Starting March 27, you won’t have to pay as much to get Motorola’s Xoom tablet, as long as you don’t need 3G wireless access: a $599, WiFi-only model will arrive at Amazon.com, Best Buy, Costco, RadioShack, some Sam’s Club s, Staples and Walmart.
That news, as summarized in a Motorola news release, is welcome. The Xoom should have arrived like this, not as a $799, 3G-plus-WiFi device. But when the iPad 2 starts at $499 — even if it suffers the slight problem of being unavailable in stores or online at the moment — this price drop is unlikely to boost the Xoom’s cause.
The same goes for the continued unavailability of its microSD Card slot (disabled until a promised software update arrives) and promised Adobe Flash support (now due in beta-test form March 18, with a shipping version to arrive later). Even with those issues fixed, the Xoom will suffer from the unforced error of needing a proprietary power brick — almost alone among mobile devices, it can’t recharge from a computer or another gadget’s USB-compatible charger.
So how can a competing manufacturer shoulder aside Apple’s tablet? Justifying a higher price by bringing a spec sheet to an aesthetics fight — a marketing strategy used for the Xoom and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab — won’t do. Merely matching Apple’s $499 price, as HP reportedly plans to do with its upcoming TouchPad webOS tablet, may not work much better.
But pricing an iPad competitor at $299 — one of several smart suggestions recently made by the Chicago Sun-Times’s Andy Ihnatko — could easily grab buyers’ attention. (Barnes & Noble’s $249 NookColor had some potential in that regard, but the lack of visible progress in the the bookseller’s effort to recruit third-party developers has meant only tinkering types have been able to use that e-book reader as a general-purpose tablet.)
So could shipping a cheaper, smaller and lighter seven-inch tablet, now that Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs has made his disapproval of that screen size clear.
But there may be an even better way competitors could vault past the iPad: Make and sell a tablet as a computer replacement, not a computer accessory. The iPad requires a computer for its initial setup, to backup your data and to install Apple’s operating-system software updates. (Apple tells me that some users are setting up new iPads in its own stores for use as their only Internet device — but they’ll need to return or borrow a friend’s Mac or PC for those other chores.)
Google’s Android and HP’s webOS, however, don’t require a computer at all. All conduct their initial setup and backup your data online; they can also download and install their own updates. With either, you could provide home users with a simple, cheap, secure window on the Web.
Do you see a market in that? What’s your own road map for the future of the tablet market?