[Editorial] Tablet Manufacturers: Learn From HP’s Success

Yep. Success. Let’s not miss the obvious here. HP did not save WebOS. We can play around with speculation over licenses and future development, but the fact is, you don’t shut down your hardware division, currently the only outlet for your OS, without at least some plan for how else you’re going to distribute it in place. A lot of confidence was lost in HP recently over the last few days, but there’s one thing they succeeded in: selling a truckload of TouchPads.

I bought one. I already own a Xoom and having a second tablet is beyond unnecessary for me. Why did I buy it? Because it was $100. As Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo lovingly pointed out, the TouchPad has a Kindle app and costs less than an actual Kindle. Excluding absolutely everything else this device can do, it is now the cheapest e-reader on the market, and more powerful than devices that are more expensive. This is a huge advantage.

However, the device itself isn’t any different than it was last week. In fact, one could argue that it’s less valuable, now that we know development for it is virtually dead in the water. You can make the argument that any modern device will get better over time, whether it’s an iPad or an Android tablet, but not the TouchPad. There are legitimate reasons not to buy a TouchPad, and yet it is such an obvious buy that HP’s website was out of stock within an hour of the reduced price. Why?


Manufacturers, you should take note of this. Make it a priority. Do not ignore this. You guys are trying to figure out the tablet market right now, and it’s confusing. Apple’s able to sell their tablet by the millions because as a brand, they’re already targeting a higher echelon. Devoted followers of design-aware gadget geeks who want the best. Arguments aside about whether or not it is (spoiler: there’s no such thing as “best”), the demographics that land in Apple’s pool don’t see $500 as too much money to spend on a superfluous tablet. Your markets, however, are different.

Motorola, Samsung, HTC, Toshiba, ASUS, and Acer, you guys are not Apple. Your role is not to make one type of product the best you can. Your role is to serve everyone else. If you’re making an Android tablet, that’s what you’re in it for. Everyone else. For folks who look at an iPad and go “meh, that’s not for me”. And a lot of those folks don’t care for $500 price tags on devices that can’t do as much as a comparable laptop.

Let’s be clear: no tablet is as powerful as a laptop. You can make the argument that you can do a lot of things you can do with a laptop on a tablet. You can even argue that some things are nicer on a tablet. You can even say there’s some things a tablet can do that a laptop can’t (GPS navigation is one of those). In terms of raw power, though, if you tried to tell me that your tablet, iPad, Xoom, Galaxy Tab, or any other, could do more things than your laptop can do, I will kindly direct you to nearest mental rehabilitation clinic. Photo manipulation, video editing, audio editing, these things can be done on a tablet, but they are not as powerful. Not as robust. Not as capable. They may be capable enough! But they are not as capable.

So price it so. As long as the base price for tablets is $500, you’re going to continue getting smooshed by Apple. Tablets are luxury items right now. If you want to convince consumers they’re necessary, then you need to make them worth the price. The easiest way to do that is to make the price lower.

Now, of course it’s easy for me to say this on the heels of the TouchPad close out, right? I mean, you can’t compete with a $100 tablet! There’s just no way. You know what you can do, though? Compete with ASUS. That’s right. ASUS. You don’t really hear about them much, do you? Yeah, they’re not a huge player in the mobile OS game. They don’t make popular smartphones. Their tablet is beating yours up and stealing its lunch money, though. And have you played with a Transformer? It’s a decent tablet. It’s not the best tablet that’s out there, but it’s workable! Now imagine if you had a Xoom or a Galaxy Tab that was at that price. The latest news on the Xoom is that the WiFi version got cut to $500. It was at $600 before! That’s a $100 more than the cheapest iPad. In fairness, the cheapest iPad has 16GB of storage, and the cheapest Xoom has 32 GB, and the 32GB iPad also costs $600, but that just makes it worse! For a while, you were holding your lowest-end product at a $100 premium over your primary competition who’s outselling you because of 16GB of storage, which the user could expand anyways! Provided, of course, that you actually got that stupid SD card slot working which took forever.

In short, manufacturers, you’re not competing. A couple of you are trying, but the big guys aren’t. And you’re losing a potentially huge market for it. ASUS proved that a lower price point will sell better. The TouchPad closeout proved that tablets aren’t entirely useless and, in fact, there can be huge demand for the product. You just need to start pricing it right.

When I show people my Xoom, they’re not frustrated with it. Unlike the gadget bloggers and mobile OS nerds and reviewers who all make it their duty to analyze every little thing, they pick up a tablet and feel like they’re in the future. And sometimes it’s something as simple as liking Gmail better for their email service that will decide what tablet they want. The factor that decides if they’ll get it or not is and will always be price.

We don’t need your tablets. None of us do. We want them. It’s your role, now, to meet us in the middle. Give us a price we can find reasonable, and we will buy out your inventory, line up outside your stores, and cause your managers of distribution all sorts of headaches while they try to supply us. As long as you’re still setting the bar at six and seven and eight hundred dollars, though, we don’t care one iota.

2 thoughts on “[Editorial] Tablet Manufacturers: Learn From HP’s Success”

  1. I think the success of the Transformer went beyond the low price (though that certainly helped).  Add in the dock and it becomes the most capable tablet out there.

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