Operational Excellence with Technology

Never Ending Tablet Story

I broke down and bought an iPad 2 last month.

Generally I don't buy Apple products on the principal they are "closed" systems. Usually there aren't a lot of options to expand them without using Apple's unique connectors, etc. And they generally are more expensive for a given functionality.

I was really pulling for the Android tablets introduced at last year's Consumer Electronics Show. But unfortunately when they finally started shipping they ended up being as expensive, or more so, than the iPad.

There were inexpensive (under $150) 7" Android tablets coming from China. I even bought one of the early ones. Unfortunately the resistive touchpad technology, which is a lot cheaper to build, is not suitable for general tablet use. I didn't find the size to be too small. There is hope for these cheap tablets. I think they'd make excellent data capture devices, or as an inexpensive alternative to using an iPad for a menu, given their very low cost, they are selling for less than $100 now ($80 plus shipping is the least expensive one I've seen). Or you could load them up with specialized content, like an industrial catalog, with a custom ordering app and justify giving them away.

But the Android tablets that were comparable to the iPad were a bit thicker, a bit heavier and/or a bit more expensive, so I got the iPad.

It wasn't the paragon of easy to use that it's made out to be. Downloading my first external app took a trip to the Apple Store to reset my settings because iTunes wasn't processing the password correctly. And it didn't give any error message, it just kept asking for the password (entering the wrong password did get an error). I had done several hard resets, but never thought to go into settings and finding the right option on a third level menu. But it's working now, and I now have a way to test iOS apps, and a tablet version of a web site.

And in keeping with my 30 year old rule, "once you buy a computer, stop reading the newspaper," I think we're about to see a significant change in tablets by the end of the year.

When HP decided to abandon the WebOS tablet it had introduced, it dropped the price from $499 to $99 and sold out (over a million units) in a weekend. Despite boosting a soon to be obsolete, distant 3rd in apps, operating system, the $100 price for a decent tablet that likely is going to most be used for web surfing (and web apps like Google Docs), showed that there is a big demand if the price can be reasonable. I wish it hadn't been the weekend I happened to be traveling, I would have gotten one (or two).

Then Amazon finally introduced its tablet, the Kindle Fire, although it won't ship until November. They've already sold more than 250,000. While it is based on the Android, it has been heavily customized. One of its stronger features is a custom web browser that uses Amazon's S3 cloud computing to cache web pages for faster browsing. While that should be a significant performance boost, it comes with a potential dark side, the ability of Amazon to track every link clicked and every website visited (think their ability to recommend products will improve?). It will also have quite a media library to access. But just as important is its $199 price tag.

Lenovo (the Chinese company that bought IBM's PC division) is starting to ship a 7" Android table also priced at $199 (that also comes in blue and pink colors).

I think we're finally starting to see a price point ($199) and size (7", which is small enough to be coat pocket portable) that could prove to be popular. I can see a whole host of opportunities in this part of the market. And, over the next year or two, you'll see the 7" decent tablet price drop down to that magical $99 price.

But as of right now I don't see any real reason not to buy an iPad in that larger 10" size tablet. And I never thought that I would be making that recommendation.

Of course after next CES I could be making a different recommendation.

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