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Consumer tablet avalanche is coming

Last fall Hewlett Packard decided to end its consumer computer line and focus on commercial computers. At that time they also decided to liquidate their inventory of HP TouchPad tablets at $99 each which detonated a market response loud enough to awaken every potential tablet maker on the planet. The philosophy before that time had been that “People just don’t want tablets”: at that moment they all simultaneously realized “People do want tablets, they just refuse to pay $600 to get one.” It is pretty much as Henry Ford observed: “If you build a product that people know they want, and sell it for a price they can afford to pay, they will buy it.”

At that time I began telling people that by 3rd-4th quarter 2012 — after manufacturers had time to get a design and start production — there would be a large increase in availability of tablets at much more competitive prices. Netbooks would also decrease in visibility — we’ll see tablets and notebooks with desktop PCs for syncing and “real” work — mobile devices are OK in the field but inadequate for standard office work such as typing and web page development.

At this point in time Best Buy and Office Depot adds in the Fort Wayne Newspapers Sunday paper both had several tablets on sale — ASUS has the most expensive one: the TF300 Transformer Tablet: at $399.99. It has a keyboard/dock available to mitigate the irritation of typing: the TF300 Transformer Doc: for another $149.99. Acer also has an entry, the A100 Icona for $259.99. Other Best Buy entries include a Kindle for $79.99, and a PanDigital Nova Android Reader for 139.99. They also had a Brother HL-2270DW Laser Printer for $99.99 and a bunch of Droid phones. Office Depot has a Brother HL-2240 Laser printer on their cover for $69.99 and also has the ASUS Transformer for $399.99. I also noticed at Barns and Nobles this week they were aggressively promoting their Nook Color for $249: their web site currently prices Nook Color and Nook Tablet respectively at $169 and $199. I have a Nook Color and an HP TouchPad. They are both great: my only irritations are 1. inability to take notes as I could on older PDAs, and 2. uncooperative on-line store bickering that requires me to load Android to read the Kindle or Droid stores from my Nook. CM7 “Gingerbread” works nicely. Ice Cream Sandwich (CM9) is available but it is still experimental, and possibly dead. I have considered doing Nook Color development to fix some of my irritations but other projects are still higher priority right now.

My take on this is that we are beginning to see the snow wrinkle up in the mountains but the landslide has not reached us yet — prices will be lower and selection will be more like the selection for mobile phones is now — many possibilities in several price brackets. I think some of these tablets may even include telephony with a small BlueTooth remote with the requisite SIM card and 1-2 year contract. I am thinking the price will be around $150 or less in most cases with high end tablets being closer to $250. I see Apple has a niche market who will pay for art, so I am not thinking they will discount whatever version of the iPad is current much lower than today’s $499, however they may very well add a killer feature or two — HUP in eye glasses with a BlueTooth connection for example.

Where I think the technology is going:

  • Docking / sync stations will be an add-on at first as was the number keypad for the IBM PC keyboard, but eventually they will be expected as a part of the tablet. BlueTooth could be used to allow use with an external BlueTooth keyboard and mouse instead.
  • Telephoney will be included. My HP 6910p already has it with a SIM card slot under the battery, and that is an old notebook. More popular however will be tablets which are “unlocked” — those which will allow the owner to control who s/he chooses for his or her business partner (wireless vendor).
  • Handwriting mode will be added with some kind of office apps built in — not via “the cloud”.  It will become possible to take notes in meetings without a big effort.
  • There will be a decent real leather case that can be carried elegantly on your person — not like the awkward bump that gets stuck on things as you walk past. There will be more accessorization and as the price drops at the low end people will be thinking more in terms of the color or art on the plastic, assuming all the electronics works about the same with about the same capabilities.
  • Competition will heat up pretty good 3Q2012 with explosive deals on Black Friday to hit the Christmas season. Unemployment dropped to about 7% in Indiana last month so more people will have money to spend. Hopefully.
  • The itty-bitty-breakable tiny USB micro jack for power charging and linking will go away. It will be replaced by magnetic charging and wireless link for both customer satisfaction and hardware cost reasons.
  • Barns and Nobles, Amazon, Apple, and others will quit bickering over “stores” and trying to prevent their customers from benefiting from media sold by other stores, and tablets will all run all the major store apps so customers can buy where they see fit. I say “all the major store apps” because the market is always right and those who won’t play nice eventually won’t play much. The Customer May Not Always Be Right, BUT THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS THE CUSTOMER!
  • Multi-core processors will be included with decent RAM and other resource allocations in the design. While you are out you will use the tablet as a mobile device but when you get home you will slide it into a slot/dock and it will become your PC. Ubuntu has already announced they *have* done this for multi-core phones running Android — a version of Ubuntu installs on the phone alongside the Android: docking the phone turns it into a satisfactory PC. Bill Gates foresaw this two decades ago and wrote about it in his book. Microsoft has redesigned the Windows 8 “Metro” to look and work like a mobile device instead of the desktop — I wonder if someone is awake there too.
  • Pricing: single-cores that can’t turn into a PC by docking: commodity $20-$89, mid: $149, high: $249 and up. Pricing multi-cores that can actually do a passable job as a generic office PC:  commodity $250-$350, mid: $450-$689, high: $700 and up.

That is the thought for the day — hold your plastic a couple more months unless you are dying to own a Nook or Kindle, and have plenty of cash ready to go for Black Friday sales right after Thanksgiving Thursday. Also when you buy watch for features and hardware composition: especially at first things will not all be compatible or equal.