Walt Mossberg suggests that one reason Apple’s iPad dominates the market is that most other tablet offerings come across as imitations that do not ultimately provide the same superior experience.
Sony aspires to change that perception with the release of its 9.4-inch Sony Tablet S, which Mossberg describes as a “handsome tablet with an unusual, asymmetrical design and some software tweaks and content services it hopes can set it apart from the pack.”
Sony’s new device, launched over the weekend, uses Google’s Android OS and costs the same as the Wi-Fi-only iPads ($500 for the 16GB version and $600 for the 32GB model).
The Tablet S has no cellular data option and tested weaker than the iPad in terms of battery life, but has a design like no other competitor: “One of the long sides of its rectangular, plastic body has a thick, rounded edge that makes the device look like a folded-back magazine.”
Mossberg sees this as a positive, even suggesting the device feels lighter than the iPad (it isn’t), based on how the weight rests on your palm. “While this design makes the Tablet S much thicker than many competitors, it has several advantages. When you hold the device one-handed in portrait, or vertical, mode, it feels much more comfortable and balanced than any other tablet I’ve tested. When you lay it on a flat surface in landscape, or horizontal, mode, the rounded edge creates a natural angle for typing, without a case or stand.”
Additionally setting it apart is an SD memory card slot (useful for transferring media), a customizable row of frequently used app icons, a Favorites feature (ideal for recently accessed media and Web bookmarks), and a universal remote control app with built-in infrared transmitter. “Sony also is bundling services for buying music, TV shows and movies, e-books and games to create a content ecosystem like Apple’s,” writes Mossberg.
We’ll see if these new features and unique design will be enough to attract consumers. If not, another tablet is on its way: “Sony is planning a second, even more radical tablet for later this fall, called the Tablet P. It’s a much smaller and lighter device that has no visible screen until you unfold it to reveal twin 5.5-inch displays that can either be used as one large screen or can have separate content in each.”
An intellectual property analyst makes the case that the reason Google acquired Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion last month was not to provide patent protection for Android as most believe. It was to prevent Motorola Mobility from making one or more key moves that would have weakened Android’s patent situation even more.
For example, Motorola Mobility could have taken a patent license from Microsoft signaling a surrender that would have affected every other Android licensee.
It could have started work on a Windows Phone as a way to help it deal with a Microsoft infringement case, suggests the FOSS Patents blog. It also could have attacked other Android licensees to collect royalties.
And finally, it could have sold off its patent portfolio to one of Google’s competitors.
Amazon has become “the most disruptive company in the media and technology industries,” suggests Wired.
Amazon’s rumored tablet has the potential to be the perfect machine to sell both digital goods delivered immediately or physical goods delivered in two days.
“Why not make an independent movie or television show and release it through Amazon?” asks the article. “Once the video is hosted on Amazon’s servers, it’s available for immediate digital download or streaming through Prime to desktops, tablets or set-top boxes. Both streaming and downloads promise a revenue share for content creators. Customers could buy a Blu-ray or DVD that Amazon burns and ships on demand — no storage, no overhead.”
While some of the content may not prove to be top quality, some of it could be the next Funny Or Die or Channel 101 while dramatically impacting distribution: “The breadth and independence of buying choices could easily differentiate Amazon from traditional studios — or even for those studios themselves, from competing services like Netflix.”
Amazon may also offer its forked Android-based OS as a platform to hardware partners providing a new platform with its own code, app and media stores, cloud services and revamped UI.
“In a year from now,” writes Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, “we could see a range of ‘Amazon tablets’ made by different hardware manufacturers.”
Jaguar Financial Corporation CEO Vic Alboini, an investor in struggling Research In Motion, is urging the BlackBerry maker to consider selling the company. He has recommended that RIM form a committee of independent executives to explore the proposal.
According to the article: “RIM is seeing its once commanding presence in the smartphone market eroded by the likes of Android and Apple’s iOS: where a year ago RIM accounted for 19 percent of the market, second-quarter figures from Gartner put the company’s current share at 12 percent.”
Alboini suggests that selling RIM would maximize the company’s value to investors, who have watched their investments in the Canadian company significantly decline during the last year.
“RIM has been hanging hopes for its future on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, as well as a new swath of smartphones expected to land in 2012 based on RIM’s recently-acquired QNX operating system — the same OS used in the PlayBook,” reports Digital Trends. “So far, industry response to the PlayBook has been muted, with many citing its reliance on a BlackBerry handset for email as a major impediment — and U.S. mobile carrier Sprint recently backed out of plans to offer a 4G version of the PlayBook, citing lack of customer interest.”
Amazon is reportedly close to production on its long-rumored tablet device. TechCrunch provides a fascinating first-person report on the Android-based Kindle (but sorry, no pictures yet).
The device will initially feature a 7-inch color touchscreen with a 10-inch model coming next year. The interface is Amazon’s and the main screen resembles iTunes Cover Flow with a carousel of books, apps, movies. It is built on top of pre 2.2 Android. It will NOT be getting Honeycomb or Ice Cream Sandwich.
It will be integrated with Amazon’s content store, which is one-click away. Apps will be available though Amazon’s Android App Store (and not Google’s Android Market). Additionally, the book reader is the Kindle app, the music player is Amazon’s Cloud Player and the movie player is Amazon’s Instant Video player. There is no camera.
The device is expected to include a free subscription to Amazon Prime, which will provide access to Amazon Instant Video.
TechCrunch anticipates an end of November launch at a cost of $250. There are many more details in the article…
In its first international venture, Hulu is launching its subscription service in Japan where it will offer hundreds of premium feature films and thousands of TV shows for $19.19/month.
The service will be accessible via select connected TVs and smartphones (Engadget reports that Panasonic Blu-ray players, Sony Blu-ray players and TVs, Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles and Android tablets are relegated to the “coming soon” list.)
Content will be provided from CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Additional local market content will be added including Japanese-produced and other Asian content.
Hulu is also announcing an exclusive mobile marketing partnership with NTT Docomo. Details will be forthcoming.
A follow-up post from GigaOM yesterday outlines the differences between Hulu’s current U.S. offerings and its plans for the Japanese market, “that could give a hint at what Hulu might look like in the future.” So is there a “no ads, higher fees and more content suppliers” future for Hulu outside of Japan? If so, watch out Netflix!
The HTC Jetstream tablet (formerly named Puccini), will be available through AT&T beginning this Sunday.
Notable features include: a Snapdragon 1.5 GHz dual core processor, front-facing camera, 8-megapixel rear camera, and HTC scribe stylus pen.
The Jetstream runs Android 3.1 Honeycomb on a 10.1-inch screen and will be AT&T’s first tablet with real 4G LTE.
According to the company press release: “HTC Jetstream is AT&T’s first tablet to showcase the Android 3.1 OS. The brand new operating system was designed from the ground up for devices with larger screens. It improves on Android favorites with new interactive and resizeable widgets plus improved multi-tasking, browsing, notifications, and customization.”
However, the $700 price tag, “discounted” with a 2-year contract (and $35/month data plan), may prove off-putting to some consumers.
Sony Ericsson is adding Google Talk and video features this fall to its Xperia smartphone line.
The features will be available courtesy of an upgrade to the Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread platform.
The phone maker is also adding 3D camera features and increased social networking capabilities such as making Facebook access easier and quicker.
According to eWeek, key features include: “The ability to let users turn their Xperia smartphone into a mini PC by connecting mouse, keyboard or game controllers via USB to the Sony Ericsson LiveDock multimedia station, or to a TV via HDMI; Swipe text input (a competing technology to Swype on Android handsets); and screen capture from anywhere in the phone, a valuable tool for Web publishers.”
Expect the Xperia line to be available by October, possibly before the iPhone 5 fall launch.
Samsung is poised to release its own free mobile messaging service.
ChatON is designed to simplify mobile communication by connecting users on all major smartphones. It will support Bada, Android, BlackBerry, iOS and PCs.
“The idea is to enable users to communicate instantly with each other using any mobile phone, along with sharing hand-written notes, images, and video,” reports Digital Trends.
“Samsung has vastly simplified mobile communication by allowing users to connect to our upcoming feature phones and all major smartphones in the market,”said Samsung’s media solution center chief Ho Soo Lee. “Users around the world can now enjoy easier and richer interactivity with whoever they want, in the format they want — this is mobile communication reinvented and democratized.”
ChatOn will have an aggressive launch, initially available in more than 120 countries in 62 languages. Digital Trends reports that it will boast a wide range of social services including interaction with Facebook and support for conversation windows, photos and videos.
Amazon’s tablet PC is widely expected to be ready for release this fall and, according to Forrester Research, will “completely disrupt the status quo.”
Forrester analysts predict the tablet will provide competition for Apple’s iPad and could sell as many as 5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011.
The report suggests Amazon’s success will depend on pricing the device below $300 (paidContent points out that Amazon has yet to officially confirm it will even release a tablet).
Forrester believes an Amazon tablet will prove popular based on the company’s “willingness to sell hardware at a loss combined with the strength of its brand, content, cloud infrastructure, and commerce assets.”
If successful, an Amazon tablet could significantly boost the competitive profile of Google’s Android operating system.
Can Research In Motion turn around waning sales of its BlackBerry smartphones by adding the ability to run Android apps?
Rumors suggest that the next generation of BlackBerry phones, to be released during the first half of next year, could be designed to run Android apps.
Bloomberg cites “three people familiar with the plan” who suggest RIM is building smartphones now that will use its new QNX software. Phones with the new software will be able to run Android apps, the sources claim.
“It has to be said, [BlackBerry] App World looks a bit sorry for itself when compared to Google’s Android Market,” reports Digital Trends. “App World currently has around 40,000 apps available for download. If next year’s phones are able to run Android apps, that’ll open up owners of the new BlackBerry devices to a further quarter of a million. If BlackBerry can create some unique, feature-rich phones in the coming months, that may well cause consumers to pay RIM’s devices some serious attention.”
Google’s third-generation Nexus Prime smartphone will reportedly arrive in October running the Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” OS (in time to compete with Apple’s rumored iPhone 5 release).
The device is expected to feature a 720p Super AMOLED HD display, a 4G LTE radio and front/rear-facing cameras, powered by a 1.5GHz processor.
The display will reportedly include a 4.5-inch panel with a PenTile layout.
According to Digital Trends: “Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is said to be not just a simple update from the current version of Android. Instead, ICS is intended to be a multi-device OS, which created a unified user experience across Android tablets, phones and Google TV. This could help solve some of the fragmentation problems that Google has with Android, and is one of the primary weak points in its battle with Apple’s seamless iOS.”
Based on Q2 statistics, Android has extended its dominance as the most popular smartphone operating system in the U.S., while Apple’s iOS also continues to gain traction.
According to NPD, 52 percent of smartphones shipped in the U.S. during the second quarter were running Android (up 19 percent from the previous year). Apple’s iOS earned a 29 percent share, up seven percent from Q2 2010.
NPD reports that these figures may have an impact on the potential revitalization of Motorola. “Google’s acquisition of Motorola shifts the balance of power in the handset-patent conflict between Google and its operating system competitors,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD. “Android’s momentum has made for a large pie that is attractive to Motorola’s Android rivals, even if they must compete with their operating system developer.”
Market gains for Android and iOS have negatively impacted the competition. Market share for Research In Motion’s BlackBerry OS dropped significantly from 28 percent in the second quarter of 2010 to 11 percent this year. Microsoft’s Windows Mobile also suffered, falling from 10 percent in Q2 2010 to four percent in Q2 2011.
Prepaid smartphone numbers are on the rise, which may also impact Motorola (8 percent of prepaid phones were smartphones in Q2 2010, a figure that jumped to 22 percent this year). “Android is also leading the charge in the rapidly growing prepaid smartphone market,” Rubin said. “This was once a key segment for Motorola that the company has an opportunity to reclaim as prepaid carriers build their smartphone portfolios.”
Verizon Wireless launches Verizon Video this week — a new version of its video-on-demand application for mobile phones, providing Android users with more than 250 current full-episode TV shows from ABC, NBC, CBS, MTV, Comedy Central, Disney Channel, ESPN, Cartoon Network and others.
Premium content is also available including live sports coverage from NFL Mobile, NFL RedZone, NBC’s Sunday Night Football and NFL network.
The 4G LTE and select 3G service will cost $10/month or $3 for 24 hours.
According to the press release: “Verizon Video updates V CAST Video on select devices and current V CAST Video subscribers will be prompted to update the app the next time it launches. After the upgrade, it will then appear under the name Verizon Video.”
If you haven’t already seen the flood of reports online (including a number of related stories on ETCentric), Google announced it will acquire Motorola for $40 per share in cash, or a total of about $12.5 billion. The deal has led to a great deal of speculation this week regarding the future of the Android ecosystem and other enterprises such as Google TV.
“This acquisition will not change our commitment to run Android as an open platform. Motorola will remain a licensee of Android and Android will remain open. We will run Motorola as a separate business,” stated Larry Page in the official Google blog. “Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them to deliver outstanding user experiences.”
Page believes the acquisition will also serve as a buffer to anti-competitive patent attacks on Android: “Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.”
This deal raises a number of compelling questions (see thoughts by Robert Scoble, Peter Kafka and others in the related posts listed below), but first I have to ask: Can Google have its “open platform” and compete with its licensees too?