Nobody wants 3G tablets because nobody wants to pay for the 3G data, according to an IDG analyst.
Speaking to ComputerWorld, IDG analyst Bob O'Donnell said that "hundreds of thousands" of 3G tablets are sitting on shelves and in supply chains gathering dust because "nobody wants to pay for that data." The solution, according to O'Donnell, is for carriers to allow people to use a single data plan across multiple devices.
This makes sense. A lot of sense. I can understand how carriers see the boom in mobile devices as a massive cash cow, and that the idea of selling multiple data plans to one person owning both a smartphone and a tablet is hugely compelling, but data plans are expensive and people are smart. People realize that they're paying twice for something that in reality they shouldn't need to. The ideal situation would be to pay for the data you think you'll consume over a month and then be able to use that across multiple devices.
A simple way that carriers could offer this is to make tethering (that is, setting up a WiFi hotspot using a smartphone or tablet) cheaper. It makes no sense (from a consumer point of view at any rate) for customers to be billed more than a token amount for this service. The argument given against offering this feature is network saturation, but a GB is a GB is a GB, and if people are burning through data faster than previously then either their quote won't last the whole month (which could mean juicy overage fees for the carrier) or they will need to upgrade to a bigger plan.
Then there's the difference in usage between smartphones and tablets. It makes sense for a smartphone to have a 3G connection because people use them while on the move. Tablets on the other hand, are less likely to be used on the move and more likely to be whipped out in places where people will have access to WiFi ... at home, at the office, in a coffee shop. People aren't going to pay big bucks for a data connection they only get around to using infrequently.
I'm going to throw another reason why sales of 3G tablets are sluggish ... carrier dissatisfaction. On the whole it seems that people are dissatisfied with their current carrier (no matter who their carrier is ...), and this is making people reluctant to give their current carrier more money. While there's a certain level 'the grass is greener on the other side' feeling, and folks feel they might be better off with a different carrier, they aren't motivated enough to do that either. This is where unlocked tablets come in and could allow people to pick and choose between carriers.
If manufacturers want to sell 3G tablets, they need to get creative with how to sell that data plan.