Lessons of the TouchPad Frenzy and the Future of Tablet Pricing

Looking to move unsold inventory over the weekend, HP chopped TouchPad pricing down to $99.99 and $149.99 from $499 and $599. It ignited a well-documented buying frenzy that melted the HP servers. BestBuy and other stores are now sold out.

The way that people snapped up these devices reveals that for other than iPads consumers are highly price sensitive. As we argued early on and often, the way to compete with Apple's device was on price.  (I also earlier argued that smaller tablets could succeed as well, though have reconsidered that position.)

Amazon is about to enter the tablet fray and it may be able to succeed where others have not. However to date all of Apple's main competitors (RIM, Samsung, HP, MOTO, HTC) have failed to generate more than token sales of their tablets. Part of the reason for that is that these non-Apple devices perceived as imitators. So far they also generally offer a poorer quality user experience -- this includes the Samsung devices -- and have priced their tablets at or above (e.g., Xoom) the cost of Apple's iPad.

E-readers Kindle and Nook have succeed in part because they are single-purpose devices, though the Nook has broadened its scope, and they're relatively cheap (sub-$250). It remains to be seen what Google can do for Android tablets after it acquires Motorola. Right now, however, it appears that nobody selling a $499 tablet is going to make inroads against Apple.

While the HP TouchPad $99 frenzy may not immediately impact the market, over the long term it will probably mean that Android and other tablets (regardless of size) will have to come in under $400 without carrier subsidies and much less with them (sub-$250). That also means that non-iPad tablets are likely to become very low margin commodity products -- like PCs today.

And that's not a very attractive market.