Paying More for Less?
Analysts have been suggesting for the past few months that Apple's own much-rumored tablet PC will retail for somewhere in the $500 to $700 range. While Apple itself has regularly refused to confirm even the existence of such a device, these analysts have had no problem theorizing about the Apple tablet's possible features, including a 7- to 10-inch touch screen, virtual keyboard, Wi-Fi, integrated 3G module and modified version of either the Mac OS X or the iPhone OS. In a similar vein, the blogosphere has been speculating for some time about the existence of the Courier tablet PC from Microsoft. Rumormongers have suggested features for the Courier that include the ability to allow note-taking, recognize handwriting, and organize information and photos. Microsoft had no comment for eWEEK about a possible device or price point.Partners At this juncture, Fusion Garage seems to have no partners joining it on the launch-no surprise, given the device's disputed history and its narrow functionality. If the JooJoo fails, it could re-emphasize the idea that a tablet PC needs to launch with a variety of software and content partners in hand if it wants a decent chance at success. Whether or not Apple's own tablet PC becomes a reality, Apple seems primed to draw on its existing relationships with media companies to provide such a device with a wide range of content from the beginning. If Microsoft releases the Courier, it will also likely do so in conjunction with other companies. However, a content-provider ecosystem that's too fragmented or contentious could prove just as detrimental to a tablet PC's chances of success as having no content partners at all. On Dec. 8, a consortium of publishers-Cond??« Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp. and Time-announced "an independent venture to develop open standards for a new digital storefront and related technology that will allow consumers" to read media on portable digital devices. The group's goal, apparently, is to create "a highly featured common reading application capable of rendering the distinctive look and feel of each publication" on top of a publishing platform optimized for multiple devices, operating systems and screen sizes. Content will be delivered through "a consumer storefront offering an extensive selection of reading options," one capable of displaying ads. It's certainly no secret that publishing companies are scrambling to create a profitable model for distributing their content online. But back in November, rumors circulated that other publishing companies-mostly newspapers-were in talks with Apple to possibly port content onto a tablet PC. In remarks at TheTimesCenter in New York, originally off the record but later leaked in full on the Website of the Nieman Journalism Lab, New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller made mention of "the impending Apple slate" as a potential avenue for content. Whether he was referring to a tablet PC, or merely using "slate" to mean a generalized lineup of devices, is a question that Keller later refused to answer; nonetheless, a nearly simultaneous report from the Sydney Morning Herald suggested that Apple officials were in direct talks with Australian media companies over a new content application for a tablet.
If users are reluctant to embrace JooJoo and its limited functionality at $500, reasoning that they can find more functionality and usefulness in a netbook, then Microsoft and Apple may likewise find themselves hard-pressed to explain why a consumer should purchase their $700 products over a $250 ultraportable-unless they can give their respective tablet PCs some sort of unique functionality.