This Week in Tablets: Buying advice for Black Friday and beyond

November 24, 2012
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The worst part about Black Friday in the States is that you can’t avoid it. I was in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving, and it’s all we heard about on the news, on the radio and in the media. Sandwiched between all the news about shopping? A barrage of ads touting the occasion.

Whether you like it or not, the blitz is compelling enough that you can’t help but consider what gifts you’re going to get your friends, family…or yourself.

This year, not surprisingly, everyone I know is asking me what I think about all the tablets on the market today, and which ones they should buy their husband, daughter, mom, grandparents, etc.

Last year at this time, the answer was pretty straightforward. Unless you were really looking to save $$$, the answer was iPad 2 all the way, with Amazon’s Kindle an outside choice for the reading crowd.

This year? Not so much. The release of Windows 8 and devices like Lenovo’s Yoga, Microsoft’s own-brand Surface tablet add an extra layer. And the second coming of the Kindle Fire HD further complicates this decision.

Even Apple is complicating things. The recent release of the iPad Mini means that you can’t even tell someone, “Buy an iPad” anymore without qualifying which size you mean.

There are worse problems to have

Black Friday annoyances or not, it’s better to have more choices than less. First, this is the sign of a healthy, mature ecosystem. Second, the more variation, the more competitive the pricing…and the more rapidly the platform will evolve.

Incidentally, a year makes enough of a difference in today’s tablet market that buying 2011 Android devices on Black Friday special would probably sour new users to the whole tablet experience.

Remember all of those heavily discounted Android tablets flooding the market last year for Black Friday? Part of your mission this year is to make sure friends and family avoid all these “specials”.

Let’s consider that rule number one in our logic tree around tablet buying decisions for the holidays, and get on with the buying advice.

iPhone owners get iPads

There’s really no exception to this rule. If you have an iPhone, there’s no reason to get anything else, unless saving $$$ is a key consideration. And even then, an iPad Mini or an iPad 2 would do the trick.

One caveat here: If you or the person you love is an Amazon Primer, the perfect gift isn’t a tablet, but Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite. It’s the perfect complement to a tablet, great for nighttime reading.

Happily enough, Apple did actually acknowledge Black Friday, with minor discounts on the iPad 2 and third-gen iPad this past Friday.

The tablet for happy Android phone owners?

Quick—name the best Android tablet on the market these days. I bet it took you a second.

Android has kind of been lost in the shuffle of Windows 8 and the iPad Mini, but it feels like there’s a pretty clear consensus here: Google’s own-brand Nexus 10 or Nexus 7. Both trims are lightning fast, and have enough processing power that they won’t be obsolete anytime soon.

There’s one Android outlier that bears mentioning, and that’s Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10. As soon as you hear from someone that they want a pen, default to this device. Software updates have made stylus operations on the Galaxy Note series more operable than they previously were.

If grandpa wants to upgrade his netbook…

Think Lenovo’s Yoga convertible. It’s the best of all worlds. At $1,000, it’s more expensive than netbook class devices. But it’s still a great deal. Even if Windows 8 isn’t quite fully baked.

Who gets a Windows 8 Surface tablet?

This is a good question, with one obvious answer: Windows fanboys. Believe it or not, they do exist, even if this type of person is classified more by a vehement anti-Apple position than a pro-Windows one.

Aside from this, worker bees who have only used Windows in their lives would be a good fit for Surface, as would employees in Windows environments with BYOD policies.

What about kids?

It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that over the next few years, kids of all ages are going to need their own tablets. While doing some research on the topic, I discovered the Vinci Tab II, an affordable ($169 and up) Android-based device that is built around early education for children between the ages of 18 months and 9 years.

The most interesting aspect of the Vinci Tab is that it has been designed as its own ecosystem with a proprietary series of curriculums that have been created by specialists to reinforce children’s natural development as well as U.S. common core standards.

I was able to get my hands on one of these tablets, and it’s pretty impressive. Education-minded parents should give Vinci a look.

(For what it’s worth, I’ll be digging a little deeper into Vinci in a future This Week in Tablets—they’re an interesting enough company to merit more words.)

This week’s winner: Magazine publishers

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that tablet devices are going to be a boon for traditional magazine publishers, many of which have watched their businesses erode significantly over the last decade.

One sign of a tablet-inspired rebound: Future Publishing, a UK-based magazine publisher, is reporting over £6m in revenue from digital editions of its periodicals.

Overall, the digital revenue is enough to keep Future’s overall revenue flat, no small feat given the company’s exposure to the changing tides around print and single-copy sales as a result of the 100+ print editions it publishes each month.

Not surprisingly, the vast majority of sales income is coming from Apple’s Newsstand. Regardless of the source, the publisher is optimistic that increased tablet sales across iOS and other platforms will continue to grow digital circulation and revenue.

Future is 100% right on this, which bodes well for magazine publishers who have been able to maintain loyal (if fading) print audiences for the past few years.

This week’s loser: Intel

We’ll see how Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet fares—whenever it comes out—but for now, it’s no given that Windows 8 is going to drive a whole lot of ultrabook sales.

Adding fuel to this fire, TabTimes International Editor Doug Drinkwater reported back from a CES preview in London that Ultrabooks were but a blip on the horizon this past week.

This is bad news for Intel, which, lacking any real penetration into the tablet market, has aggressively pushed the Windows 8-based Ultrabook category. In the meantime, Nvidia is jumping the CPU giant with the Tegra 3 part, which is showing up in more and more devices, including the RT version of Surface.

To be fair, Intel is big enough to play it slow. And there is hope on the horizon for the chipmaker.

Some interesting slides from Intel’s CPU roadmap leaked earlier in the week. The deck appears to indicate direction for Bay Trail, the code name for Intel’s 2014 successor to its Clover Trail line of tablet- and mobile-oriented parts. Clover Trail is being used in many of the emerging Win8 Pro tablets and ultrabooks.

If the leaked docs are to be believed, Bay Trail will come with a quad-core CPU and a DirectX 11-capable graphics processor capable of running at resolutions up to 2560 x 1600. The latter is particularly impressive, and will have interesting implications for gamers on the Win8 platform. The specification also includes reference to 3D camera support in Bay Trail-powered devices.

All this said, 2014 is a long way off. Given what's happened in the tablet sector in the last 18 months, Intel is definitely trying to hit a moving target.

On the horizon

This week, TabTimes very own Tablet Biz conference and expo is taking place in New York City on November 27.

You can still sign up to take part in what should be a riveting agenda dedicated to exploring how businesses of all sizes are navigating the many options available in the market today to make the right decisions around tablet use and deployment.

As an added bonus, you’ll also be able to see first-hand the winners of TabTimes very first annual Tabby Awards, which will recognize the finest business and productivity apps of 2012.

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