The concept of a large tablet device capable of many interesting things goes back to before the Newton but it was the Apple Newton that first captured our imagination that a device like this is possible. Apple has recently done more with the tablet format with the iPod Touch and iPhone then any other vendor but the jury is still largely out on this format with challenging devices from RIM, Palm, and Google often showcasing that keyboards are necessary.
Apple’s Formula for Success
The critical aspect of Apple’s success is creating a fresh impression and delivering that moment when people look at their new device with fresh eyes. Had the market looked at the iPod like a rehashed Creative Labs MP3 player or the iPhone as a larger spin on one of the unsuccessful candy bar phones neither would have likely been successful. But it didn’t, in both cases the devices were seen as unique and different and by stepping away from the baggage of what came before they found a willing audience and success.
This is Apple’s secret sauce, the ability to present a product in a unique and compelling way so that people view it in the best light and are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. It certainly helps that the products tend to be comparatively good but we are a race that doesn’t like change and to get us to accept it in new product we have to see beyond the differences to the benefits. It is Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s unique skill to deliver that but he has never, to my knowledge, faced a situation where a nearly identical product has done very badly a few months before his launch.
JooJoo Souring the Well
The JooJoo is therefore problematic because it approaches the market using what should be an unsuccessful path and its messy birth may effectively sour the well for the Apple tablet turning the market against it before Apple can act to set a better impression. Here is what is going on.
As has been widely covered the JooJoo (which sounds way to close to JewJew with implications that could offend a wide variety of buyers) started out life as the Crunchpad and was to be the first device that came with built in marketing from CrunchGear. This was a novel idea that appealed to those of us in the blogosphere and those that had a marketing background because it provided the potential for a low cost promotional vehicle founded on the CruchGear brand. In addition, since it was to be a web tablet it anticipated other offerings like the upcoming ESPN tablet that was also thought to have a number of marketing advantages.
In short it was initially positioned as the first of what was likely to be a series of successful tablet products based around web media services likely capped by the Apple tablet that, even before announcement, many thought would be the most successful of all. But the first of the series would set the tone for those that followed.
Unfortunately Fusion Garage and Michael Arrington from CrunchGear separated and the separation appeared like Fusion Garage screwed CruchGear. In this market you don’t screw bloggers and expect to get a positive buzz and people seem to be focusing on the price and capabilities of this product more negatively as a result. Many in my community (analysts) have already taken positions that the JooJoo will fail in market but that creates a big problem for Apple.
It would likely be OK if we said that the JooJoo would fail because of bad naming or because of the CrunchGear divorce but once we go negative we tend to get creative and pick on other limitations of the device. These limitations which include the lack of a keyboard, the size of the device, and the price will be shared by every other device in the class including Apple. It will be nearly impossible for someone saying that $500 is too much, a large screen device is too big, and a laptop is better for this use to suddenly reverse themselves for a nearly identical device with an Apple brand.
It is interesting to note that the device actually seems to demo well, but that doesn’t seem to matter.
Apple will have the key parts corrected; they won’t have a horrid name, they won’t have a dysfunctional partnership, and they won’t have gone out of their way to piss off bloggers but that may not matter because the folks over at Fusion Garage may have done that for them.
Wrapping Up: This is Heavy Lifting
I think this class of product has a lot of potential and I truly hope these bone headed moves by Fusion Garage don’t prematurely kill this market. However hopes don’t pay the bills and the reality is that JooJoo may have substantially damaged the market potential for the Apple Tablet. This will be heavy lifting for Apple and we should all suspend out disbelief until we see a well orchestrated launch, for Apple this means they will need to do the impossible.
Apple is capable of doing the impossible but I’ve never seen anyone overcome this kind of problem without a lot of time between the failed product (so we forget) and the new, successful offering. I don’t think Apple has that time and that means that the Apple Tablet will be historic for two new reasons, either it will be the first major failure Apple has had this decade or Apple will have accomplished the impossible.
I hope, for the good of the market, it is the latter, the pragmatic side of me worries it will be the former and that Fusion Garage will go down infamously as the firm that destroyed what could have been a very lucrative market.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.