Feb. 16, 2011 at 4:09 PM ET
Motorola announced the Xoom tablet price today, and at its cheapest, it's $100 more than the iPad. Though LG, Samsung an HTC haven't yet revealed their price tags, you can bet that they will be similarly high.
Yes, Android lovers may have to wait a little longer before the great green robot comes out of the hills and wipes the smug look off the faces of empty-pocketed Apple fandweebs. In fact, for 2011, iPads are likely to stay cheaper, even when Apple bumps up the specs to match the Android competition with the iPad 2.
Wha? How can that be? Well, it turns out that it's a known paradox that everyone currently competing with Apple is suffering, says Chetan Sharma, a top wireless industry analyst. "One of the problems that [Android phone and tablet makers] have is that, because of the tight integration of software and hardware, Apple can deliver better price performance. At the same price, Apple hardware is better."
But then there's the catch: Because of Apple's brand, reputation and ecosystem, these other companies can't do well when they charge their customers as much or more. Sharma says that, for mobile products, it's smart for those competitors to put a 20 to 30 percent discount between them and the nearest Apple product. So even though the Android tablets are costing more to make, the Android camp can't charge as much.
Anyone looking for proof of this can check iPhone pricing — the "cheaper" iPhone 4 costs the same as the most expensive Android handsets, while the pricier iPhone costs $100 more. Meanwhile, the 7-inch Galaxy Tab and Dell Slate are priced way too high for mass appeal. Don't forget that $399 with contract means, at the very least, something around $800.
Apple's going to keep managing its costs, too. The business press has noted on several occasions that Apple is pre-paying for billions of dollars worth of components and factory capacity up front, guaranteeing supply — at a fixed price — for several years to come. A rich company like that with a decent head start will be able to play the price game until at least some of its competitors literally run out of cash. You may not be too interested in the sausage-making side of things, but that's how Apple is playing the game.
The real pinch for iPad competitors — not just Android tablet makers like Motorola, Samsung, LG and HTC, but HP and RIM as well — is that they now have to show that they're unique enough to offer a better, or at least different, experience than the iPad, as well as each other.
But reports from Engadget, Fortune and others — covering the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where there are Android tablet unveilings a-plenty — say that there's very little to distinguish one from the other.
"All three tablets run the bone-stock Honeycomb UI and are built around NVIDIA's 1GHz Tegra 2 system-on-chip, leaving little room for differentiation on the basis of user experience or internal performance," wrote Engadget's Vlad Savov. "Most choices between the three, then, will come to things like brand loyalty, ergonomics and pure, basic aesthetic appeal."
Once customers rule out the cheaper, more popular iPad, that is.
But people waving their little green Android pennants do have reason to cheer, eventually. It's presumed that prices will go down and Android tablets will, cumulatively, overtake the iPad. Some say 2012, but others say 2013. The latest report from tech manufacturing analyst iSuppli puts it this way: "By 2013, the iPad will decline to less than 50 percent of overall tablet shipments, as it faces the double jeopardy of increasing competition from Android-based tablets, combined with the rise of devices using PC operating systems, possibly including some from Apple."
Meanwhile, from now through "most of 2012," the iPad will stay on top, thanks to both the head start in manufacturing and sales, and to the oh-so-tablet-friendly App Store.
More tablet stories from msnbc.com's Technolog: