Free Tablets!

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One of my favorite podcasts is Critical Path with Horace Dediu. Horace’s also the guy behind Asymco.com, a great blog about asymmetric competition, Apple, mobile in general, and more. He uses data to drive his analysis into otherwise lightly explored areas. Always a great read and an insightful podcast! He’s got an Asymconf conference coming up in late January at IBM’s Almaden Research Center – I’d be there if I could but I’ll be heading to Havana, Cuba for a photography workshop the week of his conference.

On a recent show, Horace talked about the evolution of tablets and how different companies were pursuing their objectives in the tablet market. At the high end, with classically high profit margins, is Apple with its iPad family. At the other end is Amazon.com and Google who both appear to be willing to settle for much lower margins on their base hardware products.

This discussion made me wonder what the endgame in tablets might be. We’ve got these two examples – Apple at the high end with a tablet (and associated ecosystem) generating lovely margins. At the other end, we’ve got others who are opting to price their tablets close to cost – viewing them as razors and expecting to make their real revenues from how those tablets are used to purchase content.

And then this article showed up a few days back – about how the Financial Times was crossing the threshold – giving away a free Nexus 7 tablet to new US digital or print subscribers. This feels like a slippery slope…

Pushing this discussion to an extreme, might we some day see free tablets from others – provided to us by those who would love to enable us for commerce within their particular ecosystem – and who might benefit from the additional signals such a tablet might provide from our browsing/searching/shopping history? Those signals – spanning across our interests as we read, search, shop, etc. – are valuable, aren’t they?

I’ve been thinking we’re moving into a post-card world with the capabilities our smartphones bring. Might a free tablet strategy fit in sometime soon? Where will mine come from? From Amazon? From Apple? From Google? A card issuer? A card network like Visa or MasterCard or American Express – or PayPal – or someone else? Maybe from my mobile carrier?

What do you think?

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