Next to politics, perhaps no industry loves speculation more than tech. We may couch it as “analysis” or — if we’re being especially honest with ourselves — as “commentary” or “opinion.” But at its best, even when fact-based, it’s informed guesswork.
Which leads me to the latest rumor of a Google Nexus tablet.
Digitimes was among the first to report that Google has cut a deal with Asustek Computer to create a seven-inch, Android (‘natch)-based tablet, allegedly launching in May or June, reportedly costing $199, and purportedly designed to put price pressure on Amazon and other tablet makers. The Wall Street Journal and others followed reportorial suit.
But rather than put price pressure on Amazon and its Kindle Fire, as some are speculating, it may have the opposite effect: legitimize the low-cost tablet market in the U.S.
Inexpensive Android tablets are coming out of the woodwork, internationally. Perhaps the most prominent effort is in India, where the US$50 (US$35 subsidized) Aakash tablet was launched to great fanfare last year, but stumbled when early models manufactured by U.K.’s DataWind were deemed sluggish and fragile. Yet India’s government has decided to press ahead with the next batch — and it’s prompted at least one other Indian company to introduce a more-capable $100 Android tablet.
Similarly, the famous (some might say infamous) One Laptop Per Child initiative showed off prototypes of the $100 XO-3 tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Designed for kids in developing countries and supposed to be shipping this year, the XO-3.0 sports an 8″ screen, 4GB storage, and either Android or OLPC’s Sugar OS. And, of course, a hand crank when conventional power isn’t available.
Tablets alone don’t a market make. But education ministries certainly seem interested in creating one. Thailand’s Ministry of Education has announced it will give every first grader a tablet — and plans to buy 900,000 of them. Australia has outfitted every grade 9-12 student with either a tablet or laptop this year as part of its Digital Education Revolution program. And South Korea, even though it’s backed away somewhat from earlier plans for the youngest students, still wants to start replacing textbooks with tablets in 2014.
What has all this got to do with Google and Amazon?
In the U.S., the standard for tablets has been set by the iPad. Which is great for Apple and for all who want its admittedly impressive, large screen and cutting-edge feature set. But an iPad, at roughly $400-600, is pricey. Too pricey for many.
Imagine how much bigger the market could be if it had two tiers. The top iPad-like tier for the latest tech. And a second, more entry-level tier, one with much of the same feature set, form factor and content, but at one-third to one-half the price.
It could, among other things, help education continue to adopt new tools. Despite some back-and-forth on whether tablets would actually save schools money (a report cited by AllThingsD from today’s Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Education digital learning summit includes both pluses and minuses, as does this thoughtful analysis by education industry exec Lee Wilson), education is going digital for more reasons than just pixelating textbooks.
That’s what a $199 Google Nexus tablet could do for the market — make the Kindle Fire’s price less of an outlier, and more of a solid, expected and welcome device baseline.
Frank Catalano is a consultant, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies whose GeekWire columns take a practical nerd’s approach to tech. He tweets @FrankCatalano and consults as Intrinsic Strategy. He’s writing this while spending a week immersed in the nerd news flow at GeekWire HQ.