Today, Apple unveiled a new lineup of devices: new iMacs, Mac Mini, a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (which, weighing in at only a half-pound more than the Air, is sure to be a best-seller, as its predecessor was), a fourth-generation 9.7-inch iPad (with 4x faster A6X processor, expanded LTE, faster Wi-Fi, Lightning connector, improved cameras, and other refinements), and…ta da!...the long-awaited iPad Mini. As early as October 2011, credible reports from Taiwan surfaced about a 7.85-inch iPad, so it’s no surprise to see this product. And yet, Apple’s execution dazzles. You pick up this device—which weighs only 0.68 pounds—and it feels feather-light, perfectly weight-balanced—and decidedly not made out of plastic, as its competitor devices are.
I want to pause for a moment to comment further about the weight, because my very first impression of the first-generation was “It’s heavy!,” much to the chagrin of Michael Tchao, VP of Product Marketing for iPad. The iPad Mini has a larger screen than competing devices from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Google, but it’s somehow lighter than its competitors. Here’s how the weights compare, courtesy of each vendor’s product specs page:
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.
Microsoft’s announcement that it is launching its own first-party hardware for a family of Windows tablets is welcome news: If you want a job done right, do it yourself. While Asus, Lenovo, Nokia, Samsung, and Toshiba are expected to launch their own Windows RT products this year, other major OEMs are notably absent from the list, either because they’re focused on x86 devices first or because they were locked out of the launch like HTC. Microsoft's Surface tablets will run on both chipsets.
Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a “Kinect camera,” Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few. While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune player, Xbox is a more recent example of resounding success. With the next generation of the Xbox “720” due out soon, Microsoft will have ample opportunity to bundle and promote the two products together and sell its tablets through the same consumer retail channels — although to start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential.
This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically integrated Apple on more even ground.
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.
Apple’s anticipated iPad update comes as the tablet market is white-hot. In a new report published for Forrester clients today, we’ve revised our US consumer tablet forecast upward: We now expect 112.5 million US adults to own a tablet in 2016, which will equal 34.3% of US adults. In Europe, the numbers are similarly impressive, with an expected 105.7 million tablet users, or 30.4% of consumers 16 and older, in the EU-7 by 2016. With an assumed replacement rate of two years, cumulative unit sales will be much higher: In the US, we forecast that consumers will buy 292.5 million tablets from 2010 to 2016.
Tablets are a global phenomenon—we estimate that US consumers constitute only 43% of Apple’s 55 million iPads sold through the end of its last fiscal quarter, with the rest going to consumers and enterprises in the rest of the 90 countries where the iPad is now sold. Tablets are also a worker phenomenon: Although the No. 1 place where consumers use tablets is in the living room, 37% of US tablet owners take them to work as well. In a recent Forrester survey of 9,912 technology end users at SMBs and enterprises in 17 countries, we found that workers in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and Mexico actually led demand for wanting to use a tablet for work—and being willing to share the cost of the device with their employers.
In a press release today, Barnes & Noble announced its intention to explore a potential separation of its successful Nook business in order to "unlock that value" and build upon its rapid growth (the Nook business will have an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue this year, according to the company). As PaidContent.org notes, international expansion could be a key motivation for the move.
I have been impressed with how Barnes & Noble has managed its Nook business thus far and I imagine that they have good reasons for exploring this separation. Nook has grown rapidly, but continued growth and international expansion will take sustained investment that B&N shareholders may not have the patience for. However, the Nook business has benefitted from synergy with Barnes & Noble in two key areas: 1) Barnes & Noble's channel (retail stores) and 2) Barnes & Noble's publisher relationships. It's not clear how a separate Nook business would function without the benefit of Barnes & Noble's retail stores and publisher relationships.
Nook has fueled Barnes & Noble's growth: What will be the value of Barnes & Noble without the Nook business? Where will the growth come from?
A key model for Barnes & Noble to consider is that of News Corp. and The Daily. News Corp. owns The Daily but it's managed independently, with its own P&L. The best scenario for B&N may be to pursue a similar structure, giving Nook the independence to grow and attract new investment but maintaining the synergy between Nook and B&N's retail stores.
It’s a tried-and-true in-store promotional tactic: the book signing. Authors tour bookstores, meet their fans, and sign copies of a book that was bought in the store that day.
How can book signings be updated for the 21st century? Barnes and Noble, with its Nook devices and its rapidly expanding Nook Boutiques, has an opportunity to create a total product experience around its Nook devices and digital books. Let's call it a Nook Signing, a theoretical Forrester product idea for Barnes and Noble to consider.
Leveraging its in-store Wi-Fi, Barnes and Noble could host a series of Nook Signing events – special book signing events only for owners of Nook devices (or those willing to buy them in store that day).
The event would feature marquee bestselling authors like George RR Martin or other authors with vociferous, loyal fans. (Barnes and Noble would have to incentivize these authors).
Attendees would get to meet the author, but more importantly, would receive an in-store download over Barnes and Noble’s Wi-Fi, receiving unique, brand-new content on their Nooks. For example, Nook Tablet and Nook color devices could receive a video from George R.R. Martin offering up an exclusive tidbit about his next book.
What happens next? Nook Signing attendees use their Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts to tell the world the news about George R.R. Martin’s next book ... which they learned about at the Nook Signing.
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.
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:
Today, amid the kind of rumor and speculation that is more typical of a Silicon Valley announcement, Barnes & Noble unveiled its NOOKcolor, a second NOOK to complement the barely one-year-old original. The NOOKcolor brings a 7" color LCD touch tablet device to the reading market, filling a gap between today's grayscale eReaders that use eInk technology and tablet PCs like the iPad.
This move puts B&N ahead of both Amazon and Sony -- the longtime holders of the number 1 and number 2 slots in the eReader business. Not ahead in terms of device sales, because this new NOOK, priced at $249, will be likely to drive a few hundred thousand units before year-end. But ahead in terms of vision. Because one day, all eReaders will be tablets, just as all tablets are already eReaders.
There are three good reasons why tablet readers are the right thing for the industry to move toward:
Multitouch interfaces have become the new standard. Once consumers experience multitouch, they don't really ever go back to thinking a mouse or button interface makes much sense. Doesn't mean they never touch another button, it just means they prefer to interact in a more natural and intuitive way. That's why Sony recently upgraded its reader line to include touch on even its cheapest model, the Pocket Edition.