Other Mobile Devices

Tablets: How Will the Market Shake Out?

In the slate/tablet and reader world there are essentially three major competitors: iPad, Kindle and Android. However, in the "waiting in the wings" category we have HP, which has promised to release one or more tablets based on WebOS and perhaps Windows.

RIM is also about to bring out a tablet and Microsoft has vowed not to lose out in burgeoning market either.

A year from now we'll know more, after all these various devices show up and there are a dozen or so modestly priced Android tablets in the market. I predict that "pure" eReaders will fade or entirely disappear unless they're priced very aggressively or seriously upgraded.

Kindle's price is now down to $189 and Kindle DX recently upgraded and the price dropped to $379. Still at $379, DX has very little chance of gaining traction in the market unless it morphs into a more full-functioning tablet. 

But even the original, six inch Kindle won't be able to survive unless it too dramatically upgrades or re-prices itself. That's because there will be a slew of $199 or just over $200 Android tablets. The $199 Cruz Reader is just one among many coming. 

After the dust settles, the iPad is likely to occupy the "premium" segment as Apple does with laptops and desktops. Android tablets will come from many hardware OEMs but they probably won't be able to charge more than about $350 (and maybe even $250). At the bottom of the pyramid will be the eReaders, which won't be able to charge more than about $150. I'm going to speculate, however, that the price ceiling for eReaders will drop to about $100.

(I'm also going to predict that Amazon will eventually build or release its own Android tablet under the Kindle brand.)

It remains to be seen what comes from RIM and HP/Palm. But what Microsoft should do, with its partners, is develop with a fully functioning PC in a thin and light form factor. It would need a full keyboard that can be detached and/or fits nicely into a case. The iPad, while a great device, can't totally replace a notebook for "content creators." 

With the right form factor and capabilities Microsoft (and partners) could probably get up to about $500. And if such a device were to come into being it could be a big hit and also put pressure on the iPad to lower its prices. 

Despite early skepticism, the iPad has "made" the market for tablets just as the iPhone opened the door for the current generation of smartphones. Now, just as they did and are doing with the iPhone, Apple's competitors will be compelled to react and define themselves against the Apple tablet in terms of features and price.

Google Sends Maps to More Connected Cars

The car is the ultimate "mobile device" isn't it? And increasingly cars are becoming "connected" to the Internet. Google now has an impressive roster of car brands on a global basis to which users can send Google Maps directions.

According to the Google LatLong blog:

With today’s additions, drivers can send destinations from Google Maps directly to their connected vehicles in 19 countries and more than 20 different brands.

In the US alone, Send-To-Car is now available on more than 15 car brands and we hope to see even more partners join us soon.

 

On a smaller scale Mapquest and Nokia's Ovi Maps offer in-car integration. However Navteq (owned by Nokia) powers most of the PND devices that operate in vehicles in the US. In Europe it's Teleatlas, owned by TomTom. 

Yahoo: iPad Users More 'Gender Balanced'

Yahoo offers its second look at iPad users on the Yahoo network and Yahoo apps. There's nothing dramatic that the company finds but there are some interesting observations about behavior and audience composition:

The user base continues to skew male, but is becoming more gender-balanced; the male to female ratio moved from 2:1 to 3:2:

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The sweet spot for [the iPad] user base continues to be in the 30–54 age range, and that about half of the Yahoo! iPad users have been using Yahoo! for at least six years (see charts below).

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Regarding international iPad usage, gender and age distribution are very similar to the US. 

Gender

In general, the male skew is the same internationally as it is in the U.S., though it is stronger in Japan, where male users outnumber women 4:1. Similarly, the 35–44 age cohort is the largest among all international iPad users on Yahoo!. 

Population 1

These data suggest, among other things, that there are more similarities than differences among early iPad buyers around the globe. 

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The recently released Pew mobile report featured some interesting data at the end on eReaders and tablets:

  • 4% of Americans own eBook Readers and 46% use them to access the Internet, according to Pew's survey
  • 3% of respondents said they owned a tablet computer such as an iPad 

These figures illustrate the difficulty and peril of self-reported data and extrapolating that to the larger population. For example, if 3% of US adults (out of a total of about 228 million) actually owned a "tablet computer" that would mean 6.8 million people in the US own them.

The iPad has globally sold something more than 3 million units. Unless people didn't understand what is/was meant by the term tablet computer the survey results overstate the market. There are effectively no other tablets on the market today, except for a couple of isolated Android tablet devices that really haven't penetrated. Windows-based "tablet PCs" have largely failed and so can't be assumed to be part of this response.

Does this inflated result cast some doubt on the larger survey findings? I think directionally they're certainly accurate but may be imprecise, despite the claim of a survey margin of error "plus or minus 2.4 percentage points."  

 

Has Cisco Killed the RIM Tablet?

Earlier this week Cisco introduced an Android-based tablet called Cius. Here are the top-level specs:

  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, 3G/4G data and Bluetooth 3.0
  • HD video (720p)
  • Android operating system, with access Android marketplace applications
  • 7” diagonal, high-resolution color screen
  • HD Soundstation supports Bluetooth and USB peripherals, 10/100/1000 wired connectivity and a handset option
  • Detachable and serviceable 8-hour battery
  • Highly secure remote connections with Cisco AnyConnect Security VPN Client
  • HD audio with wideband support (tablet, HD Soundstation)

While this is a device that will reportedly support all the Android Market apps, it's aimed at business users and the enterprise.

According to the Wall Street Journal, "trials are expected to begin in the third quarter of 2010, with general availability in the first quarter of next year. Pricing hasn't been set, though a Cisco spokeswoman said Cius will cost less than $1,000."

It's unlikely that a RIM tablet -- unless miraculous -- would be competitive with the iPad in the consumer market. Instead it would fundamentally have to appeal to the core RIM business customers. However I'm sure a RIM tablet will try to have "crossover appeal."

Nothing can be said until one goes "hands on" with these things, but the Cius appears to be quite a competitive little tablet. The question then is: has the Cius just killed or substantially dimmed the enterprise prospects for RIM's rumored tablet device?

I suppose RIM could always compete on price, as it has been in the recent past with its handsets: maintaining sales and market share at the expense of margins. 

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See also Dan Miller's take on Cius: Cisco’s Wireless Android Tablet, Cius, Puts Enterprise Collaboration On the Glass

 

Amazon Adds Video, Audio to iApps

Amazon is adding video and audio capabilities to its apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch:

Amazon.com . . . today announced a new update to Kindle for iPad and Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch, which allows readers to enjoy the benefits of embedded video and audio clips in Kindle books. The first books to take advantage of this new technology, including Rick Steves' London by Rick Steves and Together We Cannot Fail by Terry Golway . . .

 Here are a few thoughts that immediately come to mind:

  • This reflects that more eBooks will offer multi-media going forward. And audio/video will likely become one of the distinguishing features over time vs. traditional books
  • Kindle is battling iBook (Apple's eBook store) with rich media and has taken the fight directly to Apple devices. It may have to do the same for Android tablets. Still there is no Kindle for Android
  • This is an admission by Amazon that its own Kindle devices (at least those out today) are being eclipsed by the more full-function iPad 

I wouldn't be surprised if we saw an Android-based Kindle tablet at some point in the future. In fact I would bet on it.

Apple: 3 Million iPads in 80 Days

The iPad is on fire. This morning Apple announced that it had sold its three millionth iPad in the space of 80 days:

Apple today announced that it sold its three millionth iPad yesterday, just 80 days after its introduction in the US. iPad is a revolutionary and magical product that allows users to connect with their apps, content and the Internet in a more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before . . .

Developers have created over 11,000 exciting new apps for iPad that take advantage of its Multi-Touch user interface, large screen and high-quality graphics. iPad will run almost all of the more than 225,000 apps on the App Store, including apps already purchased for your iPhone or iPod touch . . .

Before its introduction there were many skeptics who doubted the viability of the tablet category and whether people would want the iPad in particular. Now hardware OEMs are scrambling to develop an answer to the iPad and eBook Readers are dropping in price to remain commercially viable.  

By the end of 2010, when there will be Android tablets in the market, Apple will probably have sold at least 8 million iPads on a global basis. It wouldn't be a stretch to predict 10 million sold globally. 

Android, iPad Grow in Latest 'Mobile Mix' Report

Mobile ad network Millennial Media is now putting out two reports on a regular basis: one about mobile advertising (SMART) on its network and the other about devices (Mobile Mix) on its network. Consistent with other networks and data vendors in the market, Millennial has seen considerable Android growth. But the iPad is also growing dramatically.

According to Millennial:

  • Android requests grew 15% month-over-month, and have now grown 338% since January.
  • The Apple OS remained the leading operating system on the Millennial network, but it had a month-over-month decrease of nearly 14%
  • iPad requests grew 160% month-over-month
  • For individual manufacturers, HTC received the largest share increase month-over month for the second consecutive month

Below are some of the report's charts, showing the hierarchy of devices and operating systems on Millennial's network. In addition, the company shows the percentage breakdown of developers working on the various smartphone operating systems.

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Compare AdMob's most recent mobile metrics report (April, 2010) in terms of devices and operating systems on its network:

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Other than the iPhone and the top three Android phones, there's a different array of devices on both lists. The top Android device on Millennial's list, the Nexus One, doesn't event show up on the AdMob list. The AdMob list shows no RIM devices among the top group, whereas the BlackBerry Curve is the number two phone over at Millennial. 

Comparing operating system share on the network also reflects the differences between Millennial and AdMob. Below is AdMob's US operating system share graph for April:

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Millennial (top four):

  • iPhone: 48%
  • RIM: 19%
  • Android: 15%
  • Other: 8%

AdMob (top four):

  • Android: 46%
  • iPhone: 38%
  • RIM: 9%
  • Palm: 3% 

Each of these company specific reports needs to be taken with some caveats and caution. The discrepancies and differences between the networks illustrate this. However, both companies show similar trends: the growth of Android handsets, which makes sense give how many there now are, and the rise of the iPad (AdMob discussed that last month).

iPad Ad Metrics: Novelty or the Start of Something?

There's already been much discussion of some early advertising metrics on the iPad. The following results were published a couple of days ago by ad mediator AdMarvel (owned by Opera), TextPlus and PointRoll (owned by publisher Gannett):

Campaigns that ran the first four weeks after the iPad launch delivered average interaction times across advertisers of 30 seconds, and as high as 53 seconds for one advertiser. Time spent with each ad correlated with the amount of content included in the ads.

In addition, interaction rates (measuring the number of people tapping to expand and engaging with the ads, as a percentage of impressions) ranged from .9% to 1.5% in the first month of the campaign, up to 6 times the benchmark for comparable click-to-expand ads on the desktop. In addition, 67% of users who viewed a video component of the ad in the app watched it all the way through, compared to 53% completion rate for desktop. These findings show that the iPad can be a successful supplement to a 360-degree campaign across devices to strengthen and further lift audience engagement.

(Emphasis added; see ad demo.)

Dynamic Logic and Insight Express have both shown that mobile ads consistently outperform PC advertising across a wide range of metrics and brand indicators. The question of course is whether the increased engagement and metrics are the byproduct of novelty or whether these platforms are going to consistently deliver better performance over time. 

Some of this better performance is clearly novelty but other factors such as less ad clutter and greater "share of voice" on pages make for higher engagement and improved response. Websites on the PC or "fixed" Internet have become a veritable wasteland of clutter and low quality ad content. That's partly why Apple's Safari 5 enables users to eliminate ads from the page.

Even as the Internet has fragmented audiences and eroded if not destroyed some traditional media (e.g., newspapers), online advertising, with the exception of search and one or two other areas, has largely failed. 

The iPad is not a PC, nor is it really a mobile device in the same form as a smartphone. It's more of a portable PC with apps. We still don't  have enough data to know how people use and will use the iPad and its many forthcoming rivals. In my house it has taken time from PC exposure but it's much more a "leisure" or "lean back" device than the PC, which is mostly utilitarian. 

If that use case holds generally for tablets it could be that people will be more receptive to display and rich media ads on them vs. the PC. 

News Corp. Buys Hearst's eReader 'Platform' Skiff

Last year Hearst's Skiff project was one of at least 15 or 20 eReaders coming to market. When it was announced it was conceived of as an integrated package of hardware and software:

Skiff, formerly known as FirstPaper, specializes in the delivery and presentation of newspaper and magazine content, as opposed to other platforms that focus primarily on e-books and plain text. Newspaper and magazine content delivered by Skiff will feature visually appealing layouts, high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates . . .

Skiff is working with major consumer electronics manufacturers to integrate Skiff’s service, digital store and specialized client software into a range of innovative devices, the first of which will be unveiled soon . . .

Skiff has signed a multi-year agreement with Sprint (NYSE:S) to provide 3G connectivity for Skiff’s dedicated e-reading devices in the United States. Plans are underway to have Skiff readers available for purchase in more than 1,000 Sprint retail locations across the U.S., as well as online at www.sprint.com. Additional distribution channels will be announced next year.

But that was before the iPad. Today News Corporation announced that it had bought Skiff from Hearst for an undisclosed amount:

News Corporation today announced that it has acquired Skiff, LLC, Hearst Corporation’s e-reading platform designed to deliver premium journalism to tablets, smartphones, e- readers and netbooks. The Company also announced an investment in Journalism Online LLC, the venture dedicated to enabling newspapers, magazines and online-only publishers of quality content to collect revenue from their online readers. The financial terms of both agreements were not disclosed.

Why did Hearst sell? Perhaps because it didn't think it could compete in the devices market. EReader maker IRex recently filed for bankruptcy citing disappointing sales. 

Now it appears that Skiff will become, exclusively, a software platform for News Corp content distribution on a range of devices. There was no mention of hardware in the News Corp. release.

Just as with the smartphone market we may see three or four tablet platforms that are viable: iOS, Android, Kindle (maybe), WebOS/HP (maybe) and Windows 7 (maybe). Most aspiring eReader devices will diversify or fully evolve into software platforms or apps -- e.g. Kindle for iOS, Nook for iPad and now Skiff. 

Google Brings Nav to More Countries, Maps to GM, Upstart App Offers Free Nav to iPhone

Google is making its mobile Navigation app available in more countries, throughout Europe: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. It's voice guided and offers voice search. In a related development, Google expanded the number of European languages for Google Voice Search. 

Google's free Navigation (which works well) has not yet come to the iPhone, whether for technical or competitive reasons. However a new free app from Berlin-Germany based Skobbler offers free turn by turn navigation on the iPhone. I haven't used it so can't comment on its quality. It uses OpenStreetMap for base data. 

Finally, Google Maps are now a part of GM's OnStar functionality. Users can email directions from PC-based Google Maps to select GM cars. Ford has also integrated Google Maps into its Sync system and will allow users to send directions to Sync from the PC or smartphones. Sync was co-developed with Microsoft so I would expect comparable functionality for Bing. 

AdMob Introduces New iPad Ad Formats

Not waiting or wanting to be upstaged by the launch of iAds, Google-owned AdMob is introducing new ad formats for the iPad. These new formats include text, tile and image ads. The company will also be rolling out interactive HTML5 ads in the near future:

AdMob was one of the first companies to launch ad units for both iPhone and Android applications, and now we’re helping to drive innovation on the iPad. We consider today’s launch of text & tile and image ads for iPad native apps to just be the starting point.  We’re always thinking about what’s next and working to leverage the unique capabilities of mobile platforms to create engaging ad experiences.  With that in mind, we’ve put together a sneak preview of the creative potential of iPad ads using HTML5.

AdMob put together what a mock up of what such an ad might look like:

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While digital creative has a way to go, though is improving, for smartphones, agencies and marketers' creative efforts may really shine on the larger screen and accompanying formats made possible by the iPad. 

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Wired's iPad Launch a Reasonable Start

Wired magazine launched on the iPad about a week ago and I just got around to paying the $4.99 "cover price." The company reported about 24,000 downloads in the first 24 hours. It's currently the second most popular paid app, so I'd guess the downloads have nearly doubled by now.

Wired sells about 82,000 single copies per issue, according to one of the Wired blogs. The print magazine has about 672,000 subscribers.

There are a number of innovative elements in the iPad version of the magazine; however in general it felt as though the company had merely scanned the pages into the digital format. Indeed, the overall translation of Wired to the iPad was relatively uninspired.

I was also struck by how many ad pages there were. In order to "work," ads on the iPad will need to be more thoughtful and compelling than simply electronic versions of the print ad. A few ads did have video. 

Below I've highlighted some of the interactive elements of the Wired iPad app:

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It would be relatively easy for Wired's iPad edition to exceed newsstand single copy sales in a short period of time. However the company can and should do more in later issues to take advantage of the digital format, interactive features and video capability.

I think Time did a better job with its iPad launch. 

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Related: Adobe reveals magazine iPad-izer software

Apple: We Sold 2M iPads in 60 Days

Over the weekend, numerous stories appeared of people excitedly queuing in London or Toyko to get their hands on the iPad. This morning Apple put out a press release that said the company has now cross the two-million devices sold threshold:

Apple® today announced that iPad™ sales have topped two million in less than 60 days since its launch on April 3. Apple began shipping iPad in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the UK this past weekend. iPad will be available in nine more countries in July and additional countries later this year . . .

Developers have created over 5,000 exciting new apps for iPad that take advantage of its Multi-Touch user interface, large screen and high-quality graphics. iPad will run almost all of the more than 200,000 apps on the App Store, including apps already purchased for your iPhone® or iPod touch®.

The various Windows Mobile and Android rivals are just starting to come into the market. The promising ASUS Eee Pad (tablet with docking keyboard) won't be out until next year apparently. But there will be dozens of Android tablets hitting the shelves by the end of this year or early next year.

The two primary ways that they'll compete with the iPad is with Flash and on price. For example the One Laptop Per Child initiative will now become an Android tablet, selling for a hypothetical price of $75.

If we start to see Android tablets selling for $100 or $200 they will become very successful. Indeed, as Apple occupies the "premium" segment of the tablet market, Android tablet OEMs will probably be compelled to compete on price -- pushing them ever lower. 

Apple Reaches Million iPad Milestone

I previously argued that once Apple reached a million iPads that would be a "psychologically significant" milestone; it would show that there was finally a market for tablets and the clone wars would also begin. Last week Chitika estimated that more than a million iPads had been sold and today Apple confirmed it in a press release:

Apple® today announced that it sold its one millionth iPad™ on Friday, just 28 days after its introduction on April 3. iPad users have already downloaded over 12 million apps from the App Store and over 1.5 million ebooks from the new iBookstore . . . Developers have created over 5,000 exciting new apps for iPad that take advantage of its Multi-Touch user interface, large screen and high-quality graphics. iPad will run almost all of the more than 200,000 apps on the App Store, including apps already purchased for your iPhone® or iPod touch®. 

The only viable iPad challengers at the moment are probably as-yet-unreleased Android tablets (the rumor is that a Google tablet is imminent). HP is developing the Windows 7 Slate (which will likely fail) and may have decided to kill the project after announcing the acquisition of WebOS maker Palm. That remains unconfirmed. WebOS can also be the basis for a viable Slate offering. 

The presence or absence of Flash is unlikely to be a determinative factor in the success or failure of any of these devices. Regardless, now that the iPad has crossed the one-million threshold, it's "game on" for this new computing platform. 

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Related: Apple's iPad 3G estimated to have sold 300K on launch weekend

Estimate: Over a Million iPads Sold

Ad network Chitika estimates that more than a million iPads have been sold to date in the US, with almost 20% in California. New York is the next largest iPad market with just over 8% of iPad sales. 

If it's all true, a threshold has been crossed and the "tablet market" is established. When the iPad reaches Europe -- and when the 3G version goes on sale at the end of this month -- we'll probably see a couple million more go out the door in relatively short order. 

On to something of a paradox. The iPad has, in my opinion, made apps even more important and cemented their position in the "mobile" ecosystem. The debate of apps vs. mobile Web is now over; both will co-exist. The mobile Web will not "win" as many had bet -- seeing apps as a kind of transitional market.

This is a paradox because, as a mobile device of sorts, the iPad offers a much better Internet experience than can a smartphone, including the iPhone. So why do you need apps? (Perhaps it's better to call the iPad a portable device rather than a mobile device -- because people won't be using it "on the go" in the same way as a smartphone.) However once you experience them, iPad apps, such as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times or USAToday, present a dramatically better experience vs. their respective sites on the Internet. This is and will also be true for magazines and other types of publications, if they choose to build apps.

Because of the primacy of apps, it's unlikely that tablet devices without them or without access to them (other than eReaders) will enjoy much success in the market. A tablet version of a Windows 7 machine, the HP Slate for example, will simply be a handicapped netbook without a keyboard. 

It's possible that Adobe or Microsoft could make Flash or Silverlight-based apps that work across other tablets, bringing a version of the "app store" experience to those devices. We'll see. 

In my month or so with the iPad I find that it's very much a hybrid experience: more pure Internet than the iPhone but much less Internet than the PC. Where there are apps I use them first. I "resort" to the Internet where apps don't exist. 

In-Car Voice Control of Mobile Apps from Ford

Ford has been hyping SYNC (developed with Microsoft) in TV spots for months. But now comes a new feature that ties the voice services of Sync to smartphone apps, called SYNC AppLink. It is currently compatible with BlackBerry and Android phones. It allows voice control of smartphone apps through the in-car system, after a software download.

The sure-to-be popular 2011 Fiesta is the first Ford car to enable this but it will be rolled out to other Ford vehciles and smartphone platforms, including presumably the iPhone in the next model year. According to the release:

The Android Market and BlackBerry App World are among the leading growth markets for mobile apps. The new SYNC AppLink will seamlessly integrate apps using the vehicle's voice and user interface controls, including buttons on the steering wheel, increasing eyes-on-the-road and hands-on-the-wheel time.

The first SYNC-enabled apps available later this year include Pandora internet radio, Stitcher "smart radio" and Orangatame's OpenBeak app for Twitter, with additional apps on the way. Updated versions of each app, incorporating the SYNC application programming interface (API), will be available through Android Market and BlackBerry App World for customers to download.

I haven't used SYNC but this is a pretty compelling extension of its capabilities. Here's a video demo of it working on the Fiesta with the Pandora and Stitcher apps:

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Part of the consumer proposition here is about safety: hands free operation of an access to the phone. Companies like Zoomsafer and Vlingo are also working that arena with voice search, although Zoomsafer has a more complete offering. But SYNC Applink is a more comprehensive capability that extends to entertainment. 

Ford is making a big bet that SYNC will be a differentiator for consumers and for some it certainly will. More broadly SYNC and Applink should help mainstream in-car voice services over the next two years.

I won't get into too much speculation about this but widespread adoption of this type of capability would create a potentially big new market for certain categories of apps and in particular Internet radio, which could become very disruptive. 

Is the iPad a Phone Too?

Here's a scenario to consider: iPad 3G with unlimited data from AT&T and VoIP as the ultimate all-in-one mobile device. Could that replace a traditional mobile phone and voice + data plan? There are a number of VoIP apps on the iPhone, which also work on the iPad. However the $30 unlimited data plan from AT&T is only available for the iPad.

That effectively means a user could get all the functionality -- arguably better functionality -- that the iPhone offers on the iPad with unlimited calling (and data) for just $30 per month. Of course people who own the iPad also own mobile phones (indeed smartphones) and so they aren't going likely to think of the iPad as a money saving opportunity.

However the availability of data-only pricing from AT&T (and T-Mobile) and/or a MiFi device suggests that we're entering a period when very soon people will find alternatives to traditional carrier voice services. That becomes even more true if video conferencing (via Skype) becomes feasible on the iPhone and iPad.

For the first time in 2009 data traffic/usage surpassed voice traffic/usage on a global basis. However voice revenues remain quite a bit greater than data revenues, even though for some carries they are approaching 50% according to Chetan Sharma.

But there's a parallel to landline penetration here. Over time, voice revenues for wireless carriers will decline just as landlines are disappearing. With the rise of smartphones data revenues are going up and so are the options for users who want workarounds or alternatives to traditional carrier voice services. 

Apple by the Numbers

Here are the numbers Apple released during its iPhone OS 4 event yesterday . . .

iPad numbers:

  • iPads sold to date: 450,000
  • iBook downloads to date; 600,000
  • iPad apps download: 3.5 million
  • iPad apps: 3,500

iPhone/iPod Touch (85 million devices):

  • Apps downloaded: 4 billion
  • Total apps: 185,000
  • iPhones sold: 50 million
  • iPod Touch devices sold: 35 million

Mobile browser usage (Net Applications Feb data):

  • iPhone: 64%
  • Android: 19%
  • BlackBerry: 9%
  • Other: 8%

Lenovo Contemplating Palm Purchase on the Eve of iPhone 4.0 and Project Pink's Debut

Spring has sprung and industry thoughts naturally turn to mobile operating systems. Just a day before Apple's "sneak peak" at OS 4.0 (which is expected, at a minimum, to add multi-tasking and improved ways to handle and display mobile advertising), Microsoft indicated that it is ready to launch its long-awaited mobile phone/media player combo, called "Project Pink". While everyone was distracted by these developments, a group of investors bid up Palm Inc.'s stock price, fueled by speculation that Chinese OEM, ODM and laptop aficionado Lenovo has eyes on the WebOS prize. Before day's end on Wednesday, Palm's stock price jumped 20% to $4.62 per share.

Given Lenovo's distribution channels and reputation for making and supporting the ThinkPad line of laptop and mobile computers, the prospective acquisition would be a good move for both parties. Although it's early in the game, Apple's iPad has, at a minimum, sparked heightened interest in the mobile tablet as a complement, substitute or replacement for netbooks and laptops. What's more, the iPhone's new operating system is expected to be just as important in its role is software platform for the iPad as well.

Lenovo has proven to be a great steward for ThinkPad, a brand and product line it acquired from IBM in 2004. At the time ThinkPad got high marks for industrial design and product innovations, even though it was never going to be a monster money maker for Big Blue. Palm is a little different. Both the Pre and Pixi have failed to capture market share in the smart phone market, where they have suffered from a certain lack of support in the carriers' retail channel. Meager sales all but destroyed WebOS's prospects to rival alternative smartphone application platforms, especially the iPhone and Android OSes. Its appeal was predicated on its ability to run a multiplicity of applications designed for predominant standards and quasi-standards, like HTML5, Java and Flash. At a minimum, it could have given Windows Phone and RIM's Blackberry an interesting run for their money.

As a standalone, single-product company, Palm is just too small to take on and capture share versus Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM. Lenovo has a chance to integrate Palm's smartphones and the WebOS into a coherent set of complementary products spanning desktops, laptops, netbooks, tablets and smartphones. Even if the acquisition turns out to be "only a rumor", it is a tantalizing one.

iPad Restores Brand Lustre to Time Magazine

Last night I purchased a copy of the Time magazine iPad app (at $4.99) because I wanted to see what the venerable but declining publication would look like on the new device. I was pleased to see a version of the magazine that looked more like a magazine than the PC version, yet used the dynamic capabilities of the iPad to do some interesting things with formatting, navigation and ads.

The larger and more visual nature of the magazine on the iPad makes it very different than reading or skimming Time online. It "brings out the brand" and restores some of the lustre of Time the once iconic news publication. Online, Time is more or less "just another news site" in a flat universe of endless news sites and aggregators.

The iPad version is something quite different, as I suspected it would be. 

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Advertising on the device offers a wide range of interesting possibilities . . . 

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The striking thing is how visual it is. The pages of the Time app are "magazine-like," with large images, pull quotes and graphics -- not compressed as on the PC. By contrast the "Editors Choice" NY Times app is, to use the vernacular, "lame" because it was no doubt quickly done and without much imagination. This is truly a new medium, as different from the iPhone as it is the PC Internet, and it needs to be approached accordingly.

We'll see how many iPads sold (estimates are 700K so far) and whether the device becomes mainstream (with a price cut it will). But if it does have momentum and it is a success the iPad will mark the beginning of a new period of "personal computing" and "mobile advertising." 

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Related: Netbook Sales Sag as the iPad Arrives and Some New iPad Owners Say Device is a Kindle Replacement