Next week Apple is expected to unveil a second generation iPad. But while the first iPad took the world by storm last year as one of the only tablets of its type, the iPad 2 will enter a somewhat more crowded market. It won’t just have to compete with Apple’s first tablet for your attention, but also the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Motorola XOOM, Dell Streak 7, and a whole slew of upcoming tablets from major PC and smartphone companies as well as a crop of budget tablets with simpler features but much lower price tags.
But the truth of the matter is that none of those other tablets has had the kind of impact that the iPad has. Apple sold almost 15 million iPads in eight months last year. That’s partly because nobody builds buzz like Apple and partly because the iPad was truly a revolutionary product: a thin and light tablet with extraordinarily long battery life and a simple, easy-to-use interface. Sure, you can argue that it’s just an oversized iPod touch, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Another key to Apple’s success with the iPad? The price. Starting at $499, the iPad isn’t exactly an impulse buy. But it’s also less than half the price of a MacBook and cheaper than an unlocked iPhone.
What’s surprising is that in the past year, few companies have been able to successfully compete with Apple on both price and features. Companies such as Archos have put out tablets that are much cheaper than the iPad, but they lack many of its features such as the aluminum frame, 3G option, and access to a full app store. A new crop of tablets from Motorola, Samsung, Dell, and others actually look much better than the original iPad on paper, thanks to dual core processors, cameras, and the new Google Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system which is designed specifically for tablets. But these machines are expensive.
The XOOM goes for nearly $800. The first generation Samsung Galaxy Tab costs at least $499.99 unless you sign up for a mobile broadband contract. And the new Galaxy Tab 10.1 is expected to cost more than $900 when it’s launched in Europe next month.
It doesn’t look like any of the biggest players expect to seriously undercut the iPad on price. Instead they’re hoping to compete with extra features. That may be due to the actual costs of producing thin, light, powerful tablets with decent battery life. Or it may be that the HPs, Dells, RIMs, and Samsungs of the world don’t want a repeat of the netbook price wars where everyone raced to the bottom in order to sell more units and reduced profit margins in the process.
It’s good to see that companies like Archos are continuing to crank out budget tablets so that users who are looking for something in the sub-$200 range will still have options, even if they won’t have all the features that come with pricier devices. And the $249 Barnes & Noble NOOKcolor has proved very popular with hackers who are willing to buy the eBook reader and tweak the software to turn it into a general purpose tablet.
But I have to wonder whether there’s really any serious demand for a wide range high performance features and high price tags or if Apple has already pretty much conquered that market.
If you’re thinking of buying a tablet, or have already spent money on one, how much do you think is the right price?
Of course, the question is sort of tricky. A $200 tablet isn’t likely to have all the features you’d find in an $800 model. Good luck finding a budget tablet with a high resolution screen, GPS or 3G sensors, HD video recording capabilities, or a dual core processor. But even the cheapest tablets today are good enough for surfing the web, reading eBooks, watching movies, and running at least some third party apps including games.
And for the purposes of this poll, I’m primarily talking about the new generation of ARM-based consumer tablets rather than beefier machines with x86 processors which run Windows — although the lines between the tablets of yore and today’s models are growing slimmer all the time.
What I’m trying to get a sense of is how much you think tablets are worth. If a netbook is worth around $200 to $500 and smartphone runs around $0 to $600 depending on whether you buy it on-contract or not, how much do you think this new class of device should cost?