Sony Tablet S: Innovation Won’t Insulate Product Strategists From Amazon-Economics

Sony is no copycat. Its Tablet S, revealed at IFA today, shows true innovation in hardware design. It’s slightly smaller than the iPad, but it feels completely different to hold, with its folded-magazine “wraparound” design. It has high-tech features that set it apart from the iPad and other Android Honeycomb tablets, including DLNA support, an IR blaster, and what Sony calls “quick view/quick touch,” which makes the screen and Web browser extremely responsive and fast-loading.

A bigger step for Sony is what comes on the device. The Tablet S comes preloaded with access to Sony Entertainment Network, including a six-month free subscription to its Music Unlimited service, plus two free PlayStation 1 games—finally, leveraging assets from across different business units, a huge step for Sony. Sony has also negotiated deals for an exclusive window to several new Android tablet apps, including Crackle and Foursquare, which will be preloaded on the device. These are all important product innovations, which combined with Sony’s brand should put Sony’s product ahead of many Android competitors in consumers’ minds.

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Amazon Will Be Tablet Product Strategists’ New Frenemy

We’ve been beating the Amazon tablet drum for a while—in fact, as early as April 2010, my colleague James McQuivey wrote that Amazon's product strategists should “go head to head” with Apple and create its own tablet. Now, on the cusp of Amazon actually doing so (perhaps as early as October), we’re turning up the volume with a new report explaining exactly how, and why, Amazon will disrupt the tablet market.

This report has been in the works for months. We held off publishing it last week out of respect for Steve Jobs, and we have great admiration for his inventions and influence on our culture.

Even though Amazon taking on Apple is a bit like David taking on Goliath (compare the market cap, profits, and cash position of the two companies), Amazon’s willingness to sell hardware at a loss combined with the strength of its brand, content, cloud infrastructure, and commerce assets makes it the only credible iPad competitor in the market. If Amazon launches a tablet at a sub-$300 price point — assuming it has enough supply to meet demand — we see Amazon selling 3-5 million tablets in Q4 alone.

Amazon’s quick ascension in the tablet market will completely disrupt the status quo. Apple will retain dominant market share, but Amazon will cause product strategists at:

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RIM: “We Are Committed To The PlayBook”; Still, Its Product Strategists Have A Tough Row To Hoe

Last week, HP announced it would discontinue the TouchPad and all webOS-based products. This was a dramatic reversal in strategy; just a few months ago (in March), I attended HP’s analyst event, during which HP CEO Leo Apotheker presented webOS as a central tenet of HP’s consumer product strategy and said the TouchPad was “the first of hundreds” of devices that would be running webOS, including printers and PCs.

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My Early Take On HP's PC Spinoff: A Product Strategy Driven By Post-PC Imperatives

Minutes after the Wall Street Journal reported that HP plans to spin off its PC business, I'm already getting press inquiries. There's still a lot we don't know, and I hope we'll learn more on the earnings call tonight. Based on what we know now, here's my take on what product strategists at HP are thinking:

HP's PC product strategy is squeezed by two macro-trends: The commodification of the PC market, led by Asian manufacturers like Asus, and the transition to a post-PC era, led by Apple, Inc. (formerly Apple Computer). HP is the biggest PC manufacturer in the world, but its position will rapidly decline if it can't adjust its product strategy to combat both trends.

It makes sense that HP shareholders don’t want its low-margin PC business dragging down its high-margin enterprise services business. As for HP’s chances as a standalone PC manufacturer, it’s tough to be a PC maker in a post-PC world. HP’s competition is Apple on the high end, which has justified higher margins based on non-hardware offerings: service (Genius Bar, Apple Store reps), channel (Apple Store), and software (iTunes/App Store). On the other end, all of HP’s competitors, other than Dell, are based in Asia and have very different manufacturing and labor economics. HP has been caught up in a race to the bottom as the PC market has commodified. Now it needs either to become comfortable with commodification or to build out the elements of an ecosystem to enable true competition with Apple.

Tablets In Europe: No iPad Competitor In Sight

We are publishing a new Forrester report today on the European tablet market. With the recent launch (and huge marketing push) of the Acer Iconia Tab and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in multiple European countries, one might think that things were looking up for Android tablets in Europe — but that’s not the case. In our report, we found that:

  • Europe is, and will be, a huge market for tablets. We are projecting that EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) will account for 14.5 million, or 30%, of worldwide consumer tablet sales in 2011. Three times as many Europeans as have tablets today say they are interested in buying one in the future.
  • Outside the UK, Apple could be vulnerable to competition. Apple has 52 Apple Stores in Europe, and 30 of them are in the UK. (For reference, there are 238 Apple Stores in the US.) Apple’s brand and channel presence is not uniformly strong in Europe; Mac ownership, for example, is lower in every EU-7 country than it is in the US.
  • But no competitor has met Apple’s challenge. Despite Apple’s potential vulnerability, we estimate that Apple still has 70% market share for tablet sell-through to consumers in Europe. (Sell-through is different from shipments; our interviews with European retailers confirmed that non-iPad tablet inventory is sitting in the channel — i.e., manufacturers are shipping more tablets than consumers are buying. So if you read reports that Apple has a lower market share, look at whether the report is measuring shipments or sell-through.) What’s more, non-iPad tablet competition is quite fragmented — OEMs, operators, and niche players form a crowded marketplace but one notably devoid of shoppers. iPad competitors’ prices are too high, and no competitor has matched Apple on content or channel strategy.
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