Echoing Techcrunch's post that was trying to convince HP to make more TouchPads at an approximate $100 price, I totally concur with the fact that a tablet, whatever brand it may be, will be gobbled up by the masses currently not able to buy an iPad. Because something like this has happened before, in Indonesia.
A few years ago, RIM's BlackBerry was the talk of the town in Jakarta - it seemed that the BlackBerry had became the device of choice among the Jakarta elite (and shortly to follow, other cities), and virtually making the BlackBerry a status symbol. As the story goes, BlackBerry's meteoric rise in mindshare (but not really marketshare) was due to the almost viral spread of BlackBerry Messenger usage - despite the existence of Yahoo! Messenger as a cross-platform chat service. The so-called "in crowd" would be chatting via BlackBerry, causing first the flood of grey-market BBs into Indonesia, and a gradual change from the corporate-esque image of BB users, to the "mainstream", and introduction of cheap, prepaid BlackBerry service.
The BlackBerry as a status symbol eventually led many handset manufacturers, international and local, to create their own line of QWERTY handsets, from the cheap BB knockoffs to the premium designs, complete with accessories like rubber bumpers, lanyards and so on. Local company Nexian eventually dominated this market, even creating their own Nexian Messenger.
These QWERTY handsets generally had very basic specs; a generous phonebook, a camera, a minimum of internal memory (sometimes with external memory card support), a mobile browser, a simple Facebook and/or Twitter client, and nothing much else. But they sold like hotcakes, even though the features were at a minimum.
Enter 2011, arguably the Year Of The Tablet. No, make that the Year Of The iPad. With the iPad (and iPhone, after spending years on the sideline) becoming the new must-have gadget for the Jakarta elite, the game is on to capture the demand for touchscreen phones and tablets on the cheap. Samsung's Galaxy Tab has made inroads to the market early on with some bold claims, but other players are catching up: Axioo, AHA (Bakrie Telecom), Huawei, EG Touch, Nexian, and perhaps many other rip-off tablets like iRobot. A similar trend with cheap tablets is also underway in India, and of course China, where most of these tablets are manufactured.
The only thing that has not been touched by these tablets is price - most still cost around $300 retail, whereas the magic price, like the QWERTY phones, is around $100. Now, most of these tablets run a variant of Android; but since Android is still practically free for device manufacturers, the bulk of the production cost of a tablet would be the touchscreen, which everybody will expect to be multi-touch capacitive. To decrease the price, would notably decrease the functionality, assuming that Android is still the OS of choice for these cheap tablets. But the trend with QWERTY phones might suggest, that most people would be willing to have a minimum of features just as long as it is at the right price.
My guesses on the features that a cheap tablet simply cannot live without:
- some sort of connectivity, either GSM/CDMA card or wifi. Most likely GSM/CDMA card.
- audio/video playing capabilities
- social networking (Facebook, Twitter)
- a decent browser that can play YouTube videos
- messaging program, more for chat than mail
I don't even think an app market is essential, either! Although many would argue that the tablet (read: iPad) is virtually inseparable from the App Store as an integral part of the experience (and I would agree), who's to say that an app store is a must-have for someone who just wants something that functions like an iPad? Time will tell. Once tablets have moved on from early-adopter technology status to a mainstream media product, just as the handphone has, we will really see what people actually use a tablet for.
So now, we're on a race to the bottom to get that elusive cheap tablet.