Thursday, December 13, 2012

Just Give Me The Right eReader?

Technology doesn't stand still and today’s desirable device soon becomes tomorrow’s yard sale or land fill.

When the first eink readers appeared they were novel, functional and expensive. They promised much and helped kick start the ebook movement. We now take them for granted, but they were always very limited in their scope and monochrome in the offer. We often referred to them as the ‘lookie likie’ devices, which  all offered the same experience, the same technology’, all promised to be the next biggest player, but all looked the same. We soon saw the casualties, as one after another they hit the wall and their technology started to follow eight track and cassettes and became history. Forget the recent claims made by IHS iSuppli of reader decline, what remains today are, the Kindle, Nook and Kobo and are becoming less a desirable present,  but more of an  unwanted one.

The tablet changed many people’s perception of mobile computing and playing media on the move. The iPad became the must have device and although many competitors appeared, few could compete with the Apple offer. However, as with all technology the serious competitors are now muscling in on the market and starting to redefine the tablet from their own perspective and in doing so offer real alternatives. Samsung clearly offer convergence from the smartphone through the tablet, ultra book, laptop to the TV, their pen technology is a clear winner and they continue to grow across all devices.  Microsoft have thrown the hat in the ring with Windows 8 and RT plus Surface. It is questionable whether Surface, as it stands today, will attract enough with its limited offer. However, Windows 8 is the key component and if as expected and by being pre installed and performing, it starts to dominate the ultra book and laptop market, it could strongly influence the smartphone and tablet markets and become a serious third player.

They are wild cards out there and Amazon’s holistic offer and Fire is a serious contender. They may appear to be ‘cheap and cheerful’ tablet, but by locking in purchasing benefits to the devices they will remain a contender. However, it is harder to see Nook and Kobo in the same league and playing catch up may be a step to far and maybe this is where they fall out. Nook and Microsoft could re-emerge, but it is hard to see how that will happen in the short term and today is about short term plays.

The real markets to watch are at either end of the mobile platform not in the middle. The Ultra book offered so much, but was upstaged in yesterday’s beauty contest by the bikini clad iPad. The ultra books were over priced, still wedded to the laptop form and burdened with legacy operating systems. However, we are starting to see real changes here with the emergence of hybrid convertibles – an ultra book with full office and PC strength, which flips into a tablet. The Surface was a perfect form, but unfortunately limited itself to the tablet internals. Samsung and others are close to delivering the answer and when it happens and at the right price then the market will change and business not consumers will drive that change. There are enough players out there to fix the price issue and that need to create the right device to ensure their own survival.

At  the other end of the sandwich we have the smartphone, which is no longer a mobile but a computer in the pocket. The Samsung Note II is a classic forerunner for what must happen next – the convergence of the mini tablet and the smartphone. Apple must have one in prototype and finally drop this nonsensical division between two devices, where the only real difference is the ability to make phone calls! The real challenge is getting that something extra inside the box. Voice appears to be a given and Apple have the lead there, whilst Samsung’s pen is both incredible to use and they have the lead there. We see these being the two contenders today and because they play on all the device platforms, they well positioned and are the clear favourites to succeed in the short term.

However, the other emerging driver is the cloud and the opportunities to de clutter the device of everything but the basics. Those ebook readers that boasted they could store thousands of books are fast becoming dinosaurs living in a forgotten time and saying the wrong message. We are now moving to  an on demand 24 x 7 with access to everything and subscription services replace outright purchases for what is an access licence after all. These change not only how we consume media, interact, purchase services but the devices themselves.

Finally, we have the ‘Ray Hammond’ mobile server that we wrote about earlier this month. The smartglasses are almost here, the intuitive gesture detection is still in the labs, the Bluetooth and wi fi connectivity is here. It’s now more about the packaging and creating consumer demand that will be the challenge.

Sacha Baron-Cohen in accepting his Lifetime Comedy Award this week, did so as his character Ali G. He took a humorous retrospective look at the changes since he last played Ali G some ten years ago, ‘there was no iPhone, no iphone 2, no iphone 3, no iphone 4, no iphone 5 and I wonder what is next?’

Perhaps its time for a step change in 2013?      

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