Dell has announced that the “Streak 7 is no longer available.” The death of the Dell’s Android tablet line doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it points to some lessons that other tablets might learn from to be stronger competitors.
Dell has given it a valiant effort. It was the first major company to come out with a tablet to compete with Apple’s iPad, and it has developed—and subsequently pulled the plug on--both a 5-inch and 7-inch model of the Streak. It is sad to see Dell abandon the tablet market, but overall the death of the Dell Streak--or any single tablet other than the iPad--has little bearing on the tablet market.
Why, you ask? Basically, the answer is that up to now there hasn’t really been a “tablet market,” just an iPad market. It seems that the Amazon Kindle Fire will shift that debate some, but it remains to be seen just how much.
Based on recent figures, the Apple iPad is on pace to sell 40 or 50 million tablets in 2011, while all rivals combined have sold just over a million. It is also worth noting that the leader in non-iPad tablets is the HP TouchPad, which basically didn’t sell at all until HP pulled the plug on the device and clearance out its inventory for $99.
Using those figures, all other tablets combined make up a negligible segment of the “tablet market”, and any single tablet--such as the Dell Streak--has no significant impact one way or the other. Here are some a few things other tablet rivals should keep in mind if they don’t want to follow the Dell Streak to extinction:
$200 Subsidized Is Not the Same as $200
Price is obviously a consideration in comparing tablet options. Most iPad rivals have priced themselves on par with the Apple tablet--and most have failed to sell any appreciable number of tablets at that price.
As evidenced by the frenzy over the HP TouchPad fire sale, the relative success of the BlackBerry PlayBook at the greatly reduced price of $200, and the phenomenal sales of the Kindle Fire at $200, it seems that there is a market for non-iPad tablets when the price is right. But, some tablets resort to wireless carrier subsidies--like a smartphone--to get the price into that range.
Judging by the tepid reception and poor sales, customers don’t agree that $200 with a two-year contract tied to a mandatory wireless data plan is the same thing as a $200 tablet. For iPad rivals to sell, they need to be priced competitively without strings attached.
But, This Tablet Goes to 11
It might be comical—if it weren’t so sad—to see tablet vendors fixate on specs. Faster processors, more processor cores, more memory, more megapixels in the camera, SD memory card slots, and other differences in hardware don’t make up for a poor interface, or an inferior user experience.
That is not to say that specs don’t matter—just that they are not the only consideration, or even the primary consideration. Assuming two devices each have a solid user experience, the one with the better hardware specs is likely to be the better deal, but iPad rivals need to focus more on delivering a quality experience overall, and less on trying to outdo each other with leapfrogging hardware specs.
Comparing hardware specs of tablets is like comparing ingredients of food. I am sure a quinoa salad with organic beets and goat cheese is superior in many ways, but the user experience of eating a slice of cheesecake wins every time.
I believe the market is out there. I like my Motorola Xoom, and I have seen other very capable tablets. Tablets like the Dell Streak have competed in the wrong ways, though, and left a virtual iPad monopoly in their wake. Hopefully, the Amazon Kindle Fire can lead the way, and we will see more mainstream adoption of a diverse array of tablets beyond just the iPad.
Tony Bradley is a Columnist at PC World