As the iconic tablet, the iPad has an inherent advantage over competitors in terms of name recognition. But such recognition also comes with the risk of "iPad" becoming the generic term for any tablet computer. When shoppers start thinking of the terms "iPad" and "tablet" interchangeably, then Apple (nasdaq: aapl) could have a problem selling its pricier product line as tablet computers become viewed as commodities.
And that's how Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), maker of the Surface line of tablets, along with the other manufacturers of Windows tablets, can hope to get some traction -- if not dominance -- with their devices: by competing on price while staying close to Apple on performance.
There are now two of the latest iPads: the iPad Retina with a 9.7-inch display and a price starting at $499; and the iPad Mini, with a 7.9-inch display and a price starting at $329. Add $130 to those prices for cellular connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi, and then add another $100 for each addition to the standard 16 GB of memory, and the price can get pretty high.
Maxing out the memory at 128 GB on a cellular-enabled iPad brings the price to $929. Doing the same to a maxed-out 64 GB iPad Mini adds up to $659. Keyboards, stands, covers, etc., would keep adding on to the cost.
Given those prices, it would be understandable for consumers to check out Apple's competition and see what they can get for their dollars.
The big question is, are any of the increasing number of different Windows tablets realistically capable of putting a sizable dent into Apple's share of the tablet pie?
Let's start with Microsoft's own tablets. The company's Surface line only met expectations if those included Microsoft having to take a hit for $900 million in unsold tablets for the company's fiscal year ending in June.
Obviously, the Surface didn't make much of a splash after its introduction last year. Part of the problem could be the confusion among consumers over which version of the Windows tablet to buy with which operating system: Windows 8 or Windows RT. The operating systems need different chips and cannot share apps. The poor reviews engendered by Windows RT's lack of flexibility also didn't help sales.
But that didn't stop Microsoft from planning to release two of its three new Surface tablets with Windows RT, the Surface 2 and the smaller Surface, one with an 8-inch display. But buyers beware: Microsoft has removed "RT" from those tablets' names. The Surface Pro 2 will come with Windows 8.1 Pro, however. Prices for the new Surfaces are not yet available.
Here are the other Windows tablets.
Acer is releasing its W3-810, an 8-inch tablet selling for $349. Paul Thurrott, in his Fall 2013 Windows Tablet Preview, says this is the same as the "terrible" Acer W3 but with more capable processor.
Then there is the ASUS Transformer Book Trio T100TA, at 10.1-inches and $329. It comes with a docking keyboard.
Dell is coming out with two tablets, an 8-inch version called the Venue, and a 10.8-inch version as yet unnamed. The smaller one has a price of $299, and the larger one, $399.
Lenovo also is coming out with a large and small tablet. The 8-inch Miix 8 goes for only $249 and comes with a keyboard. The Miix 2 has a 10.1-inch screen and will sell for $449.
Nokia is coming out with a 10.1-inch tablet running Windows RT on a quad-core Qualcomm 8974 ARM processor. The $499 price tag is a bit steep for an RT machine. And how, I wonder, will this tablet mesh with Microsoft's Surface line if the acquisition goes through?
Finally, Toshiba is coming out with the Encore, a mini-size tablet selling for $329.
So, that's 11 Windows tablets coming out this season, with base prices ranging from $249 to $499 (not counting the Microsoft tablets that are not yet priced). Will the variety of Windows devices provide viable alternatives to the iPad at price points attractive enough to turn shoppers' heads? And, if so, would Apple be able to respond with cheaper iPads?
I don't think Apple has to worry – yet -- about Windows competition, but let's not forget about that other OS that already has overtaken Apple globally on the smartphone front: Android. Google's Nexus 7 tablet sells for $299, and CNET said, "Pound for pound, the Nexus 7 is the best small tablet you can buy."
And a 16 GB 4G LTE Nexus 7 costs only $350, next to a comparable iPad Mini's price of $459. That really could make a difference come holiday shopping time.
Fool contributor Dan Radovsky has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.