Is availability the true mother of all inventions?

You’ve all heard the old saying that necessity is the mother of all inventions. As I stare at the growing number of tablets- especially Android tablets- I do wonder though who thought that yet another identical model was necessary. Then I look online and in local electronics stores to actually find any of these tablets, and most of the queries are answered with either “out of stock”, “not yet released” or “not available in this store”. It seems as though you need 20 different tablets in order to find a single one of them actually for sale and in stock, which is why I wonder if the only thing that keeps the tablet market this fragmented is the fact that it’s borderline random which tablet you will actually be able to buy.

In microeconomics the theory is that a consumer will choose a product that is best suited for that individual, given that he/she is a logical being that chooses objectively. That works fine for pretty much any product group; food, transportation, travel, clothes, and even a lot of types of electronics. I mean, when was the last time that a new washing machine was announced with a 2 hours keynote that was live blogged online, followed by long queues outside the store to get one? Or when was the last time you have to order a new yoghurt type online and wait a month for it to arrive? Chances are you’ve never experienced either of these things. Most of the retail market is based on consumers going into a store, buying what they need, and then head home. Not the tablet world.

As i write this I’m looking at the web shops of various large electronics stores here in Norway. On one of the online ones, I can buy a 32GB EEE Pad Transformer, 32GB Acer A500, 32GB Acer W500, HTC Flyer, an original Galaxy Tab or a red Dell Streak. If I want the 16GB version of either of the first two, the black Dell Streak, an iPad or a Xoom I have to wait anywhere from 3 days to ??? days, with the latter being the most prominent. All the cheapest models have an unknown ETA, or aren’t even listed (Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1). Neither of my two local brick and mortar stores- each equivalent to a US Best Buy- have any tablets in stock at all. The ETA ranges from July 1st to July 15th, though they have less than half the selection of the webshops.

When I then check the bestbuy.com US website to see how they’re doing, things aren’t looking a whole lot better. Two of the tablets listed first are preorders, while the Galaxy Tab 10.1 actually lists as shipping in one day. The Transformer is not in stock though and neither is the iPad. Still, not bad, though two of the most popular tablets are unavailable.

My point in all of this is that I’m getting rather sick and tired of product availability becoming a more important thing to look for than specs and features. I want to be able to go into a store, pick the tablet I like the best, and walk out the store with it. That’s how it should work when you’re paying hundreds of dollars for a product, and it shouldn’t be an exclusive club where only the luckiest or most devoted users can manage to track down a product. Manufacturers need to get a grip on this issue and help us go back to the days when features and specs determined what device we bought, not whether or not it was possible to track one down. Of course it’s a lot more complicated than just willing it to happen, but one can dream…

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.