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Nokia Makes Plans, Samsung Makes Moves

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

In June I posted on Nokia’s vision of the mobile market and specifically how they view the space in which tablet devices are intended to fit. While Nokia has been continuing with its planning (and re-planning, as they have since realised their initial tablet outlines do not match the market expectations), Samsung have surged ahead, taking centre stage with the same strategy.

Samsung recognised that a tablet at the right size can be the ultimate portable device, but even with its vast array of features, it can not truly replace the mobile phone. With this realisation, the Korean company looked for another way in, and it seems they came to the same conclusion as their Finnish rivals. Although it is not possible to completely replace a mobile handset, creating a device that prioritises the typical use cases of a phone (web browsing, text messaging, email, music, video, gaming) limits the benefits of the smaller device to one core feature – calls. If they can convince users that it is just as convenient to use a tablet for everything other than calls, while also giving an improved overall experience due to the larger screen, consumers will begin to look at tablets as not just mini-computers, but super-sized smart phones.

This approach immediately opens up tablets (and in particular, the Galaxy Tab) to the masses, but this alone is not the end game. As I highlighted in June, this development brings with it the opportunity for operators to sell consumers a second handset, and with it, a contract. The ultimate goal is for consumers to purchase 2 devices: 1 a portable browsing device and the second will be their handset for traditional calls and messaging. This may seem familiar and it most certainly is, as network operators have been trying to push netbooks alongside mobiles for a couple of years already. This however, is not in anyway the same thing. The tablet will replace your smart phone as you use it today; the second device will be pushed as a “minimalist” product, for when you are out on the town and only need a phone to stay in contact. These devices will more often than not be feature phones (such as the HTC Wildfire or the Samsung Wave 2) with displays no larger than 3.5 inches. The user experience will be largely transferable between a tablet and its “partner” phone, as manufacturers including Samsung and HTC have used their custom skins for Android as the basis of their feature phone UIs. Ultimately operators will attempt to make “bundles” of a tablet and a phone, allowing users to pay one monthly cost for both products.

The Samsung Tab is the trial run for how operators and manufacturers hope to position and market their products in the future. The early adopters will pay more for the convenience of a tablet and mobile phone with 1 contract, but as this type of bundle becomes more prevalent and our options broaden, we as consumers  should come out on top. The only real question is whether Nokia will be able to get its house in order quick enough to become one of those options.

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What Can Tablets Replace?

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

On the 3rd of September 2010, the IFA and gadget enthusiasts around the world converge on Berlin. This year the focus is expected to be on 3D, tablets and… 3D tablets. Over the next few days the media will be awash with proclamations of “iPad Killer” tablets, tablets “killing” the netbook or laptop categories, tablets have become “the number one Christmas wishlist item!” and so on. Before the mayhem starts and our minds and credit cards are whisked away by thoughts of big, shiny, touch screen devices, we should pause and ask a question: what can a tablet replace?

It might seem unfair to raise this question now, when we are still unaware of the specifications for devices still to be announced, but we can still conduct some analysis if we approach the question from the other side. In order to achieve this, we must ask a different question: what is wrong with our current options?

Portable Media Players

Pros – Small, portable. Good audio playback. Large memory storage and/or memory expansion.

Cons – Screens are too small. Dependent on a PC/MAC/Laptop to load media. Poor browsing experience. Poor apps store (for Android PMPs such as the Archos 5).

PNDs (Personal Navigation Devices)

Pros – Very good GPS antennas. Large screens. Simple menu layouts. Easy to use.

Cons – Single use device. Large and bulky.

E-Readers

Pros – Light, very portable (depending on the model). E-ink displays allow comfortable reading in any area with light, and also give the devices fantastic battery life.  If you are travelling, its easy to add new content without weighing down the luggage.

Cons – Single function device. A laptop or tablet is still needed for media consumption, browsing and word processing.

Netbooks

Pros – Light, portable way to carry almost full office productivity on the go. Keyboard. Can be used to for media consumption, browsing and e-book reading. Front facing camera for Skype/Google calls. Email.

Cons – No built in disc drive. Fragile under basic load conditions (when compared to a laptop). Uncomfortable for e-book reading. Display is poor under sunlight.

iPad

Pros – Portable. Full media consumption (via iTunes). Good email and browsing experience. Can load games from the iPhone. Every major e-book store available. Thousands of applications available to “mould” the iPad as you would like it via the Apps Store. Very long battery life. GPS (3G model).

Cons – Heavy and not practical for one-handed use. Must be propped up for extended use. Uncomfortable for typing. Very long charging time. No camera for Skype/Google calls. No full office experience. Not entirely desktop independent. Very expensive. The applications that bring the most productivity are purchase only. No multi-tasking. No flash support.

Laptops

Pros – Portable. Complete media consumption including optical discs. Full office experience. Great multi-tasking. Full keyboard. Camera for Skype/Google calls. Can be used for e-book reading, browsing & email.

Cons – Large, heavy and bulky. Poor for e-reading. Poor battery life.

Now that we have identified the problems, lets consider the solutions.

Archos has done an admirable job trying to combine the first two devices with their Archos 5 Internet Tablets. This has not been a success of course but they were moving in the right direction. Almost every tablet announced since the Archos 5 has included GPS. The ideal device at this screen size would combine a portable media player, e-book reader and navigation applications. This type of device should be the natural progression for the PND industry, as they attempt to stay relevant in a world filled with GPS enabled mobile phones and tablets. Imagine a device such as the Cowon v5, a 5″ display but with Android 2.2 or 3.0 and Navigon’s Navigator application pre-installed.  Such a device could redefine the “high-end” PND market.

Moving forward to displays of 7″+,  issues with e-book readers, the iPad and netbooks can be resolved. The problems are resolved by building a scalable device, a tablet that can be enhanced with accessories. The OS is also scalable, enhancing the ability of the device to adapt to the users needs. Due to its availability, market support, developer support and cost, Android is the only real choice for a scalable solution. The tablet would launch with separately sold accessories such as Bluetooth keyboards and docking stations, that add to its ability to being a viable laptop alternative. To fully replace the e-book reader it would be necessary to use a Pixel Qi type display, but for most readers the ability of this tablet to work not only as a colour e-book reader but as a netbook replacement (with or without the keyboard) would be enough at the right price.

As the IFA event approaches, we should remember that most Android tablets are only scaled down netbooks. They offer almost the same basic functionality (browsing, basic word processing, email, webcam for Skype), with the key difference being that a tablet is slightly more portable and is faster to use as a “quick grab” device due to the OS (netbook manufacturers installed Android on some of their products for this very reason). What is desired by the masses is not a tablet but a netbook, running Android, with a detachable touch screen display. While you are glued to your favourite blog over the next week, it might be worth taking a note of how much extra netbook manufacturers like Samsung, Asus and Acer believe you’re willing to pay for the ability to leave the keyboard at home.

The Perfect Tablet

August 22, 2010 1 comment

In the last few days LG’s mobile device marketing VP Chang Ma has stated that their tablet will be better than the iPad, the key phrase being “It’s going to be surprisingly productive”. This has led to much debate on what this could mean, and of course whether the iPad is truly productive. Many have pointed to the iPad App store as evidence of its productiveness, where productivity apps take the majority of the top 10 paid application slots, but this is inconclusive. The majority of iPad owners have justified their purchase of the expensive product with the belief that it will enable them to work more effectively. In order to reach this goal, productivity applications must be purchased but this does not imply that iPad owners succeeded in making their device productive.

It is hard to define what would constitute the “perfect tablet”, but I believe there are some key criteria that must be met in order to make the device a fully productive netbook/laptop replacement and true competitor to the iPad:

Keyboard

The tablet should have an optional Bluetooth keyboard which comes with a leather case that holds the tablet and keyboard. When in the case, the keyboard covers the screen in the same manner as the keyboard of a laptop. Once opened, the leather case “locks” at a 110 degree angle, thus offering a laptop-like experience with the keyboard as and when required.

Email & Calendar

For a tablet to be productive, the Outlook-like experience must be at the core. The email application has to allow folder support, multiple account handling, full exchange support, the ability to view and edit attachments, full calendar synchronisation etc.

UI

Alongside traditional multitasking, The device should offer what I shall call a “Quadrant” method. For specific applications (messaging, calendar, browser, IM, memo pad, music player, folders) it will be possible to place them in the 4 corners of the screen to be displayed simultaneously. When in this layout, the applications can be displayed at 50% or 25% of their maximum display area. This immediately allows for the type of multitasking not possible on any current tablet or mobile device.  Outside of these “Quadrant compatible” applications, it will be possible to divide the display in half. Applications will also still be able to run in the background as normal.

Applications

The types of applications and media player options available on mobile devices are now so common that its the experience that separates them. I believe that one key experience should be the ability for applications to “auto-save”. To be more specific, anything a user edits or creates should be automatically saved as soon as they move to a different application. While many applications allow for a “frozen” state where for example the memo entry will remain open in the background, I am referring to an actual saving and closing of the application. This has been present on mobile operating systems before such as UIQ and to some extent Windows Mobile. The uniqueness of the “auto-save” is that it allows for full flexibility on the move. For example you can edit a document right up until the subway doors open, then simply press the power button and the document will be saved and closed in the background. This also enhances the speed of use on the device as a user can easily switch to another application without the need to find a save option.

Hardware

There are not many ways for a tablet to stand out in this regard, but the few that are available are indeed very compelling. Pixel Qi or similar display, battery capacity and storage capacity can all attract consumers. I believe that for any manufacturer to truly take on the iPad, they must have a SKU that includes a Pixel Qi type display and a large battery capacity.

OS

Contrary to popular opinion, this is not very important. What is a important is that the platform has good developer support. If the device will have pre-installed Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Flickr and full DIVX, XVID, H.264 etc playback, consumers will be happy.  Add this to the email, calendar and general office document management and this would be a fine generic device for the work place.

Pricing

The maximum baseline for any tablet that aims to take on the iPad and become a truly mass-market device should be $299, peaking at $499 for the top of the line product.

If a manufacturer can produce a product that fulfils  all of the criteria, it would be impossible not to stand out from the crowd. A fluid, stable OS completes the device and would present an incredibly compelling offering to the marketplace. The Adam from Notion Ink has consistently been seen as a product that can come closest to defeating the iPad, but time is moving on and we are still months away from a release. RiM’s “Blackpad” could be an intriguing product. They recognise the importance of a full email experience on the move and I am sure in developing this tablet they would have looked to their business customers for guidance on use cases. One way or another a product matching this criteria will be released, but at the moment it seems that with the incredibly slow movement of their competitors, Apple are just as likely to produce such an offering in a refreshed iPad as anyone else.

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How To Convince Mobile Users To Change Their OS

Over the next 12 months there will 6 major smartphone operating systems vying for the warmth of your trouser pocket: Meego, Web OS, Blackberry OS, iOS, Android and Windows Phone 7. With so many options to users, how can any one OS rise up to dominate in the manor Apple has achieved?

The key is not in being the best, but in educating the user.

A mere 5 years ago moving from a Nokia to a Siemens device only required copying your contacts to the SIM and deciding just how important it was to play Snake on a daily basis. As simple as this seems, the mere thought of changing manufacturers and using a device with unfamiliar icons was considered adventurous beyond belief by the average user. Those who dared to peruse such a road were considered mavericks (or nerds and shunned to the “weirdo” corner of the social stratosphere). Returning to the present and we now have the dominant smartphone OS of Apple, which has taken mobile handset Neanderthals into the area of installing applications. These same people just a few years previous struggled to comprehend placing their contacts on a SIM to switch manufacturers; how can they even begin to grasp the concept of installing applications on a different platform and no longer using iTunes?

Believe it or not, Apple has laid out the rule book for how this can be achieved:

The Promise – Great products fail before they have stepped off the factory floor because they are never presented to the public as something that can fulfil their needs. I believe the main culprit for this failing is the belief that the need must first exist to the public at large before it is addressed. This is a common misconception; you need only to observe any Apple product launch to see how such a situation is handled. First, a problem allegedly found by their analysis of the market and highlighted by their customers is explained in great detail, to emphasise the depth of their “investigation”. This detail is vital, as it implies that the solution that will be announced over the following minutes has been well thought out, and it is unlikely any other solution can be found. If this is executed correctly, the reveal of the solution produces a psychological sigh of relief, as the short lived (but “important”) problem has been resolved. The launch/re-launch of an OS is thus defined by its ability to solve the problem its designers highlighted. For the iPhone OS, the problem was complicated, ugly UIs and the solution was a visually appealing UI matched with incredible simplicity.

Hype – No successful product has been launched on hype alone, but hype is still vital. Gaining “hype” is quite simple as long as you have a worthy Promise. The key is to minimise the time between announcement and shipping. If you are unable to launch within a month, it becomes necessary to supplement the hype with leaks or interviews. If we use Android as an example, the build-up and hype would be towards the next release. A supplementary leak would be a screen shot or two of a pre-release version of the OS on a device (using a device rather than emulator implies that the release is close). Committing to providing units early to certain websites/blogs such as Engadget, Tech Crunch and CNET also guarantees some extra coverage as you build towards release.

Marketing – Apple are renowned for their advertisements; they are able to get across their message using simple, concise methods while still making their products aspirational to the public at large. The construct of an Apple advert is quite interesting: a normal person, a normal environment, a desire to conduct a simple task in the environment + The Solution to complete the task. This entire construct is almost the exact opposite of how mobile devices are currently advertised. For example recent campaign by Motorola contained a series of advertisements showcasing the differences between the iPhone and their new Droid device, using a “Droid Does” slogan. These advertisements were entertaining to the geek community and did highlight key failings in the iOS platform, but none of this mattered to the average user. The adverts placed the device in the typical high-end mobile device niche (advanced, hard to use device “full of features I do not require”) and insured it would never become a mass market success in the vein of the RAZR or iPhone. Apple’s method works because it appeals to people of all ages. An OS with intentions of competing directly with the iPhone must appeal to the same user base.

Another method Apple uses to market their devices is product placements. Here also we must learn from the way in which Apple is presented. Their is no real focus on their devices or any major functionality in their product placements in television shows beyond on occasion a character finding it necessary to install an application to accomplish a goal (note the simplicity of the problem – resolution method used here). In most instances we see average people use their iPhones to achieve simple tasks like making a call, sending a text message or taking a picture. There is one key element however that is highlighted by every TV show – the speed of use. There is an assumption that in fact the focus is on simplicity, but that is purely a by-product. TV shows are about progression, the movement of a storyline from one scene to the next. Each scene is filled with as much information as possible to allow the ease of transition on to the next one. Its impossible not to be aware of this while watching your favourite shows; a common example is when you are checking the clock profusely if it seems a story may not be resolved before an episode comes to an end. A regular viewer of a series also recognises when a foreign element is introduced. When this happens, if The Promise and Hype have been executed correctly, the viewer will recognise the product and be interested to see its use by familiar characters. The viewer will notice if this product changes the manor in which a character normally operates. What viewers notice with Apple products is their favourite characters completing tasks quickly and simply. A great length of time is not spent with a character demonstrating and explaining what they are doing as its simply not necessary. Far too many marketing departments wrongly assume that showing someone achieving some great technical wizardry on a device entices customers. They assume that if they have your attention, they’ve succeeded in selling you the product. What they fail to realise is that while an image can be eye-catching, if they have failed to show the average user that they can still achieve their simple, day to day tasks with ease on this device (or OS), the average person will never assume it can also fulfil their needs.

Matching iOS apps experience – Applications are the key to any OS; they can be used to highlight how mature, stable and innovative a platform is, while also showing all of its limitations. Handset manufacturers using the Android platform believe that the purpose of the applications being used is more important than the apps themselves, so as long as the same goals can be achieved on their devices, there is no problem. They are wrong however, there is a problem. On a mobile device, the method in which a task is achieved is fundamental. Any change in this behaviour affects a user negatively at first, as they will need to learn the flow of this new UI. What this means is that a user of an email application on one platform will not be convinced that their experience will be the same on another platform, just because there’s an email app there too. Users have to be shown that their experience with their applications can be transferred. Individual applications have to be highlighted, showing the quality of the experience available and that it works almost exactly like what they are used to. Added features and functionality is fine, but asking a user to use a completely new menu structure in order to update their Facebook status will not win customers. The focus should be on making the transition as seamless and pain-free as possible. You are more likely to convince users to switch by offering them the same basic package + more, than by offering them something completely different. Different means new, something to learn and things to consider. Even if its better, this only matters if a user is unhappy with what they already have. Ideally, the easiest way to achieve this is to get the same programmers building versions of their application for your platform, but this is not always as easy as it would seem.

This last, final step is the hardest to achieve for any platform. Good product management practices dictate that to achieve such a goal, development of applications would be brought in-house, or at the very least a multi-year contract would be signed guaranteeing support of the application on the handset, backed up by a financial reward and penalty. The truth is the margins in the mobile space currently are being squeezed almost past the breaking point; the risks for such an undertaking are too dear for anyone other than Microsoft to consider.

Or Google. With their Android platform they are in a prime position to take on such a strategy. They have nothing to loose with such an undertaking. Android will become the dominant mobile device platform with or without their promotion, purely due to the wide ranging support they have not just from handset manufacturers but makers of tablets, laptops, microwaves, cars… The breadth of support allows them to take more risks, recognising that the potential pay-offs are immeasurable. Even if their campaign somehow managed to fail, it would not hinder the growth of the OS by any stretch of the imagination.

Consider this strategy being used for the upcoming Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) release. They announce that this new release will run on every new Android handset released after the 30th of November, and will allow all devices to have access to all of the applications in the Android Market. A week or two later screenshots emerge of the OS running on a handset and a tablet. An Android Market icon can be seen on the tablet, indicating that tablets will now have Android Market support. A couple of weeks on and the advertisements begin. One airs showing someone taking pictures, then emailing them to a friend. The friend opens one of the images, then using a menu option plans a route to the location as the image was geotagged. Another ad shows someone sat on a couch browsing on a tablet. They come across an ad for a sale starting tomorrow at a local store, so they click on the Google Maps button on the website which brings up the address and they save the location as a starred item in Google Maps. The next morning we see the person walk out the door leaving their tablet on the couch, but with their phone in hand the user launches Google maps where they are already logged in and sees the starred item created on the tablet. They select on the shop address and choose the options to navigate there. One advert explains to a user that they can do something that they have done before (take a picture, email it easily, navigate to a picture) and another shows them something new which they have not done before. Put simply, they are able to do exactly what they do now, but there’s also more. This is beginning to become a compelling product.

The general public does not care about the best OS, as they have no way of knowing what that means. They only care whether something is easy, familiar and enjoyable. The iPhone OS is all of these things, while not being the best OS, but that doesn’t matter. For the majority of iPhone users its the best OS because it gives them exactly what they want. No other OS on the market is currently able to match the iOS this out-of-the-box experience (applications do need to be installed for an idevice to have any real value but this is still a much easier process than competitor offerings), but this will not be the case forever. There is a massive opportunity for Google, Microsoft or even Nokia to step out and demand attention, to declare themselves ready and willing to not only match but beat the iOS platform. The move is bold and almost certainly suicidal for someone like Nokia at this stage but, he who dares wins.

Googlevision

May 31, 2010 1 comment

One of the most interesting things about Google is that they know what the world wants, the only question is at what cost?

Imagine seeing an advert on TV for Best Buy which has a one day only sale tomorrow. You have been looking for a new Bluray player recently and so decide to pop down BB tomorrow. You rewind a few seconds to the advert (by the time you decided to go it had finished) and press the select button on your remote which launches the browser and takes you to a special page in the BB website showing you more info on the sale tomorrow. You use the navigation keys to move to the button titled Plan Route and hit select. Google Maps opens on the screen, displaying the route from your house (when you first bought the TV you had to enter in your address for the extended services) to the store. You then hit the Send Route button which sends the route to your Android device (via email). A message appears on your phone asking you if you would like to navigate there now or save the route as a favourite. You select the latter, and the plan for tomorrow is complete.

This is all very much possible, but the question is how much personal data have you had to sacrifice to make this happen?

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