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Regardless of how well the newest class of Tablet computers fare in terms of sales and unit shipments, the evolution of these portable devices will be divided into two classifications: Before the Apple iPad and After the Apple iPad.
Apple’s iPad — admittedly a late entrant into this market — has already changed the game in the fledgling, niche Tablet market, even before the company has shipped its first device.

The frenzied efforts of industry watchers — from Apple afficiandos, rival vendors to analysts and media — to ferret out the most minute detail of the Apple tablet in advance of its release, served to served to rejuvenate what had been a stalled market segment.
The Tablet computer occupies a still nebulous market arena that puts it somewhere in between smaller NetBooks and smartphones and larger sized portable devices. No one can answer those questions with any surety, but one thing is certain: Apple’s entrance into this crowded field has sparked renewed interest into this device category.
The long rumored iPad was shrouded in mystery for months before the official January 27 announcement. Apple stubbornly refused to confirm its existence, much less any details. Nonetheless, the anticipation was so great, that it sent several vendors scrambling to preview rival Tablet offerings at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in advance of the iPad debut.
No one was shocked when Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the company’s latest “creation.” However, Apple did manage to stun the industry by hitting the $500 price barrier for the entry level device. This affordable tag makes the feature laden iPad Tablet competitive with the wildly successful, low-cost NetBooks which were all the rage in 2009. Additionally, the Apple iPads list tags will almost certainly follow the normal discounted street pricing patterns and decline by 10% to 30% over the next six months. Apple’s aggressive pricing maneuver has also succeeded in causing consternation among competitors who must now re-evaluate their own price structures in order to follow Apple’s lead.
Still even at $499, the Apple iPad is not the lowest priced Tablet device. That distinction currently belongs to Freescale Semiconductors which introduced a touch screen Tablet that retails for $199. The Freescale tablet lacks many of the iPad’s high end features, such as advanced graphics, which accounts for the price differential. It runs on either Android or Linux and also incorporates a battery that lasts for eight to 10 hours. Consumers can also opt to add a keyboard to hold the Freescale tablet like a monitor. Available in a selection of colors, the tablet includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional support for 3G. Users can add an external keyboard and mount the tablet on the keyboard as its display. Freescale Semiconductors is marketing the device able to OEMs who want to quickly get to market with a Tablet.
Tablet Market: Narrow Niche or Mainstream Appeal?
The real question now is: will the recent flurry of new Tablet releases translate into mainstream success or will Tablets remain a niche device in search of a market? Many industry observers have openly scoffed at the notion that these devices will ever achieve widespread adoption. In recent months the rising tide of speculation about the Apple iPad also engendered debate as to why anyone would need or want yet another portable device in a field that is already crowded with smart phones, a wide variety of portable notebooks and the very popular and inexpensive Netbooks.
These are all valid questions. Tablet devices have been available for the past five years. To say that they have met with only moderate success is an understatement. This is partially due to the economic downturn and also due in large measure to the fact that the marketing around these devices never identified a clear and compelling use for them outside a few narrow niches.
There was also confusion about what constituted a Tablet computer. There is no standard, one-size-fits-all device that addresses all market segments. In the 2006-2007 timeframe some vendors opted to see larger Tablets that more closely resembled traditional notebooks or laptops. The higher end devices from vendors like Acer, HP and Toshiba often incorporated advanced features like handwriting recognition, inking capabilities in the Windows presentation subsystem and fingerprint security ID. Conversely, several suppliers marketed hybrid mini-Tablets/eBook readers with small (six inches or less) form factors.
And over the last two years, the Tablet segment was eclipsed by the burgeoning popularity of NetBooks, which have an average price range of $150 to approximately $400.
Nonetheless, nearly every major hardware vendor boasts at least one Tablet in their product portfolio. Acer, Asustek Computer, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Lenovo, Micro-Star International (MSI), Motion Computing, Toshiba, Viewsonic and Wacom are all betting that consumers and eventually businesses will embrace the Tablet form factor.
In recent months Asustek Computer, HP, Dell and MSI all debuted new tablet offerings to beat Apple to the punch. MSI launched its 10-inch Tablet at CES and HP is readying its offering, an Inventec-manufactured device set to debut in the spring. Asustek released its tablet Eee PC T91 and will launch 10-inch model along with Windows 7.
Bottom line: There is a wide range of form factors and features from which to choose. Models range from very small lightweight, like the Apple iPad that weigh 1.5lbs. , and use a stylus, to larger 5-6 lb. notebook-type form factors, that swivel and have full or hidden mobile keyboards.
The Price is Right
One thing about Tablets that should help spur acceptance and adoption,and may even trump NetBooks, is cost. Tablet computer prices have dropped significantly from 2007 when pricing ranged from $599 to $2,700, with the media tag averaging $1,600. Thanks to the rise of NetBooks and Apple’s uncharacteristic move to be a price/performance leader, the average selling price (ASPs) for Tablets is now between $400 and $800. Special promotions abound and leasing and financing solutions are widely available from all the vendors. HP, for example, markets its HP/Compaq Mini 110, 210 and 311 Series of mobile laptops and mini NetBooks which range in price from $269 to $399 with 10 to just under 12 inch screens and is outfitted with Intel’s Atom processor 1.60 GHz. Additionally, HP also sells the TouchSmart tm2t series of high-end customizable tablets, whose list pricing begins at $899 and ranges to about $1,300. The TouchSmart tm2t tablets, have a 12.1 inch display screen. They allow users to swivel the screen, fold it over, write and draw on it using a digital pen or alternatively employ touch screen fingertip navigation. They also have a full keyboard. The HP tablets are available with 64-bit Windows 7; either 2GB or 3GB of memory; a 250GB or 320GB hard drive and a choice of Intel 1.3GHz Pentium processor or an Intel Core 2 Duo 1.60GHz processor. The HP TouchSmart tm2t series pricing is closer to traditional notebooks, though it incorporates the tablet features and functions. HP also regularly offers special sales and promotions on the TouchSmart tm2t tablets which can lower the price by 20% or more. Dell and Toshiba both have multiple Tablet models. Toshiba’s Portege M750 is a high end model that can convert from a notebook to a tablet and has digital pen and touch screen capabilities with pricing starting at $1,279.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has made no secret of his disdain for NetBooks and he now seems determined to at least bring the iPad entry level list prices within a couple of hundred dollars (US) of the low cost NetBooksin the hopes of luring users away. . Credit Suisse financial analyst, Bill Shope published a Research Note earlier this week based on his meetings with Apple executives. According to Shope, Apple is positioning the iPad to be the device of choice for Web browsing and all forms of mobile media and the company is willing to cut the price, if that’s what it takes to ensure success. Other vendors will be forced to follow suit.
Meanwhile, with features ranging from mobility, portability and widespread applications like gaming, videos, photos, E-book reader, Email, Web browsing, maps, weather forecasts as well as the ability to write notes and draw pictures, the appeal of Tablets is taking on a much sharper focus. Seen in this context Tablet devices would appeal to a wide range of consumers as well as commercial and business users in fields like:
• Legal
• Healthcare
• Manufacturing (factory floor)
• Construction
• Academic
• Consultants
• Press
• Defense
• Aerospace

With Tablet devices now sporting features, performance, applications and pricing to rival high end notebooks and low-cost E-book readers and NetBooks, it’s highly likely that their popularity and adoption will soar in the coming months. The competition will be intense and that spells good news for consumers and corporations that are looking for competitively priced devices for their mobile and remote workers.