This week in tablets: For devices, publishing and even parenting, simplicity is the key to success

May 26, 2012
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Validation for tablet devices, users, and developers came this week across multiple categories, industries and lifestyles. At the core of this validation? Simplicity, both in purpose and design.

Magazine publishers find success in simplicity

Two weeks ago, news broke that traditional magazine publishers—Hearst and Future, amongst others—have achieved strong single copy sales and general success by selling basic, flat versions of their wares on digital newsstands.

That’s a welcome sign for print publishers of all shapes and sizes. According to Hearst’s numbers, the publisher has reached the point where it is generating 600,000 single copy sales each month. On a print model, which typically entails at least 50% spoilage and typically far more, this is a tidy number. It’s still a small percentage of the 22 million print magazines Hearst sells each month, but 600k is nothing to sneeze at. Given the spoilage, it effectively counts as 1.5 million magazines printed.

Aggressive deals and distribution have helped Hearst drive digital sales and subscriptionsAlong similar lines, The Financial Times has predicted that digital subscribers will probably overtake print subscribers later this year.

How ironic. After forcing readers to endure years of overly complex web sites, pay walls, subscriber walls, and all kinds of other barriers, publishers are finally beginning to see the light, and that light is the simple magazine- and newspaper-style content that the tablet form-factor’s magazine-like dimensions enable.

TabTimes columnist Doug Drinkwater points out that this is only the beginning, and that we’ll likely see publishers dedicate extra efforts to the tablet editions of their properties. That’s probably true, but I bet that many publishers will continue to experienced sustained success with nothing more than linear, literal translations of their current content. They’ll let the advertisers explore the proverbial space with wild media-rich ads.

Aside from a little hyperlinking and swipe gesture support, I’m not sure publishers need to do much more for now.

Crossover tablet/phones find their rather large niche

I confess to being surprised by the news that ABI Research forecasts sales of so-called “phablet” devices like the Galaxy Note to reach 208 million units by 2015. Despite the embarrassing classification, I’m a believer in this form-factor, but I wouldn’t have expected the category to grow this fast.

On the surface, I could see how critics have found these devices to be too complex and unintuitive. However, a device that eliminates the need to carry both a tablet and a smartphone? That epitomizes the notion of keeping it simple. (If you want to eliminate your phone by the way, it’s worth considering the pairing of a Bluetooth headset with a 4G tablet and a Google Voice account.)

I’m still not calling devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note phablets though. The term cross-over tablet feels more appropriate. We’ll reserve hybrid tablet for the larger devices that bridge the gap between tablet and notebook.

This week’s winner: parents?

My wife gave birth to our first kid 5 weeks ago, so I’ve been particularly sensitive to stories and opinions regarding early the early exposure of children to screens, including tablets.

A recent story in the Wall Street journal focused on just this, with surprising support for the iPad and other tablets.

The answer, according to the WSJ’s sources at least, indicate that the iPad is more engaging and therefore healthy for kids because—wait for it—it’s such a simple input output device. The place where a kid touches is the place where the action happens.

Even better than no damages, studies have indicated that children using iPads are improving their vocabulary and other cognitive functions at high rates.

There’s probably some self-selecting mechanism at play here, but if you talk to parents with kids who use iPads, you’ll hear the same thing over and over again. Even children younger than two years old are able to operate tablets in surprisingly intuitive fashion.

This week’s Loser: Cisco

Yahoo may have failed miserably with its Flipboard alternative LiveStand, but the failure and cancellation of an app pales in comparison to the failure of a year-old tablet platform.

Cisco experienced such shame at the end of the week when Senior VP OJ Winge announced that the growth in BYOD in the enterprise was a key factor in the company’s decision to shutter the Cius tablet initiative for good.

Why? See the above perspective on simplicity for starters. By their nature, tablets are simple devices, and Cisco’s over-reach in turning the device into a teleconferencing phone, amongst other highly ambitious features, clearly didn’t resonate with IT buyers, and of course had no exposure whatsoever to non-enterprise clients.

The BYOD movement is pretty simple as well, from an end user perspective, and increasingly from a device management perspective.

On the Horizon: Can Microsoft make Windows 8 tablets work in retail?

The big news in the coming week is that TabTimes’ very own native iPad app should be publicly available in Apple’s App Store towards the middle of the week. It’s free and delivers the world’s most important tablet news, features, and opinions in an elegant magazine-style format.

And then there's Windows 8. The closer we get to Microsoft locking down the Windows 8 release candidate, the more I feel the need to check in on the topic on a weekly basis. This week’s Windows 8 analysis comes courtesy of a question from TabTimes reader Jan B. Jakobsen.

She writes:

How do you see Windows 8 tablet and smartphones in the retail landscape? Will we see retailers take on Windows 8 for customer interaction and payment solutions in the same way we see iPad and iPhone?

I don’t see retailers using Win8 tablets in retail environments in any foreseeable mass for at least 18 months, and maybe not for 2-3 years.

First, the sheer volume and resulting market share of Windows tablets over their first 18 months of life is likely to be fairly meager. The competition is incredibly steep and will only become steeper. And, despite the tablet support of PC partners like Dell, Microsoft will be a major underdog.

Furthermore, if reports speculating that that ARM-based Windows 8 tablets will sell for an average of $610 a pop are even close to true, achieving market share will be even tougher, and possibly even impossible.

Finally, regardless of Microsoft’s efforts to goose third-party app development, it will take some time before we see ample developer support from retail-oriented developers.

This said, if Microsoft is smart, it will partner with Square or Intuit and possibly even Dell or another PC manufacturer to promote this capacity for small businesses.

It’s also worth noting that Microsoft has experience and, as of 2009, even had its own first-party Point of Sale solution named Dynamics POS. However, because it was designed for a desktop experience, it’s anything but simple.

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