Tablets. You either love them or you hate them. Despite being versatile machines that are great for taking your work and entertainment with you, many question their plausibility and have written them off as toys. The truth is, tablets may very well be the future of mobile computing. As desktop and mobile platforms merge, tablets will become increasingly useful and will likely gain the attention of a much larger audience.
The largest hurdle for manufacturers thus far, however, has not been convincing consumers that tablets are useful or great at what they're intended to do – mostly multimedia and games. The biggest obstacle has been price and keeping costs down. Although a tablet will likely suit the average consumer's needs, it's almost impossible for them to justify a relatively underpowered and less functional tablet over a laptop for the same price. A laptop, though it is not nearly as lightweight or portable, is quite obviously more deserving of a $400, $500 or $600 price tag.
Problems with pricing have affected essentially all manufacturers – besides Apple, of course – who have attempted to enter the tablet market over the past several months. Apple beat other OEMs to the punch by almost an entire year and set the standard for what a tablet should cost. They set the bar pretty high (or low, in terms of price), with the cheapest iPad priced at $499.99. Other manufacturers have struggled to match such a low baseline. Take Motorola for instance. The first version of the XOOM on Verizon (3G enabled with the promise of a later LTE upgrade) was initially released for $800. Since then, Motorola has reevaluated their pricing structure and adjusted it accordingly. And OEMs like Acer, ASUS and Toshiba have managed to keep their tablets below $500.
Despite having adjusted pricing and some OEMs actually undercutting Apple by quite a margin, tablet manufacturers now face another pricing issue: deep discounts. From the time the HP TouchPad was first rumored, it was a tablet worth keeping an eye on. Long story short, HP missed their window of opportunity, overpriced their tablet and completely failed at marketing. They countered by almost immediately discounting their pair of tablets $50, by way of rebates. Not long after, they permanently dropped the price of each of the TouchPad models $100. Still, sales were extremely stagnant and HP abruptly decided to pull out of the webOS hardware business and proceeded to slash the price of their tablets to $99 (for the 16GB version) and $149 (for the 32GB).
These heavily discounted tabs were quickly swept up by buyers who had been waiting for a good deal on a tablet, those who were on the fence about it and people who never desired a tablet in the first place. And that's the point. A large number of fence riders now have their hands on a decent tablet with minimal collateral damage to their wallets. Those who were looking for a deal either got their hands on a tablet or will be waiting for another deal to come along. The remainder either still do not want a tablet, already have one or are on the prowl. But after one reputable tablet having been sold for a mere $150 at most, the BlackBerry PlayBook facing some discounting of its own, do you honestly think buyers are still going to buy from the current crop of tablets for $400 and up?
Of course, there are always going to be those who don't pay attention to any of this. But as someone who keeps up with mobile news, you would think all of this sporadic discounting should make them apprehensive.
Such deep discounts can clearly help lesser-known manufacturers and platforms snag some of the market share. But it doesn't come without repercussions. Consumers now expect manufacturers to slash the price of their tablets if they do not immediately perform well amongst the competition. Even if it isn't the tablet we want, if the price is right, you and I both will be heading out, head to toe in our battle armor, to fight for a dirt cheap tablet.
Again, as tablets and PCs become more like one another, this issue will slowly fade away. Next year's upgrade in specs will make justification for a $500 tablet much easier again (as if it ever was to begin with). But even I, an avid tablet lover who doesn't mind paying full price for a shiny new tab every once in a while, can't justify buying a tablet right now. Some manufacturers just don't get the pricing game, and they're too quick to discount after they realize they've messed up.
What say you, ladies and gents? Are you apprehensive when it comes to buying a tablet nowadays? Are you waiting for a deal? Or are you afraid that the tablet you buy will be discounted soon after you buy it? Sound off below!