Are Tablet PCs Too Expensive? Compared to What?

One frequent comment you hear about Tablet PCs is that they will not enter the mainstream until the price comes down. I thought it would be worthwhile to explore the question, “Are Tablet PC’s too expensive?” Today let’s ponder …

Compared to What?

I was cruising through the latest flyer from Dell, and as I have occasion to do, wandering through some big box retailers. It is pretty clear that pound- for-pound, in the under 5 pound range, Tablet PCs cost more money than similarly configured ultra-light machines. Not a whole lot more, but 15-25% seems common.

When you get into the newest crop of Tablet PCs the differential seems a bit higher. These latest offerings with their larger screens and optical drives weigh a bit more than many of last year’s models. They are also less money. This puts them in competition with more mainstream alternatives at a different price point. In this segment, $300-$400 dollars difference looks closer to 30-40% as a premium for the Tablet PC functionality.

But what are we comparing here. If you look at the technology alone, the difference is misleading. You can buy a desktop digitizer-tablet for under $100 dollars. So to the initiated, the price differential to get into a Tablet PC may seem disproportionate. Of course that inexpensive desktop tablet is only 5 inches (measured diagonally), not 10 or 12 or 14 inches like a Tablet PC.

This is where the specifications are disingenuous. You cannot meaningfully compare specifications between an ordinary notebook computer and a Tablet PC, any more than you can between that notebook computer and a desktop machine. They can do the same sorts of things, but can they?

Let’s do something really ordinary.

Fire up your desktop, your notebook computer and your Tablet PC (or failing that, a pencil and paper). Pick up the telephone and retrieve some messages. Let’s say there’s some things you need to record for later: a telephone number, a physical address, directions to that address. What is the most natural mechanism for dealing with this?

I can’t type with a telephone precariously perched on my shoulder, but I might try, at least for the telephone number. For the rest, I’m pretty sure I’d abandon the keyboard. Wouldn’t you?

How can you possibly compare these seemingly similar devices (desktop, notebook, pen and paper / Tablet PC) ?

You can’t. Processor speed, memory, hard drive capacity, none of these have any meaningful impact on your natural inclination to use one tool over another.  Ask the technical guru in the company or your family if a Tablet PC is a good computer. If that expert does not have an Tablet PC, you just know what they are going to say.


2 thoughts on “Are Tablet PCs Too Expensive? Compared to What?

  1. I agree that it is difficult to perform a direct comparison so it really comes down to functionality and perceived worth.

    If you ‘forget’ the digitiser aspect (essentially what makes a Tablet a Tablet) and compare raw hardware specs then the price difference becomes the premium for Tablet functionality. How much ‘value’ can be ascribed to this really does vary on an individual basis. The same can also be said of caparisons between a laptop and a PDA. How many ‘mobile workers’ carry a laptop around when they only use it as a Personal Information Manager? Too many. These users would be far better off, on a day to day basis, with a PDA.

    Therein, however, lies the difficulty with the argument. Functionality can be affected by two things: ability and choice. The extra functionality afforded by a laptop over a PDA gives the ability to perform additonal tasks with greater processing power should you choose to do so. By a PDA and you do not have that choice. Tablet PCs v laptops is a similar issue – some people geta convertible and use it mainly as a conventional laptop. So why not just purchase a conventional laptop? Choice and the ability to flip it and start inking should they wish to do so.

    Tablet PC users who really ‘get’ the format find there is no going back once they have started inking – creativity and productivity are increased for these users as the tasks they undertake are perfectly complimented by the Tablet form factor. For these users the ‘value’ given to the additional functionality a Tablet affords far exceeds the actual monetary differential between the Tablet and a laptop. For the rest it is an element of forward planning and, perhaps, future proofing. What ‘could’ I get from it if the right application presents itself? And this is where it becomes a ‘perceived worth’ rather than an actual monetary worth.

    Admittedly, problems do lie in the lower end of the market. A student can pick up a low-end laptop for next to nothing these days and put it to good use, but it is widely demonstrated that Tablet PCs can provide huge benefits in education. So, when will we see ‘bargain bucket’ Tablets on offer? Toshiba have started a move in this direction but I don’t expect too much progress to be made until we hit the next generation of devices. Hardware specs (whilst improving all the time) are still relatively low compared to laptops so there isn’t much of a gap between the current lower and higher spec Tablets. Once Tablet spec improves further there will be room at the lower end to sell cheaper entry level models.

  2. I’m at secondary school in the uk and i’m thinking about the possible applications for a tablet pc in our environment.

    Maybe for art or i.t you could have the teacher send out the work from their pc, have the students complete the work, save the work on the teacher’s pc. The teacher takes home the pc in her car, marks the work (with the pen ;)), then in the next lesson, the students receive the work that they handed in, only now it’s marked, through the printer. They keep a hard copy in their personal file. The school would then send the grades from excel to be updated at reception. That sounds good to me 🙂

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