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2010: The year that changed computers and TV?

Halo TV iPadHappy New Year to all of our readers!! If you’re already in 2011, what’s it like on the other side? On behalf of those of us still in 2010, we’re jealous of the cool fireworks that have been going on.

2010 turned out to be a pretty surprising year. Coming out of a recession it looked like the year would be a damp squib, but in fact consumer electronics spending held strong as we became ever-more obsessed with gadgets.

There were some technologies failed to make an impression, like 3DTV. I’m sure that next week I’ll see a whole new round of excitement around this technology even though consumers don’t seem all that interested in owning it at home. Even some of this year’s 3D hollywood blockbusters disappointed; Tron Legacy springs to mind, which asked moviegoers to pay 3D prices even though much of the movie was presented in 2D. The 2D parts of the movie were too dark with glasses on and more enjoyable with them off…but what’s the point in swapping them in and out for 2D and 3D footage?

The BlackBerry platform surprised us for an unexpected reason. While RIM’s smartphone strategy failed to impress with the disappointing Torch, the company surprised everyone with its PlayBook QNX announcement. I’m not sure if that’s enough to save the company long term though. I still believe that once corporates move away from the BlackBerry platform in larger numbers, the consumer market will choose to sustain the Apple, Google and Microsoft mobile offerings at the expense of RIM’s.

For me the most surprising aspect of 2010 was that the iPad really did turn out to be revolutionary after all. It completely changed the way we look at tablet computers and introduced new people to the computing world, both young and old. For kids aged 6-12 years, their most wanted gadget this holiday season was an iPad. Not a Nintendo DS, or a PSP, or a cellphone. They wanted a tablet computer; that’s how profoundly the iPad impacted the market.

Competitors weren’t ready for this. Microsoft thought they could pre-empt it by showing off the HP slate at CES 2010, and that product didn’t get very far in the consumer realm. Samsung got snubbed by Google for releasing the Galaxy Tab with Android 2.2. Even so, the Tab did put in a decent showing in sales volumes, although I’ve only ever seen one unit in someone’s hands outside of a store, review or trade show.

Netbooks also fell prey to the iPad’s assault. As iPad sales continued to increase throughout 2010, netbook sales suffered. Now nobody really seems interested in the sector at all, but that’s also because low priced ultraportables with decent processors are now hitting the market at under $500.

2010 also turned out to be the year that the mass market got excited about streaming content to their living room TV. With easy to use, high quality services like Netflix gaining huge popularity, Roku and Apple sold good numbers of their tiny set top boxes. Google had a different experience with Google TV, releasing a product that clearly hadn’t gone through a full round of consultation with TV networks, who promptly blocked the devices from streaming their online shows. But the overriding theme is that consumers definitely want to pull content directly into their living room from the internet.

The iPad changed the way we perceive computers and family-friendly content streamers changed the way mainstream consumers want to watch TV. Not bad for a year that was setup to be a “Meh” year in consumer electronics. Bring on 2011!

Neil Berman

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Dec 31, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Rants | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mini-review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab

I scored some playtime with the Samsung Galaxy Tab earlier this week.  For newbies out there, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the foremost Android-based tablet competitor to the iPad both in price and intended usage.  That’s where the similarities end however.

The Galaxy Tab has a seven inch LCD screen (not AMOLED) that provides approximately half of the screen real estate of the iPad’s 9.7 inch IPS panel.  The Galaxy Tab is correspondingly around 50% lighter as well, weighing in at 0.84 lbs compared to 1.5lbs for the iPad.  The operating systems are obviously different too, with the iPad running an iPad-optimized version of iOS, whereas the Galaxy Tab runs Android 2.2 with some Samsung app enhancements to make the experience more tablet-

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab keyboard

The Samsung Galaxy Tab docked with its optional keyboard

 

friendly.  The Galaxy Tab is likely to be available on various carriers contract-free for around $599-$649 and on a two year contract for around $399.

I’ll keep this short.  The Galaxy Tab is a disappointment for the large amount of money being asked.  As a contract-free proposition it costs around the same as an iPad 3G.  I won’t even go into the pros and cons of locking yourself into a 2 year contract by buying a Galaxy Tab at the lower price.  I can’t see why anyone would want to do that when Google has said that the version of Android running on the Tab shouldn’t be used on tablets.  It’s pretty clear that since future versions of Android are rolling out (imminently) and the CEA said this week that eighty Android tablets are coming in the next 6-9 months, I can’t imagine who would want to be locked into a 2.2 device for two years with no guarantee of a software upgrade to a possible future tablet-blessed version of Android.

Using the Galaxy Tab was pretty near identical to using a large screened Android smartphone, except that the Galaxy Tab is unable to make regular voice calls.  Most apps looked the same as their smartphone equivalents but were just larger, which seemed to defeat the benefit of having more screen real estate.  Unlike the Samsung Epic 4G, loading web pages was a little slow on the Galaxy Tab but I’ll put that down to the WiFi connection where I was using it since a lot of people were pulling data at the same time.  What I can’t excuse the Galaxy Tab for however is that once pages were loaded, scrolling and zooming was laggy compared to the Samsung Epic 4G which is buttery smooth in this regard.  The physical look and feel of the Galaxy Tab is okay, but there is no real premium feel to the device.  It does look nice and feels solid, but it’s an all plastic affair rather than a more upmarket metal design.

I’m in two minds about the merits of the seven inch screen.  Like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab is too large to put in a regular trouser or coat pocket, so it is unlikely to go everywhere with you.  Given that limitation I’m not sure if the seven inch screen conceptually works.  Let’s say you carry a four inch smartphone daily and your use-case for the Galaxy Tab is to carry it occasionally or use it at home for larger screen browsing and media consumption.  I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just choose the iPad instead, since Samsung Galaxy Tab web browserwith a screen that’s around 100% bigger you really can do a lot more; it’s not as if the iPad is materially less portable.  By comparison, even though the Galaxy Tab’s screen is much larger than a four inch smartphone screen, it’s still not really big enough to fully enjoy desktop versions of websites unlike the iPad.

My biggest concern about the Galaxy Tab however is the one I previously wrote about; I think this device is heading for a soft fail.  There just isn’t enough software that takes advantage of the Tab’s seven inch screen to make it compelling just yet.  The Wall Street Journal Android tablet app is probably the first high profile release, but the Tab-optimized app selection is tiny compared to the tens of thousands of iPad-optimized apps.

Would I buy a Galaxy Tab right now?  Dedicated Android followers will undoubtedly enjoy the Tab, but based upon what I’ve seen so far I’d have to say that the iPad is a better proposition for typical Main Street users.  I really want there to be good Android tablets out there to push the overall market to a higher level, and Samsung has done a solid job with the hardware, but the software is just not in place yet to turn the Tab into the market leader.  If a good selection of optimized apps gets released then I’d be willing to give the Galaxy Tab a second look, but for now I can’t see a compelling mass-market case for buying one over the similarly priced iPad.

Neil Berman

Nov 12, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did we just live through “Crazy Pricing Week”?

First was the Logitech Revue Google TV at $299, then the Cisco Umi home videocon came along at $599 and yesterday we saw rumors tha the Samsung Galaxy Tab might launch at $399 on a 2 year contract with T-Mobile.

If that last one turns out to be accurate, it could end up as a disaster for the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it looks like the Samsung Galaxy Tab will not have the software and app ecosystem to compete effectively with the iPad.  Heck even Google said Android 2.2 is not designed to run tablets.

These issues might be surmountable if the Galaxy Tab were to be priced competitively – and I mean something like $199 on contract and say $399 contract free.  The rumored $399 with a contract make it seem irrelevant, since anecdotal evidence suggests that only a small percentage of iPad owners have subscribed to the ontract free AT&T  data plan, which starts at just $15 per month.  The rumors also suggest that the unsubsidized Galaxy Tab might cost $649, which is slightly higher than the 16GB iPad 3G.

Samsung does have a history of expensive tablet pricing.  The company’s Q1 7-inch Windows XP tablet and Q1 Ultra follow-up device were too expensive to win significant consumer attention.  If the Galaxy Tab pricing rumors are true, expect to see limited numbers out and about.

Sheesh, that really was the week of crazy pricing.  Sure sales might have been down recently due to the weak economy but the way to win back sales is surely to price appropriately and look for volume buildup rather than having to endure price cuts that anger early adopters.  Apple already went through that with the original iPhone launch and hwere wise to avoid a similar pitfall with the iPad.

Neil Berman

Oct 11, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the Samsung Galaxy Tab heading for a soft fail?

Samsung Galaxy TabAs we await final pricing for the Samsung Galaxy Tab, one constraint is known: The iPad costs $499.  Regardless of the fantastic energy around the Android platform at present, any tablet launched at or above this price point must present a winning combination of software  and hardware in that order.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab, while endowed with promising hardware looks set to disappoint on the software front and but most importantly may simply self-destruct if current pricing rumors are true.

Samsung does have a history of expensively priced tablets, with the Q1 and Q1 Ultra (which I lusted after for months) being examples of good hardware that failed to achieve significant adoption due to high retail prices.  I have a feeling

Samsung Q1 Ultra

Samsung's Q1 Ultra failed to achieve significant adoption due to its high price and lack of tablet-optimized software

that the rumored prices we are seeing for the Galaxy Tab might be total costs of ownership based upon a cell carrier monthly contract plus a low initial purchase price.  This model does mean however that a standalone device would be very expensive and I suspect that few people want a tablet tied to a two year carrier contract.  So on a like-for-like basis the Galaxy Tab might end up being cheaper than an iPad 3G, but this is a probably a far smaller market than the regular WiFi model.

The bigger issue aside from pricing is the software.  While Android is clearly now an excellent smartphone OS, there’s no current indication that it ready to be a good tablet platform competitor to the iPad and here’s why:  The iPad has 25,000 apps that take advantage of its large screen to optimize content delivery and presentation compared to their iPhone versions.  At present pretty much all Android apps are optimized for 3-5 inch screens, and while they will probably scale up to fit the Galaxy Tab’s screen most of them will not be able to take advantage of the extra screen real estate.

While there were initial concerns that the iPad would not sell enough units to generate enough revenue for developers to built dedicated apps, the opposite has happened. iPad apps typically sell at a significant premium to iPhone versions.  Plants vs Zombies is a perfect example; it’s $2.99 on the iPhone and $9.99 on the iPad.  Herein lies the real issue for the Android tablet software developer.  The Android Marketplace has a larger percentage of free apps than any other mobile platform.  So before developers can even think about drawing higher margins from an Android tablet there’s work to be done on the smartphone platform first.  Plus, we don’t yet know if the majority of Android tablets will be 7 inch 1024×600 devices, 10 inch 1280×720 or some other resolution and these variables will create developer challenges to optimizing apps.

For the last decade it’s been clear that tablets are only as useful as their software.  While Android is clearly a good starting point for tablets we’re going to need to see a solid growth of dedicated apps to make the platform successful on the bigger screen.

Neil Berman

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Sep 3, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Mobile, Software | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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