Motorola’s bad mojo

Motorola can’t seem to catch a break with the timing of its event introductions. Last year, the company introduced the incredibly thin (if disappointing from a battery life perspective) Droid RAZR the day before Google introduced Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus. This year, it faced even more direct mindshare competition as Nokia announced its  Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 on the same day in the same city, mere hours before Motorola’s announcement In fact, in a goodwill gesture toward media covering both events, Nokia provided buses from its press conference to Motorola’s, chidng that the buses were equipped with Nokia Drive to ensure the best possible route.

Both announcements were upstaged by Amazon’s announcement of the inelegantly named Kindle Fire tablets. But even with an Amazon phone as a no-show, Motorola’s introduction seemed to grab a lot less attention as the handsets themselves — while certainly looking competitive — don’t excite the way the original Droid did. Motorola, like HTC, is suffering from competition from Samsung, which is putting the squeeze on other Android handset makers, and seems like it is struggling to differentiate.

WSJ on Toys R Us’ Tabeo tablet

The $149.99 Tabeo will be available only at Toys “R” Us, so shoppers won’t be able to try it out in a store and then purchase it for less on a rival retailer’s website.

Not too defensive there.

Amazon’s tortured naming

Over the years, Microsoft had developed a reputation for having bad product names. But its been surprising to see two of the rather rare consumer device success stories burden their tablets with excessive detail about their screen size. The earlier offender has been Samsung, which has appended such designations as 7.7, 8.9 and 10.1 to its Galaxy Tab tablets. There is a case for a bit of numerical detail as Samsung has been the most aggressive in filling in almost every conceivable screen size along the tablet spectrum, but there’s nothing wrong with rounding. Retailers, for example, now offer TVs of similar but perhaps not exact size under a classificaiton such as “55-inch class”)

Clearly a company that is above mere gadgets would avoid such clumsy naming. Well, say hello to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G LTE Wireless. How can one pare down this beast of a name? First, both “4G” and “Wireless” are redundant to “LTE” although it may e the case that AT&T insisted on the label “4G LTE,” mirroring the phrasing used by Verizon. (At least in AT&T’s case, it practially differentates from 4G HSPA+). Then, of course, one could round up that whole tenth of an inch and just label it a 9″ device. Finally, the “HD” is superfluous since Amazon doesn’t make a 9″ tablet (see how easy that was?) that isn’t HD. What are you left with? Kindle Fire 9 LTE — a device ready to go take on the iPad and not the iPad 9.7″ 4G LTE Wireless.

HP’s base intentions

HP has announced the Spectre One. The all-in-one desktop adds to its new Spectre family that now represents the uppermost echelon of its consumer product line, thus displacing the Envy line, which in turn had replaced such HP brands as Voodoo and Blackbird. What’s different this time? As HP explains it, Envy tried to do too much, straddling performance and design. Now, Envy will focus more on performance whereas Spectre will be the ultimate design expression.

Indeed, the Spectre One may be HP’s best representation of that in the Sepctre line so far. Whereas other PC vendors have taken to largely mimicking the iMac slab, HP has put the electronics in the curved part of the pedestal (No, the motherboard is not curved. It’s just small). This allows the display itself to be thin, a design element embodied in the “Luxo” iMac G4 although that design had the motherboard at the bottom of the computer’s base.

More recently, Vizio has also put the motherboard in the platform base of its first all-in-one desktop PCs. And, like HP, it ships with a similar Bluetooth keyboard and supersized trackpad. True to its TV heritage, though, Vizio, however, has also included a remote control whereas HP has kept a mouse in the box. But don’t label HP as too traditional. It also has included a Windows 8-ready NFC contact point in the base.

Amazon’s usage monetization

In the introduction of the new Kindle products, Jeff Bezos said that it wants to make money when you use the device, not when you buy the device. But Amazon doesn’t make money during the overwhelming amount of time you use a Kindle. That would be closer to the model of a cellular carrier. No, Amazon makes money when you buy content (or rent or watch them as part of your Amazon Prime subscription). And while the comment was a bit of a jab at Apple, Apple also makes money when you buy content.

So, Amazon may have a stronger relative incentive to drive usability, but that incentive is offset a lot by the need to monetize after you’ve purchased the device. Once you’ve bought an iPad, Apple’s design of the user experience is also intended to drive satisfaction. Anything that it makes off the app store is still, at least at this point, gravy.

Apple after atoms

It’s a pundit’s cliché to prognosticate something like “this will be the last generation of game consoles” or “Blu-ray will be the last physical format” (maybe not). If you want to go out quite a bit further into the future, though, you can listen to the likes of OnLive CEO Steve Perlman, who says that, eventually, virtually all computing devices will go away in a world that can take advantage of ultra-high-speed wireless technology like DIDO.

Are these the ramblings of a mad scientist? Not for Perlman’s former employer, Apple, which has traditionally made money from devices supported by software and content. The latter has historically represented relatively little of the company’s revenue when compared to its well-known hardware products.

But that is starting to shift, at least on a relative basis. In a charting of Apple’s YoY third-quarter revenue shares, Stuart Carlson shows the growing  influence of the iPhone and iPad over time. But look a bit further down the Y-axis from those ascendant lines and you will see that revenue form the iTunes store, while down on a percentage basis from a few years ago, now accounts for more revenue than desktops and the iPod, two products that are still strongly identified with the company. This has more to do with cannibalization of these products by notebooks and iPhones than a particular surge in digital sales. I wouldn’t expect this revenue stream to overtake iPhones or notebooks any time soon. Still, it demonstrates that Apple is positioning itself for a world in which bit distribution may pick up growing importance versus devices.

Google’s Quickoffice purchase less about predators, more about editors

It may not be the most glamorous activity, but if you’re going to ship at least a tablet with any credibility, it’s helpful to have a suite available to read and preferably edit Word and Excel files. Microsoft has noted that its leading Office suite will be included with Windows RT and presumably the tablets on which it will run. With its market leadership, Apple has had the liberty of charging pretty handsomely for the pieces of its iWork suite, which still attracts more than its share of customers versus iPad alternatives such as Quickoffice and Docs To Go, which was acquired by RIM and is bundled on the Playbook,

At the tenth All Things D conference, Google executives promised that we would see offline Google Drive functionality in a matter of weeks. As an extension of Google Docs, Google Drive presents links to files on the Web, which is only marginally more convenient than going to the Web page to begin with,

On the surface, Quickoffice puts Google into the local productivity suite business, but Quickoffice will likely simply serve as the software that facilitates offline editing of Google Docs. Without Windows and Mac versions, though, Google may be missing out on important offline platforms. it would be nice to see a simple preference to have popular native ffice suites (or OpenOffice) support Google Docs file types. In any case, it seems  there’s a way for Google to put what is more or less the existing Quickoffice product to work, which is apparently not the case for Meebo Messenger.

Tablets provide relief to the E3 noise

No matter what your home gaming console platform presence is, the influence of tablets was evident in the presentations of the Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The main claim to fame of the Wii U, of course, is its second screen, basically a small tablet with gaming controls. Sony took a moment to highlight the renaming of PlayStation Suite to PlayStatiion Mobile with designs on expanding beyond its own tablets as certified devices. And Microsoft, of course, surprised many with SmartGlass, a second-screen architecture that goes beyond gaming into XBox’s new and broader entertainment domain.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that tablets are about to be as disruptive in the home console space as smartphones have been in the handheld console market. Nonetheless, beyond the game platform triopoly, the influence of tablets was not only evident in presentations from major publishers such as Activision and EA, but also in a pair of companies that may be less well-known to at least U.S. gamers. Social mobile platform Gree showed off six titles. There were also several companies showing off gaming controllers to try t bring back some of that tactile control to the tablet’s frictionless and often imprecise display.

Get your kicks… before your competition

Follow the often tech-relevant Product Design section of Kckstarter for a while and you’ll see quite a few kinds of devices resurface – iPhone and iPad cases and mounts are popular as are and all manner of photographic stability aids, mounts and dollies. Lately, though, it seems that there have been a curious number of overlapping funding campaigns for products with a somewhat similar focus. Take your pick if any of the following are of interest to you:

Gooseneck-like cables that allow one to prop up a smartphone
Une Bobine:

A way to conveniently carry and use a keyboard with your iPad

An AirPlay-based network audio adapter
playGo AP1:

A magnetic camera mount that allows fast and easy tilting and rotation
Mais 360:

A way to stabilize smartphone cameras and diffuse light for macro stills
The Nimbus Dome:

Now, the similarities among thee pairs varies a bit. Still, having similar projects compete against each other is not just bringing Kickstarter closer to how tings work in traditional private equity, it could be the basis for a whole new competitive means to drive funding. So, is this some plot by Kickstarter to drum up drama by adding a more competitive dimension to fundraising? More likely it’s a coincidences driven by the site’s growing popularity. That would indicate that there’s room for competition, perhaps from a more transparent party that would be willing to stand by its users and insure against loss of pre-order dollars in the event a project falls through.

A Plan B Nokia could live with

I believe Nokia when it says that the company has no Plan B, or that Plan B is to make Plan A a success – at least for now. Perhaps it would prefer not to consider such an alternative until it saw that Windows Phone was failing to make inroads after an extended period of time. Of course, the big question is, how long would that period be?

The line from Nokia is that the ecosystem of Windows Phone must succeed for Nokia to succeed. But I’m not sure it’s so black and white. Apple, and for years before it, RIM, succeeded with no other licensees of its operating system. There was that brief window where PalmOne was the only successful licensee of Palm OS, owned by PalmSource. And, really, which major handset provider besides Nokia was wildly successful with Symbian?

Indeed, while few doubt that Nokia will be the most successful Windows Phone licensee, a successful ecosystem does not necessarily make for a successful licensee. Some would argue that, if Windows Phone proves a failure beyond Nokia, than Microsoft should just purchase Nokia. But Stephen Elop, in recounting the story of how Nokia came to license Windows Phone, says that that was never on the table. Indeed, Nokia would be about as comfortable inside Microsoft as Motorola Mobility still looks inside Google. Not needing the IP, or being able to leverage it without purchase, Microsoft would be loath to buy Nokia no matter how high its share of Windows Phone became.