Tablet computers: Are they worth it?

Tablet computers – outside of the iPad – aren't selling well. The dearth of sales of tablet computers are hurting semiconductor companies.

Danny Moloshok/Reuters
A man uses an Apple iPad to record a man playing 'Star Hawk' on the PlayStation 3 (PS3) during the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 in Los Angeles June 7, 2011. Tablet computers aren't selling well.

I'm going to get to Fred Hickey's comments in a moment, let me just start with a lament of my own...

I have an iPad 2. It is easily the most useless member of my Apple family. My MacBook Pro, iPhone 4 and iPod Nano all mean a lot more to me and get much more playing time. The problems with the iPad are seemingly endless:

1. Volume doesn't go loud enough into the headphones to watch an iTunes-downloaded movie on a plane or train without straining to hear the dialog.

2. Only Safari as the browser (I NEED Firefox).

3. Instapaper doesn't work with Safari essentially rendering the web browsing useless to me.

4. Opening (for example) New York Post stories from Google Reader doesn't send me to the Post's site (where articles are free), it sends me to the Post's app which wants $76 for a year subscription (LOL).

Those are just off the top of my head. Basically, it just seems like a less-useful iPhone to me. Either that or I'm doing it wrong and I need an iPad tutor. I don't know.

Anyway, Apple's having no problem selling tablets but Fred Hickey (High-Tech Strategist newsletter) told Barron's (where he's a Roundtable legend) that everyone else selling PCs, notebooks and tablets is screwed. He notes the exaggerated weakness in the semiconductors and calls them "the canary in the coal mine" for tech spending...

Against a backdrop of global financial tightening, especially but not limited to China, and rising inflation that has sapped consumer spending, demand is breaking down for numerous tech products, from PCs to TVs. The tablet market, though, in particular, was supposed to deliver tech from the doldrums, and here the results have been an “unmitigated disaster,” writes Hickey, for everything other than Apple’s ($AAPL) iPad.

He thinks that weighs especially on makers of processors for tablets, of which Nvidia ($NVDA)has been the poster child.

“These things are not selling,” says Hickey, scoffing at a report last night by Research in Motion ($RIMM) that the company shipped 500,000 PlayBook tablet computers. “Shipped, and how many did they sell?” asks Hickey.

People are not buying notebook computers, nor tablets, “at the rate expected,” says Hickey, “Because they’re strapped for cash.”

Hickey also notes that Texas Instruments ($TXN) blaming Nokia ($NOK) for light guidance is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

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