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Welcome to the Tablet Bargain Bin


Low-priced tablets are hot.

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The tablet industry, thought to be a possible growth leg for the consumer electronics industry, is in a rough spot.

On Thursday, IDC said the market grew just 3% year-over-year, a major slowdown from the 28.2% growth in Q4, which itself was a disappointment.

One major culprit was Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which saw a year-over-year decline of 16%. But the rest of the industry didn't fare much better, growing just 16.8%.

Samsung (OTCMKTS:SSNLF), which is on its way to taking Apple's market share crown, saw shipments grow 32%, but there's a catch. In its Q1 earnings report, the company said it expected competition to intensify "amid slowdown of growth trend."

So I decided to take a look at tablet demand to get a better sense of the competitive dynamics within the space, particularly for Apple and Samsung.

I tallied up the 15 best-selling tablets from the following retailers' websites: Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), Target (NYSE:TGT), and (NASDAQ:AMZN).

There are some caveats: This is US only, Internet only, and it's just one snapshot in time.

Here's what I found:

1) At least with third-party retailers, Apple (which positions itself as high end) seems to need discounts to move products. Apple has nine of the 10, and 10 of the top 15 best-sellers on, but Target is offering $50 gift cards with iPad purchases.

Best Buy offers $20-$25 discounts on some iPad models; there, Apple only has three products in the top 10.

Note: I left the Kindle in there as a point of reference for pure e-readers versus tablets.

2) The Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android market seems to be doing OK, mostly because of the availabilty of high-quality models around the $200 mark. There's moderate discounting on new Samsung models.

However, because of the strong demand for those cheaper models, I'm concerned about the long-term growth opportunities for higher-priced tablets (both Android and Apple).

I noticed that sub-$100 tablets, many of which even come with accessories such as cases and keyboards, are very popular at

So at the lower end of the income spectrum, there doesn't seem to be much propensity to pay up for fancier models.

Will those people ever become buyers of $400-$500 iPads? I think not.

3) There was only one Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) tablet in the top 15 at any of the four retailers. Best Buy had the 64GB Microsoft Surface in the No. 6 slot, aided by a $100 discount off the $399 regular price. However, I'd note that in April, Strategy Analytics said Microsoft platforms had 6% tablet market share in Q1, which is better than these rankings would imply.

4) Amazon's charts are dominated by its Kindle Fire models, which makes sense given that they get so much promotion to a captive audience. As per IDC's estimates, Kindle Fire sales fell 47% year-over-year in Q1.

5) Judging by the price data, Apple could boost market share by a big margin if it cuts price. But I suspect that the company doesn't want the type of customer who's price shopping in the bargain bin.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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