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June 29, 2012

Tablets More than Apple...Yes, Really

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Apple (News - Alert) has brainwashed most of the media to think that there's the iPad and there's the rest of the tablet world. It's a false model when you start looking beyond the Android (News - Alert)-me-too tablets with the 10-inch screen size range and move downward into the seven-inch form factor – the domain of the Kindle e-book reader.

The iPad has a high-resolution, 9.7-inch diagonal color screen and is designed to be used just about anywhere if you throw in a cellular modem on top of Wi-Fi. But it's also pricy, with an entry-level sticker of $399 for last year's iPad 2, $499 if for the starting version of the latest and greatest model.

The Kindle is dirt cheap, starting at $79 dollars for a black and white version and turning into a tablet with the Wi-Fi, full color Kindle Fire at $199 – half the cost of last year's iPad. Its seven-inch screen won't be mistaken for the nearly 10" iPad anytime soon, but it's good enough for reading books and watching moves – much better than the cramped space of a smartphone.

Google (News - Alert) is taking a crack at the seven-inch portable entertainment tablet world with the Nexus 7. At $200 and crafted to Google's specs, it makes the Kindle Fire look weak. It's got 1280x800 resolution a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, 8 GB storage, 1.2 megapixel camera, gyroscope, GPS, accelerometer, microphone, and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi.

But hot hardware isn't everything. Google wants to sell things through the Google Play store, pitting it against Amazon's distribution chain for books, movies and music. It is an overlap with the Apple iPad/iTunes/iMakeMoney model, but the Nexus 7 is designed and priced to be less of a thinking buy than the $500 you start off at to buy a new iPad.  

Further, Google isn't afraid to play the giveaway game. Buy a Nexus 7 through Google Play and you get a $25 credit to spend on Google Play media. When's the last time Apple gave anyone something for free? Google has plenty of advertising cash to bankroll Nexus 7 and promoting Play. The name of the game is getting consumers into the habit of making steady, regular purchases – steady, regular cash flow – from Google, rather than Amazon (Or yes, even Apple).

If you think about it, we're only in the beginning stages of this market. Apple's iPad and the Kindle family are effectively first-generation devices that will ultimately have to be replaced four to six years down the road, as they break and/or the batteries die.  With more choices, customers will have more opportunities to pick the "right" tablet to meet their needs and wallets, rather than just taking what's available.

The wild card in a freely moving market of tablet hardware is content portability. If I've purchased a bunch of content effectively locked into Apple's iCloud, I won't be so quick to change to a Microsoft (News - Alert) Surface or an Android tablet. But if content is available in the cloud regardless of tablet operating system, consumers should be more willing to switch between hardware platforms.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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