Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tablet Wars

The tablet wars are running fast and furious, and we as consumers will be the winners.

The "big kahuna" is the Apple iPad. It's the one to beat, and it's a formidable opponent. But it, like all Apple products, is a premium (read: expensive) product.

Some will argue that it's worth every penny and, as an iPad owner, I won't disagree.

But with the "old" iPad 2 starting at $399 and the "new" iPad starting at $499, it's certainly not for everyone. Note that the "new" iPad with all of the memory and cellular connectivity tops out at $829.

Other companies have produced tablets with limited success. Samsung, Asus, Microsoft, RIM (the Blackberry people), Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more all have tablets. Oddly, they all seem to be in the same pricing ballpark as the iPad.

I have seen some low-end tablets that actually cost under $100, but they have significant deficits, such as small screens, short battery lives, no cameras or a combination thereof that make them undesirable for all but limited use.

So when Google came out with its new Nexus 7 tablet for $199 about two weeks ago, that changed the landscape dramatically.

The specifications for the two tablets are not the same, so a like-for-like comparison can't be directly made. For one thing, the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen and the Google Nexus 7 has a 7-inch screen. There are other substantive differences.

But, for essentially half the price of an iPad, one can purchase a remarkably good tablet that will meet the needs of a vast number of people.

What one lacks with a non-Apple device is, of course, the App Store, where Apple users may buy music, videos, apps (applications) and more. With the App Store having hundreds of thousands of apps and things to buy, it is the place where one can buy just about anything digital that one wants.

Google offers a competitor to the App Store called Google Play. While Google Play doesn't have nearly as many apps as the App Store, most consumers will be able to find the most popular apps in both, such as Angry Birds, Netflix and the Optimum app.

What I like most about the tablet wars is that it's now been made clear that quality tablets can be made affordable. This will encourage broader deployment of tablets, thus driving more apps and more reductions in prices as competition and volume increases.

There are fairly well-substantiated rumors that Apple will be coming out with its own mini-iPad that may compete with the 7-inch tablets already in existence.

All of this is good news for consumers and heralds new ways that people can benefit from more accessible computing. Fight on, tablet makers!

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 25 July 2012.

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