Don’t blame Apple for Kindle’s woes

Even though, I am not in anyway on Steve Job’s payroll, I ended up defending Apple twice  today.  But I say it as I see it.  So let me start by saying this upfront – Apple Ipad will prove to be good for Kindle & ebook lovers.

First of all, Apple is not the sole reason for the recent abandonment of $9.99 ebook pricing by various publishers for the kindle. So plz stop blaming Apple as if they are the culprit. The first sure sign of the $9.99 ebook being in danger was when Amazon announced that ebook sales exceeded the sale of physical book sales during the last holiday season. What it meant was that the publishers had to deal with low-profit ebook sales cannibalizing the sale of high-revenue physical books – which they did not foresee (to this degree). Thus, the seeds for this change today was sown that day.  Publishers were just waiting for any viable kindle challenger to come out. Apple Ipad just turned out to be the first one. So don’t blame Apple for being the harbinger of superior product.

Also, this is the best thing that could have happened to the ebook users. How  you ask. We are ending up paying more for the e-books. That’s true for now but here is how I see the story changing over a period of time. First, Kindle has some serious upgrading to do. Amazon just purchased a touchscreen technology company after Ipad’s announcement, so the lines have been drawn and expect a major major overhaul of the the Kindle hardware – for the better and rivaling that of the Ipad. And of course, apps for Kindle.

Next, once the Ipad comes out (& offer same prices on ebooks as the kindle), expect a torrent of offers from Amazon (& perhaps Apple) on ebook purchase to get you hooked into the hardware/platform. Now that Amazon cannot exercise monopoly and set terms for the publishers as well as users, competitive market economics come into play. Competition between Apple, Amazon (& other players in this field) will lead to more innovation by each of the actors, value added services offered as differentiators and price wars – all of which will ultimately benefit the eBook users.

Competition is always good for the consumers. When Google N1 came out, I said that it was the best thing that could have happened to the Iphone users. Now Apple had to not only constantly meet user’s expectations but had a benchmark to beat.  Apple Ipad will end up doing the same to Kindle.


Apple Ipad: The game changer?

The wait is over & its finally here. If you were expecting it to heal the world, stop global warming & bring world peace, you would be sorely disappointed. But if you were a realist and just wanted a superior tablet device, you would be more than happy with the result. In fact, if you were reading my blog and saw the “10 predicted features” entry, you would fall in the later category  since I almost hit the nail on its head  with that one (and I am not being smug about it).

However, I am sure you have checked out the keynote on the apple website and gone through the reviews on the web and already have formed a liking or disliking to the device.  So before starting out, let me call out a few not so obvious things which would perhaps provide a different perspective (in its favor):

  • The Ipad is “ALSO” a jumbo ipod touch: Of course, it can run all our ipod touch apps, but it does a lot more.
  • The Ipad is the first tablet device that has come out from Apple’s steed. Its just the first in the line of many more to come. Remember when iphone came out? There was no app store and it just ran a couple dozen apps.
  • The Ipad runs a modified version of Iphone OS 3.2. So, when iphone OS is upgraded to 4.0 (with multi tasking support, UI enhancement etc.), in all probability, so will the OS on Ipad.

Here is a high level lowdown on features:

  • “There is an app for that (Ipad)”: Yes, all your apps run on the Ipad too. All 140K of them. That’s a huge headstart for Ipad. There are so many apps (esp. text based like stanza), that would benefit from its larger form factor (screen). And games look great on it too.
  • Beyond ipod touch Apps: There is a custom SDK for Ipad and  I think Apple gave a good preview of “what can be”. The iWork App was a great example of how some of the iMac s/w will be customized to run on Ipad. The customized mail/photo & you tube apps were also great. So was the NYT app. The possibilities are endless as we saw with the explosion of apps on iphone/touch.
  • The iBook: Though, I was not overly impressed with the iBook software, Ipad is definitely a better e-book reader than iphone or standalone e readers. I will be very excited to run stanza and other 3rd party e-reader apps (that also provide Free Books).
  • The Hardware: The high-resolution, 9.7 inch LED-backlit, IPS display, .5 inch thin, 1.5 pounds, Wifi, 3G , sleek, cool, star trekkish … Need I say more ? And a keyboard with dock !!! Watch out for 3rd party h/w accessories (like a small webcam that attached to the 9-pin :)). And the screen is great for watching movies !!!
  • The variety: There are 6 models available – from as low as $499 to $829. No dearth of choice here.

But, what’s missing?

  • No multi tasking, no flash support, no in built file management: These are the things that reviewers and critics have been shouting about all day. One thing they don’t realize is that all these features will probably be slowly enabled with OS upgrades (to the iphone / ipad).
  • No Camera: This is a pretty glaring miss but I am sure Apple knew that and they did not take the decision lightly. I am assuming hardware integration complexities or deadline for TTM (time to market) and hoping that its not just a product sustainability tactic (what to  put in the next version).

The biggest nemesis of Ipad is ironically apple’s own iphone/ipod touch. There are many of you who are thinking – “I got my iphone/touch and it can do the same things. Why do I need to buy an Ipad”. Well, wether you want to admit it or not, iphone(or touch) has its limitations (blasphemy!! you say.). But things like reading a book, watching a movie with someone or plain browsing a complex structured site would be much much better experience on the 9.7 inch screen of Ipad. And for a starting price of $499, its a great alternative to e-readers / personal media devices / even ipod.

Final Verdict:

Remember reading about the first Computer ? It was perhaps as big as a room and needed rocket scientists to operate. Now compare that to the UMPCs of today or even smartphones. Get the analogy? No? Think about the first gen ipod and then think about ipod touch. Perhaps got it now?

“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”  (A Chinese Proverb). The Ipad is an important step in the right direction at the right time. However, its not a small step by any means. It has already stimulated the tablet segment and compelled competitors to invest billions in trying to build a better tablet. And something will come out of that.

So, come 2050, people will look back and definitely mark the introduction of this device as the game changer.

Apple changes the Tablet PC market

If you have ever tried to buy a tablet PC in the past, you will know that the choices have been very limited (and costly).  Even today if you search amazon for tablet PC, you would be presented with few viable choices that will make you switch to a tablet PC or get one as an additional computer.  If you explore the history of tablet PC (for e.g. at Wikipedia), you will find out that the first commercialized tablet PC was released by IBM in 1993 and the next big step in its evolution was in 2001 when Microsoft released the touch screen Tablet PC run by Windows. And since then,  nothing. Yes, no notable innovation in this field (mainstream table PC) for last 9 years and Microsoft has not helped with its unimaginative software capabilities for the tablet PC.

However, if you have been following the International CES this year, where companies introduced the hot products for the next year, the big news has been the Tablet PC. There have been 9 different tablet products from 9 different companies with an evolutionary changed design – ranging from the sleek tablet PC (sans keyboard) from HP to the hybrid 2 in 1 netbook-tablet from Lenovo (Read PCWorld’s article on the same here). And of course Microsoft’s rumored Courier device is also in the queue. So what’s the driver behind so much innovation this year? Many people argue that the advanced (& cheap) hardware that’s available now has enabled this innovation in the tablet segment. Well, there hasn’t been a huge drop in prices or a huge leap in hardware capabilities in the last 2 years.  So what’s the real driver? The answer is  – “Apple”.

Apple fundamentally revolutionized the mp3 player market with their ipod line of products and then did the same to the smart phones by introducing iphone. It literally created , revived or expanded those segments. With that track record, Apple’s foray into the Tablet PC  is what has made this the hot product of 2010 & beyond. With the buzz, interest & the demand that will be created by Apple’s  Tablet device, other manufacturers have either been pre-empted in their  effort to create their own tablet PC device or have been forced to not ignore this opportunity.

So, Apple has changed the Table PC market and the irony is that they have not even released their tablet yet 🙂 or even admitted to having working on it at all !!!. Now all we need to do is wait till 27th Jan for Apple’s event where Steve Jobs will (hopefully) change our world (again).

Iphone: Enterprise Apps for the Retailers

First of all, I would start out by saying that a lot of things discussed here applies to any mobile/smartphone device. I have taken the example of iPhone since that’s the prevalent mobile device right now and is leading the way in expanding the mobile user base. And, me being an iPhone fanboy has nothing to do with it 🙂

With iPhone/iPod touch predicted to touch a user base as big as 100 million in a year or so, the retailers cannot afford to ignore the platform. Big retailers (like target,amazon, walmart, bestbuy et al.)  have already created an iPhone app and there are people out there questioning why some retailers don’t have an iPhone app. Yes, we have arrived at a point where a customer facing iPhone app is taken for granted for any big retailer and if its missing, its negatively impacting the brand image in minds of the young consumer.

There has already been considerable movement in the space of m-commerce iPhone app. There is much literature out there discussing the merits & benefits of creating an iPhone application in that space (Click Here to read an article on benefits for a retailers creating an iPhone app ). Also, people have already seen how these apps are changing consumer shopping behaviour (Click here to read the NY Times article on bargain shopping using the mobile). So I will not touch a lot on that aspect of use case of an iPhone app. I will rather discuss and make a case on how this trend will ultimately inspire internal enterprise apps.

Creating a consumer facing m-commerce app first obviously made sense since that has the fastest tangible ROI and that’s the reason that lot large retailers went for it in a big way. However, the implications of these apps are huge to retail space. These apps have implicitly made the job of selling so much more competitive in ways that one cannot measure right now. I will use few personal examples to illustrate my point:

  • I was at Best Buy and I remembered that I had to upgrade my router. I went looking and as soon as I found the one I liked, I keyed in the model number into the amazon mobile app (I like amazon :)) and the same was available for $15 less. I immediately ordered it on Amazon. Exactly same thing happened with my newborn’a car seat at BabysRUs store and Amazon won again.
  • I was heading to office when the oil indicator lighted up in my car. So I stopped and opened the “Yowza!!” iPhone app that shows coupons available at nearby retailers and found that a $10 off coupon was available for the local Oil Can Henrys. So off I went and they accepted the coupon without it being printed.

And I could go on and on. Couple of obvious observations from the examples above:

  • Previously,  retailers probably had at least a day to respond to the competition, that time window has now been shrunk to hours or even real-time or else they are at risk of lost sales.
  • Location specific Mobile Marketing will become more and more important as mobile/smartphone devices become an integral part of our lives.

This changed landscape will require the retailers to be more nimble, agile and mobile. They have to be able to respond fast and respond from anywhere. That’s where the Enterprise iPhone apps come into the picture. With the assumption that a retailer already has an m-commerce or at least an m-marketing app out there, I will present the following use cases for an enterprise iPhone app:

  • Competitive Pricing : This functionality will be used by a merchant/buyer. One use case is where the user will be able to add few (100s or 1000s) items on a price watch list. A price watch engine will then track the prices of these items every few minutes on competitors websites and if it finds a lower price, it will send a push notification to the application. The user can review the notifications, review the GM% and other KPIs and if he decides to meet/better the competitor price, he can then initiate a price change to its item from within the apps. Another use case would be when merchants’ assistants will be window shopping the competition and when they see a lower price, they will use the instant price change functionality of the application (or which could optionally be forwarded to Merchant’s app for review/approval).
  • Mobile Marketing: This a no brainer. Merchants / Buyers already publish daily deals through some desktop / server applications to the mobile apps (amazon mobile has this). But buyers / merchants / store managers can publicize an instant sale (perhaps to move merchandize late in the day to meet a sale target) by sending out push notifications. This will be even more useful if Apple starts supporting location specific push notifications. Some retailers are already doing some of this using social networking sites (like Facebook).
  • Sales / Performance Dashboards: Live Real Time Sale Reports at one’s finger tips has been the dream and pursuit of many retailers. By this time, most of them  already have the infrastructure to get this information and view it on their PC, all they need to do is plug it into an iPhone App UI and track sales/performance for their key items. If a Retailer wants to do this from scratch or if they already have a BI ERP (from Oracle or SAP or Salesforce et al.), they can use one of the existing apps out there (Click here for a list of exiting business apps). Thus they can track sales of any items (with alerts) and then take actions (price changes / promotions etc.) to meet the sales goals.
  • Quickly setup items & Write POs: As buyers go into the market and find items they like, they can immediately scan (or rather snap) UPCs from suppliers, download the item information from the cataloging sites, upload the item information into their internal systems and start writing purchase orders right away. All this from within the app.
  • The New “BlackBerry”: The list of things that iPhone can do will go on. We are at a point where iPhone has the potential to change the way we interact with the Enterprise apps, the same way blackberry changed the way we interact with our Enterprise mails & schedules. Not only can we respond to mails on the go (and all the time)  but we can now write POs, View Reports, make budgets – do actual work on-the-go.

All said, there will be many challenges that one will face while implementing enterprise apps.  Enabling the iPhone apps  to securely access enterprise data  and manipulate it will require water tight security. Many enterprises have yet to adopt iPhone for mails due to lack of confidence in its secure framework, faith in the old blackberry and existing investment in blackberry devices. So one will have to overcome that hurdle.  Also, one needs to thoroughly formulate the architecture for the services, frameworks and interface for enabling the access to enterprise transactional data.

Having made the case for enterprise iphone apps, I am still a realist. M-commerce / consumer facing apps will trump the enterprise apps any day. But if a retailer or their competitor have that out already then the next step is the enterprise iphone app.

Live video comes to iphone !!!

Live video has arrived to the iphone users and in a BIG way. The following 3 apps will metmorphize the way iphone is used (again):

Ustream Broadcaster & Qik Live: These 2 apps allow you to broadcast live to the web (where the world could watch) and then gives you an option to save the video and upload to youtube. The best part – they work on all models pf iphone !!!

Knocking Live Video: This app will allow you to Knock another iphone users and then stream live video from your iphone to his/her iphone !!!

As I said, iphone will never be the same again. However, there are huge privacy implications and in one of our discussions yesterday, we could think of plenty of ways these features could be misused (One of my colleagues jokingly said that she could use it to spy on her spouse. I have warned him already :)).
So, expect these features to be in the news and not all for good reasons. But the possibilities that these features offer are endless – stream a birthday party, a function, a meeting, share the beautiful sunset, even use your iphone as a baby monitor (I have tried it and works great :)) Enjoy !!!!

10 Predicted Features for Apple Tablet

The apple tablet will soon become reality (probably by end of Jan 2010) and right know its like a big jigsaw puzzle. As related bits and pieces become known, one can literally start putting the tablet together. Here is my take 10 features the tablet is probably going to have (or should have):

1. A 10 inch LCD touch screen: Well, there have been many reports in the media about Apple ordering 10 inch LCD screens from its suppliers in Asia. So this one was not that difficult to predict. Click here for the story about the same.

2. A touch keyboard with tactile feedback: This is going to be cool, as soon as you engage the keyboard, the touch screen will change(?) to provide a contour for the keys. No, this is no science fiction. Click here about the technology patented by Apple.

3. Capacitive touch screen: Ever wondered why the iphone screen won’t respond to a stylus? The answer is the capacitive screen (Vs the traditional resistive screen) and that has resulted in incredible responsiveness and has contributed immensly to the user experience and its success. So the tablet has to have this and obviously support the multi touch capabilities that was introduced with the iphone. Click here to learn about the different types of touch screens.

4. Iphone app support: Recent reports have surfaced that apple has asked its iphone app developers to super size their apps to work on larger screen. So the obvious inference is that there will exist a tablet version of many iphone apps. Click here for this story.

5. Support for iLife: Since its all Mac OS (even the iphone OS is), there is bound to be support for our favorites – iPhoto, iMovie etc.

6. iTunes & App Store integration: Goes without saying.

7. All in one hardware Features: It will have built in webcam, accelerometer, magnetometer, GPS, Wifi, 3G support and maybe even GSM/CDMA support. These hardware support will in turn spawn multiple usability features (e.g. state of the art mapping software)

8. Integrated E-Reader: Many news & media outlets are readying special content for the tablet and Apple is said to be in talks with many book publishers for selling through itunes. This one is again a no brainer. Even without special features r support, you can always read books/browse news using the tablet. Click here to read about the same.

9. Streaming content (music & tv): With Apple buying lala and being in talks with media outlets like CBS & Disney for TV streaming point to this feature. And of course, as long as it supports Hulu and Fancast,  we don’t really care about these deals (since they usually cost the consumers per use).

10. What’s it going to be called? After going through the rigor of naming my newborn, I sympathize with the marketing folks at Apple. But here are the probable names so far: iSlate, iGuide, iBook, iPad, iGod, iSteve and the list goes on..

Google Nexus One: Iphone Killer or Droid Alternative?

Its Out .. Its Out .. Its Out …

Well, the Google Phone (a.k.a “Nexus 1” meaning there is plenty of scope for 2,3,4 etc.) has been handed to the Google employees and the web is abuzz about the next big thing. There are even some videos out there showing this “futuristic” google device. The longest one from France is embedded at the bottom of this post. For those of you who have not been following the buzz, Nexus One is the phone that Google has designed and outsourced the manufacturing to HTC.  With Nexus One, Google is no more a purely service oriented player. With AMOLED screen, 5Mp camera, 3G for TMobile and the ususals with a pleasing form factor, the Android fans are already salivating 🙂

So is this a great phone or what? But is it going to be an iphone killer? Coming from a self professed iphone fanboy, this may or may not mean a lot but “I don’t think so”. Nexus One definitely seems to have a superior hardware (and so does droid) but its the same old Android OS and the same old school architecture. If you have used the iphone, the differentiator is not the hardware or software in particular, its the user experience. Apple boldly rethought the phone with  iPhone with one thing in mind – the user, not so with the Android OS. Its just Unix/Linux ported to run on your phone with a good UI – Thats a bit harsh but its pretty close to the truth.

In my mind, Nexus One does not bring anything new to the iPhone VS Android battle. Motorola Droid already did that with superior hardware & blitz marketing. And what Nexus One will do is this -“Droid Does and so does Nexus One”. I can only speculate on whether the companies creating phones for the Android OS knew about Nexus One. If not, its kind of back stabbing by Google and if they did, what were these guys thinking? Imagine if Apple had released their open source Mobile OS to the world and after companies had invested huge amount of money (and changed their strategies to switch to that OS), imagine Apple coming out with the iPhone. That’s kind of an impossible analogy (since Apple will never ever release an open source OS cause it might be free :)), but that’s what has happened here and its a pretty bold (and risky) move by Google to do so. It kind of muddles the strategy for Android OS.

Bottom-line, with so many android alternatives out there,  another hardware running the same OS will not be a game changer. But for all you Google fans out there (and that includes me except for few things), knock yourself out !!!

Click Here for a full feature list for Nexus One posted on Engadget

Google Vs Apple: the way I see it

It all started when Google launched Android and it reached a crescendo when Apple refused the Google Voice App. But is it really Google Vs Apple? And who loses from it? Me ? Me being an apple fanboy with an iPhone.

Yes and No. And “No” does not signify that I am in denial 🙂 Hear me out.

Yes I definetly miss out on really cool apps from google (voice, latitude, navigation etc.). But Google misses out too because sadly there are alternatives to that in the ever growing app store. So it Misses out on millions of iPhone users including me. And we are certainly not going to switch to an android phone any soon. So does google care? It should because android will certainly not wipe out iphone in my lifetime. Not even close. So, it cannot ignore such a huge consumer base for long especially since it knows that any of its app would become the No. 1 App on the app store in a heartbeat. Does Apple care? Not really. 100-150k apps trump a few apps from Google any day and dilutes the significance of the issue. However, it should relent just so that it does not disenchant its loyal fans due to all the bad PR that its got because of this.

But does apple care about the android platform? You betcha. And maybe the shutting out of Google Apps is a offshoot of its bigger strategy to outdo Android. Since MS failed to step up and pose any serious challenge to Apple Iphone, Google stepped up and in a big way. Everybody agrees that Android will be challenging the iphone pretty soon. So what happens now? Well this is exactly what an Iphone user wanted – someone to give tough competition to iphone to keep Apple on its toes so that the updates and enhancements keep coming. And this is healthy competition and as per conventional wisdom, when companies compete, consumers win.

It will however be interesting to see who comes on the top. These are 2 companies with very different philosophies and business model – one charges for everything and the other offers everything for free, one believes in tight control over its users and the other believes in total freedom. So as I said, its going to be really interesting.

I will not touch on the brewing OS battle between the companies – Apple is supposedly releasing the apple tablet and companies (like the eviGroup) are already out with an android based wallet and a tablet. But as I said .. That discussion is for another day since my bus is reaching home and this is all I have time for 🙂

The road to Apple Ipad (aka Tablet). Why we(I) need it NOW.

As the media and fanboy frenzy grows in anticipation of the ultimate device (our salvation …), I thought I will take some time to explore my own road to this mythical device and why we (I) need it NOW.

My dad was a geek when it came to gadgets and I guess he passed that on to me. So few years back, when I came into a position when I could afford these gadgets, the first ones I got was an ipod for my music, an HP Ipaq for carrying my mails,calendars and documents with me & a sony erricson phone (which I don’t remember the model). Though I would feel really geeky flashing 3 (fairly advanced at the time) mobile devices anywhere I went, it also felt really inconvenient. And my ipod could not play video so I had to keep a slew of SD cards (256MB each) for my Ipaq for watching the videos :).

Soon I realized that this was too much and I needed a change. I guess the industry also realized that and soon I could afford an Ipod video & a smart phone (HTC 8525). I was elated. I could carry all my media in my ipod and carry all my office stuffs in my 8525. Down to 2 devices. Right ? Wrong. Right about this time, my passion for books & reading had overwhelmed my home and my wife 🙂 There was no more room for the books I would come back home with on my weekend hunts. I found the answer to that problem while browsing the net one day – eBook reader. I have tried reading books on the PC before but without success – there is no way you can sit & stare at the PC Screen for 12 hours straight and enjoy it at the same time. But the eBook reader looked promising. And it turned out to be. So my next device was a the Sony eReader & I was back to 3 devices 😦 And with sony PSP, I was now at a record 4.

And then came the device that revolutionized the world and my life (in a small way). The iphone. Here again, I had the opportunity to combine 3 of my devices into 1 (and be cool at the same time :)). Of course, I was tied into a contract with AT&T and could not get my hands on the Iphone till the 3G model came out (which turned out to be a good thing though the 3GS model that my wife now owns would have been a much better proposition.). That brings us to today and why I need the iPad.

I am at 2 devices – Iphone & the eReader and almost ready to get the 3rd one – a netbook (the new craze on the block). No matter how well you can browse the net on the iphone and do stuffs, it has its limitations. A netbook would make me complete (again). It will also throw me back to the days when I was cool, geeky and highly uncomfortable carrying 3 devices around.

That’s why the answer has to be the Ipad. I need the Ipad and I need it now to replace all the myriad devices that I am about to carry around. It has to be my salvation. Since its a mythical device as of now, I can attribute whatever feature I wish for –

  • With inbuilt phone, all I would need is a bluetooth headset
  • With plenty of storage and high def screen, I can enjoy all my media wherever I go.
  • With its special low contrast reading mode, I can easily read my ebooks without straining my eyes or draining the battery
  • With built in 3G (or 4G) & an unmatched Apple UI, I can browse the web in ways that I cannot imagine ….
  • It will be a perfect gaming device with advanced graphics chip and hi def screen ….
  • And more ….

So here is my wish to Santa, if not the real thing, at least a release date 🙂 And yes, please keep it affordable – As always, I need to convince my wife that its worth the dough.

The best Iphone News Apps

I am a voracious reader and like to keep abreast with the latest in the world. So when I downloaded my first “News” Iphone app (almost an year back) – USA Today & NYT, I was thrilled. Both the apps proved to be an excellent source of quality news and proved a great replacement for hard print media (sad but true). Since then, my iphone has seen a myriad collection of news apps – some  really great and some so-so.

However, with 100K apps in the app store vying for the real estate on your iphone(you can just download 129 non-apple apps at a time), you need to be real picky 🙂 So, if you are a news buff, here is my pick of the top news apps that you would wanton your iphone.

To evaluate a news app, I will use the following high level criteria since most of the news apps have the same basic “features” more or less.

  • Scope of the Content: Obviously, the scope of the content has to meet your interest – Global Vs National Vs Local.
  • Category of the Content:  Entertainment Vs Political Vs Tech Vs Everything
  • Format of the Content: Images Vs Text Vs Video

My top apps are: CNN, AP Mobile, USA Today, NYT, Yahoo Finance, E! Online & Wired. See below for comparisons/detailed reviews.

And Of Course, you can never go wrong with a RSS Reader. After being disappointed with many cool (& bulky) RSS Reader apps, I am now recommending the simple and light weight RSS Runner.

So.. Enjoy. And let me know what you thought of this personal preview.