It now looks as if Apple will announce its next-generation iPad tablet PC – the iPad 3 – on March 7 (although Apple hasn't yet officially set the date), with availability likely the week after.
Other than the much-speculated upgrades ("iPad 3 To Go On Sale In Early March?"), possibly the biggest boon to consumers looking to buy their first tablet will be the likely iPad 2 price drop, at least for a limited time (i.e. as long as supplies last).
When Apple started selling the iPhone 4S, for instance, it dropped the price of the still-impressive 8 GB iPhone 4 from $199 to $99. I don't think Apple will slice the price of the iPad 2 in half, from $499 to $249 for the 8 GB model. But even at, say, $300, iPad 2 beats all other cutting-edge Android tablets and could trigger a price war – good news for nouveau tablet buyers.
Barnes & Noble and RIM, the makers of the BlackBerry PlayBook – are being a bit more proactive prior to iPad 3's pending profusion.
Barnes & Noble has just announced an 8 GB Nook priced at $199, which, to be honest, is more a reaction to the 8 GB/$199 Kindle Fire e-reader/tablet than to iPad 3. Kindle Fire has outsold every other tablet other than iPad, and especially the over-priced $249 Barnes & Noble Nook.
Since you can add memory to the Nook (and you can't to the Kindle Fire), and since you can buy a 32 GB memory card for $30 or less to boost the Nook's memory capacity, spending $50 for just 8 GB more memory for the $249 16 GB Nook makes no fiscal sense.
In addition, Barnes & Noble has further slashed the price on the original Nook Color from $199 to $169.
While Nook's price cut is designed to keep pace with Amazon's Kindle Fire, BlackBerry is simply trying to keep its tablet relevant against any competition.
RIM has just released a massive operating system upgrade for the PlayBook to eliminate much of the operational criticism leveled at it when first released – namely, to enable PlayBook to be used independently from a BlackBerry phone.
In other words, the new BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 OS gives RIM's tablet its own access to BlackBerry email, calendar and contacts. Previously, you had to "bridge" your BlackBerry phone to the PlayBook via Bluetooth – in other words, you had to keep your BlackBerry and PlayBook wirelessly tethered within 30 feet of each other to access these three essential functions, a ridiculously limiting arrangement.
BlackBerry 2.0 is RIM's second move to maintain some level of tablet relevancy. The company earlier slashed prices of the PlayBook from $299 to $199 for the 16 GB version, from $599 to $249 for the 32 GB model and, most drastically, from $699 to $299 for the 64 GB edition. By comparison, the 64 GB iPad 2 is still $699, although maybe not for long.
In addition, the new BlackBerry 2.0 OS adds thousands of additional apps and app compatibility – including with a variety of Android apps (although not ad-supported ones) and, perhaps most importantly, Angry Birds (glad someone has their priorities straight) – to the BlackBerry App World store.
Another new BlackBerry 2.0 app is Print To Go which, confusingly, doesn't let you print wirelessly from a PlayBook. Instead, Print To Go lets you transmit ("print") documents from your desktop PC to a PlayBook.
It took only around 15 minutes to download and install the new OS to the PlayBook without being connected to a PC.
While these new capabilities and price makes PlayBook tempting – I found it friendlier to use than Android-powered tablets – RIM's continued viability makes investing in one a risky proposition. BlackBerry's share of the smart phone market has collapsed from 44 percent in 2009 to less than 10 percent now.
What all the other tablet makers will do price-wise when iPad 3 goes on sale along with a discounted iPad 2 – well, stay tuned.