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Summary:

Over the next month, at least three new Wi-Fi tablets are expected to launch from Samsung, Motorola and Research In Motion. Without mobile broadband, each should compete well on price to Apple’s iPad 2, which starts at $499. But odds are still stacked against their success.

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Over the next four weeks, at least three new tablets are expected from Samsung, Motorola, and Research In Motion. The good news? They’re Wi-Fi only, which will keep their cost down and appeal to consumers looking to avoid high-priced tablets or lengthy carrier commitments for mobile broadband data plans. Now, the bad news: Their timing isn’t great, which will likely dampen sales. Plus, WiFi-only pretty much eliminates them as contenders for desirable devices with integrated 3G.

First a quick run-through of what devices are expected, when and how much. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, likely the most popular 7-inch Android tablet to date, may finally arrive in a Wi-Fi model on April 4 for $399. Droid-Life received the launch info from a Samsung representative, which shows that Tab will still be running a customized version of Android 2.2 , not Honeycomb on the small screen. Droid-Life also found the Xoom Wi-Fi edition in a Staples circular, showing a launch date of March 27 and a $599 price tag. Finally, the CrackBerry web site found an April 17 date for RIM’s PlayBook, which company representatives have told me will be competitively priced around $500.

While none of these launch dates or price tags have officially been confirmed by the companies, the information is in line with my own expectations. That’s good, because we’ve already seen data points suggesting consumers generally don’t want to spend upwards of $800 for what amounts to a companion device. Many of our readers have commented that the $799 price tag for a Xoom isn’t desirable, for example. And a recent survey by the Institute for Mobile Markets Research asked consumers who were already “very or extremely interested” in a tablet purchase how much they’d consider paying: $351 was the magic number to buy, while $524 landed in the “would never pay that much” grouping.

But price matching, or at least getting it in the ballpark of Apple’s $499 iPad entry point, is only a step in the right direction. For roughly the same amount of money, the three new tablets show potential purchase barriers to the average mainstream consumer. All are essentially unproven contenders in the tablet market. Google’s Honeycomb and RIM’s QNX rely on new operating systems that have learning curves and offer far fewer optimized applications. By comparison, Apple’s iPad has a far lower learning curve as it leverages the same operating system and user interface used on its iPhone since 2007. And while consumers may initially look at specs, or “what the device is,” they’ll quickly focus on apps and experience, or the “what it can do” factor.

Then there’s the issue of timing, because each tablet — and subsequent devices from LG, HTC and others — no longer competes with Apple’s original, but instead faces the new iPad 2. The device is only an evolutionary upgrade, but even as someone who sold the first iPad for an Android tablet, you can see my candid positive reaction to the new iPad design as I held the device for the first time. Simply put: iPad 2 has the consumer mindshare right now, not to mention the sales momentum. Reports peg iPad 2 sales between 700,000 and 1 million units in the first weekend.

Just to be clear: I’m not married to any particular brand or operating system when it comes to tablets, or smartphones, for that matter. Those competing against Apple in the tablet market are finally taking the right steps by bringing less expensive tablets that don’t rely on carriers. Our own poll shows that three out of four people prefer a Wi-Fi tablet. But this move is only the first of many needed for any company to dethrone Apple as the once and future king of consumer tablets, and it puts pressure on Google to rally developers at its upcoming I/O developer event in May. Until then, iPads will keep outselling its tablet peers — Wi-Fi models or not.

  1. Yes they matter. $599 stills seems a bit pricey to me though. Drop that to $499 and I’d get one for sure. I do not want an Ipad, I have an irrational hate for all things Apple. I want a tablet that can take written notes, that tablet will be an Android tablet.

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    1. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

      lol. . . an irrational hate. . .
      Are you sure it’s irrational? It may be well justified.

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    2. “Written notes”? How quaint… :^D

      Seriously, though, assuming that the Xoom minus 3G is $599, it’s actually cheaper than a similarly equipped iPad 2.

      Wha!?! Let me explain.

      The Xoom has 32GB of storage, an SD Card slot, and HDMI output. The iPad 2 with 32GB of storage is $599. Add HDMI output ($39 adaptor) and the iPad Camera Connection Kit ($29) and you’re up to $667–$68 more than the iPad 2!

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      1. Yeah too bad the SD connector on the Xoom doesn’t actually, work huh? And that the iPad via AirPlay can stream HD video wirelessly — no adaptor, and HDMI cable required…

        Oh, but wait, it gets worse: The Tegra 2 CPU in the Xoom can’t actually play HD video – see:
        https://supportforums.motorola.com/thread/45753

        And of course the recent benchmark show the iPad 2’s processor runs rings around the Xoom.

        The Xoom is a nice fantasy and an ugly, ugly reality.

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      2. “Yeah too bad the SD connector on the Xoom doesn’t actually, work huh?”

        Will be fixed. But, Okay, I’ll cut you some slack. Since it doesn’t work, we’ll chop off the $29 to make them equal. The iPad 2 is now only $39 more expensive than the Xoom.

        “And that the iPad via AirPlay can stream HD video wirelessly — no adaptor, and HDMI cable required…”

        You really want to go there?

        Okay, we drop the $39 HDMI adapter and replace it with a $99 AppleTV. Total price, $698.

        “The Tegra 2 CPU in the Xoom can’t actually play HD video.

        Not entirely true. It has problems with certain encodings at 1920 x 1080 (1080p). Apple encodes all of it’s HD videos at 720p. So if “HD video” is 720p (Apple wouldn’t lie about something like that, would they?), the Xoom can handle it fine.

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      3. “Okay, we drop the $39 HDMI adapter and replace it with a $99 AppleTV. Total price, $698.”

        Carefully glossing over the added functionality you get from owning the AppleTV and just implying it is the same as the cable…

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  2. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

    Call me crazy but a tablet that doesn’t require a PC to activate it, doesn’t require iTunes, gets standard ports, gets an SD expansion slot, has a tablet specific UI with better multitasking, notifications, easy to learn, based on the #1 mobile OS in the World. . . sounds pretty good.
    /s

    “Apple’s iPad has a far lower learning curve as it leverages the same operating system and user interface used on its iPhone since 2007.”

    HOW DARE YOU! The iPad operating system was designed specifically for tablets! It’s a fare different user experience than an iPod or iPhone OS!
    /s

    Sorry, couldn’t resist the sarcasm this morning :)

    In reality, I don’t think the average person wants to enter the Apple echo system regardless of price. It’s just seen as an “expensive ecosystem.” Similar to how Gucci is seen. If that were not the case then the iPhone would be in Android’s place right now–especially when you consider that the great majority of phones are purchased on contract and Apple sells the previous version at $50. It isn’t and is barley holding it’s market share while an open platform is growing at an unseen rate. This is an old story, but open platforms win out. That’s what Bill Gates tried to tell Apple back when he told them to license the Mac OS but they didn’t want to go down that path. So, Bill did. Now Android is going down that path. It just becomes a game of number and when you have more hardware vendors offering more form factors with more advertising, etc. . . you just get more.

    I would bet that Android tablets will easily outsell the iPad by Q42011.

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    1. Android tablets, in my mind, cannot even compare with the ipad until they catch up to apple in terms of hardware and design.

      I spent time with an ipad, ipad2, and the xoom. While Android 3.0 really feels like it has promise, the physical heft and dimensions of the xoom made me feel like I was holding an original ipad. This is not what Android tablets need, they need a package that can compete with the appeal of the ipad2 not the ipad.

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      1. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

        Bret, it isn’t your mind they are trying to get. It’s the average user and those that don’t want an Apple product. Apple will get “their customer” but that’s a small percentage of the whole population, imo.

        Just look at PC sales Vs Mac sales. Are the designs of the high selling PC that great? No, they are rather “average” to say the least. Yet they sell very very well to the average consumers. Netbooks are a great example of this. ~60M/year but the designs are basic at best.

        Tech readers want to get caught up into things that just don’t matter to the average consumer, and turn things into a debate about those things. A couple ounces and a few millimeters? Most people won’t even think about that. They’ll base there purchase on many reasons. . . most of which would make little sense to most of us that read tech sites lol.

        Add to that the myriad of form factors that will come. Just look at the Acer Iconia and Asus Transformer. Those, I believe, will be two very appealing tablets to the masses.

        While you and I might like an incredibly designed high spec tablet that’s “polished” the average consumer buys for many other reasons. . . sales, coupons, advice form friends, not apple, not Microsoft, is HP or Sony, etc. And I doubt that throughout the world the Apple brand carries the same fanaticism in other countries as it carries in the US.

        Just my opinion. Time will demonstrate the reality, though.

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      2. @call me crazy: I think you’re making two mistakes here. First, you’re assuming that what Apple terms the “post-PC” device market works in the same way as the PC market. This is clearly not the case: Apple’s continued dominance of the MP3 player market suggests that Apple’s getting things right there, despite the availability of cheaper and arguably better-specced devices. Whether the tablet market will go the same way remains to be seen – it’s way too early to tell for sure – but the frenzy for the iPad 2 compared to the lackluster launch of the highly-touted Xoom tablet doesn’t bode terribly well for the immediate future of Android devices.

        Second, you’re assuming that units sold is the relevant metric to gauge success. Apple sells far fewer computers overall than Windows-machine OEMs. They also consistently post higher profit margins on their computer sales than those companies. Apple buyers clearly value something that goes beyond the specs of the device (“polish,” perhaps? or “the experience”?), and are willing to pay a premium for it. Call that “failure” if you want, but Apple investors will be laughing all the way to the bank.

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    2. “…This is an old story, but open platforms win out…”

      Open platforms also result in inconsistent standards, cheap, plastic products with inferior software built using a business model that is based on copying Apple. This approach makes it impossible to copy Apple’s quality and innovations (or achieve the satisfying user experience). This also means that Android mobile products will remain three or four years behind the acknowledged technology leader. Android software applications will continue to be less successful due to fragmentation of the operating system — and these “open” products will remain susceptible to interface and functionality inconsistencies and malware (viruses and spyware). It also means that Android hardware manufacturers will continue to be squeezed in a race to capture the unprofitable low-end of the market and remain cash-strapped (and thus unable to develop truly superior products).

      Yes it’s the “Mac-PC War” all over again.

      However, looking at Apple and Microsoft’s relative positions today, I no longer think that the Mac-PC competition was a war. Instead, I’ve come to view it as round one of a battle that Microsoft certainly won — just before it went on to lose the hearts, minds and trust of customers and developers — and with this, perhaps the real war.

      This time around, it’s a post-PC world in which cheapskate buyers of Android’s (advertising-centric) mobile products will pay less to save a few dollars, just as Microsoft’s customers did before them. Similarly, Android buyers may end up as pawns with no privacy in a data-obsessed virtual world in which “good enough” (rather than excellence) is the standard. Meanwhile, Apple’s “closed” (i.e.: consumer-centric) business model will be more protective of privacy rights, motivating customers to happily pay just a little more for premium quality products that also happen to be more elegant and reliable.

      As for RIM, H-P/Palm and Microsoft/Nokia, we’ll soon learn if these companies can develop quality, premium products and successfully copy Apple’s “closed” system. If even one does, the coming mobile conflict may not be a single-front battle with just one winner.

      No matter what happens, Apple appears to be in a “win-win” position this time around, even as the fog of war shrouds the future of its competitors.

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      1. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

        sorry, too fanboi to warrant a serious response.

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  3. After many years of buying Apple products, I got fed up with the attitude and dropped out. I have been trying to embrace Android but it is difficult. I purchased an iPad 2 for my daughter (fangirl) on Friday and was quite impressed. Why can’t the Androids (phones and tablets) close the gaps? I understand that Apple lacks a few rational parts but the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 packages as a whole are slick. If by the time iPhone 5 lands, Android hasn’t filled the gaps, my EVO 4G will be history and I will be walking back into the Apple Store with my tail between my legs.

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  4. Substantial Demand for Tablets Priced below the iPad…

    As part of our Tablet Research study, we employed a methodology known as Choice Modeling (in which consumers reveal their willingness to buy Tablets with varying combinations of features, prices and subsidies). In a “fully populated” competitive scenario, the iPad still outsells other premium priced Tablets 2:1; however, the market for “affordable” (< $300) and mid-range price (< $429) Tablets is actually larger than that of premium-priced Tablets. With a price differential of $100, Wi-Fi Tablets are also more popular than 3G, although the gap narrows with Operator subsidies.

    I will be presenting more on these results at the upcoming CTIA Tablet Conference (March 22, Orlando).

    Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

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    1. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

      I think your point is dead on and that is the area that Android tablets will swarm this year while there will still be some that attempt to compete in the higher priced arena.

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    1. @Kindroid
      All well and good but it depends what you mean by “beat”. Android is definitely up there to take Symbian’s crown as the leading OS for smartphones. There are too many companies throwing money at it to make sure that it “as a platform” it will succeed. There was a chart last week where it split the phone OS’s down. RIM and Apple were about the same size and Android was a little larger. But the point being is that the Android segment had it’s figures made up with a large number of companies. Rim and Apple are making all the money for their chunks. Apple more so as there are no buy one get one free offers on the iPhone nor are there iPhones available for 1 cent offers at Amazon.

      The other problem that Android has with tablets is that the market is closer to the iPod market rather than the iPhone market as contract subsidized tablets will gain little or no traction – most people in the market for one will already have a mobile phone contract so this method of sale isn’t going to fly.

      So I think your link was implying that people said that the iPhone would not be taken down by Android. But that is ignoring many other factors that are in play in the tablet space. Heavens. The competition can’t even hit the price points yet.

      Most of the Xoom reviews blame Honeycomb for most of the defects so in it’s current implementation it is not ready yet. But we shall see.

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  5. “WiFi-only pretty much eliminates them as contenders for desirable devices with integrated 3G.”

    I would disagree–and I’d be willing to bet that iPad sales will back me up. I don’t believe that Apple has ever released the information, but I’d be willing to bet decent money that the WiFi iPad vastly outsells the 3G iPad.

    First is price. The vaunted $499 iPad is WiFi only. 3G is an extra expense–$130 in the case of the iPad. Second is that, here in the US, the whole “I have to pay extra to use the Internet via AT&T/Verizon” gives people the heebee-jeebees. You end up paying an extra $30/month on top of everything.

    For Apple’s competitors, the best thing about WiFi-only tablets is that you can sell them anywhere. You don’t have to make some kind of arrangement with the carriers. So you can push them out by the truckload through Best Buy, Fry’s, MicroCenter, Radio Shack, Office Depot, Sears, Amazon, etc., etc.

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    1. Peter, I believe you’re correct: prior data shows that more iPads with Wi-Fi have sold than with Wi-Fi plus 3G. But my wording may be confusing: my point was that if someone wants a 3G tablet, these Wi-Fi only slates wouldn’t be considered for purchase by such folks. Having said that, I completely agree with you: the ability to sell a tablet anywhere — and without carrier involvement — is key!

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    2. 1 in 4 Consumers Expect to Use Tablets Primarily at Home

      In the immr Tablet study, 1 in 4 respondents indicate that they expect to use Tablets primarily at home (75% or more of the time), very similar to the numbers reported by actual Tablet owners. “In-home Tablet users” don’t require nor are they likely to pay a premium for Tablets equipped with 3G or the incremental cost for a data plan.

      Dr. Phil Hendrix, immr and GigaOm Pro analyst

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  6. Johnathan Black Monday, March 14, 2011

    Why is the tech press obsessed with “dethroning Apple” or iDevice “killers”? All competing companies need do is make a good product and turn a profit selling it.

    For years Apple has had and continue to have a tiny portion of the worldwide PC market, but they make a good product and turn a profit selling it. When netbooks were the next big thing the tech press chided Apple for not participating, as if it would go out of business if the company did not compete in the market for netbooks. Apple chose to do something else instead: the iPad. Now the tech press is falling all over itself trying to explain how the end will come for all who don’t dethrone the iPad. This is just nonsense.

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    1. Jonathan, you raise a good point, but I’m not suggesting that Android will “lose” and iOS will “win” – both can survive for sure, and there’s even room for other players. But it’s important to see what device platform has the sales figures because developers will tend to follow the money. That means the app experience could be limited for those who choose the 3rd or 4th best selling tablet platform. If I were a consumer that lived outside of the tech community, I’d want to know that before spending my money. ;)

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    2. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

      @Johnathan Black
      Call me crazy but it seems to me that at least on the web tech sites are obsessed with everything Apple and they are generally pro-apple. How often do you read real critiques about Apple products any more? The reviews are usually just glowing in nature as if written by fanbois. Just look at techcrunch, engadget, slashgear, and gizmodo–some rather big sites that pump out tons of pro-apple articles non-stop. 25% of tech news is about Apple but their only one company with an even smaller product line yet they warrant 25% of the tech/blog sphere news?

      While you see it one way many others see it the opposite. Which is reality?

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  7. Johnathan Black Monday, March 14, 2011

    @call me crazy,

    My point was not to Apple coverage pro or con, but to the realities of market economics. No company has to “dethrone” or “kill” another’s products to succeed. If Motorola or Samsung or RIMM or HP put out good products and turn a profit on them they will be fine. Just as Apple has done with its Mac line and Archos has done with its line of media players. Both have extremely small market shares but both are successful.

    This whole binary view of the world is nonsense.

    None of these companies have to make a tablet at all to be successful. They could just as well come out with something entirely different that sets the market on fire and have others scrambling to respond.

    Regarding Apple coverage in the media, I imagine Apple gets the attention it does because Apple has historically done 3 things with a fair amount of consistency:
    1. Taken chances and pursued a course others thought odd or inadvisable
    2. Displayed unusual amount of style in both product and presentation
    3. Achieved a noteworthy amount of success and failure.

    Any of these things will generally cause people to pay attention.

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    1. call me crazy Monday, March 14, 2011

      “No company has to “dethrone” or “kill” another’s products to succeed.”

      I whole heartedly agree!!! It does seem that Apple fans more than other fans feel/insist that Apple MUST have 90% market share. Personally I don’t see that as Apple’s goal at all. They do very well monopolizing the high-end market that allows them to maintain higher profit margins.

      There’s enough to go around and I wish more commenters and “tech writers” would act like that–use the OS/platform you enjoy and let others enjoy their choice. There doesn’t have to be a winner and loser. The world is richer when there is more competition, not less.

      Also, Apple does a lot of things that do warrant media coverage however, when we get 20+ articles from a single site on the Verizon iPhone 4 in one day we have to admit that some of the coverage is a little bonkers. . . just sayin’ ;)

      have a great day!

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  8. I am really really seriously looking for an android based tablet.

    But common’ now, unless they price at least $50-100 lower than the similar configured IPad2, does it really make sense for me to try something untested and unestablished ?! probably not.

    Android so called Open OS (one of the main reason for venturing this area) is not really open so much, we all know it.

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  9. They all do something different, they all do something well. It’s up to the user to decide what they want – ultimately. Do they want an experience they’re familiar with or do they go with something new, untested and maybe a little cheaper?

    Personally, I love trying out new gadgets. I’ve owned a Nintendo DS, Sony PSP, iPod Touch 2G and a BlackBerry. I’ve since upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S. Minus the burning hole in my pocket, I’ve had good and bad experiences with all devices. Price aside, I felt most comfortable with my iPod and was least compatible with my BlackBerry.

    http://www.techviva.com

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