iPaid Too Much: Is a Tablet Price War Coming?

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Perhaps you’ve heard of the iPad? The device that’s certainly fun, but arguably a fairly useless time suck? Well, in addition to this “it” gizmo, by one count there are more than 100 other tablets in the works or currently being sold by 64 different manufacturers. That’s a lot of tablets.

How will they compete for consumers’ attention, especially when the iPad has like 80% of the tablet market? One classic strategy is to simply compete based on cheaper prices.

Based on what the WSJ is reporting, it would seem a matter of when, not if, a tablet price war is coming:

So there’s plenty of speculation about Apple’s pricing plans; might it feel emboldened now to raise prices, for example, or lower them to put more pressure on rivals?

Apple lowering prices? That’d be way more surprising than Steve Jobs showing up at the iPad 2 announcement later today. Apple generally refuses to get its hands dirty in nasty price battles, staying above the fray (and above the financial reach of many consumers) while the brands unfortunate enough to not be Apple duke it out by slashing prices. As the WSJ reports, it’s much more likely that, if anyone’s going to try to start a price war, it’ll be one of the dozens of makers of second-tier tablets:

… just about everyone expects that suppliers with less-favored brands are going to compete on price.

So a price war seems to be inevitable. Actually, a tablet price war has seemed to be inevitable for quite some time now. Here’s a quote saying exactly that, from a BusinessWeek story about various tablets from last fall:

“A price war is inevitable,” said Alexander of El Segundo, California-based ISuppli. “Whether Apple participates in a price war is another question.”

So when will the price war begin? Who knows. Probably not today, though. And probably not until after there’s an iPhone price war—if, indeed, one occurs.

One thing seems clear, however: The chances aren’t good that all 100+ different tablets are going to be successes with consumers. Most will be considered failures, and a decent-size chunk of the market will probably have to be sold on the cheap to get consumers to bite. The problem, of course, is that for many reasons the least expensive tablet is probably also the one you’ll want the least.

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