From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:
Google is just a couple of days away from debuting a new tablet that could finally shake up a market utterly dominated so far by Apple’s iPad.
Reports from Gizmodo and others say Google is likely to introduce the diminutive 7-inch tablet at its Google I/O developers conference (whose Wednesday keynote I will be covering live here). The kicker, according to the reports: The tablet, built by Asus, will start at $199 for an 8 GB of memory, up to $249 for a 16 GB version.
Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire already plowed this pricing ground, of course, so such a tablet wouldn’t be entirely new. But while the Fire has been reasonably successful for Amazon, it hasn’t made much of an apparent dent in the iPad because of its limitations, including a somewhat app platform controlled by Amazon itself. And the Fire doesn’t run a standard version of Android, making it tougher yet for developers to do apps for it.
Let’s not forget Microsoft’s coming Surface tablet, either. But the reported pricing on that device, introduced last week, sounds quite close to the iPad’s. So unless it’s significantly better, which seems doubtful, it seems unlikely to mount a serious challenge.
But Google’s tablet, assuming as Chairman Eric Schmidt has promised (and this is a very big assumption) that it performs well, could for the first time challenge the iPad. And it would come at a time when tablets are the focus of everyone in tech from chipmakers and hardware manufacturers to app developers to marketers and publishers hoping to capitalize on a new mobile Internet device that could give them the creative canvas to rival (or exceed) the appeal of television and magazines. Here’s why Google might have a hit this time:
* It’s cheap. Now, merely being cheap won’t guarantee people will buy it in sufficient numbers to matter. But at $199, it doesn’t have to be every bit as good as the iPad. As Clayton Christensen has noted in cases dating all the way back to the transistor radio in the 1950s, a rival can most successfully challenge an established incumbent not by matching it feature-by-feature, but by offering something good enough for most people for a lot less money.
* The rock-bottom price will attract more app developers. If it’s decent enough to sell a lot thanks to the low price, that suddenly makes Android a more attractive platform for app developers. One of several reasons the iPad is the most popular app platform is that Apple controls the operating system version so developers don’t need to rewrite an app for each device running different versions. …