Today, Barnes & Noble announced the release of NOOKcolor--beating Amazon to the punch of releasing a color eReader that's really a multimedia tablet. Billed as "the reader's tablet" by B&N, the 7-inch device has an LCD screen, weighs less than 1lb., and runs on Android. Though it won't connect to the Android Marketplace, it will run reading-specific apps as well as games like Sudoku and eventually Netflix. At $249, the NOOKcolor fits comfortably in the price range of dedicated eReaders, but it's half the starting price of the iPad--which raises the question, will consumers be comparing the two products? I think they will, especially if they are a current B&N customer or if they want a device primarily for reading that also has other media consumption and Web browsing capabilities. If reading is secondary to accessing other media and the broad Apple or Android app ecosystems, consumers will be better off with a more multifunctional tablet like the iPad or future devices from RIM, Samsung, and others.
Earlier this week, HP quietly released the Slate 500, an 8.9-inch tablet running Windows 7 that's marketed exclusively to businesses. According to HP, 400 customers are currently evaluating the device, which will be sold through HP's direct sales force and through its Web site for SMBs. The Slate 500 is literally just Windows 7 on a slate form factor; the idea is that businesses that run their systems on Windows 7 will be able to use the Slate for enterprise applications (the device doesn't sync with a user's HP PC).
Today Apple announced the new version of its iLife software, the new version of its Mac OS ("Lion"), and two new MacBook Air products. (I recommend PC Mag for great live blogging coverage.) I'm seeing five takeaways for product strategists of devices and content:
Software rules. It’s notable that Apple started off its conference talking about software, not hardware. It’s what you can do with the device that matters. Also, software is now officially known as “apps.” Software doesn’t come in boxes anymore, which make initiatives like HP’s new Download Store look outdated already.
Synchronization drives affinity across devices. Apple is smart to launch the App Store for Macs with apps that sync with iPads and iPhones. In doing so, Apple is trying to maximize the value consumers get from buying more than one Apple device. Companies that are trying to figure out how to compete with Apple on tablets should use their strengths in other product categories to drive their tablet strategies forward. RIM is already planning to do this, by creating the PlayBook as a Bluetooth-tethered device to a BlackBerry. Companies like Toshiba, Lenovo, and Sony should do this as well, bundling tablets with PCs (and TVs and game consoles, in Sony’s case) and have content sync across devices.
The next wave of PC design will be inspired by mobile devices. This isn’t just about apps, it’s also about the experience of using the device. Including a solid state storage drive (SSD) in new Macs give the devices the nearly instant-on, long battery life that consumers have come to expect from mobile devices but struggle to get in a PC.
Yesterday, Apple announced that it had sold 4.19M iPads in its fiscal Q4 2010, up from 3.27M in Q3. That means it sold more iPads than Macs in Q4, even though quarterly Mac sales were the highest they've ever been: 3.89M, a 27% unit sales increase from the year-ago quarter. Given that calendar Q4 sales typically account for 35%-40% of consumer electronics sales, we could be looking at 15M+ iPads sold globally for Apple in its first, three-quarter year. I am not the only analyst saying "Wow" right now.
There were tons of interesting tidbits in Apple's earnings call yesterday but I want to focus on a two points that I know are plaguing product strategists in this area. In particular, Steve Jobs attacked: