By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 6:00 am
SanDisk is introducing a new MP3 player today. It’s called the Sansa Zip Clip, sells for under $50, and has a 1.1″ color screen, 4GB of storage, a MicroSD slot, a stopwatch, and an FM radio. Until the company alerted me to the news, I’d sort of forgotten that anyone was releasing new stand-alone MP3 players. But hearing about it got me thinking about a newer market dominated by Apple–tablets.
SanDisk’s Sansa line has long been one of the few success stories in media players that doesn’t involve products with “Apple” in the name. The company managed to quietly sell enough players to become the second most successful player in the category, and it apparently continues to do well enough to make introducing new models worth its while.
But SanDisk has never really tried to go head-to-head with Apple. It’s focused on cheap, simple models which seem to cheerfully acknowledge that they’re not going to outdo Steve Jobs’ brainchildren when it comes to pure style. Sansa models compete relatively with the iPod with some success by not competing with the iPod.
To greater or lesser degrees, nearly every non-Apple tablet released to date has tried to out-iPad the iPad. They’ve adopted similar industrial design and interfaces, offered theoretically superior specs and features, and sold for prices in the same ballpark. It hasn’t worked. (Just ask HP.) Already, the market is piling up with deadwood that failed to answer the question “Why should somebody buy this instead of an iPad?”
Maybe what we need is a tablet that has a Sensa, um, sensibility–one which aims for a low price, offers some appealing capabilities in a competent fashion without getting wildly ambitious, and is widely available at big-name retailers. And maybe it’s most likely to come from a company that isn’t a direct Apple competitor. (The likes of Sony and Samsung have had more trouble with media players than SanDisk, a company mostly devoted to making storage devices, not consumer electronics.)
Two contenders spring to mind. One is Vizio’s Android tablet, which sells for under $300, has a smaller-than-the-iPad 8″ screen and basic specs, and comes with features designed to let you use it as a universal remote. I haven’t tried it for myself yet, but SlashGear’s Rue Liu gave it a reasonably positive review. And then there’s Amazon’s unannounced tablet. We don’t know anything about it for sure yet, but rumors point to it being cheaper and simpler than the iPad.
Slate’s Farhad Manjoo has some thoughts on cheaper, simpler iPad competitors in general and the Amazon one in particular.
I already own and like an iPad 2, but I’m looking forward to somebody–anybody–figuring out how to make a tablet that large numbers of rational people choose over an iPad. I don’t suppose that SanDisk has given any thought to getting into the market?