The Consumer Electronics Association has verified that tablets are hot this year, appearing as No. 2 on the most-wanted list for the holidays, and trailing only behind clothing. With so many desiring a coveted tablet, but unsure as to what they need, we've compiled a simple guide to getting all the best goodies in time for the big season.
TUTORIAL: Investing 101

History of the Tablet
While it may seem that the tablet first appeared with the striking popularity of the iPad series, these clever little gadgets have a rather involved history that goes back to early 2000. Microsoft's attempt to make the personal tablet computer a household staple fell short of expectations, leaving an aching hole in the heart of users who craved a truly light and portable computing experience. When Apple released its iPad in April 2010, the world was more than ready to embrace the technology. Since then, several other brands have ramped up efforts to compete in the arena, bringing big players such as Motorola, Toshiba and even the most recent Kindle into the fray. With the sudden competition, consumers may feel overwhelmed with the options and opportunities to get just the right amount of tablet for their dollar. (For related reading, see How Tablets And E-Readers Can Save You Money.)

Current Tablets
While there are almost as many "tablets" as there are consumer electronics brands (even the kiddie computer company Leapfrog has introduced their own "LeapPad" for tots), not all are created equal. Tablets on the market as of today include:

  • Apple's iPad, forerunner of tablets, runs on iOS 5 and gets applications through the massive iTunes storefront.
  • Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom get their functionality from Google's Android 3.0 operating system.
  • The Asus Eee Slate boasts Microsoft Windows 7, and its applications can be found via Microsoft and the Asus @Vibe online store.
  • The ViewPad 10 from ViewSonic corners those in the "indecisive" market as the first contender to accommodate both Windows and the Android operating systems.

Several small or "plain label" companies have released their own version of the tablet, as well. These can likely be found in big box stores, online wholesalers and Black Friday sale ads, as the holidays get closer; quality and system features will vary wildly for each.

Up-and-Coming Tablets
While there will be others rounding the corner, no tablet has generated more pre-sale excitement than the Amazon offering of the Kindle Fire, a $200 response to the growing need for a more affordable alternative to the iPad. The Fire, which has a Nov. 15 release, is gaining traction for its connection to Amazon's growing library of multimedia products – including over "18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines and books." Amazon has been, in essence, building 2011's entire business model around seamless integration of the new Fire, having added all kinds of Fire-friendly perks into their Prime Membership package. Customers who buy a Fire and already have Prime status can enjoy free streaming videos and a Kindle owner's "Lending Library" upon activation of their new tablet. (If you're interested in investing in companies that create tablets and e-readers, see A Primer On Investing In The Tech Industry.)

Common Features of the Tablet
Operating systems and app store functionality aside, the unique features of tablets are what attract loyal customers. For those who aren't certain as to their tablet needs, there are a few questions you can ask yourself before browsing the market, including: Do you prefer a larger screen? Will it matter if your tablet has a built-in keyboard? What battery life are you expecting? Is Adobe Flash a must-have for browsing and applications?

Perhaps the most crucial factor in deciding which tablet you'll buy is the choice between getting a wi-fi compatible product over one that runs on a 3G network. Many consumers appreciate the flexibility that a 3G network provides (even far away from a wireless hub), while others find the required data plan service charges - $30 or more a month - to not be worth the added range of connectivity.

Pricing Changes
Most tablets don't have much room for negotiation on their prices – especially the iPad, which follows strict pricing models from Apple corporate. While you may be able to take advantage of a small discount around the major holiday (usually within the 5-10% range), your best bet for "getting a good deal" will come with the add-ons that retailers can throw at you when you buy a tablet. Valuable perks to look for when buying include accessories, extended warranties and even gift cards for future purchases from the retailer.

The Bottom Line
The holidays will bring about even more buzz on how the tablet is a "must-have" item for the season. Practicing due diligence by reading product reviews, trying in-store demos and asking lots of questions could, perhaps, be the key to getting just the right tablet for your needs.

Related Articles
  1. Economics

    Understanding Switching Costs

    Consumers incur switching costs when they receive a monetary or other type of penalty for changing a supplier, brand or product.
  2. Investing

    What’s Holding Back the U.S. Consumer

    Even as job growth has surged and gasoline prices have plunged, U.S. consumers are proving slow to respond and repair their overextended balance sheets.
  3. Economics

    The Problem With Today’s Headline Economic Data

    Headwinds have kept the U.S. growth more moderate than in the past–including leverage levels and an aging population—and the latest GDP revisions prove it.
  4. Economics

    Explaining Market Penetration

    Market penetration is the measure of how much a good or service is being used within a total potential market.
  5. Economics

    Calculating the Marginal Rate of Substitution

    The marginal rate of substitution determines how much of one good a consumer will give up to obtain extra units of another good.
  6. Investing Basics

    10 Companies That Yuppies Love

    Learn about 10 companies loved by the modern Yuppie, including how this demographic's impressive buying power has boosted these companies' earnings.
  7. Stock Analysis

    Is the Apple Watch a Real Threat to Fitbit?

    Examine the potential for marketplace competition between Fitbit and the Apple Watch in the rapidly growing consumer wearables industry.
  8. Investing News

    How 'Honesty' Could Pay off for Jessica Alba

    Is it possible that Jessica Alba is one of the savviest businesswomen on the planet?
  9. Personal Finance

    Invest in Costco? First Understand Its Balance Sheet

    A strong balance sheet sets a company apart and boosts investor confidence. How healthy is Costco based on an analysis of its balance sheets from the last two years?
  10. Investing Basics

    The 5 Reasons Why RadioShack Went Out of Business

    Learn five reasons why RadioShack went bankrupt: store concentration, online competition, product concentration, management issues and financial missteps.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Substitute

    A product or service that a consumer sees as comparable. If prices ...
  2. Fast Fashion

    Definition of "fast fashion."
  3. Duty Free

    Goods that international travelers can purchase without paying ...
  4. Online-To-Offline Commerce

    A business strategy that draws potential customers from online ...
  5. Chargeback Period

    The timeframe during which a credit card issuer can dispute with ...
  6. Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG)

    These are consumer goods products that sell quickly at relatively ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What does marginal utility tell us about consumer choice?

    In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)?

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the difference between JIT (just in time) and CMI (customer managed inventory)?

    Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management focuses solely on the need to replenish inventory only when it is required, reducing ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are some common ways product differentiation is achieved?

    There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What economic indicators are important to consider when investing in the retail sector?

    The unemployment rate and Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) rank as two of the most important economic indicators to consider ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What factors make it difficult to compare performance ratios between retail stocks?

    Companies that operate in the retail sector significantly differ in terms of their profitability and efficiency, making stock ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!