Freescale, supplier of the chip that powers the Kindle as well as about 70 per cent of the ebook market, has just developed a 7-inch tablet reference design that will basically be the genesis of many tablets starting 2010. And it's $US199.
Now, to be fair, those two figures are a bit preliminary. The $US199 figure is the one quoted by Freescale, not the final price that OEM companies that will buy this design from Freescale and put their own spin and customisation on it will charge. And, although Freescale says this tablet design will allow companies to bring the tablet to market in as low as six months, customisations (hardware or software) and bug killing will undoubtedly inflate that.
Even if only on paper, this Freescale reference design is pretty damn promising. It's powered by a netbook-esque ARM processor, a 7-inch touchscreen (resistive, unfortunately, to keep the design under $US200 - you'd go up to $US250 if any OEM put a capacitive touchscreen on there), 512MB RAM, 4-64GB internal storage, removable microSD slot, an optional 3G modem, 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1, GPS, USB, audio ports, SIM card, speaker, microphone, 3-megapixel webcam, 1900mAh battery, accelerometer and light sensor. Whether or not including all these options in a build will result in a machine that's less than $US200 is unclear, so there might be some sacrifices that need to be made.
As for the OS, it's primarily browser based, but the root of it is a customised Debian Linux build, so you could theoretically go and install Linux applications onto it. But, as a tablet, people are mostly going to be consuming media, so going with a browser, like the JooJoo did, makes sense. Freescale did come up with an interesting $US50 keyboard docking station add-on that you can keep at home and use as an input device if you actually need to do some typing, so it's kind of the best of both worlds.
The bottom line is that Freescale has made a pretty enticing design, and if a decent enough OEM picks it up and gets it to market at under $US200, it could be the start if a very interesting computing category - one that's a step higher than smartphones but a step lower than netbooks.