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).
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:
There has been a lot of press about IBM’s acquisition of BNT (Blade Network Technologies) focusing on the economics and market share of BNT as a competitor to Cisco and HP’s ProCurve/3Com franchise. But at its heart the acquisition is more about defending and expanding a position in the emerging converged server, networking, and storage infrastructure segment than it is about raw switch port market share. It is also a powerful vindication of the proposition that infrastructure convergence is driving major realignment in the vendor industry.
Starting with HP’s success with its c-Class blade servers and Virtual Connect technology, and escalating with Cisco’s entrance into the server market, IBM continued its investment in its Virtual Fabric and Open Fabric Manager technology, heavily leveraging BNT’s switch platforms. At some point it became clear that BNT was a critical element of IBM’s convergence strategy, with IBM’s plans now heavily dependent on a vendor with whom they had an excellent, but non-exclusive relationship, and one whose acquisition by another player could severely compromise their product plans. Hence the acquisition. Now that it owns BNT, IBM can capitalize on its excellent edge network technology for further development of its converged infrastructure strategy without hesitation about further leveraging BNT’s technology.
I recently spent a day with IBM’s x86 team, primarily to get back up to speed on their entire x86 product line, and partially to realign my views of them after spending almost five years as a direct competitor. All in all, time well spent, with some key takeaways:
IBM has fixed some major structural problems with the entire x86 program and it perception in the company – As recently as two years ago, it appeared to the outside world that IBM was not really serious about x86 servers. Between licensing its low-end server designs to Lenovo (although IBM continued to sell its own versions) and an apparent retreat to the upper-end of the segment, it appeared that IBM was not serious about x86 severs. New management, new alignment with sales, and a higher internal profile for x86 seems to have moved the division back into IBM’s mainstream.
Increased investment – It looks like IBM significantly ramped up investments in x86 products about three years ago. The result has been a relatively steady flow of new products into the marketplace, some of which, such as the HS22 blade, significantly reversed deficits versus equivalent HP products. Others followed in high-end servers, virtualization and systems management, and increased velocity of innovation in low-end systems.
Established leadership in new niches such as dense modular server deployments – IBM’s iDataplex, while representing a small footprint in terms of their total volume, gave them immediate visibility as an innovator in the rapidly growing niche for hyper scale dense deployments. Along the way, IBM has also apparently become the leader in GPU deployments as well, another low-volume but high-visibility niche.