Unless you’ve been dead for the day, you must know the news: not only is there a new, greatly improved iPad on the way, but the iPad 2, the iteration of the device that was current up to today, will continue to be sold by Apple at a reduced price point. You can now get into the iPad line for a mere $399, if you don’t mind being a generation behind.

And you likely won’t, as the iPad 2 is a fantastic device that, again until today, was the high watermark of tablet design.

Here’s a fact: Apple is the only company in the world that has produced an affordable tablet that is worth a damn. Sure, you can snag a cheap Android tablet, but the experience, both hardware and software, is painfully bad (they appear to have been designed by people who hate you). Microsoft is bowling for a late, great entry to the tablet market, but it has a weakness: the same OEMs that it is going to lean on to build Windows 8 tablets are the same OEMs that are shipping crap right now.

Who’s going to say that they are going to radically shape up by the time Windows 8 is ready for the market?

By lowering the price of the iPad 2 Apple turned the screw another round, as now Windows 8 tablets have to compete in a market that has a lowered price floor. Can they build anything other than a cheap plastic brick of bilge for $399? Early indications are not good. Take this, from a post on a pair of Windows 8 tablets that are marked for sale at $800 and $10o0 (I’m going to allow myself a lengthy self quote to save us all a moment of time):

Microsoft worked, I suspect quite arduously, to keep the minimum system requirements of Windows 8 low. Very low, in fact. So low, that hardware capable of running the operating system can be very cheap indeed. Instead, ViewSonic is looking to charge essentially $1000 for a tablet that contains a wireless chip.

Putting aside the fact that company thinks that it can charge $200 for 3G access alone, even the $800 model is far too expensive. I suspect that at anything over $600, a Windows 8 tablet will not be able to compete effectively with Apple’s iPad. Now, the obvious response to that is to point out that Windows 8 is a full operating system, and not a simple tablet OS. Well, sure, but people are not going to use a tablet as their main computer within the next half decade, so it’s a roughly moot point; people want a mobile device to complement their main computing environment. A Windows 8 tablet, for that purpose, must be price competitive with Apple’s devices.

The wild card here are ARM-based Windows 8 machines, which are far more like the iPad, as they are so limited from a ‘desktop app’ perspective that they are not a full Windows experience in the slightest. Perhaps those machines can dive below the $500 mark, at which Windows 8 tablets, I suspect, would sell fantastically.

Here’s the gist: $800 is too much for a companion tablet, and $1000 is a joke. Let’s hope that other OEMs are more on the ball.

$800 was a punchline before Apple decided to sell the formerly market leading tablet at half that cost. Now it’s even more humorous.

I have a real fear: that Windows 8 is going to shape up to be a great operating system that has absolutely no hardware to run on. Sure, there will be some high-end devices, but their price point will place them outside of the reach of normal consumers looking for a second screen. What company will be able to ship a Windows 8 tablet that can compete on price and quality with Apple’s offerings?

And I don’t think that we are going to be able to hack Windows 8 to run on our iPads, so that idea is out. I’m starting to fret, where the good Windows 8 tablets at?