC used to be, because we won’t use them anymore,” he said.