Tuesday, September 29, 2009

So Which Device Has That X Factor?

So what is the coolest gadget and what do we want for Christmas 2009? Yesterday the iPhone was anointed the number one of ‘cool’ in the UK, but that was like stating the obvious and the challenge is to understand what will be the number one tomorrow and some of the dynamics that will help it achieve the converted status. What will have the X Factor?

There are a number of consumer factors that will always decide as to whether the device is a winner and a ‘must have’, or is a another ‘also ran’:

Look and feel – image is important in this ‘designer label’ age. Skoda may make great cars but they do not have the same cache as Mercedes or BMW. Apple has always had a strong iconic brand which has been built on design and functionality. If Apple were to launch a tablet device tomorrow it would be a success because it is Apple as its solutions are 100% image and 80% functionality.

Convenience – for convenience read convergence. Women want a device that will fit in a handbag, but still leave room for the other essentials of their life, whilst men really want it to fit in their pockets. One device is a must, two starts to become difficult and three is a bridge too far for many. So what do we all need on the move? A phone and after that email, text, office basics and then access to information, music, content, photos, video , games etc. Very few of us now carry a camera – it’s in the mobile. The MP3 player may have had its day and many single applications devices will follow. The key is that they start as standalone devices and then flip. The eInk devices may be easy to read in all conditions, but with OLED coming fast to small screens, their advantage, even in this area is not sustainable. Anybody who has read a book on an iPhone will tell you it isn’t hard to adjust.

Price – this is a major player once the device becomes commodity but is not so important if the perceived value is high or the device is in the early stages of its market.

eInk readers are transitional devices and although the technology gives them the edge today they act and look like the old clunky 8 track players of the 80s. Their major plus is the screen and its readability and power saving, but the major minus is the screen as its black and white and no matter how many greyscales you add its still black and white. The device can do much more, but then it starts to compete with other devices that can do a lot more. We think the device is a short term toy that readers will grow out of and will age quickly.

As more gets loaded onto the smartphone then the power demand grows and the tedious task of recharging becomes more frequent. However the screen size and quality is getting there and with new technologies such as OLED will make it. Not only can it play it can record. Not only can it show photos it can play video and all in full colour. The challenge is that the market is fragmented, and we have issues on operating systems, browsers, exculsive carriers and of course applications. The iPhone has show what can be done and is guaranteed to lead the way for some time to come.

We all want a tablet or a device that is half way between everything and can potentially offer that single device on the move. Apple is coming sometime, Microsoft is now threatening to spoil their party and you can guarantee that others have seen the opportunity. When is a tablet a smartphone and when is it a netbook, or a ereader etc? What is clear from the hype over the Apple tablet is that is what the market demands and if positioned and with the right support offer and price we could have a clear category killer. Anyone who has doubts click here and watch this video from Gizmodo.

Netbooks will appear and offer much for the office man on the move, but the right tablet and even smartphone render them limited in their appeal. Perhaps size does matter and big is not as good as small!

Game machines are the one dark horse. Should games migrate onto smartphones and tablets or do they offer a reverse path? We have seen Nintendo toying with ebooks, but in a half hearted offer. When you see devices such as the PSP it makes us wonder why Sony don’t develop the device for digital content. Perhaps they think that once a gamer, always a gamer and a dedicated device is needed, but is this reality or an historic viewpoint?

What is clear is that the device wars go further than ebooks. We remember that Betamax was a superior technology to VHS but failed because they didn’t invent the consumer camera, MP3 is inferior to many other music formats but is more widely available on devices and DRM free. Winners don’t always follow convention logic but they strangely can be predicted.

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