At what point do you stage an intervention: gently prise the set-square and soldering iron from Samsung‘s hands, and lead them from the tablet labs and into a quiet room where all the iPad adverts have been snipped from the coffee table magazines? This morning Samsung outed its latest model, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2, a 7-inch successor to the original Galaxy Tab of late 2010. In the intervening period, we’ve seen a cavalcade of Samsung slates – the Tab 10.1 and 8.9, the 7.7 with its Super AMOLED Plus display, the 7.0 Plus which, for a while, looked like the original Tab replacement, and they’ve not been the only ones. Has Samsung got a tablet obsession or is it simply reading the market right?
At first glance, obsession is an easy explanation. “Throw a lot at the wall and see which stick” is certainly a workable strategy, if an inelegant and profligate one. You could, though, give Samsung the benefit of the doubt and highlight that it’s merely refreshing an existing product point, bringing a single-core slate running a smartphone iteration of Android up to date with dual-core and Google’s latest tablet-centric build. The existence of the 7.0 Plus does somewhat muddy that argument, however.
Will the scattergun approach to tablets work for Samsung? On the one hand, it’s exactly the strategy the company has taken with smartphones, and it’s been a successful one. Samsung broke the 300m device barrier in phones last year, with a roadmap about as different to, say, Apple’s as you could imagine. Not just two or three generally similar devices targeting entry-, mid- and flagship-range buyers, but almost a different handset for every possible sub-section of the potential audience.
So, if you want a roughly iPhone-scale smartphone, running Android, but cheaper and with a mid-range camera… oh, and you specifically want it in metallic blue, Samsung likely has the model for you. If you tick most of those boxes, but prefer something a little larger than an iPhone, but don’t care too much about photography, there’s a device in Samsung’s range that should satisfy you as well. In short, there’s everything from bargain-basement to Galaxy S II flagship (with the GSIII on the way).
In the end, though, the tablet proposition boils down to price. Tablets aren’t generally sold with a subsidy, unlike cellphones, and that means there’s a minimum tideline that all manufacturers have having to challenge. Some of Samsung’s phones are sold free-on-contract: in contrast, a “bargain” slate is a $199 Kindle Fire or a $249 NOOK Tablet. Apple’s iPad isn’t the target here, beyond an aspirational figurehead: something to make consumers aware of tablets’ existence and fuel a desire for them.
If Samsung can bring the Galaxy Tab 2 in at under $300 – pricing is yet to be officially confirmed, but that looks to be the way the tag is heading based on rumors so far today – with the lure of Ice Cream Sandwich and the content ecosystem the company has created, it could stand a chance. A street price closer to the NOOK Tablet would be even more convincing. That’s also roughly the price of a high-end multifunction remote control; if you’ve got a Samsung Smart TV, you could turn your Galaxy Tab 2 into a universal remote and an extra, streaming screen with the free apps Samsung offers in its download store.
That works today, but whether Samsung – or the market – can sustain what feels like a new tablet every other month remains to be seen. Viewed from outside, it looks like a ridiculous challenge. Arguably, Samsung doesn’t have to convince everyone with every iteration: it only has to persuade those people on the market for the latest tablet at any one time. For now, then, the model works; Samsung just needs to find its breakthrough device sooner rather than later.