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January 28, 2010

Thought Leadership for the Wireless Industry
In This Issue
What the iPad SHOULD Be
Who Ya Gonna Call?
Crystal Ball Conference
April 7, 2010, Montreal
Speech on wireless

Presented by AlwaysOn
Feb. 1-3, New York
Mobile Apps & Ads Panel

The Great Disrupters
M-Eco/Fierce Live Webcast
Archived Version Available!

The Edge Conference
November 17, 2009
Mobile Advertising Panel

Hello all,

Reviews of the iPad have trended toward the negative. Here's a different take, with some thoughts on what a tablet should be.


Appropriately, I'll be New York next week, moderating a session at OnMedia. This is an important gathering of the content and media elite, which should make for an interesting week given the tectonic changes occurring in content distribution and business models.

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What the iPad Should Be

For those who think the iPad is going to be a miss, I'd encourage you to see it as only Chapter 1 of Apple's tablet story. There's still a lot going on behind the scenes, including discussions with many corners of the media and entertainment community. Importantly, however, the iPad provides a roadmap of the types of devices we should be developing for over the next five years: gorgeous screens, touch interface, constant connectivity, better battery life, and the opportunity to build on and further monetize existing media and content, rather than replace it or kill it.


My read of the relative lack of media and content deals (not to minimize what's already on iTunes) is that Apple wants to put a great piece of hardware out there, and use that as the platform for discussions with book publishers, magazine publishers, and others in the content universe to build an even more robust ecosystem around media of various forms. The iPad is essentially a larger version of the iPod Touch, representing an opportunity for the expansion of iTunes. I believe the succeeding iPad versions/software updates will feature a reconfigured iTunes, with a host of new content and innovative business models for media. iTunes will also head in the direction of being more web- and cloud- based (ie. purchase of LaLa), rather than centric to a device, leveraging the portability of the iPad.


Your Next Kitchen Appliance?

I think there's a lot up Apple's sleeve that is not evident with this initial version of the iPad. My view is that there's an important opportunity for a "family"- or "household" -centric device that fills some missing gaps in our multi-screen world. A typical family of four household today has some 15 "screens", between phones, TVs, PCs, game players, iPods, and so on. The big TV is in the family room. PCs are in the home office and other locations in the home if they're portable. The under-addressed room? The kitchen. What's needed there is a hybrid PC/TV/entertainment device that is the "hub" for a family's land-based [analog?] and digital activities. Verizon took a stab at this with its "hub" product, but it was primarily a souped-up phone with some content widgets but very little integration with the household's "life".


One of the learnings from the iPhone/iPod Touch is how much it is used in the home. People sit on the couch and zip from news to messaging to YouTube videos to Facebook updates to games - in a much "snackier" way than they do on their PC. 


The iPad will succeed if it can build upon the iPod touch experience, and fill that "middle ground" between phone, TV, and PC. I think it might also be more of a shared/community device. Some ideas:


  • Integration with television. There's lots of media content available on the iPad, through iTunes. But how about some ability to receive live TV, either through cable or digital tuner, or FLO TV add-on. The iPad is a more natural device to integrate the TV and PC than the TV or PC.
  • Phone, calendar, and address book functions. The iPad could be that great touch-screen Internet phone we've all been waiting for, and much more. One unmet family need is a really good centralized calendar that can have both individual and group access, as the central point for coordinating a busy family's schedule. This would integrate and sync with other "screens" in the home. Similar thought on the address book/contact list, and various messaging channels, from email to SMS to social networks. All could use MobileMe as Web-based anchor. Apple has an opportunity here to take its PIM and MobileMe products, which have never been best of breed, to a new level, providing content synchronization across devices.
  • Remote control for home systems. Here's where DVR, stereo control, home security, utilities/energy consumption, and other household functions, could be centralized and managed.
  • The evolution of the book. The iPad is an elegant version of the Kindle and other e-readers. But it's a platform to give certain types of books a whole other life. The best example I can think of? "How-to" books. For example, think of all the cookbooks sitting on your kitchen shelves. Make them digital, which instantly means searchable. In addition to beautiful pictures, there are embedded "how to" videos. Here's an opportunity to complement the book business, not threaten its survival. The same opportunity exists for newspapers and magazines.


Even though the iPad might sit in a kitchen or family room, it of course has the added benefit of being portable. So games can be played and media watched in other rooms. When out of the home, the iPad becomes a portable media player - DVDs, games, books, newspapers/magazines, and so on. The synchronization and control functions would come with you, using the wireless network.


To make this a viable alternative to the netbook, Apple has livened up its equivalent of Office for the iPad - Pages, and Keynote, for example. It would be a leap, however, from the productivity applications that most people use for work. Web-based apps, such as Google Docs, would be an interesting middle ground.


The Wireless Angle

The wireless network piece, through AT&T, is a bit of an afterthought. I'm pleased to see the lower entry price, although users will blow through 250 MB pretty fast. The lack of contract requirement is a win for consumers, and leaves the door open for other operator relationships. I'm sure Apple had to twist AT&T's arm big time on that one. All that said, given the target market and likely consumption patterns, I think the iPad will tilt heavily toward WiFi use. A big question as to how many people will spend the extra $150 for the device plus $200-400 annually for mobile connectivity (the first thing they'll do is spend for the additional memory: 16 GB is a non-starter for a device like this).


Apple's recent purchase of Quattro Wireless is another important piece of the puzzle. Apple realizes that there are limits to how much consumers can, or are willing, to pay for content (especially after their wallets are depleted from buying Apple devices!).  With Quattro, Apple has an opportunity to build a more robust advertising capability for content that it sells though iTunes (music, video, books, apps), or is accessed on the web through its devices. The Quattro Wireless platform will become an important tool for the developer community.

Tectonic Battle Shaping Up

The larger story that will unfold this year is a tectonic battle over the distribution structure and business models for media - music, movies, TV, games, books, newspapers, magazines, and so on. A second front has opened in the Apple-Google war, this one involving Amazon (I wrote a piece several months back on how Amazon might be a viable competitor to iTunes). Book publishers are now having the same discussions and skirmishes as the music studios did when iTunes was first released. Ironically, Apple is their white knight, compared to what has been transpiring the past few months between Amazon and Wal-Mart.


Newspapers and magazines were curiously absent from the iPad announcement. I suspect there are lots of discussions going on behind the scenes. Hopefully, the iPad, and other expected tablet and next generation e-reader type devices will give that corner of the content business new life, rather than the slow death the Internet/PC has been delivering.


Apple did a poor job yesterday of articulating who would buy this product, and what they would primarily use it for. Their computers represented an improved experience on what people were already getting on their Windows-based PC. iTunes and the iPod brought digital delivery of music and other content into the mainstream, with a great user experience and a business model that worked for both industry and consumers. The iPhone delivered the all-in-one delightful user interface, web browser and applications that mobile users had been craving. The iPad's role in the digi-verse is not as clear. I'm not ready to declare it an Apple TV-like  "miss". Its success will rely on a clearer articulation of target market and use cases, and, more importantly, content and applications that can bring what is an innovative piece of hardware with a great UI, to life. 
Who Ya Gonna Call?

There's a huge dichotomy between the "wireless world" and the "internet world" when it comes to customer support. How is this going to be reconciled as we start connecting more advanced wireless internet devices, especially if the operator is not the primary channel? Click here to see my opinion piece in Fierce Wireless.

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