Asus and Nvidia described a tablet that would run Android 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich -- the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. An early prototype of the hardware featured a 1280-x-800-resolution IPS display; 1GB of RAM; micro-USB, micro-HDMI and microSD ports; and two cameras, including an 8-megapixel rear-facing lens. Hands-on reviews of the product were glowing: One blog touted the tablet's "blazing fast" speed, while another talked of its "bright, vibrant screen."
Perhaps most impressive of all, though, was the tablet's price tag: $249 -- a seemingly impossible cost for a device of that caliber. But this was no mistake.
"As we continue to see the volume of existing tablets increase, prices naturally come down on component cost," explains Nick Stam, Nvidia's director of technical marketing. "You'll see a number of devices coming out this year that will be lower cost than what you've been used to."
Indeed, $249 may be only the beginning. Rumors have been rampant that Google is working with Asus on a product similar to the 7-inch tablet introduced at CES, only with a price closer to the $150 to $200 range. Numerous reports suggest the tablet will run a "pure" version of Google's Android operating system, with no manufacturer modifications, and will be a joint effort between Google and Asus -- similar to Google's work with other hardware manufacturers when creating its Nexus and "Google experience" devices.
While Google representatives won't comment on rumors and speculation, the evidence is certainly starting to stack up. A quick search of the Internet turns up no shortage of purported leaks and insider winks. Sources close to the situation with whom I've spoken have discussed the project with a similar level of certainty, pointing to this June's Google I/O developers' conference as the time when the details -- and perhaps the product itself -- will be unveiled.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Nvidia's Huang strongly hinted that an Android tablet running his company's Tegra 3 processor would debut this summer for a cost of $199. "We took out $150 in build materials, things like expensive memory," Huang is quoted as saying. "At $199, you can just about buy a tablet at a 7-Eleven."
The budget tablet strategy
So how are prices on such seemingly high-quality devices suddenly plummeting so low? While Nvidia points to falling component costs, some analysts suspect there's more at play.