How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

Summary: Previous installments have been all about the features. But how much is this thing going to cost? In one sense, Apple has made the answer easy.

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In the first four installments of this series we've been drooling over all the great features we'd like to have on our perfect new Android tablet. These include:

  1. It should have a long-lasting battery, preferably one that can be replaced while the machine is still running.
  2. It should have a capacitive touch-screen capable of tracking 10 or more fingers at a time.
  3. It needs to have the Android Market, with the option of running the full suite of Google Android apps including GMail, Maps, and Navigation. And finally,
  4. Its screen should have a balanced aspect ratio and sufficient resolution for movie watching, web browsing, book reading, and other tablet activities.

A new device can have all these features, however, and still be a flop if it fails to meet the 5th and final criterion for the perfect tablet:

#5: Affordable, even without carrier subsidies

Usually, it's tough to quantify exactly what "affordable" means, but in this instance, Apple has made it a no-brainer. For Android tablets, "affordable" means "cheaper than the iPad".

The entry level iPad is currently $499 in the US. Therefore the entry level Android pad needs to be $498 or less. An iPad with 3G data capability will set you back $629. So an Android pad with 3G needs to be...

$498

No, that's not a typo. The reason for this number is that it's unlikely that you'll be able to get an Android tablet without 3G that meets the other requirements. Especially the one about the Android Market, for the big G has decreed that thou shalt not get the Market unless thou art a phone. That's why the Samsung Tab comes with 3G whether you need it or not.

Everybody knows that the iPad starts at $499, and no matter how hard you try you won't be able to convince "everybody" that a price of, say, $600 for a 3G tablet is actually cheaper than the iPad. Mathematically, logically, and rationally, it might be cheaper, but math, logic, and rational thought aren't on the top of your average consumer's list of considerations. I don't mean that as an insult to the consumer; it's just human nature. If your tablet's starting price is more than $499, then it's not cheaper than the iPad. It has to be cheaper than the iPad, therefore it has to be under $499.

You may remember right before the iPad was announced, there was a lot of speculation about how much it would cost. Some people thought $999, some thought $799, and a few guessed $699 or $650. Nobody, as far as I recall, guessed $499. It was shocking at the time. The perfect Android tablet needs to be just as shocking by achieving this price without carrier rebates on the very lowest end model.

Is it possible? Sure. In April 2010, iSuppli estimated that parts and manufacturing costs for the entry level iPad totaled $259.60. Throw in a 3G radio and that brings the price up to $284.10. Now consider that several months have passed since that estimate, and Apple's costs are probably a little lower now. There's no reason that an Android tablet should be any more expensive to manufacture than an iPad tablet since they basically need the same parts. Perhaps less, since Android devices typically have less Flash memory than their iOS brethren.

What about carrier subsidies? Well first, let's consider the price of the plan they're going to make you sign up for in order to get those subsidies. If you don't mind AT&T, and you need wide area networking, then you can get a 2GB data plan in the US for $25/month for the iPad. Plus you have to pay $130 extra to get the 3G radio. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the Android carriers aren't going to be quite as generous and flexible with their deals as AT&T was with the iPad, because they don't have Steve Jobs to strong-arm them or exclusivity as an incentive. In other words, they're going to gouge us. The least they can do is offer us a little money back in the form of a subsidy, right?

Fortunately, the carriers are probably not going to gouge us as much with a data-only tablet plan as they do with a data+voice plan. But that just means they're not going to give us as much of a subsidy. For voice phones, a subsidy of $400 is typical with a 2 year plan in the US. For tablets, I expect that the carriers will chip in around $200-300, bringing the price of a $498 tablet down to between $198 and $298. Anyone who thinks carriers are going to subsidize a $1000 tablet down to $199 is smoking something (and totally not sharing, dude).

To summarize, the perfect Android tablet needs to be full-featured but it also needs to be inexpensive. Against a well entrenched player, wannabe iPad-killers need to outdo the iPad in both features and price. It might not be fair, but it's true. And if that weren't hard enough, manufacturers would be wise to keep in mind that the iPad is a moving target. Next spring, you can be sure that Apple will be lowering their price and/or adding more features. They're not going to take it easy on you, so get ready for a fight.

See all the articles in the "Perfect Android Tablet" series:

  1. Long lasting battery
  2. Capacitive multi-touch
  3. Android Market and friends
  4. High resolution
  5. Low price

What would you build into *your* perfect Android tablet? Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

Topics: Laptops, Browser, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

Ed Burnette

About Ed Burnette

Ed Burnette is a software industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience as a programmer, author, and speaker. He has written numerous technical articles and books, most recently "Hello, Android: Introducing Google's Mobile Development Platform" from the Pragmatic Programmers.

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28 comments
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  • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

    Why is the Samsung tablet rumored to be priced north of 700 dollars?
    idiot101
  • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

    Have you not seen the Archos 101, pretty darn close I would say.
    marlatodd@...
    • no 3g and = no android marketplace = VERY limited apps = FAIL

      @marlatodd@...
      doctorSpoc
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

        @doctorSpoc Wrong Wifi = android market I use it all the time to download apps. I only need one 3G device (my phone) I can tether the rest via wifi.
        mrlinux
  • you missed the most important item on the list...

    the android tablet needs to be running android 3.0, "gingerbread"... otherwise it's not a tablet, it's just a big phone... it's idiotic to be running a blown up phone OS with blown up phone apps.. there is no gain in utility, usability, efficiency etc.. it's just a big azz phone! iOS for iPad and 25,000 and counting iPad specific apps have been augmented to actually take advantage of that larger screen.. and offer real increases in utility, usability, efficiency etc.. over the iPhone versions of those apps.. not so with android, you're litterally running a completely unaltered phone OS and phone apps, just blown up to double size or more.. does that make sense?<br><br>a successful android tablet needs to be running android 3.0 otherwise there is just no point.. other than watching videos, might as well just be using an android phone.
    doctorSpoc
    • Wrong.

      @doctorSpoc There's nothing stopping you from writing apps designed to use a larger and higher resolution screen... The Android platform supports versioning for different devices, why should this be any different? Plus Android being GPL can be modified by the manufacturer, you really don't need to include the phone dialer in your distribution if you don't want to.

      You're completely wrong.
      snoop0x7b
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

      I have an iPad an it's actually a big azz iPod. A big azz iPod I can see stuff on without being zoomed to the point it's like reading a newspaper looking through a drinking straw. That in itself makes a world of difference.
      SuperluminalX
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

        @SuperluminalX Well there are quite a few UI differences. None of Apple's apps use the same UI. There are a few new UI elements (popovers) and many, many applications use a split-view (both Apple's and third party). I agree it is a lot like an iPod touch, but it isn't the same. While you probably could run many of the same apps on the iPod touch, they wouldn't be very useable.
        Jeremy-UK
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

      @doctorSpoc It's not the android version that matters as much as whether apps are tuned for the big screen.
      Ed Burnette
    • Re: Gingerbread

      @doctorSpoc It's not the android version that matters as much as whether apps are tuned for the big screen.
      Ed Burnette
  • How about the Best Android Tablet for undrer $200?

    Arrington over at TechCrunch wants to make a tablet with Wifi, Skype, and media player for $200 or less -seems this could be the perfect Android tablet.

    As for the current specs, Google's CDD compliance document for hardware is gonna make it pretty hard if not impossible for anyone to come out with a "cheap" Android tablet, as it will need to include mobile phone service and that means getting the carriers involved. Do the total cost breakdown of the two year contract for a Samsung Galaxy Tab including taxes and initial hardware costs, and you're looking at close to $1000 or more.
    So forget about the Android Market for now (not to mention Froyo does not officially support the tablet "form factor").

    Other than capacitive screens, the tablets at http://www.AndroidGold.com sell for under $200 and have Android 2.1 (upgrade to Froyo soon), 1GHz CPU, USB2.0, WiFi, and come with a handy case/keyboard and stylus that more than make up for the limitations of the resistive touch screen.
    Android Hype - Anrdoid Tablet Reviews and More
    • Re: CDD compliance

      The iPad would meet CDD compliance with a three small additions - 2-3 extra buttons, a $5 camera, and a $25 3G radio. If Apple truly has ridiculously high profit margins then a manufacturer willing to except slightly less margin ought to be able to best iPad on features and price.
      Ed Burnette
  • The Cruz line looks pretty good...

    The Cruz tablet (http://www.cruzreader.com/tablet.php) looks very close to fitting the bill. Capacitive screen, Wifi, ships with 4 gig internal and an 8 gig SD card that can be upgraded. All for $299. A quick look on Ebay gives you plenty of 32gig SD and Micro SD cards for under $25. So for about half the cost of a 32 gig iPad you can get a 36 gig Cruze. Currently it's listed as Android 2.1 but the rumor is that they delayed it's shipping until mid Oct to update it to Android 2.2. If you really don't want to wait they offer the Cruz-reader right now with similar specs but a resistive touch screen for $199.
    Scubajrr
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

      @Scubajrr Well based on the reviews of the Cruz-Reader
      I would wait it to get a through review.
      It got 2 out of 5 stars with 30 reviewers.
      http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16858274004&Tpk=cruz%20reader
      mrlinux
  • android 2.x is not a tablet OS.. some quotes from people who know...

    GOOGLE:
    Google's director of mobile products, on Friday saying "Froyo is not optimized for use on tablets."

    SAMSUNG:
    "Since we emphasized portability and mobility, our determination was to apply smartphone platform instead of tablet platform," W.P. Hong, director of mobile products for Samsung, said last week. "Honeycomb will be implemented in our next-generation tablet, not this device, because that [Honeycomb] is specifically optimized for a different type of tablet. This emphasizes mobility."..
    - this is likely why they opted for 7" vs 10" because it's not a tablet.. it's a big phone.. wait for proper OS and hardware..

    i repeat.. the number one item on your list should be that an android tablet should be running a tablet OS and tablet apps... rumored to be arriving in android 3.0 code name [i]gingerbread[/i]...
    doctorSpoc
    • The fallacy of Android 2.x and tablets

      It's an axiom that future versions are going to be better than current versions. That doesn't mean people should wait for Google to get off the dime and release them. Samsung and Notion Ink are both making enhancements to the basic Android apps to optimize them for tablets.
      Ed Burnette
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

      @doctorSpoc <br><br>Well, I and a lot of others are running 800x600 views of many apps, including several web browsers, and especially ebook readers, on the Pandigital Novel (PD's version of the Cruz Reader that came out before the Cruz) just fine. We have to resort to some "tricks" to get apps from the Market, but it is pretty well worked out technique, and lots of the apps look fine on the bigger screen. <br><br>Stop looking backward/forward, and look around at what's here now.
      aroc
  • As long as you're dreaming

    Just get Google to make the marketplace available from any internet connection instead of only a cellular one
    archangel9999
    • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

      @archangel9999
      I access the Android Marketplace all the time through my LAN. I wasn't even aware that was verboten.
      SuperluminalX
      • RE: How to build the perfect Android tablet, part 5: The price of perfection

        @SuperluminalX It's not verboten. I think archangel was referring to the current requirement that the device has to have the cellular hardware in order to get permission to install the Market.
        Ed Burnette