This Week in Tablets: The Game of Thrones edition

June 2, 2012
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Sunday night is a big deal, one of those increasingly rare appointment TV nights. That's because HBO will be airing the highly anticipated Season Two finale of the blockbuster series Game of Thrones.

After last week’s epic Battle of the Blackwater, the show has a lot to tie up. Like everyone else, I’m obsessed and can’t wait to see how it ends. And I also can’t stop talking about it. (Yes, in addition to being a tablet guy, I’m also a nerd.)

The series—and the George R.R. Martin books by the same name—appears to have been influenced and inspired by the War of Roses that was waged over the English Throne in the mid-15th century. The brutality of this period combined with my Game of Thrones obsession made me realize that, death and dragons aside, there are some parallels between the tablet ecosystem and the fantasy realm Martin has created. Most of these parallels, of course, involve peril and misfortune.

At least I’m not alone. I’ve had literally a dozen different conversations over the last 7 days about how the various factions and characters in the show map to the NBA, the NFL, video games, Pokemon, and even wine.

It’s time to take this conversation to the world of tablets. This is important stuff.

House Stark: Research in Motion

This was simultaneously the toughest and the easiest call of them all. In the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, House Stark comes undone by one really bad decision—Ned’s sense of honor and pride—and a series of attacks that come from all directions.

Ultimately, Ned’s house is so overwhelmed that it becomes scattered and begins to come apart at the seams.

For the most part, the same can be said of RIM. The company made a series of bad decisions—releasing a half-baked tablet into a nascent market and refusing to evolve its OS and hardware platform to embrace touch, amongst others. And now it’s headless, vulnerable on all sides, and about to spill a lot of blood.

In the TV series, House Stark retrenches around its successor Rob Stark. In the tablet wars, RIM is retrenching around the Enterprise—and BB10. I am not optimistic about either party’s chances.

House Baratheon: Google Android

Another tough call, but when you consider the events of Game of Thrones, the religious conversion Stannis Baratheon undergoes, and the accumulation of power and massive failed attack that House Baratheon waged against House Lannister over the course of the second season, the comparison to Google’s Android OS starts to make sense.

Even the confusion around where Google’s loyalties lie has a parallel in Stannis’ adoption of a new religion, a new god, and a new lover. In both cases, followers and loyalists were left scratching their heads.

It’s not clear what’s going to happen to Stannis and House Baratheon on Sunday or in Season 3, but whatever happens, neither can be ruled out.

In the corporate world, it’s hard to bet against Google. Despite a slightly uneasy alliance between tablet manufacturers and the OS developer itself, the platform has a lot of momentum.

At the same time, tough going against Apple and divisive OS fragmentation has weakened Android for a strong attack by Microsoft’s Windows 8.

Microsoft: House Targaryen

A formerly dominant House obsessed with reclaiming former glory through persuasion, dragons, a journey to a new land, and hopes of raising a massive new army? That’s Microsoft all the way.

And just like Daenerys Targaryen herself, it’s hard to tell which way this is going to break, and how long it will take to happen. It’s not going to happen overnight, that’s for sure.

By the way, the news that trickled out this week around Windows 8 was consistently favorable. First, the OS release candidate is actually ready. Second, rumors are beginning to leak again about Office being available for iPad come November. Third, news that Windows 7 desktop/laptop users will be able to upgrade to Windows 8 for $15. Persuasion. A new land. The only thing missing here is dragons.

Finally in a fitting week-ender, Morgan Stanley revised its forecast around Windows 8’s potential for success. (I can imagine Microsoft execs thinking, Really? Couldn’t it be anyone but Morgan Stanley?)  

Regardless, given Apple’s dominance and Android’s brute-force market share, it’s going to be a long uphill battle for Microsoft.

Which brings us to…

House Lannister: Apple

This isn’t a perfect fit, but it does work. Apple is clearly dominant, both financially and in terms of mindshare and supply chain leverage. The company’s products mobilize the masses and inspire real passion.

Apple is nowhere near as reprehensibly evil as the Lannisters, but the bigger the company gets, and the more market leverage it brings to bear on the supply side, the more it begins to remind me of Microsoft in the 1990s, or IBM in the 1970s and 80s.

And then there’s the whole secrecy thing.

I'll confess to being enamored with the Apple to a point I would have never, ever imagined three years ago. This is a new phenomenon. When an ex-Windows/PC fanboy like myself is thinking seriously about Apple TV and MacBooks, that’s as close to a tectonic change as you’ll ever see.

This said, I still found myself puzzled and disappointed with the overall vibe Tim Cook put out in his one-on-two chat with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D10 Conference in Southern California this past week.

The resulting media coverage seized on the secrecy angle with mixed reactions. Many outlets reported that while Cook indicated the company would try to be more open about some things, he also made it clear that Apple would be "doubling down” (his words) on secrecy around its products.

To be clear: For Apple, secrecy is an essential part of the corporate mystique and cannot be overvalued in terms of the company’s mobile product roadmap. Without it, Apple wouldn’t generate as much near-hysterical enthusiasm for the "big" announcements it makes, such as the upcoming reveal at WWDC on June 11.

But there are good secrets and bad secrets, and as a general rule, companies that double down on secrecy tend to swallow up and regurgitate a few bad secrets at some point.

I'm in agreement with TabTimes Executive Editor David Needle that the whole secrecy thing is concerning when it extends beyond product development. If an OS virus or security breach successfully targets iOS devices or iOS T-commerce, will Apple be forthright in its response?

Sony is an example of secrecy going bad. Notorious for its insular environment and privacy, this legacy resulted in the company refusing to even acknowledge the massive security breach that compromised millions of PlayStation user accounts in 2011 for at least a week.

Can you imagine the response if Steve Ballmer or a RIM exec had said the same at any point over the last two years?

House Arryn: Samsung

In Game of Thrones, House Arryn is a faded legacy whose members continue to play a key role in shaping current events across multiple industries such as spycraft and finance. Characters like Varys and Lord Peter Baelish have not only survived the shifting tides and allegiances in the book, they’ve thrived.

 So it goes with Samsung, which has managed to successfully move through the transition from consumer electronics to mobile to tablets. The secret to Samsung’s success? A diverse portfolio of products and considerable strengths in the supply chain.

House Greyjoy: Value tablet manufacturers

One of the most striking character transformations in season two of Game of Thrones has been Theon Greyjoy. Without giving too much away, it’s clear that his family’s and his House’s legacy is directly responsible for the transformation, which results in a surprising power grab from the Starks and some really poor subsequent decision-making.

It made me wonder. Could any tablet manufacturer or player could be categorized in such a way. Then it dawned on me: Without question, the flood of low-cost tablet manufacturers to enter the market over the last two years is a power grab, just like Theon and House Greyjoy.

Some of these device manufacturers are more shameless than others, but they’re all trying to fill a void and make a name for themselves.

So who’s Tyrion?

Given the rich world the author has created, and HBO’s ability to capture it all, I could literally go on for days on this topic. As an example, I haven’t even started talking about the show’s individual characters, and who they would map to in terms of movers and shakers in the tablet industry.

I think I’ll save this for Season 3, but if you have suggestions, feel free to throw them out there in our comments section.

This week’s winner: Microsoft

You could argue that, given Microsoft’s difficulties shipping its operating system on time, the mere fact that Windows 8 will be delivered on schedule is a victory. But the fairly favorable press the OS has received over the last few weeks is making me wonder if Microsoft doesn’t have a chance to climb into the number two spot fairly rapidly.

Not surprisingly, the key is going to be how fast PC manufacturers release their Win8 tablets, what kinds of reviews and press these devices receive right off the bat, how much they cost. If these tablets experience early success, it’s entirely possible that PC manufacturers like Toshiba might abandon the Android ship in favor of Windows, which is closer to their comfort zone.

Unfortunately, if the first wave of Win8 tablets debut at $500 and up as has been rumored, Microsoft will not find short-term success with this platform. It’s hard to imagine consumers deciding to buy a Windows tablet instead of an iPad at the same price point.

And mark my words:  the moment Office for iPad is released, Microsoft is going to wish it had released the productivity suite a lot sooner.

Loser: RIM writedown of PlayBook inventory

Writing down $1 billion in losses and potentially laying off over 5000 employees is never a good sign, particularly when this is the third writedown in just over half a year. (In November, RIM had to writedown $485 million for unsold PlayBook inventory, and in February had to writedown $267 for unsold BlackBerry 7 handsets.)

A close runner up here for the week’s biggest loser is Nintendo. I just realized today that none of the company’s back catalog of games is available in the App Store. That’s a massive oversight. If Nintendo released Super Mario 1, 2, or 3 for tablets, they’d clear a million copies in a week’s time.

On the horizon

This week, I’ll be attending E3—the video game industry’s biggest tradeshow, at which Nintendo will be shedding further light on its tablet-based Wii U gaming console. There are some interesting possibilities here in terms of connected gaming and second screen utilization. I’ll have a full report next weekend. 

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