Fifteen years ago, I predicted sand-based tablet devices would soon follow the price-collapse trajectory of the pocket calculator. They would become so inexpensive that cheap versions would show up in cereal boxes. I was remembering the price crash that happened shortly after my family spent the equivalent of 500 2013 dollars to buy me a four function desktop calculator. (We were poor. That hurt.)
Like a stuck clock I continued to repeat my prediction over the many years to come, albeit with less conviction. Finally, in 2010, Gassée told us Google was aiming for the $80 smartphone . Which may have happened this year, albeit without much attention.
We have since moved closer to the cereal computer; eqe reports buying an Android tablet for $35 in Hong Kong in Nov 2012. That price presumably omits patent payments ; it is possible because AndroidOS is available without charge and Chinese factories have excess capacity to produce commodity components.
So, at last, the price collapse seems to be happening. So the question is why now?
One answer is that Moore's Law is failing; computers that were once good for only 2-3 years now work perfectly well for six years or more (barring component failure).
On deeper reflection, however, I think that's the wrong answer -- because the question is misleading. The price of computing has not really collapsed; only computers have become inexpensive.
So we may soon have our cereal box computers, but they won't be worth much. That's because an AndroidOS based 2013 tablet is both a network peripheral and an ad-consumption peripheral that requires network access to be truly useful. Network access is still relatively costly, on the order of €250/year in cutting-edge Estonia .
Alas, just as it seemed I might hit my old target it split in two. I'll never hit it now, it no longer exists.
Eventually, of course, the direct cost of a certain form of computing will fall. Eventually GoogleOS devices will be able to access GoogleFunded networks for a very low cost . Whether there will be other forms of computing at different prices remains to be seen.
The cereal computer remains one of my worst predictions.
- Palm III and PalmPilot Devices 2008
- The $80 ultra-portable - in unexpected form 9/2010
- Calculators are really weird tech, but their time may finally pass 9/2012. Rather like fax machines.
- Making better predictions 3/2011. I review my failed predictions, like the cereal computer.
- Computing's calculator price collapse at last? 8/11
 I assume anyone reading this is smart enough to know that contract-bound prices aren't worth discussing.
 Perhaps by low cost 4G wireless piggybacked on the fiber network they're building out in the US.
 Much more in lagging-edge America.
 We will be pay in other coins.
 I believe part of the reason calculator prices crashed is that there was minimal IP protection in those days; software patents had not been invented. I recall reading that large parts of calculator functionality were not patented.