How CES almost made the iSlate and Nexus One irrelevant

Posted by Rob Enderle

Coming into the CES show Apple had a near lock on the news with speculation about their coming iSlate and just as the show started Google launched their Nexus One which looked like it might steal the show much as the iPhone did two years ago.  

There were so many slate/tablet devices launched at the show and so many interesting new products and phones that both devices were old news by the end of the first day.  

Let’s look at why many of the things showcased at CES, after CES (iSlate), and right before CES may soon be obsolete.

eBooks:  Hearst and Plastic Logic go for 2nd Generation while Blio Shows the Way to 3rd Generation
The two eBooks books that were clearly generation 2 devices were the Plastic Logic Que and the Skiff eBook  backed by Hearst Newspapers.  What makes these second generation devices is that they can do page layups that look like newspapers and magazines while the current generation of products only does straight text.   

This formatting makes a huge difference and brings in the possibility of advertiser funded content and ads on eBooks could be very lucrative because they can be better targeted at the reader if the content is created, as it could be, dynamically at download.  In effect it would be like reading a newspaper or magazine that would only have ads that interested you and to advertisers this would be golden, it could possibly save newspapers, but it certainly is a big improvement over the first generation.

However, Blio  effectively introduced the third generation of eReader with their platform which blended color, multi-media, and integrated audio.   This would allow text books to have animations where pictures would normally be, color pictures, and the most impressive, synced audio books.  This last would allow you to read a book, get in the car and instantly pick up in audio (with an audible like experience using a live voice) where you left off and then go back to reading when you arrived.  This would be wonderful for readers caught in traffic.  

Pixel and Qualcomm close the gap and obsolete iSlate
With Blio doing the 3rd generation platform the gap between service and hardware is now significant (most of the existing hardware, like the Kindle line, is still 1st generation) and most buyers appear to be waiting for a single device that can bridge the media capabilities of a tablet and the battery life and text capabilities of an eBook anyway.   Two technologies at CES showcased this capability - one was the Pixel Qi  (pronounced Che) and the other was the Qualcomm Mirasol.  Both products allow the creation of a product with the text and battery benefits of an eBook to also embrace the capabilities of a tablet.  In short be the best of both worlds.  

Mirasol, on paper, appeared to be the better choice because it had a lower power requirement than the Pixel Qi appeared to have but either coupled with sufficient graphics (like Nvidia Tegra ) effectively makes obsolete existing tablet and eBook designs and mergers the 3rd Generation eBooks and second generation Smart-Tablets into a single class of product.  Not sure if this single glass will be eSlates, Smart-eBooks, or eTablets but you get the point.
 
Nexus One, the power of marketing, and bigger IS better
Both the Palm Pre and iPhone came with an Apple level introduction and a substantial amount of follow up coverage.   The Nexus One showcased Google’s Achilles’’ heel.  The company fundamentally doesn’t understand marketing.   To me this is kind of amazing given the firm makes the majority of its income from advertising.   While this certainly highlights what could be Microsoft’s best attack vector against the company it also showcases why the Nexus One dropped off in interest so quickly.

However something else that helped was the emergence of phones with 5” displays at CES.  Led by the Dell Tablet concept  these actually are more Smartphone than Tablet given the class is expected to have full phone capabilities and the platform is, like the Nexus One, based on Android.  

Much like the iPhone represented a class and size that had not been popular (in fact slate style phones had largely failed in market before the iPhone showed up) the idea that an even larger phone could be successful is a reasonable one.   This is because Web pages generally were designed for PC displays and the larger the display on a phone the better it looks and the easier it is to navigate.  On a 5” display the virtual keyboard only takes up a portion of the screen and you don’t have to type over what you are reading.   Movies and TV is more comfortable to watch, text (eBook functionality) is much more useful and games can be much more compelling.   These large screen phones, given the popularity of all of these uses, quickly made the Nexus One and iPhone class of phones look like they were becoming prematurely obsolete.

Wrapping up
CES is a 4th quarter show in that it highlights products that mostly are slated for the second half of the year.  It presents a problem for all products that launch in the first half because these second half products are often worth waiting for.  For Apple and the iSlate and Google and the Nexus One this is especially problematic because neither product has in it things that appear to be significant parts of the next generation of Tablets/eBooks or Smartphones.  The first being a display that can embrace both eBooks and Multi-Media and the second being a larger more compelling display which could also use this same screen technology at some future point.   Given both of these devices will either cost in the $500+ range or come with a two year data plan, it may be wise to wait and get one that won’t be obsolete within days of when you buy it.   

In any case, CES clearly kicked butt this year and one can only imagine what next year will bring.