HP Tablet Fire Sale Lets Us Put A Price On The Value Of A Strong Development Community
from the apple-and-orange-sales dept
A couple of weeks ago, HP made the significant decision to get out of the consumer hardware business, simultaneously shutting down their PC business and their mobile device business built around the WebOS purchase that came with Palm, Inc. When they abruptly did so, HP also announced they would be clearing out the supply chain by offering their very capable, $500+ TouchPad tablet for $100 (16GB models).
What followed was a mad rush of purchasing, with people clamoring for a cheap, but powerful tablet. This is by no means a bad device: remember that the WebOS was critically acclaimed, and this tablet had a 9.7″ screen, webcam for video chat, lightweight, 1.2GHz dual-core processor and more. These are flagship-grade tablet specs, and although we’ve learned that UX is more important than specs, good hardware is a definite plus. The biggest problem with the device was the lack of developer support for the ecosystem, so there are “thousands” of apps available according to HP, but not the ‘hundreds of thousands’ that work with the iPad.
This fire sale has provided a fairly interesting experiment in the market clearing price for non-iPad tablets. The base iPad sells readily for $500, and is often sold out. This is the high-water mark for tablets, which no other has matched. Other vendors have built competitive hardware and tried to sell it in the same price range (Motorola Xoom, Samsung, Playbook) but were rewarded with lackluster sales. Some of those devices, on paper, are arguably better than the iPad, so the most likely reason Apple can extract a premium is the power of their App developer community. An iPad can do much more than a Xoom partly because of what Apple offers, but mostly because of the ‘whole product’ which includes 400,000+ apps.
Device industry executives must stay up at night wondering how to price their tablet. The HP experiment will prove useful. Now we know that at $500, buyers walk away from the deal. But at $100, they literally rush the store like Walmart on Black Friday. This tells us that the correct price for a good tablet with weak developer support is between $100 and $500. That’s a fairly wide range. I wish HP had set the price higher, to provide a better test. Unfortunately, whenever an OEM company sets the price, what we get is their desired price, but not the market value. For that…we have eBay. Many of the buyers at HP’s firesale were just arbitrageurs looking to flip the tablet to make a quick buck, and those tablets quickly showed up on the auction site. A look at eBay today reveals a high number of TouchPads on offer, and sold for a market price of ~$250.
If the hardware alone is valued at about $250, how does iPad sell for $500? Well, we’ll have to attribute some of the premium to the “cool, sexy” mystique of Apple products. But I wouldn’t go too far with that. The Samsung Tab or HP TouchPad are both very slick looking products. A chunk of the premium has to be allocated to Apple’s excellent and easy UX. The mass market doesn’t want to geek out, they want easy products. But Honeycomb and WebOS aren’t so far behind…
No, the dominant reason that iPad can sell out at $500 (even as sales have tipped well beyond the fanboi segment) is the value brought by apps. Apple is making cake because it has the biggest developer community coding around the OS, and the value of that community is currently worth something on the order of $200-250 per tablet. It’s going to be tough for any other tablet to breach this market, where Apple already has the supply chain dialed in, the developer community, the innovation lead, and the brand. Android may progress bit by bit, but for now Tablets are Apple’s private playground. Competition will heat up if Android tablet versions of the Nook and Kindle go to market around the $325 range (making their profit on books instead). Note that the TouchPad has an estimated $318 Bill of Materials (BoM). In a few years, Moore’s Law and steady Android progress will reduce the cost and app advantage iPad now enjoys.
HP will be emptying the supply chain in a couple of weeks with the final production run of TouchPads. I wish they would bump up the price to see if the market would bear $318 direct from the manufacturer (ostensibly, a more desirable seller than eBay members), but it seems that they will keep the current fire sale price.