With a few discreet press and analyst briefings but no song and dance event (ahem, Foo Fighters), Barnes & Noble has unveiled its new Nook Tablets: the 7-inch Nook HD and the 9-inch HD+. The prices of the devices range from $199 to $299, depending on the size and memory configuration, which makes them competitive with the Kindle Fire and far cheaper than the iPad (although a smaller, cheaper iPad could erode some of the price gap). The devices are lightweight, with high-quality displays and fast performance, outdoing the Kindle Fire on several specs. They now come with a video store, with content for rental or purchase from all of the major studios, filling a major gap in the previous generation of Nooks. The Nook software interface has been completely redesigned. My favorite feature of the devices is the "Profiles" feature--when you launch the device, you see profiles that can be customized for adults or children, down to custom content, browser settings, and store recommendations. This is a long-overdue feature in tablets: Forrester's data shows that 49% of US tablet owners regularly share their tablet with at least one other person.
Walmart and Target, having booted out Amazon’s devices, give B&N exposure to customers in 5,200 retail stores where Amazon devices won’t be displayed.
Consumers are up in arms about the "map fail" of the new iOS maps app, collectively blogging screenshots of maps that fall short (http://theamazingios6maps.tumblr.com/). Why is this such a big deal?
Maps are strategic IP because they capture consumers' intent of where they want to go, which creates the opportunity to intervene and shape consumers' paths. Apple doesn't want Google to have that data on its users and doesn't want to give Google the opportunity to serve location-based guidance. The problem is that maps are difficult to build -- Nokia and Google (the two main map providers) have been building their map IP for years. Nokia maps, for example, are on nine of 10 in-car GPS systems, each of which acts as a probe that continuously improves Nokia's maps. Apple can't catch up overnight, and it seems as if Apple was premature in pulling the plug on Google Maps -- it has produced a consumer backlash, at least among early adopters.
Consumers who claim they won't download iOS 6 are overreacting -- Google is planning to release its maps application in the App Store, and consumers can just download that app if they prefer. But if it turns out to be the case that consumers don't update their OS, Apple has a serious problem. Apple takes pride in avoiding the fragmentation that Android (and Windows) have, where consumers run different versions of the OS, which creates security gaps and problems for ISVs (app developers) creating software for those platforms. I think Mapplegate will pass, but it shows a crack in Apple's seamless veneer. When other companies launch half-baked software, they get away with calling them "beta," but consumers and journalists seem to expect perfection from Apple. But like any company attempting to innovate in this highly competitive consumer tech market, Apple is not infallible -- there's a map for that.
If Apple had a motto for its product strategy, it would be, "Don't take anything for granted." The new iPhone and iPods are re-formed from the guts to the skin: Faster processors, faster connection speeds, better cameras, more microphones, new connectors, taller displays, and they're thinner and lighter to boot. iTunes and the App Store are redesigned to feel more modern and help with content discovery. These product improvements are aimed at convincing consumers that there's enough value to upgrade from their current Apple products, as well as growing market share by convincing non-iPhone users that it's finally time to trade in their BlackBerrys, Droids, and flip phones and join the iOS fold. Apple will be successful on both fronts -- not just because its products are well designed, but also because Apple's product marketing is on point. It will be the fastest iPhone rollout ever, available in 100 countries on 240 carriers by the end of the year. Older models of the iPhone will be cheap (4S for $99 with contract) or free (4 with contract)--including on Verizon and Sprint in the US, not just AT&T, which will positively impact market share.
But I think there's a more interesting story to be told than just market share. These products tell us a lot about Apple's vision for the post-PC future. Apple has sold more than 400 million iOS devices through June 2012, and it has more than 435 million iTunes accounts with one-click purchasing, so it will certainly have great influence over the post-PC experience of many millions of consumers. And here's what that experience is likely to be:
At its event in Los Angeles today, Amazon announced five new Kindle models: an ultracheap E Ink Kindle; a new "paperwhite" Kindle with a touchscreen and LED light to compete with Barnes & Noble's Nook with Glowlight; an update of its 7-inch Kindle Fire with improved hardware and software; and two "HD" models, with 7-inch and 8.9-inch screen options. Amazon also announced that it would offer its own basic data plan (through AT&T) for its 4G Fire--a very disruptive move that puts pressure on OEMs and carriers to offer their own lower-price plans, and sets the stage for an expected Amazon smartphone launch next year.
With these products, Amazon is:
Upgrading its devices to match its service. Last year, Bezos emphasized the service over the device, and that was key to Amazon's success--consumers buy tablets for what they can do with them, which helps explain why Amazon is the No. 2 tablet brand in the US. This year, with features like Dolby Digital Plus sound and what it calls a "Retina-class display," Amazon is bringing up the quality of the hardware to match the service, which is good for customer satisfaction and good for perception of Amazon's brand. Adding features like a front-facing camera, gyroscopes, and location APIs make Amazon's devices more appealing to developers, too.