Retailing giant Tesco has unveiled its own cheap Android tablet, intended to showcase its own TV and online shopping services, a strategy reminiscent of Amazon's strategy with its Kindle Fire tablet range.
Tesco's Hudl tablet (seen above) has a seven-inch 1440x900 HD screen, with 16GB of storage (expandable to 64GB) and runs Android Jellybean 4.2.2.
It packs a quad-core 1.5GHZ processor, micro-HDMI port, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and claims a nine-hour battery life when watching video. It goes on sale in around 1,000 Tesco stores and online from 30 September.
One element that sets it apart from most low-end Android tablets is that is features a 'launcher' button (bottom left of the picture) which takes users directly to Tesco's digital services, including blinkbox movies and TV, music and Clubcard TV, banking and shopping for groceries.
Retail giant Tesco has 20 million customers in the UK, and has been building up an array of online services over the last few years. The tablet will function as a gateway to them in the same way that Amazon uses its Kindle hardware to encourage consumers to buy into its other online services and content.
Amazon's strategy has been to sell its hardware for cost and make money on the services (streaming movies and tv via Lovefilm, music via Amazon MP3, audio books by Audible). Tesco's strategy seems similar although it insists it is making a profit on the hardware, too.
While the device will sell at £119, if customers use their Tesco Clubcard vouchers to buy it, they can get it for £60-worth of vouchers: (In contrast a Kindle Fire currently costs £99, a Nexus 7 is £199 and the iPad mini comes in at £269.)
The apps which come preinstalled on the Hudl are shown above.
According to Tesco's chief executive Philip Clarke, three-quarters of UK households do not have a tablet, and the company's research has found that many feel that the technology is too expensive or intimidating.
Described as the "first stage" of the retailer's tablet offering, the Hudl is likely to be joined by other hardware too: "You should expect technology to be a continuing part of our relationship with our customers" Tesco CIO Mike McNamara said on Monday. While the Hudl is only being launched in the UK, Tesco did not rule out expanding it internationally later.
Here's a side view, showing the Hudl's ports.
While Tesco designed the Hudl itself, it used a manufacturing partner based in China to make the tablet which also manufactures well-known products for Microsoft, HP, Blackberry and Sony.
With even Tesco now making own-brand slates, the launch of the Hudl shows that tablets are now an absolutely mainstream device — yet more bad news for the beleaguered PC market.
But it also reflects how important hardware has become, especially as a gateway to other services. Apple's success has been in combining hardware and an app ecosystem, while Amazon has successfully tied together hardware and retail. Microsoft's Surface devices are another attempt at using hardware to lock customers into a particular ecosystem.
Tesco's scale, deep pockets and range of services makes it one of the few companies outside of these tech giants that could make such a move – the question is whether it can extend its brand from groceries right through to tablets.
The back of the device is shown above.