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So, let’s get this out of the way now: there is no ‘tablet market’.
There is no huge demographic out there craving and desiring a tablet computer. There are millions of iPad customers. And there a few hundred thousand people – maybe even a few million worldwide – who desperately want a tablet running Android, WebOS or QNX.
Yet because that’s true right now, it doesn’t mean things won’t change. The tablet is just too inevitably necessary for the (lack of a) market to stay that way. The need for a web-connected frame for content of all sorts is just too obvious. And while tablets will not and are not meant to replace the traditional computer, they will eventually become ubiquitous.
But what will it take to get there?
A Sub $200 Price
Even if it’s obvious, this is the big one. It is only at the point that tablets are around $150 that they will become commodities, littering kitchen tables, bedrooms and living rooms across the world.
Right now, the economics of making tablets are a mess. While Apple’s cost to manufacture an iPad is probably ~$250, their dominant position lets them charge much more. Additionally, their control of supply chains has made it nearly impossible for other manufacturers to compete on price.
Right now, tablets are the domain of upper income earners and early adopters.
Multiple Content/App Ecosystems
Beyond the obvious price issue though, we need to get away from tablet apps and media being so thoroughly dominated by Apple.
In order for tablets to proliferate, consumers must be able to get their content as they choose. That means a Netflix app for multiple tablet OS’es. It means an actual content store other than iTunes. It means that Google has to foster tablet app development for Android, not least because those apps will also run on RIM’s Playbook.
Right now, non-iOS tablets are a media wasteland, and the app situation is barely better. For that to change, media and tech companies need to figure out a way to deliver those things to consumers outside of Apple’s walled garden.
Platform Neutral HTML5 Apps
But if you’ll let me, allow me to contradict myself. It’s true that in order to compete, tablet makers must sell their app markets, particularly for the next year or two.
But if the tablet is to truly come into its own as it should – as a commodity that almost every household has – then perhaps we need to predominantly move to web-based apps based on universal standards, like those in HTML5.
Doing so means would mean that everyone who had an Evernote account or used Dropbox could simply access the app on whatever tablet they owned. Whether or not an app is available shouldn’t depend exclusively on platform. And it’s that kind of universal access that will be necessary.
Some Actual Competition
Of course, none of this will happen while Apple still rules the tablet market. So tablet makers need to step their game up. That means not releasing otherwise great tablets with no email app. It means not announcing tablets in April that will launch in September.
But most of all, it means innovating in ways that make tablets more accessible and useful to people.
Have ideas about how the tablet market can grow? Hit the comments and let us know.