With tablet prices dropping across the world, is 2012 the year that tablets become inexpensive?

Across the world, we’re seeing tablet prices fall.

In America, Sony has dropped the price of its Tablet S by $100 and Research In Motion has slashed its BlackBerry PlayBook by half, bringing it to $299.

Rumours are currently circulating that Apple intends to release a $300 USD iPad when the third-generation model hits, sparking ideas that the iPad 2 will be kept around like past iPhones have been, or we’ll see a 7 inch model that the company has been long-suspected of working on.

But those prices come nowhere near what students in India will be getting.

At around $40, the Aakash is the cheapest tablet we’ve heard of yet. Fairly limited in what it can do, the Indian Aakash – also sold under the name UbiSlate 7 –  arrives with the now out-of-date Android 2.2 Froyo, 2GB storage over memory card (either SD or microSD), a 7 inch screen, WiFi, and a 3 hour battery life.

And while we doubt the specs would put the performance of the Aakash anywhere near that of an iPad or Sony Tablet S, at a little under $50 would you even care?

The Indian sub-$50 tablet certainly doesn't have the looks of an iPad.

While Australian prices haven’t yet reached the same price point as they are overseas, we are seeing some movement with electronics stores and brand names dropping prices to just above $300. Budget devices are also getting the fat trimmed, with tablets now available for around $200, even if they too aren’t the highest of specs.

With phones costing anywhere between $50 and $1000, it’s clear that we’ve got big dollars to spend on mobile gadgets these days.

Once the king of budget notebooks, the netbook is expected to become less important this year, with the recently introduced ultrabook – a thin and light laptop with reasonably powerful innards – eventually replacing this type of computer.

In fact, this year, tablets are expected to combine with the ultrabook, offering a touchscreen instead of the regular screen. With this technology, the ultrabook could become the tablet’s greatest adversary.

Windows 8's main screen relies more on touch than using a conventional mouse.

Microsoft’s upcoming operating system – Windows 8 – looks to have a heavy reliance on touch features, with an overlay combining aspects of the Metro interface that exists in Windows Phone 7 devices and the latest Xbox 360 update. With touch at the top of the list of features, it’s hard not to see a touchscreen moving into thin laptops in the near future.

Last year, we saw Asus doing some pretty cool things in the well-reviewed Transformer TF101, one of the more unique tablets that could plug into a keyboard and battery dock, providing more battery life and better typing and essentially becoming a hybrid notebook tablet computer.

Now Asus is following it up with the Transformer Prime, the second-generation model with a design similar to that of the company’s own Zenbook ultrabook. With a thin body and detachable touchscreen, this is one computer that’s expected to turn heads.

But that model will likely come at a premium, and ultrabook touch models are likely to be the top-tier touch devices to land this year. Ultrabooks already carry a fairly hefty price tag, fetching no less than $899, while tablets go for far less. Comparitively, the most expensive iPad currently sits at $949 locally.

Lenovo's X130e will be given to year 9 students in NSW this year. Would a tablet be better?

With Australian state governments giving netbooks to kids in schools, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a deal made for cheap tablets supplied to students from our own governments this year. It’s also not yet known whether a tablet would be better for a student, especially since many of the applications students will need are available only on Windows and Mac operating systems.

But prices for tablets will drop this year, especially as companies look for new ways to pull you into a mobile application ecosystem.

So how much should they cost?

Would you happily pay $1200 to switch from your old laptop to a 13 inch ultrabook with a touchscreen, or would you wait it out until you’re forced to upgrade?

Are you happy spending over $500 on a tablet, or would you be happy with a low-spec $50 model? Do you even need another touch-capable device outside of your phone?

Tell us. We’d love to know.