iPad Competitors: Begging for a Black Eye

| MacOS KenDensed

Mac OS KenThe Internet is filled with rumors, speculation, and wanna-be iPad killers. This week, they all line up and beg for Mac OS Ken’s Ken Ray to cut them down to size. Leaning into this week’s curve ball are reports of iTunes streaming music, the next string of tablets hoping to compete with the iPad, and analysts hanging their hopes on an Amazon tablet.

Don’t Cross the Streams
Apple, earlier this week, released an iTunes beta to developers that included “Scan and Match,” the service that scans a users music library, matches it to music it’s already got stored in the cloud, then makes it available for multiple computers and iOS devices for US$25 a year.

All of that is as advertised.

Not advertised was the ability to stream music catalogued via “Scan and Match,” though it looked this week as if that was an included feature.

Looks can be deceiving. Streaming was not advertised because iCloud doesn’t do that with “Scan and Match” titles. It just seems to stream music.

Remember talk a while ago of technology that had Apple storing the first few seconds of a song on an iOS device, then downloading the rest while those first few seconds were playing? Yeah they’re using something kind of like that, and we know because Apple said so.

Quoting a piece from AllThingsD:

An Apple spokesperson confirms that any music you want to access from your cloud-based ‘locker’ will still need to be stored on your iPad, or iPhone, or whatever device you’re using to listen to the song.

Further down the page, “Apple says that what looks like a “stream” is really a simultaneous listen and download — users can hear the song while their machine ingests it.”

So it’s simultaneously eating my music and pooping it into my ears. Like “Shai Hulud,” but different.

While Apple was vague about how it works exactly, it’s really kind of surprising that they said anything at all. I’ve gotta figure there are two reasons: They’ve got enough law suits, and they’ve had their fill of tensions with the music industry.

Stories early on Tuesday pointed out that rumors of music streaming services have floated around for a while now, though, as far as anyone knows, there are no dotted lines with signatures.

So, if Apple can make it seem as if they’re streaming music as far as consumers are concerned, without actually streaming music as far as lawyers are concerned, they win. Though they might want to be public with why it’s not actually streaming before anyone gets any ideas.

Maybe that’s it, though AllThingsD has one exec at a major music label saying Apple actually has streaming rights for music. They’re just more comfortable relying on their technological solution than they are relying on reliable data streams from the cell-co’s of the world.

So maybe it’s that instead. Whatever the case, “Scan and Match” is apparently not streaming any tunes.

I’m Not Dead Yet
Were eulogies for the TouchPad much ado about nothing? Is the device only “mostly dead,” as Miracle Max might say?

Yes… and maybe.

First on the TouchPad from Engadget. If you bought the webOS tablet at full price or at the fire sale $99 price, the tablet you have is not necessarily the tablet you’ll always have.

HP says it will issue at least one Over-The-Air update for the device with one rep saying, “HP TouchPad owners can look forward to an over-the-air update that will enhance the platform and add functionality and a growing applications catalog.”

Said rep said HP remains “fully committed to the ongoing support and service of customers who purchased webOS devices…” which is funny since they’re far from fully committed to the webOS devices.

Selling devices for next to nothing — really good for sales numbers, by the way, though it can’t be good for the bottom line. HP says it’s seen “huge spikes in activations and between 3-5X downloads of apps,” since practically giving the tablet away.

If you regret missing your chance to buy the discontinued device, well, you may not have missed your chance.

Remember when HP thought it might be making TouchPads for a while? Yeah, the company probably bought parts in preparation for that, and a lot of those parts are probably still laying around.

And people liked the TouchPad once it was 99-bucks, so HP says on its blog The Next Bench that it’ll make some more, though just how many more is a mystery. As is when the devices will hit store shelves, just that they’ll be out in the current fiscal quarter, which ends on Halloween.

Devices should go first to people who ordered TouchPads but did not receive them, according to the company. HP says it’ll also try to keep individuals from buying too many of them, to prevent hoarding and price gouging.

So a limited run of TouchPads… and when those are done… heck… maybe they’ll just start making TouchPads again.

Seriously?

In another piece from Electronista: If HP spins-off its Personal Systems Group, rather than selling it to someone else, PSG lead Todd Bradley says they may just bring the TouchPad back from the dead.

Bradley says the tablet field is a “relevant” market, and one into which the (right now) imaginary company could bust back with a webOS device.

Do NOT hold your breath. Electronista says “any resurrection would most likely involve a new or heavily upgraded design. The PSG division making PCs won’t decide on whether to spin out until December and would take months from then to become separate, making it necessary to develop a sequel. It would also presumably need to get a webOS license from its former owner.”

I’m sorry, how many stars have to align for this to happen? And follow-up question: will the NEW HP PSG sell the TouchPad 2 for $99? Because that’s what ignited TouchPad sales — costing less than the average smartphone.

Take Two Tablets and Call Me in the Morning
Three new tablets from two manufacturers announced this week, leading me to wonder whether either has watched the tablet space for the past year-and-a-half.

First, Computerworld has Sony introducing a couple of Android Honeycomb-based tablets, one starting at roughly $690, and another staring at $860.

Again… those are starting prices.

The Tablet S is a wedged, single-screen affair that Sony hopes will dent the iPad’s dominance with the availability of music and movies, and the ability to play games compatible with the original PlayStation.

Music? Movies? Games? How will Apple ever compete?

The Tablet P, at least, has something going for it in terms of form factor. According to Computerworld, “The Tablet P is a folding device equipped with dual 5.5-inch screens, which basically makes it look like a Nintendo DS on steroids.”

So it makes a small thing look a little bigger. I’m intrigued by the different form factor, though I can’t tell whether the design is actually useful or just a novelty.

I guess someone will find out later this year when the device launches, though I’m not sure how many someones because… did I mention the starting price of 860-dollars?

Sony’s Sony, and you expect their stuff to be pricey. Hitting one straight into the rough… HTC and AT&T.

Before I go on, it seems unfair to say the companies are misfiring before the device about which I’m speaking even goes on sale. It’s just that… It’s an Android tablet that’s gonna cost consumers $700 if they sign a two-year data deal with AT&T.

This is according to Business Insider. $700 is the subsidized price for the HTC Jetstream with a two year contract.

It’s possible that HTC thinks the Jetstream’s 4G/LTE connectivity makes it worth the big bucks. Thing is, AT&T’s 4G network isn’t live yet, and when it goes live it’ll be starting in five cities.

Additionally, the 4G/LTE-enabled Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 for Verizon is subsidized down to $529 and their 4G network is a bit more robust than AT&T’s. You know, being live and all.

“If we’ve learned anything this year about what consumers want in a tablet,” says Business Insider, “it’s that if it’s not an iPad, it needs to be priced to sell. At $700 the Jetstream is not priced to sell.”

Google Amazon’s Tablet Game
And finally this week, last week there was some weird talk from a Lenovo exec about how it would win against Apple in China. He said Chinese consumers would — basically — not be able to afford Apple gear, but they could afford the electronics coming out of his company. Never mind the fact that Apple is already making more money in China than Lenovo, and the products Lenovo has put out to go against Apple products specifically do not review well.

Selling crap and making less money. That’s how they plan to win. I only bring it up because Sarah Rottman Epps at Forrester Research says that’s ALSO how Amazon will disrupt the tablet industry.

PlayBook falters. TouchPad has it’s plug pulled. Windows 8 tablets are about a year off… c’mon, man, I’ve gotta have my something’s gonna beat the iPad fix.

The analyst says the report has been in the works for months, and she’s been kind enough to summarize it, since the report itself costs $499. No I have not got a copy. And after reading the summary, I kind of don’t want it.

Quoting the summary:

Amazon’s willingness to sell hardware at a loss combined with the strength of its brand, content, cloud infrastructure, and commerce assets makes it the only credible iPad competitor in the market. If Amazon launches a tablet at a sub-$300 price point — assuming it has enough supply to meet demand — we see Amazon selling 3-5 million tablets in Q4 alone.

I gotta say this could certainly be the case, though I’m reminded of a report from a few weeks ago that said one of Amazon’s failings in the tablet space would be the fact that they’ll have someone else designing and building the tablets for them, using the cheapest, off the shelf components they can source. They may be willing to lose money on the hardware, but they probably don’t want to lose buckets of money on each tablet.

Still, she seems to think Amazon is a winner just by disrupting the tablet space. She says Apple is vulnerable because of the bath Amazon is willing to take on the hardware costs.

Magically, somehow, Amazon becomes such a good software company that other companies making Android tablets will partner with Amazon to lay their User Interface layer and services over Android. And finally, apps built specifically for Android tablets will explode because, at last, there will be an Android tablet that’s also exploding.

“The bottom line,” wraps the piece-slash-pitch, “A year from now, ‘Amazon’ will be synonymous with ‘Android’ on tablets, a strong second to Apple’s iPad. If you haven’t yet contemplated how Apple-Amazon tablet domination will change your product strategy, now is the time to plan and act.”

Gosh, if only there were a report on which I could spend $500 to help me prepare.

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Comments

mhikl

Amazon is going to pummel Apple. Apple is the biggest company in the universe. I believe it is also the most profitable and has the largest bank statement. Apple also has an enviable ecosystem while the rest are scrambling to hack their own together.

So how is Amazon, a company that runs on profit slivers, going to do Apple and its iPad in? When does this story of some second rate tech stylised company bringing out an iPad killer going to get old? Seems pretty old and tired already.

I believe the difference between a tablet and a pad is that the former uses a full fledge computer OS with individual pixel activation by a stylus. A pad has a slim OS built for finger touch. There are more differences but these points cover the basics. If in doubt, check out M. Gates. He claims inventor status and ownership and his company is working on its tablet. Should be ready sometime in 2012.

RonMacGuy

I must admit, at first I agreed with Steve Jobs on the tablet size issue (given how incredibly awesome my iPad is), but lately I’m thinking that there should be both a 10” and a 7” iPad 3 in addition to a 4” iPhone 5. Continue pricing the 10” iPad 3 starting at $500, and hit android with a kick to the groin with a $300 7” iPad 3.
Apple can easily make it and still bring in tons of profit, and it enables them to go after a tablet market of people who don’t want a 10” tablet, but still want something to complement their iPhone 5 with a bit more screen real estate. Oh, and while they are at it, might as well come out with the 13” iPad 3 as well!! Oh yeh!!

Great write-up, Ken. Love the funny bits about Sony competing with Apple.

immovableobject

“So, if Apple can make it seem as if they?re streaming music as far as consumers are concerned, without actually streaming music as far as lawyers are concerned, they win. Though they might want to be public with why it?s not actually streaming before anyone gets any ideas.”

Oh, it seems exactly like streaming until your device fills up with the music you’ve been simultaneously downloading and listening to. Then you have to manually clear things out if you want to continue.  The whole point of “real” streaming is that you avoid that last step.

Furthermore, and perhaps even more significant, because Apple only lets you download music you already own, it really isn’t a replacement for a typical subscription based streaming service that lets you listen to a variety of music you don’t own.

yet another steve

There are reports that Apple DOES have the legal rights to stream.

But why would they?

Real time streaming (or small buffer streaming) means less reliability and much more battery drainage.

Since Apple is “streaming” to its own client app, not to a web browser, it can optimize the heck out of it. Which means load it quickly… and probably keep a cache of streamed songs.

That would be Apple at its best, not giving users what they think they want, but giving them something much better.

As for storage space usage, all that would be needed is a purging algorithm.

The problem is: access to all your music when it won’t all fit.”

The ideal solution is: have it all available from the cloud, but use local storage to best improve the experience and performance.

Although it isn’t clear if that’s going to ship in ios5.

mhikl

You have some good points there, Ron and YAS.

Remember the history of the iPod. At first there was but one with a couple of GB variations. Then we got the mini, nano etc.

The same might work for the iPhone. Maybe there are some who would sacrifice some whiz and bang that comes with the iPhone for a simpler version. And maybe there is a need for a smaller pad that is easier to carry.

Oh, one point. Let’s say the bezel disappeared? That would take the pad down almost two inches all round but leave the screen the same size, 9.7” diagonally. Visualise you iPad as just its screen size. Would that make for an iPad small enough? Maybe that is why Apple may not bother with a smaller version.

YAS, I have purged my iTunes music library. I still have copies of everything but what I keep on my computer and iPt is what I actually want to listen to; more of course on my computer. Do I really need everything Arcade Fire or Willie Nelson or Mozart? I find I am enjoying my music more and am not so overwhelmed.

Lee Dronick

Oh, one point. Let?s say the bezel disappeared? That would take the pad down almost two inches all round but leave the screen the same size, 9.7? diagonally

The margin is really handy so you don’t activate something on the touch screen just holding the iPad. There are time I wish that it had a wider margin.

mhikl

There are time I wish that it had a wider margin.

A case wouldn’t help, eh? There seems to be many choices. Does weight have anything to do with the need of a wider margin?

It is inevitable that the bezel either disappears or stays. I’m sure Apple has or will have it all worked out, eventually. I am just not so sure a smaller screen would be as practical.

Lee Dronick

iPad margin for error.

I can hold my iPhone one handed by the edges, but with the iPad I need to use my thumb on the front margin and the other fingers on the back. Sometimes the thumb drifts off to the screen where it may activate something.

I have been using my iPad at our monthly Shakespeare readings, downloading the plays from the iBook Store. This handy because it is backlit and I can change the type size for easier reading.  However, I concerned about dropping the iPad.  I have been shopping for one of those cases/covers that have strap or sleeve in the back, but I haven’t found one locally, I may make one in my shop.

N8nnc

Enjoyable column, as usual. You are moving up my “must read” list;-)

About streamloading: This is classic virtual memory. You have a limited local resource (main memory in a computer, flash in an iPod) with large remote storage. The consumer of data doesn’t need to worry about where the data is located, the system takes care of making it accessible by caching it in local memory. When space is needed in local memory for more data, some (usually the least recently referenced) is overwritten. It’s having to do this management manually in the traditional download model that people complain about.

Now, consider a use model. With streaming-only, you are out of luck if you can’t access the central store. With streamloading, you can still play your recently used music. This matches most people’s listening pattern. You can argue it doesn’t match the radio and pandora/spotify model, but I’ll reiterate that when you can’t reach the station/server you are SOL (stream out of luck) anyway.

NearDefiance

So… Ms. Epps is predicting that Amazon is going to get into a tablet pricing war with a company that currently has $70+ BILLION in it’s checking account, and that is banking an additional billion or so each month? And predicting that Amazon would win such an encounter?

Amazing!

Dean Lewis

A case wouldn?t help, eh? There seems to be many choices. Does weight have anything to do with the need of a wider margin?

Wait. Did I read this correctly? You’re advocating the removal of the bezel, but then adding a case? And are you suggesting the wide margin is weighty and should be removed—but then advocating adding weight back with a case? That doesn’t seem to fix anything at all—except to sell more cases to people who need to hold the iPad without activating stuff on the screen.

On other things, I hope Apple doesn’t release a 7” iPad until they come up with something better to resize apps to the screen than Android uses. The iPhone app 2x resizing works, even if blurry, but introducing another size in the middle and expecting to scale things—not exactly a good way to build consumer satisfaction. I suspect Apple is perfectly happy to let the Android tablet makers wallow in the 7” tablet space with app viewing troubles while Apple improves other things on a device outselling all those 7” tablets everyone supposedly so desperately wants.

Apple has a knack for releasing variations when it is good and ready. I don’t see a 7” iPad for at least two more iterations of the current one, if even then.

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