Other Mobile Devices

CES Showcases Mobile TV: But Will They Pay?

The Consumer Electronics Show opens tonight in Las Vegas and there are a ton of announcements coming out of the show already. Mostly they surround three areas: eReaders/Tablets/Slate computers, 3D TV and mobile TV. Here are just a few of the announcements and related coverage so far:

The Samsung Moment is offering free TV via the new mobile DTV standard. Free TV will be of interest to most people who would like to watch TV on mobile devices.

But the persistent question surrounding the so-far unsuccessful mobile TV efforts in the US and abroad is how to get consumers to pay. Then there are the "TV Everywhere" efforts of TimeWarner, Dish Network and Comcast to provide access online and in some cases via mobile devices to subscribers. This extends the "reach" of their subscriptions to other devices.

Although paid offerings have not been very successful to date, a recent survey shows an apparent, growing willingness to pay for premium TV and video content on smartphones. However other surveys show price sensitivity: 

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Source: QuickPlay Media, n=1,000 (3/09)

There will ultimately probably be three or four "mobile TV" business models in the market:

  • Mobile as part of a home cable subscription
  • A la carte pricing (i.e., movie, TV show rentals)  
  • Free, ad-supported TV broadcasts
  • TV as part of a product bundle used to "upsell" customers to the next tier of service

The idea of a monthly fee for a stand-alone mobile TV subscription, however, is likely to fail (as it has to date). 

Wither Kindle: Thinking about Tablet 2.0

Although I love the idea of all the tablets and eReaders coming out, their success is still something of a surprise to me. Why? Because, unlike a smartphone, it's a fundamentally "frivolous" purchase for all but a handful of voracious readers who don't want to lug a bag of books with them on planes. 

The Kindle was the top selling electronics item of the holiday season on that site. And the day after Xmas, Amazon announced, "On Christmas Day, for the First Time Ever, Customers Purchased More Kindle Books Than Physical Books." Barnes & Noble's competing device, Nook, has also sold very well

There are easily more than a dozen tablets and eReaders either out or coming out. The most anticipated of which is the unconfirmed Apple iPad/iSlate/iGuide, which is expected to be announced at the end of next month. 

Most of the existing eBook Readers rely on E-Ink (Kindle, Sony, Nook). While utilitarian, this makes for a bland user experience. Now a new eBook "platform" called Blio, from Ray Kurzweil, brings rich graphics and full color to eBooks. It's not hardware but software that works with multiple devices. In more ways than one, I believe this is clearly the future and the existing E-Ink readers will in retrospect be seen as "1.0" devices. 

Magazine publishers, which rely on rich visual material in their publications, are gearing up for a tablet-centric future. Many have them have already embraced the iPhone, a full-color device. Newspapers too will want full color. And in both cases they'll want to incorporate video (eventually). 

I'm sure that Apple recognizes the importance of color and will offer it as part of the Apple tablet experience. I suspect that WiFi and Web browsing will also be included (perhaps a media player as well). My belief has long been that the winning device(s) will offer a large or full-size color screen, WiFi and full Web browsing and video capability. Alternatively, a range of devices can co-exist with these uber-tablets if they're relatively inexpensive. 

While we have Amazon to thank for jumpstarting this market, absent some changes, it's unlikely that next year at this time Kindle will be in the same privileged position it is today.

Big Numbers from IDC: More, More, More

Take every forecast not as gospel but as indicating the direction the market is heading. Look at multiple forecasts for consensus. Forecasting is something of a game. Healthy skepticism is required, even for the stuff we do.

Here are some wide ranging device and Internet access projections from IDC:

  • More than 1.6 billion people – a little over a quarter of the world's population – used the Internet in 2009. By 2013, over 2.2 billion people – more than one third of the world's population – is expected to be using the Internet.
  • More than 1.6 billion devices worldwide were used to access the Internet in 2009, including PCs, mobile phones, and online videogame consoles. By 2013, the total number of devices accessing the Internet will increase to more than 2.7 billion.
  • China continues to have more Internet users than any other country, with 359 million in 2009. This number is expected to grow to 566 million by 2013. The United States had 261 million Internet users in 2009, a figure that will reach 280 million in 2013. India will have one of the fastest growing Internet populations, growing almost two-fold between 2009 and 2013.
  • Presently, the United States has far more total devices connected to the Internet than any other country. China, however, is the leader in the number of mobile online devices with almost 85 million mobile devices connected to the Internet in 2009. The number of Internet devices in India, both mobile and fixed, is expected to grow commensurate with the number of Internet users.
  • Worldwide, more than 624 million Internet users will make online purchases in 2009, totaling nearly $8 trillion (both business to business and business to consumer). By 2013, worldwide eCommerce transactions will be worth more than $16 trillion.
  • Worldwide spending on Internet advertising will total nearly $61 billion in 2009, which is slightly more than 10% of all ad spending across all media. This share is expected to reach almost 15%% by 2013 as Internet ad spending grows surpasses $100 billion worldwide. 

Nothing much to be said other than: "growth, yes."

The big deal, which was highlighted by Google's Vic Gundotra the other day, is that "we're at the beginning of the beginning" of a new era of computing. It's really pretty clear that mobile devices, ubiquitous connectivity (which is coming) and data in the cloud are going to make computing and mobile Internet-based computing look very different in a few years than they do today. 

We'll be saying over drinks, "Remember when you had to sit at a terminal with an Ethernet cable plugged in to get online . . . "

Tablets as Really Big Smartphones

As I've said many times, I'm fascinated by the "two-device scenario": one mobile device for calling and one for Internet. The myriad eReaders now emerging promise to evolve into full-blown Internet devices in the near future but the CrunchPad (now called JooJoo) is a Internet-centric tablet that could potentially double as an eReader -- the other way around, in other words.

Any Apple Tablet is sure to be Internet-centric and WiFi enabled as well. 

The JooJoo device (supposed to launch on Friday) may never make it to market because of a looming lawsuit with TechCrunch, the company that originally developed it. The device is also overpriced at $500, which will keep people away.

The right price point is less than $300. At $500 people will compare it to a laptop rather than an iPhone or iPod Touch. However it points the way to a broader range of connected mobile devices that are not phones. 

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Photo credit: CNET

On this device, the Internet is the Internet -- not a shruken-down mobilized version. See CNET's "hands on" review

FLO TV Trying to Control Fate with New Device

I'm a critic, in case you haven't guessed, of subscription-based mobile TV. Mobile video is gaining and consumers are increasingly watching video on smartphones. But paying for TV on mobile devices is a different matter.

Qualcomm's FLO TV (just like other mobile TV offerings) is facing an very difficult uphill battle, if not failing. Lackluster consumer adoption has forced the company in a new direction: launching its own device, called "FLO TV Personal Television." 

But this device costs $250 (with six months of TV for free, after that it costs). The device should flop pretty massively. Why? Here's why:

  • People don't want to carry a third device on the go. At home they'll just watch TV or use the Internet
  • The cost (they would need to give the device away with a subscription to really generate interest)
  • Smartphones offer better quality resolution on a device you already own
  • People still don't want to pay anything meaningful for mobile TV (though they will buy mobile as part of a package)

Engadget has a demo video

The winners in this space should be the cable TV providers, which could offer mobile as part of an upsell package or a retention plan, which they'll increasingly have to think about as more and more content alternatives emerge (e.g., Netflix). 

NAVTEQ: 19% Clicked on Ads, 6% Visited Store

Last week, NAVTEQ released survey findings that "illustrate[] just how impactful GPS-enabled location-based advertising is when it comes to finding consumers at the right time and the right place." The survey (n=757 US GPS device users, 18+) was conducted by Marketing Research Services Inc. Household income of respondents was more than $50K.

Findings:

  • 72% of respondents "viewed the ads as acceptable to the navigation experience"
  • 50% ("at least 50%") of respondents recall seeing an ad for each of the advertised brands (aided and unaided)
  • 19% of those who recalled seeing a specific ad clicked through to find nearby retail locations
  • 6% ("up to 6%") "visited a business location after seeing an ad on their GPS device."

Ads in the study fell into the following categories: Convenience, Fuel, Hotel, Pharmacy, and Bank/ATMs.

Ads on maps, if done well, will be very effective. Ad coverage/inventory is also important without creating visual clutter. 

Nokia US Comeback? Believe It When You See It

Matt Marshall of VentureBeat offers an upbeat assessment of Nokia's strategy and prospects for the US market going forward:

Nokia has finally admitted its mistake, and is now aggressively pursuing deals to attempt to at least double its market share in the U.S. over the next year. “Mea culpa, mea culpa, ” Mary McDowell, Nokia’s executive vice president and chief development officer, told me last week. After years of ignoring U.S. carriers, upset at their insistence to exert control over phones and customers, Nokia is working closely with Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to work with them after all. There was a good story in the New York times about this a few days ago.

The article says there are a variety of improved phones and cool new devices coming to the US including the N900 MID. I remain highly skeptical of Nokia's ability to recover in the US absent a low-cost, low-end strategy:

  • Offering high functioning feature phones for the cost-sensitive
  • Offering low-cost smartphones (but smartphones are now <$199 and more are coming out at <$99) 

I remain doubtful that the world's largest handset maker can offer a better user experience at the high end vs. the iPhone or Android devices (especially 2.0 devices). Another approach would be to offer mobile Internet devices (such as it's doing with netbooks) that re-establish a positive view of the Nokia brand and use that as a way back into the handset market. 

Google Navigation Means End of PND Market

One of the themes I've written about over the past year is how smartphones will eventually destroy the PND/GPS market. Hence Garmin's move into smartphones and TomTom's iPhone app. But all of that will generally be to no avail. Google's new Navigation layer on Google Maps for mobile, with turn-by-turn directions, is as good or better than any of the GPS devices. It has a voice (search) interface and offers the benefits of Google search and Google PC-Maps integration.

Right now it's only available for Android 2.0 devices (like those coming from Verizon). But it will come to the iPhone and other smartphone platforms. 

From the Google Blog post

Today we're excited to announce the next step for Google Maps for mobile: Google Maps Navigation (Beta) for Android 2.0 devices.

This new feature comes with everything you'd expect to find in a GPS navigation system, like 3D views, turn-by-turn voice guidance and automatic rerouting. But unlike most navigation systems, Google Maps Navigation was built from the ground up to take advantage of your phone's Internet connection . . .

I was at Google yesterday for the briefing and have written up my impressions of the demo at Search Engine Land:

When the main part of the briefing was through I asked the first question about whether Navigation would become available for other platforms such as the iPhone. Gundotra hesitated a bit in his response saying that this was up to the third parties, such as Apple in this case. (My sense is that Google has some ambivalence about making it available on other platforms.) He affirmed that the iPhone was an important platform for Google and that it would be available on the iPhone at some point in the future. And he conceded that the iPhone 3Gs was certainly powerful enough to support the service.

For the time being, until Navigation does get to the iPhone this is a true competitive differentiator for Android 2.0 devices, which is why I think Verizon will promote it. By contrast, TomTom offers turn-by-turn navigation as a $99 iPhone app. Once Google Maps Navigation becomes available on the iPhone the TomTom app is no longer viable. Who will buy it when a comparable and potentially better app is free? Even the possibility that Google Navigation is coming to the iPhone will suppress demand for the TomTom app.

Click on the image below for the video demo

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Google Developing a Free Mobile Nav App?

The PND device companies and their related suppliers are scrambling to reinvent themselves in the wake of better and better smartphone mapping and tools that get people from here to there. TomTom for example launched an expensive app (plus cradle) for the iPhone and the company has also introduced an "infotainment" product:

The all-in-one TomTom GO I-90 solution can be fitted into any car, so even those with older car models can have an integrated navigation experience. It also offers consumers all the advantages of easy-to-use portable navigation, yet fits seamlessly into a vehicle dashboard. The device provides full radio integration with the car speakers for high quality audio when using spoken instructions, or making hands-free phone calls. Although the full solution is integrated, the navigation device is totally portable so it can be removed from where it sits in the audio system to be used in other cars.

Meanwhile Garmin is becoming a handset OEM of sorts to fight back. And the first "connected" PND platform Dash essentially went under (and was acquired by RIM for BlackBerry devices). However I believe most of these adaptation efforts will prove ineffectual. Most people will not have smartphones and PNDs and most people will not pay the $100 for the TomTom app on the iPhone. 

This increasingly bleak situation for the PND makers is compounded by the possibility that Google is developing a free navigation app, which may represent a major nail in the coffin of the PND industry. According to Forbes:

Google has a tendency to enter a market, undercut its competitors' prices and put established players out of business. Navigation service providers are wondering if they're next.

The companies, which provide voice-guided, real-time, turn-by-turn driving directions on people's cellphones, have a hunch that Google is developing a mobile navigation application that it plans to give away for free.

Chatter about such a product first surfaced several years ago, when Google introduced a mobile version of its maps program. The proliferation of the search giant's mobile operating system, Android, in recent months has given the rumors new fuel.

Such a turn-by-turn directions app for Android would be a truly differentiated feature from the iPhone, especially if it were an intrinsic part of all Android devices. And, as the article mentions, it would all-but-kill the navigation subscription business (such as VZ Navigator). 

Absent some pretty dramatic product enhancements or otherwise radical innovation (such as sub $100 pricing), the PND market will continue to shrink into obscurity.

Will 2010 Be the Year of 4G?

With Verizon saying that it will be rolling out LTE to 25 to 30 markets in the US next year, and Clearwire and partners pushing to get more WiMax coverage we're entering a new period of coverage and mobile network speed -- a new network arms race of sorts. Earlier this week Clearwire, Comcast and Sprint announced three additional 2009 cities for 4G deployment:

Clearwire Communications [ ] Comcast [ ] and Sprint [ ] today announced plans to launch their respective 4G mobile Internet services in additional cities in the fourth quarter of 2009. Each of the companies will offer 4G under their own 4G brand.

Clearwire, Comcast and Sprint will each launch commercial 4G service in Philadelphia in the next several weeks with official launch events and retail store openings to follow. In November, Clearwire, Comcast and Sprint will begin sales in Chicago. All three providers will begin selling in Seattle/Tacoma area in early December. Consumers and businesses should expect to see additional network expansions throughout these cities, and a wide-range of independent marketing and advertising initiatives.

The full list of cities to be WiMax-enabled by the end of 2009 under one of the Clear-related brands include:

Atlanta and Milledgeville, GA; Baltimore; Boise; Chicago; Las Vegas; Philadelphia; Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro, NC; Honolulu and Maui, HI; Seattle and Bellingham, Wash; Portland and Salem, Ore; and Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Abilene, Amarillo, Corpus Christi, Killeen/Temple, Lubbock, Midland/Odessa, Waco and Wichita Falls, Texas. 

It's a strategic and PR blunder not to include the SF Bay Area, where much of the tech coverage originates. But beyond that this "arms race" should be good news for consumers, offering greater speed, the promise of one bill for home and "on the go" access and intensifying competition for consumers. 

Available 4G citywide coverage means that, for example, one could use an iPod Touch with a Skype account ($2.95 for unlimited North American calling per month) instead of having a conventional mobile phone plan. It could also mean that all the forthcoming tablets that are compatible with the technology could be potentially be used as access devices (where Web browsing is enabled). 

Hotspot networks may be largely marginalized as 4G coverage spreads, unless they're tapping into the same networks and offer competitive plans. 

'Kindle Everywhere' Strategy Seeks to Preempt Rivals

Amazon, which just announced a huge quarter, is seeking to preempt a host of new tablet and eReader rivals by introducing what I'm calling a "Kindle everywhere" strategy. Similar to what it did with an app for the iPhone, Amazon is going to introduce software for the PC that ties into the Kindle "ecosystem" and allows people to read books on a computer without actually buying the hardware device.

By making the Kindle experience ubiquitious Amazon hopes to crowd out other hardware competitors and eventually convince holdouts and skeptics to buy the device. If you're hooked into the software you'll probably eventually buy the device. 

The Kindle was partly what powered Amazon's big quarter:

“Kindle has become the #1 bestselling item by both unit sales and dollars – not just in our electronics store but across all product categories on Amazon.com. It’s also the most wished for and the most gifted. We are grateful for and energized by this customer response,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com. “Earlier this week we began shipping the latest generation Kindle. Its 3G wireless works in the U.S. and 100 countries, and we’ve just lowered its price to $259.” 

Picture 34

However in order to have a competitive device longer term Amazon will have to:

  • Upgrade the device itself (introduce color and touchscreen)
  • Offer Web browsing and video capability
  • Offer cheaper devices (part of a segmentation strategy)

In many respects the Barnes & Noble "Nook" has already bested Kindle

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Related: Nook rumored to run Android apps. 

Nook Mobile Ads on the iPhone, LA Times Reveals Kindle Subscriber Numbers

I was reading the NY Times on the iPhone last night and saw a display ad for the new Barnes & Noble eReader "Nook." I was immediately struck by this for a couple of reasons:

  • Barnes & Noble is smartly going after audiences on smartphones who are likely buyers
  • I've never seen a comparable ad for Kindle

Amazon just dropped the price of the international version of Kindle to $259 to remain competitive with the Barnes & Noble device, which doesn't offer a non-US version (perhaps yet). In addition LA Times editor Russ Stanton says that the newspaper has 2,700 Kindle subscribers. That's a largish number for a new technology but a tiny contribution (less than $100K) in absolute terms. 

There are maybe 10 eReader devices announced or already in the market, with more to come. And while the Kindle offers "limited" Web browsing I believe the Nook does not. The winning device(s) will offer a large or full-size color screen, WiFi and full Web browsing and video capability. Alternatively, a range of devices can co-exist if they're relatively inexpensive and well equipped. 

 Picture 95

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Nook: 'Kindle Killers' Start to Arrive

Barnes & Noble formally unveiled "Nook" today, its "dual-screen" eReader. There are lots of images and videos floating around provided by B&N. Here's a video demo (also on the Nook site). It's $260, essentially same price as the Kindle 2 and has more features. Among them it offers WiFi and a touchscreen, with color at the bottom.

This may not be the ultimate expression of the eReader, but it improves upon Kindle and immediately steals the buzz from Amazon's device -- a feat that so far no one has been able to do in the smartphone market vis-a-vis the iPhone. Here's the Nook-Kindle side-by-side comparison:

Picture 12

How will Amazon respond?  

See also: eReader Market Kicking into High Gear

eReader Market Kicking into High Gear

As the world anticipates the Apple Tablet (iPad?) and Amazon quickly tries to grab marketshare with its new global Kindle, some new competitors are previewing eReaders that should make 2010 the year of the MID. First, PlasticLogic is teasing people with its new QUE, to be unveiled at CES in January. The Que is positining as an enterprise platform/tool to differentiate from the mass of consumer readers:

QUE is designed to simplify the multi-faceted lifestyle of the modern businessperson, and to quite literally lighten their workload. In addition to connecting its users with their business and professional newspapers, books and periodicals, QUE supports the document formats business users need (including PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents) and features powerful tools for interacting with and managing the content . . .

More than an eReader, QUE means business. Extra thin, lightweight and wireless-enabled, QUE is the size of an 8.5 x 11 inch pad of paper, less than a 1/3 inch thick, and weighs less than many periodicals. The innovative QUE proReader features the largest touchscreen in the industry, an intuitive touch screen user interface, and provides access to a file cabinet’s worth of documents, plus your favorite—and most necessary—publications. 

Spring Design announced a novel, dual-screen Android-based reader ("Alex"): 

Picture 74Alex’s revolutionary dual-screen display design brings together the efficiency of reading on a monochrome EPD (electronic paper display) screen while dynamic hyperlinked multimedia information and third party input on its secondary color LCD screen, actually an integrated Android mobile device, opens a rich world of Internet content to support the text on the main screen. Alex, the first Google Android-based e-book device to provide full Internet browsing over Wi-Fi or mobile networks such as 3G, EVDO/CDMA and GSM. With its dual-screen, multi-access capability, it provides the entire Web universe as a handy reference library, prompting users to delve into its vast information base to complement, clarify or enhance what they are reading. Alex is the first truly mobile wireless e-book device that gives users their own personalized library on the go, whenever and wherever they need it.

 

 Alex features a 6" E-Ink EPD display and 3.5" color LCD display, earphones and speakers. A removable SD card will free up library space on the device while letting users archive content for future reference. The enhanced Android OS is optimized to support integration between the color and monochrome displays while preserving battery life. Users can capture and cache web content from their online experience on the LCD screen, and toggle to view it on the EPD screen without taxing the battery life. Browser features such as bookmarking, history, and security settings are built in, and the device with full Android browsing capability, is mobile enabled with smart phones capabilities.

The dual-screen approach solves the problem of Web browsing in color and eBook reading in E-Ink in black and white. The absence of a color screen on the Kindle is a long-term strategic problem for the device. I'm not sure that the dual-screen approach is a winning one however. The Barnes & Noble device is rumored to offer a color screen and appears to have a more "elegant" form factor. 

Regardless, it seems as though by this time next year there will be at least 5-10 serious competitors in the space:

  • Apple
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Plastic Logic
  • Sony
  • Samsung  
  • LG
  • IREX

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Related: PaidContent offers an extensive discussion about the forthcoming 3G iRex Digital Reader 800SG and the strategy being pursued by the company. For example, while there's 3G connectivity, there's no email or Web browsing. 

Group Aims to Boost WiFi Connected Devices, Networks

A consortium of companies, called the "Wi-Fi Alliance," is seeking to turn lots of consumer electronics products into micro hotspots to boost available WiFi and make it a more reliable and ubiquitous way to get online. Right now spotty availability holds WiFi back. The alliance is promoting a new spec that offers "direct Wi-Fi connections between devices." The consortium includes small and large tech companies. Here's how the group's release explains the specification:

The specification, previously code-named "Wi-Fi peer-to-peer," can be implemented in any Wi-Fi device, from mobile phones, cameras, printers, and notebook computers, to human interface devices such as keyboards and headphones. Significantly, devices that have been certified to the new specification will also be able to create connections with hundreds of millions of Wi-Fi CERTIFIED legacy devices already in use. Devices will be able to make a one-to-one connection, or a group of several devices can connect simultaneously.

Seen in tandem with the rollout of WiMax (Clearwire) and LTE (Verizon, AT&T) expanded WiFi networks offer the promise of always available connectivity, which is what consumers increasingly want. The forthcoming barrage of eBook readers and tablets will mostly be WiFi enabled (if they don't have a carrier relationship, e.g., Kindle-Sprint). In addition, more non-phone, non-computer devices will emerge and be WiFi enabled (e.g., digital cameras, video camcorders). So there's a virtuous cycle/circle here: the more connected devices that promote WiFi coverage the more people will tend to buy such devices. 

The promise of ubiquitous or nearly ubiquitous WiFi also means that consumer-users will be less dependent on mobile carriers. In such a situation someone might choose to buy an iPod Touch or a tablet rather than an iPhone with its expensive data plan for mobile Internet access. They might have a basic mobile phone instead of a smartphone in that case and rely on the other device for Internet access on the go. There are a variety of these scenarios that become possible if WiFi truly becomes an alternative, regular access paradigm in a way that it is not currently today. 

Report: 21% Planning to Buy eReader This Year

Tablets and eReaders are here to stay. Exactly how popular they'll become and how they'll impact publishing and traditional media is another question. So too is the question of where they will "fit" in the computing product line up: will people use them instead of smartphones, along with smartphones, instead of netbooks or laptops? Will they be important Internet access devices?

Electronics shopping site Retrevo recently published the results of a survey (n=771) that asked about eReader buying intentions. Here's what the company found:

Planning to buy an eReader this year: 

  • 21% yes (Males vs. females: 26% vs. 17%)
  • 79% no 

I'm surprised that this many people said "yes." And 9% of respondents said they were waiting for the rumored Apple Tablet/iPad/iMedia device.

What brand are you going to buy?

  • 62% Amazon Kindle
  • 32% Sony
  • 6% Other 

There are a range of "others" in the market (Samsung, iRex, etc.), however people have only heard of the Kindle and Sony's eBook Reader. Indeed, the relative percentages above reflect the relative visibility of the devices more than any intrinsic preference or evaluation or relative quality, etc.

As Apple and other OEMs enter the market we'll see those numbers open up to reflect the competition. Price, features and connectivity will be largely determinative of winners and losers. Kindle's usability may factor into its potential ongoing success. But I don't believe that the Kindle will emerge as the "iPod of eReaders." 

In terms of potential buyers, the respondents saying yes skewed younger, although not especially young:

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As you might expect also, more affluent respondents were more inclined to buy these devices than those with lower incomes.

Putting aside the relatively large (21%) number of people who said they wanted to buy an eReader "this year," this market and consumer feelings about these devices are in early stages of development. Connectivity is a big issue as well (at least built-in WiFi). My belief is that those devices that offer color screens and a range of capabilities -- including Internet access -- beyond simply reading text will win and have a shot at mass-market adoption. 

But they also need to be priced right as well. Apple is the lone company that may be able to defy that dictum and get people to buy a device that costs more than $500. Most of these devices will need to come in at or around $200 to be competitive, because they'll also be competing with smartphones. 

Will Kindle Move Beyond Books, Periodicals?

A story in the NY Times from Friday asks the question: Will Amazon Open the Kindle to Developers? The story concludes that the answer is "probably not":

An Amazon spokesman, Drew Herdener, wouldn’t comment on this. But according to a few analysts and Amazon watchers who are often prescient on these things, it seems the answer is probably not.

The piece discusses the limitations of the device (i.e., black and white screen, connectivity issues) as technical barriers to iPhone like functionality and capabilities. Yet, to succeed long term, opening up and building an ecosystem like what the iPhone has done is precisely what Kindle must do. As beloved as it is it's a non-mainstream device and its cost ($299 for Kindle 2 and almost $500 for the DX) is a barrier for most people. Indeed, Sony and others have already undercut the Kindle with their pricing (there are devices coming as cheap as $99, though $199 is the "sweet spot"). And you can bet that price competition will only get more intense as a kind of land grab sets in. 

Apple's forthcoming tablet will likely be compatible with iTunes and iPhone apps and provide most of the eReader functionality that Kindle has. It will be expensive, relatively speaking, but Apple's brand strength can support a higher priced media tablet, provided the functionality is there. Amazon is thus likely to confront a host of competitors with color screens and broader capabilities on the one side and cheaper models on the other. 

While it has many devoted fans, it is NOT the iPhone of eBook readers (at this point). And it will not be similarly insulated from competition. Rather it will be seen as a pioneer that opened the door for many others, who eventually "ate its lunch." That is, unless Kindle 3 becomes much more than a simple eBook reader.

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Related: Here's a nice tablet roundup at CrunchGear. 

Courier: Microsoft Tablet Prototype Appears

Gizmodo has revealed what can only be described as a really impressive "late prototype" tablet from Microsoft that is two sided, like a book. (A laptop opens and closes like a book, but the orientation here is two 7 inch "sheets of paper" side by side.) The post includes a promotional flash video demo that shows the range of capabilities of the device, including Internet access (apparently also a camera). 

It's extremely appealing; I got that "I want one" feeling when I saw it.

There are now so many tablet and eReader devices coming, it's clear that the market is "real." The Internet on one of these larger screen devices is going to be more like the Intenet on a netbook than on a smartphone. Beyond this, the questions in my mind are:

  • What are the right price points: for eReaders it's about $200 or less; for higher functioning tablets it's not yet clear
  • Who provides the connectivity (a must) and what's the model there (Amazon provides it for "free" with the Kindle.)
  • How does this all shake out eventually in terms of phone vs netbooks vs. tablet/readers?  (Good tablets could kill low-end netbooks unless they're too expensive.)

In other words, it could be that these tablets are the new smartphones, eventually becoming a preferred mobile Internet access tool for business users and those who can afford them. 

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Related: Best Buy and Verizon Jump Into E-Reader Fray:

On Wednesday, iRex Technologies, a spinoff of Royal Philips Electronics that already makes one of Europe’s best-known e-readers, plans to announce that it is entering the United States market with a $399 touch-screen e-reader.

Owners of the new iRex DR800SG will be able to buy digital books and newspapers wirelessly over the 3G network of Verizon, which is joining AT&T and Sprint in supporting such devices. And by next month, the iRex will be sold at a few hundred Best Buy stores, along with the Sony Reader and similar products.

And a survey of just over 3K consumers in the US reports that 21% are interested in the as-yet-unconfirmed Apple tablet. 

Nokia's Navteq Buys Acuity Mobile for LBS Ads

Nokia's Navteq is getting (really) serious about mobile advertising. The company has announced the acquition of mobile marketing firm Acuity Mobile. The two firms have been working together since March, 2007, when Acuity's technology was selected to deliver LBS ads via Traffic.com (a Navteq subsidiary). According to the Navteq press release issued this morning:

The acquisition of Acuity Mobile, a US-based company with approximately 18 employees prior to close, underscores NAVTEQ's commitment to and investment in location-based advertising technology and solutions. Earlier this year, NAVTEQ launched NAVTEQ LocationPoint(TM) Advertising which enables advertisers to reach and engage consumers where and when they are making shopping and purchasing decisions. NAVTEQ has been leveraging Acuity Mobile technologies to meet the increasing demand for location-aware advertising services as the volume of location-aware devices and applications has grown . . .

NAVTEQ LocationPoint enables clients to target consumers with geographic precision. In turn, consumers will have advertising move with them, as their mobile mapping applications present ads, offers, coupons, or other promotions, based on their preferences. Advertising capabilities include audio, rich graphics, or calls to action such as routing to the closest advertiser storefront.

Acuity delivers LBS ads but with other targeting layers as well, including time, context and user preference. The acquisition helps stabilize a broader range of mobile advertising capabilities for Navteq, which has seen the PND market (one of its primiary outlets) look less and less viable with the rise of smartphones.

I'm wondering aloud whether Acuity will remain within Navteq or integrated more broadly into Nokia Interactive Advertising. I would also look for more Nokia mobile ad platform/network acquisitions in the near term.

PNDs: From Hardware to Software

As more and more people buy smartphones with location-enabled maps or use free or low-cost navigation tools available on smartphones the PND market becomes less and less viable as an independent hardware category. We've argued this in the past. The arrival of TomTom, among others, and a slew of car mounts for the iPhone make the smartphone a near-complete replacement for PNDs.

Garmin is making phones (with ASUS) to extend its life, but it's now only a matter of time before the hardware side of the category is swallowed up by smartphones. Dash Navigation, which had intended to revolutionize the PND market by offering two-way connectivity, didn't last a year. In June it was acquired by RIM to support navigation services on the BlackBerry.

The only way that PNDs can survive as a separate hardware category is by either being priced below smartphones or by beefing up available content and functionality, which is at odds with cheaper pricing. The danger if they move to pure software strategy, however, is that free or very low cost apps do a "good enough" job of helping users get from A to B to discourage the majority from buying or subscribing.