Will new bargain basement $100 tablets save Windows 8?

Microsoft built Windows 8 mainly for tablets, but so far, tablet buyers have stayed away in droves. Microsoft's new strategy has tablet prices dropping to $100 and $200. Can that solve Microsoft's Windows 8 mobile woes?

The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft's vice president of OEM partners Nick Parker said this his keynote address at the Computex show in Asia:

"We'll reach price points that are very industry competitive for 7, 8, 10-inch devices. They will really surprise you. Last year, we were in the 3s, 4s, 500 dollars. This year, we'll be 1s, 2s, 3s."

That day is just about upon us. Mobile Geeks reports that at Computex, Chinese manufacturer Emdoor is showing off its $100 Emdoor EM-i8080 Windows 8.1 tablet. It's got an eight-inch screen with 1280 by 800 resolution, with 1 GB of RAM, and a 16 GB SSD for storage. It's powered by Intel's mobile Bay Trail chip, and it's got a microSD slot, and Micro USB and Mini HDMI ports.

Obviously, that's not high-end hardware, but for $100 that's not a bad deal. And it's not only no-name vendors who are looking to cash in by selling cheap Windows tablets. At Computex, Parker showed off the the Toshiba Encore 7, a 7-inch Windows 8.1 tablet expected to sell for about $150. Expect many more $100 and sub-$200 devices to follow.

These devices are a far cry from Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, which is targeted not just as a tablet, but as a laptop replacement, and costs $930 if you add in the keyboard-cover combo.

Microsoft knows that it has to go down-market if Windows 8 tablets are to succeed. Android tablets at $200 and under have flooded the market, and Microsoft needs to get some of that market share. That's why it is now giving away Windows 8 to makers of devices under nine inches.

There's some evidence that lowballing might succeed. Jitesh Ubrani, IDC Research Analyst, Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, recently said about Windows tablet market share:

"Although its share of the market remains small, Windows devices continue to gain traction thanks to sleeper hits like the Asus T100, whose low cost and 2-in-1 form factor appeal to those looking for something that's 'good enough'."

Devices selling between $100 and $200 won't be 2-in-1s, but they likely will be "good enough." I expect that once inexpensive Windows tablets hit the market, Windows will start to get some serious market share. A strategy targeting the high end with the Surface Pro 3 and the low end with cheap tablets could well pay off.

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