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Cheaper iPad 2 a 'death blow' to Apple tablet rivals?

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It's easy to see why the new iPad will be a big hit. It has four times the resolution of its predecessor, four times the graphics power and 4G LTE. (For those scoring at home, that's a lot of fours.) But there's another four that should scare Apple's competition even more: $400. 

That's the newly reduced price of the iPad 2, a tablet that's still significantly more expensive than the Kindle Fire but in the sweet spot of dozens of tablets about to get obliterated.

Here's a quick sampling of the slates the iPad 2 outright embarrasses as of today:

Acer Iconia Tab A200: $349
Yes, it's nice that the Iconia Tab runs Android Ice Cream Sandwich, and we like how the ring interface makes the OS more approachable. But the A200 is heavier and thicker than the iPad 2, lacks a back camera, and suffers from narrow viewing angles. For $50 more, the iPad 2 is a no-brainer.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1: $399
It seems like a fair fight on the surface. The Tab 10.1 has a sleek design and good audio quality for the money. But it's running the older Android Honeycomb OS. More importantly, while the app selection in the Android Market (now renamed Google Play) has improved, it's still way behind the App Store.

Toshiba Excite 10 LE: $529
This one is a real head-scratcher. While the Excite 10 LE is thinner than the iPad 2 and sports a durable display, that's not enough to justify a price that's $30 more than the new iPad, never mind a $130 delta between the Excite and discounted iPad 2.

Given that Samsung has already admitted that it's "not doing very well in the tablet market," the cheaper iPad 2 could very well push some or all of these slates into an early grave.

According to a report just issued by IHS iSuppli, Apple is projected to capture 61 percent of the media tablet market in 2012, up from 57 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011. And the firm expects Apple to maintain majority share into 2014. But it's not just the new iPad and its eye-popping Retina display that will keep the company in its leadership position. It's the unbeatable one-two punch of a value-priced slate and a premium product that will make shoppers think twice about most (if not all) alternatives.

Unlike Barnes & Noble or Amazon, Apple hasn't left any features on the cutting room floor to reach a wallet-friendly price. The Nook Tablet had to shed 512MB of RAM to get down to $199, while the Kindle Fire ditched cameras. Consumers have been willing to live with these concessions, but Apple doesn't do watered down. For now Tim Cook & Co. seem willing to cede the sub-$200 market.

Everyone else -- including those companies releasing Windows 8 tablets -- needs to think real hard about what consumers will pay to look away from the iPad.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on Twitter.