Tablets crowd gadget show, chasing iPad’s tail
And the company has something no one else has been able to match: mind share. Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said consumers are buying the iPad because they see their friends and colleagues with it, not because of its specific features.
“Just because Android tablets may have more features doesn’t guarantee they will sell,” Rotman Epps said.
But if the market opened up by Apple’s other mobile triumph, the iPhone, is any indication, they will. Since its 2007 debut the iPhone has been immensely popular, but it also sparked increased consumer demand for other smart phones _ eventually including those running Android.
For AsusTek Computer Inc., the most important focus right now appears to be hardware and software diversification. The Taiwanese computer maker unveiled a number of tablets at the show, including the Eee Pad Transformer, which is a laptop that splits in two to function as a tablet, and the Eee Pad Slider, a tablet with a keyboard that slides out of its left side.
The Transformer is set to begin selling in April for $399 to $699, depending on its configuration. And the Slider is set to be sold starting in May for $499 to $799.
This puts its cheapest Transformer $100 below the most inexpensive iPad, which sells for $499 to $829, depending on its configuration. Several other companies unveiled even cheaper tablets at CES, which could pique consumer interest, though lower prices could come with less-vivid screens and older software.
Richard Shim, a DisplaySearch analyst, said Asus’ tactics point to a wider trend in tablets: The market is branching out extremely quickly in an effort to appeal to a wider range of consumers.
This extends to operating software, too: Some tablets shown ran Microsoft Corp.’s PC software, Windows 7. Research In Motion Ltd., the maker of BlackBerry phones, demonstrated its forthcoming PlayBook tablet, which is geared toward business users and runs new software built by QNX Software Systems, which RIM took over in 2010.
RIM plans to start selling a Wi-Fi version of the PlayBook early this year, and a version that operates on Sprint Nextel Corp.’s 4G network is due to arrive in the summer.
Android was clearly the software of choice at CES, though, and Honeycomb in particular. Rotman Epps sees this as the software for the first “real” Android tablet, despite the arrival of several non-Honeycomb Android tablets such as Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy Tab last year. She thinks Honeycomb will help new tablets make their mark.
That’s hard to judge now, however: Honeycomb hasn’t been released yet. Many tablets at CES that will be released with that software were not showing off live versions of it at the show.
Several analysts said software _ and the apps developed for it _ are what will set winning tablets apart from the pack, but for now it’s too soon to tell how compelling they will be.
“At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to sell the device,” Shim said.