The Little Tablet That Could?

By Eric D. Fescenmeyer.

Over the last few weeks, out-shouted by giant press releases including the avalanche of Google product updates and Mr. Cook going to Washington was a very interesting press release that should have been quite earth-moving. In it, Hisense introduced their two new Android tablets. What makes them special is that they are $99 or  $149 and will be available in every Walmart store in the US. Sure, there have been cheap tablets like this, and some even Google Play certified, but to be easily available to the masses like this is truly exciting for a number of reasons.

Could this signal the end of Apple’s ownership of the tablet market?

It could be postulated that this could mark the end of Apple’s ownership of the tablet market and seriously thwart Microsoft’s entry. Yes, the iPad has a commanding lead so far, but this announcement means things will change permanently for those figures.

Essentially, these tablets are poised to open the massive segment of the American and other markets that has been left behind so far. The market is certainly big enough that even if Apple never loses any customers (and it certainly won’t to these devices) adoption of just 10% of this lower-cost market could offset Apple’s lead. This will be easy to achieve as what the iPads and Surface RTs service right now is actually only the high-end of what the market will be.

While it is certainly possible that Apple would choose to try and compete closer to these levels. There is certainly some room to maneuver in the margins without giving thought to pulling cost out of the hardware and they’ve shown that they could move quickly enough. But history is not on their side, not to mention their brand positioning. Apple’s past is littered with moments like this where they have chosen to be pushed into a niche rather than compete.

Microsoft is going to have a hard time selling their more expensive Windows 8 tablets, like the Surface RT.

Not only should this be an Everest-like challenge for Apple to surmount, but Microsoft is going to have an uphill battle for share. Even with the step-by-step integration of Windows across their platforms sewing all machines together, the sale against Android will be increasingly more difficult.

To think of it another way, these low-end tablets (should they sell as well as they could) will make the Android operating system the standard for mobile devices. With other makers like Asus, Archos and Samsung creating heavier duty items at what would arguably be the top end, all Android boats will rise. The numbers point to iOS and Windows 8 receding just like Macintosh did in the 80s and 90s, pushed up and to the right of the cost chart.

The big issue here is that most people just consume on tablets. When nearly all content is streaming from the cloud, it doesn’t matter what the operating system is – it almost doesn’t make a difference in the hardware, either. Sure, all of that media can be had on a Windows or iOS machine but it can be had much cheaper on Android. With this in mind, it’s going to be a much harder sell for iPads and Surface RTs.



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