When Intel recently predicted $99 tablets for the upcoming holiday season, it must have forgotten last year's deals. Those included a $49 7-inch Android tablet Black Friday special from Walmart, not to mention a $69 one from OfficeMax.
A year later, such deals look like they're coming back. Walmart already has some pre-Black Friday online specials available, including an Android tablet from third-tier brand Xelio for the familiar $49 price. Like last year's Black Friday deal, it includes an anemic 4GB of onboard storage, but this year's model offers a roomier 10.1-inch screen.
Likewise, the leaked Toys "R" Us Black Friday ad shows a Polaroid-branded Android tablet for $49.99, though this one is a 7-inch slate (again, with just 4GB of user-accessible storage). And regional retailer H.H. Gregg has a 7-inch Android tablet on sale for $69.99 as part of its pre-Black Friday special. (Yes, it has 4GB of storage as well.)
With most Black Friday deals still under wraps, these appear to be early indicators of more cut-rate tablet specials to come. They're invariably using Android for obvious reasons, though they're more likely to use an older version of the OS that is powered by basic specs (no Retina-quality displays, no latest quad-core processors). Given their status as the anti-iPad in terms of price and cachet, what is the impact of these bargain-basement tablets?
Market research firms like IDC have seen that such budget tablets are the reason that Android will surpass iOS as the top tablet platform and that once-hot eReaders are on the ropes. Gartner sees the tablet market bifurcating into budget and premium segments, not unlike the global cellphone market.
It's tricky to track down sales info for budget tablets in the U.S., but for what it's worth, the Xelio tablet Walmart discounted to $49 is already unavailable online. With Apple showing little interest in reducing prices, developing markets and those who can't afford its iPads (or even Google or Samsung's premium Android tablets) can join the tablet revolution on the cheap via what one tech blogger is calling "the featurephones of tablets."
For basic Internet access, reading digital books and viewing online video, a $50 Android tablet may be enough, even if it's barely enough. For kids who will be happy with any tablet, and not just an iPad, budget models could make a good holiday gift. Will one be on your shopping list? Let us know in the Talkback section below.