Nov 28 - Tablet computers are getting cheaper, with one launched this week for less than the price of the cover for an iPad. Julian Satterthwaite investigates whether it signals a change in the tablet market, and a threat to the fat profit margins enjoyed by Apple.
You don't have to spend a lot to get a tablet computer any more... Amazon and Google have their own offerings at about half the price of Apple's iPad... In the UK retailers including Tesco are selling their own tablets at a little over 100 pounds... But even that now looks expensive. Originally developed for India, where it's a big seller, the Datawind Ubislate launches this week in the UK, Canada and US. It will sell for 29 pounds 99 pence in the UK, or less than 40 dollars in the US. SOUNDBITE: REUTERS REPORTER, JULIAN SATTERTHWAITE, SAYING (ENGLISH): ''Ok, the Ubislate isn't exactly an iPad. The screen isn't the sharpest and the internet browser is a little clunky. But it's perfectly functional and runs on Google's popular Android operating system. And you can forgive an awful lot when it costs less than you'd spend on the cover for an Apple or Amazon tablet. But is it a sign of things to come?'' PCs were once expensive products; now they are virtually interchangeable - competing only on price. Datawind CEO Suneet Singh says tablets will go the same way. SOUNDBITE: DATAWIND CEO SUNEET SINGH TULI, SAYING (ENGLISH): "Over time consumers will start to realise that the performance differences really aren't that different, and that the entry-level product still meets their needs. And I think that's what's going to happen, and it's going to happen, it's going to accelerate very, very fast." Tech bloggers are more cautious. Cheap hardware may be getting better, but the software for such devices is still a weak spot, says CNET.co.uk editor Jason Jenkins: SOUNDBITE: CNET.CO.UK EDITOR JASON JENKINS, SAYING (ENGLISH): "Google is trying really, really hard to break into this market, so it's offering its own-brand tablets called the Nexus - the Google Nexus 7, Google Nexus 10 - and they're really, really cheap and they're pretty good. But the ecosystem isn't there, the apps aren't quite as nice, the interface isn't as sleek and you don't get access to as many things." The tablet market is changing. Apple's share is down over ten percent on last year, mostly at Samsung's expense. Tesco Chief Marketing Officer Matt Atkinson says they've been surprised by demand for their cut-price Hudl: TESCO CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER MATT ATKINSON, SAYING (ENGLISH): "We sat in a room and after a long process of collaborative design and engineering, and thought to ourselves how many of these things do we order. And we took a very big Christmas and we doubled the order, and that went in two days." If you just want to check your email and surf the web, the new cheaper tablets will do just fine. Apple may be safe for now, but giants can fall surprisingly fast. Just ask Nokia or Blackberry.