With a few honourable exceptions - such as Archos, whose G9 series tablets are both cheap and pretty tasty - the world of tablets is a world for people with fairly deep pockets. Apple's iPad may be cheaper than anybody predicted, but £400 for a bit of computer kit is still a significant purchase for most people - and that's one of the reasons why tablets still account for a very small percentage of hardware sales.
That may be about to change, because there's a new tablet king coming: El Cheapo.
El Cheapo isn't a genuine brand, of course, but the name does a good job of describing the tablets that are likely to appear in enormous volumes over the next few years. According to Taiwan Economic News, firms such as Gigabyte technology are responsible for "the emergence of generic tablet PCs worldwide", which "is expected to grant Taiwanese PC makers huge business opportunities in the near future".
Generic tablets would ship under a variety of names, and could come from anywhere: you might have tablets branded with the name of a computer firm, or a phone company, or a newspaper, or even a fast food retailer. It's something we've already seen in mobile phones: before the iPhone and Android came along, HTC built its business making generic smartphones that would turn up in shops with an O2 logo or an Orange logo on the front.
Some firms have already tried it, with limited success: when clothing retailer Next unveiled an Android tablet last year, the underpowered device resulted in hoots of derision. It was the right idea at the wrong time: Android wasn't tablet-ready, and component prices hadn't plummeted enough to make it possible for firms to deliver decent devices at low prices.
That's changed. The potent combination of ever-cheaper components and a tablet-focused version of Android should lead to a flood of new tablets reaching the market, possibly with interesting new ways to pay for them. For example, you might get a tablet when you subscribe to your favourite magazine, or when you sign up for a new mobile phone contract.
We'll never see an iPad with some other firm's name on it, but it's quite possible that the next wave of Android tablets have some very unusual logos on them.
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