Is there a market for Good Enough “Tablets?”

by Tim Bajarin   |   September 7th, 2011

In April I wrote in my PC Mag column about Amazon Stealing Android from Google and argued in this piece that Amazon was most likely building their own proprietary approach to integrating their overall Android Store and a set of music, video and cloud services and integrate it into their future tablet offering.

Then, in August I wrote how Amazon Could disrupt the tablet market by creating a tablet that could sell for $249 even though it would cost $300 to build, but make it up by amortizing users purchases of books, music and videos over an 18-24 month period.

I suggested that if Amazon did this they could disrupt the entire market for tablets by introducing a new pricing model tied to their services that would make it very difficult for any hardware only tablet vendor to compete in this burgeoning market.

Now, in a most interesting post from MG Seigler at Techcrunch we get an actual hands on description of this tablet and it reinforces the price I suggested Amazon would sell it for. And he goes on to give actual details about it coming out in November including the fact that it has a color 7” screen but no cameras and no i/o ports.

If what Mr. Siegler says is true, then this Amazon tablet is more like a Nook on steroids then a serious competitor to Apple’s iPad. It will have very limited features as a multi-purpose tablet, but will excel in offering Amazon driven music, video and clouds services. And of course, we expect that it will have a browser so it would give people using it broad access to Web based content although apparently it will not support Adobe’s Flash.

But this brings up a very interesting question. Is there room in the market for what we would call a “good enough” tablet? Clearly, Apple’s iPad seems like it will be the Cadillac of tablets and to stay with the GM metaphor, the Amazon tablet is probably more like the Chevy Malibu of tablets. Both are very functional but what is inside and what they can do on the road are very different.

While there is always a market for full-featured products like the iPad, there is also perhaps an even larger market for “good enough” tablets like the first gen Amazon tablet might me. And Amazon, with this limited design and low price point, seems to be aiming at the “Chevy” market for tablets where bells and whistles are less important then price and basic functionality.

This concept of good enough computing has been bandied about in the industry for decades. It started with desktops where high end gaming PC’s ruled the gaming and engineering/graphics market, while lower cost PC’s with less horsepower and functionality took the lions share of the bigger “good enough” PC market. And the same thing happened with laptops. Gaming laptops powered the upper end of the portable market, while thin and lights went after the business crowd and value laptops with less power compared to the other two models took the lions share of the broader portable market. And they were good enough for a very large audience of consumers.

Could this “good enough” approach to the market be repeating itself again with tablets? There is no question that even though Apple’s iPad may be the Cadillac of tablets today, Apple was quite aggressive with their pricing so that it has appealed to much more than a more well-healed audience that normally buys upper end models of everything. On the other hand, there will always be a large audience who either won’t spend much on products or can’t for economic reasons and will opt for something in this value line of products or in this place, a just “good enough” tablet if it is available.

My sense is that as with desktop’s and laptops there is room for both and I suspect we will see tablets at a lot of different price points taking aim at the needs of all level of customers wants and needs. And if history is our guide, the products in the “good enough” category could be very large indeed.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.