Is $399 iPad 2 cheap enough for you?

Last week, Apple lowered the price of iPad 2 16GB WiFi by $100 to $399 and the 3G model to $529. The move follows a pattern established for iPhone; during this release cycle 3GS is free and 4 is $99.

My question: Is $399 iPad 2 cheap enough for you? Cheap refers to price, not quality, although you're welcome to debate the latter in comments.

I got to thinking more about the price cut yesterday, while my wife and I shopped for a new Kindle Fire case. Not long ago, the local Best Buy had cell phones front and center as shoppers walked through the door. Recently, the store shifted handsets to the left and put tablets in this primo location.

Yesterday, the phone and computer sections were virtual wastelands, while buyers buzzed around tablets like busy bees fleeting to and from Spring flowers sampling the nectar.

By far, lower-cost models -- many also smaller -- drew most of the activity. During my 30 minutes in the store, not one person stopped to look at iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Best Buy sells WiFi 16GB models for $399.99 -- that's reductions on both. Actually, the electronics retailer has dropped the price on others, too. The 32GB models are now $499.99. Same is true of Sony S. Suddenly $400 is the new $500 for 9.7-inch or larger tablets at Best Buy.

But, again, shoppers buzzed around lower-cost, often smaller, tablets. I can't say whether it was more about price or size, but I expect both. Obviously, a half hour watching tablet shoppers in one Best Buy store is no measure of anything. A bit more revealing: According to Best Buy Online, the top-selling tablets are Kindle Fire ($199.99) and black iPad 2 16GB. The majority of tablets available in store cost $349.99 or more, with $399.99 the aforementioned new sweet spot.

Last September, I asked "Is $199 the right price for tablets?" after Amazon announced Kindle Fire. The poll is still open, and it's embedded below if you'd like to vote. Among the 2,172 respondents so far to poll question "What price would be low enough for you to buy a media tablet?" only 4.79 percent answered $399. By comparison: 12.38 percent, $299; 26.89 percent, $199. Fifty three point six eight percent responded $199 or lower.

Best Buy certainly offers plenty of tablets selling for less than $200. Among them: Archos 70b; Barnes & Noble Nook; Cody Kyros; Le Pan TC970; Lenovo iPad A1; and Skytex SKYPAD Alpha2.

Tablet competition is dramatically increasing and pulling away interest from PCs, and retailers like Best Buy are stocking up Androids, BlackBerries and iPads. "The use of applications such as email, social networking and Internet access, that were traditionally the domain of the PC, are now being used across media tablets and smartphones, making these devices in some cases more valued and attractive propositions", Ranjit Atwal, Gartner research director, says.

Last week, Gartner forecast that 2012 PC shipments would grow just 4.4 percent year-over-year, and that's off a weak comparison. IDC calls 2011 the worst year for PC shipments in a decade. Over the last four quarters or so, Gartner -- and IDC, for that matter -- have consistently over-estimated PC shipments. So that growth number is likely too high.

Of course, there is a kind of calm in the PC market ahead of Windows 8's expected autumn launch. I wouldn't be surprised if Windows 8 PCs take that front-and-center spot at my local Best Buy come the holidays. But for now, tablets are the new fad, and the question: Is $399 iPad 2 cheap enough for you?

Some BetaNews readers already have expressed opinions. iPad 2 is "still way over-priced for what you get", Anthony Clark comments. ToeKnee: "Very cool, but really wanted $299".

Commenter Douglas agrees. "That's what I was hoping too. I knew we wouldn't see $199, but I thought $299 was within reason. I still haven't purchased a tablet, simply because the functions I'd want it for just don't justify the price. I'm afraid I don't think $399 will change my mind".

Woe: "Apple just -- Samsunged Android tablets".

Please answer the question in comments below. If you are interested in another tablet, or recently bought one, please share that, too.

Photo Credit: Joe Wilcox

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