For the history of humanity, for one person to make a difference, the individual had to convince many others to join the pursuit. And the convincing part was tough — whether you were Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr., the amount of effort was high, and the probability of success was low. (Certainly the list of people who tried to change the world and failed is long; it’s just that we won’t know their names, which itself is part of my point.) From Christopher Columbus to Steve Jobs, individual power has really only amounted to much infrequently, and only when backed by very large and wealthy entities. Kings and queens financed the discovery of the Americas; Wall Street and venture capital bankrolled Silicon Valley.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Today Barnes & Noble (B&N) announced the Nook Tablet, a beefed-up version of the Nook Color that, in our view, gets everything right. My colleagues J.P. Gownder, James McQuivey, and I spoke with several product strategists from B&N about the Nook Tablet, including CEO William Lynch, President of Digital Jamie Iannone, and GM of Digital Newsstand Jonathan Shar. Our conversations and hands-on time with the device led us to conclude that the Nook Tablet:
Is a “wow” product. No, it’s not an iPad lookalike, and it doesn’t need to be. The Nook Tablet improves upon the Nook Color in key areas that matter for tablets, including a dual-core processor and a screen that’s fully laminated with no air gap—two technical details that add up to a better Web and video experience. Compared with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet has longer battery life (9 hours vs. 7), 2x the memory, and nearly twice the RAM—feeds and speeds that will make the device more convenient to use and snappier for media consumption and app multitasking. In addition, the Nook’s software update includes innovative experience improvements, such as the integration of recommendations into the navigation UI—think of it as a “Netflix-ization” of navigation.
Looking back at that report, here’s what we got right:
Amazon is competing on price, content, and commerce. The Kindle Fire, a 7-inch Wi-Fi only device, will retail for $199—less than half the price of the iPad, less than the 7-inch Barnes & Noble Nook Color, BlackBerry Playbook, and HTC Flyer. As I predicted, Amazon is indeed drawing on all its content and commerce assets including video, music, games, as well as magazines, apps, and services—the Kindle Fire comes with a 30-day free subscription to Amazon Prime, and a pre-installed Amazon shopping app. It also features a spiffy custom-built browser, called Amazon Silk, which interfaces with EC2, Amazon’s cloud server, to optimize performance. (Meaning: it’s really fast.)
We talk to product strategists in a wide variety of industries. Regardless of the vertical industry of their companies, they tell us that the release of new, disruptive products -- like Apple's iPad -- changes their relationships with their customers. Oftentimes, nearly overnight.
Whether their product comes in the form of “bits” (content, like media, software, or games) or “atoms” (physical products, like shoes, consumer packaged goods, or hardware), consumer product strategists must navigate a world filled with a dizzying array of new devices (like mobile phones, tablet computers, connected TVs, game consoles, eBook readers, and of course PCs). We call this proliferation of devices the Splinternet, a world in which consumers access the digital world across a diverse and growing number of hardware and platforms. And product strategists have to react by developing new apps, by crafting digital product experiences, and by rethinking their product marketing.
Delivering digital products across the Splinternet isn’t easy: It requires understanding -- and acting upon -- an ever-changing landscape of consumer preferences and behaviors. It also requires reapportioning scarce resources -- for example, from web development to iPad or Android development. Yet product strategists who fail to contend with newly disruptive devices (like the iPad or Xbox Kinect) will find themselves in danger of being left behind -- no matter what industry they’re in.
We'd like to invite product strategists to take our super-quick, two-minute survey to help us better understand how you are reacting to disruptions caused by the Splinternet:
That's right, I said eReaders. True, it looks like a tablet, runs like a tablet, and delivers a lot of the value that tablets deliver, but the Nook Color's 1.2 upgrade (which is actually a step up to Android 2.2; don't let the numbers confuse you too much) is really a foreshadowing of the future of eReaders, not the future of tablets.
First, the facts. With the new upgrade that will be gradually pushed out to all existing Nook Color devices for free over the next few weeks (or you can download now at www.nookcolor.com/update), the folks at B&N have added some very useful features: an integrated email client, Flash 10.1 support, a curated Android app store (see sidebar), and an improved user experience through a myriad of tweaks. These upgrades make the Nook Color look more and more like a tablet, with a very attractive $249 price point to boot.
Must the iPad now cower in fear? No, not really. Because even at this price point, the Nook Color remains a smaller, less powerful tablet than the iPad. And as we've seen, the range of competitors coming in after the iPad's territory are coming in at higher prices with more powerful features (for example, last week I dropped $529 for an LG G-Slate from T-Mobile with 3D video camera and 4G data plan). The tablet market is gradually moving into higher-power features, not lower-power experiences.
Today, Amazon announced the Amazon Cloud Drive. I think it is the first salvo in a series of steps that will lead Amazon to compete directly for the primary computing platform for individuals, as an online platform, as a device operating system, and as a maker of branded tablets.
Much of the attention is going to the Amazon Cloud Player, announced at the same time, which enables customers to stream music stored in Cloud Drive – Forrester’s Mark Mulligan blogged about that for Consumer Product Strategists (Amazon Beats Apple and Google to the Locker Room). But the general purpose design of Cloud Drive, combined with the long-term opportunities for personal cloud services, lead to a really interesting set of possibilities and insights into Amazon’s long-term strategy for Vendor Strategists trying to sort out the technologies and players of next-generation personal computing platforms.
Forrester published a new report today making the call that the iPad challengers that have been announced so far—Android Honeycomb tablets from Motorola, Toshiba, and others, as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad—are solid products with fatally flawed product strategies.
In short, competing tablets are too expensive, and can’t match the Apple Store as a channel. These two claims are related: Forrester’s research has shown that consumers attribute more value to Apple products because of the in-store service. Consumers are not only comparing feeds and speeds; there’s also a human factor. The humans working in the Apple Store will have a huge impact teaching consumers about the iPad and how to use it. Compare the experience of walking into an Apple Store, where the iPad is front and center, to walking into a Verizon store where the Samsung Galaxy Tab is collecting dust at the back of the store and the sales reps don’t quite know what to make of it. Or walking into a Best Buy store, whose shelves will soon be lined with similar-looking tablets with similar functionality.
Today The New York Times is reporting that Apple is changing its policy for allowing apps to deliver content that was paid for somewhere other than in the app where Apple would get a cut. This came to light when Sony was forced to explain why its iPhone and iPad apps were not being released as promised. This is important to illustrate clearly because this is not just about Sony. In fact, it is expected that Apple will apply this same policy to existing apps over the coming months. The most obvious target is Amazon.com's Kindle store, but we have no reason to believe it will stop with eBook retailers; instead, this policy should also affect magazines, newspapers, even videos and games.
This represents a shift for Apple. Going back to the iPod days, Apple only sold music because it helped sell iPods. When Apple added the iPhone app store, it allowed Amazon to add a Kindle app because it would only make iPhones more valuable to potential buyers. The same held true for the iPad. But now that the company has built such a powerful ecosystem of devices, content, and consumers, it appears Apple is eager to ensure it can collect any and all tolls along its proprietary highways. I note this with some irony because it was just three weeks ago that I praised Apple's surprising openness in a report explaining the iPad's rapid growth:
Time to get my hands a bit dirty. Last week I posted an eBook forecast with a brief explanation of why the book business may complete its digital revolution more quickly than other media businesses have. Turns out this assertion was more difficult to hear than I anticipated and I got some very insistent (and worth reading) comments. The discussion that ensued both on the blog and outside of it was very complex, this is not a simple matter. However, there are parts of it that are very simple that I have to clarify, even though it means rolling up my sleeves a bit. Allow me to draw into this discussion John Thompson of Cambridge University who gave a very worthwhile interview to the Brooklyn Rail this month to discuss his recently published analysis of the book industry, Merchants of Culture. I will refer to just one of his specific comments:
"There are many people who just love books and they love the ideas that are expressed in books; they love the stories that are told through books and all of it. They’re very attached to it.... They cherish the book. And they believe that this is an artifact that they want in their lives. And some of the technological commentators in this industry just completely miss this point."