2012.22 | Tablets

While the iPad is certainly the standard for tablets, two new releases over the past couple of weeks may lift the bar for the essentially non-existent competition for everyone but the nerdiest of users.

Microsoft Surface – Leveraging the upcoming release of Windows 8 with its interface that works with desktop and tablets, Microsoft made a relatively big splash with its “Jobs-like” reveal of the soon to be released Microsoft tablet.  While some will deride Microsoft Surface as the Zune of tablets, there is some potential behind Surface. While much of the Surface tablet is speculative at present (price, release, user experience) Microsoft does have some things going for it.

Magnetic Cover with Keyboard –  iPads are not optimal for data entry and entry intensive uses.  While there are a number of bluetooth keyboard options, most of them mar the sleek look and profile of the iPad. If the keyboard included with the Surface tablet works well, it overcomes a missing element on the iPad without sacrificing the look and simplicity of the unit.

Windows 8 –  While iOS receives well deserved attention for its simplicity and ease of use, the OS has not changed a great deal in years.  Those who haven’t seen the look and feel of Windows 8 or seen a recent Windows Phone OS will be impressed.  In my opinion, the dynamic, configurable tile based interface leapfrogs the iOS interface in both ease of use and looks.  Another small item that might be useful in a tablet from a retail perspective is NFC capability.  Windows Phone 8 has NFC enabled and that may provide a way for retailers to get past dongle after dongle issue for payments in Windows 8 if that functionality can be ported to Surface.  It would certainly help here in Canada where EMV readers for tablets are hard to find thus far.

Display Size – It isn’t a massive difference, but the Surface unit has a 10.6 screen with a 16:9 ratio.  It’s slightly bigger than the iPad which is helpful for using the iPad as a shared screen.  Most video is wide format now, so it could display more full screen for demos in a retail environment.

Productivity Applications – While Apple came at tablets from the mobile side, Microsoft comes it from a desktop perspective.  Microsoft Office apps are much more feature laden and better for most business than Pages, Numbers and Keynote.  Much as Apple has some incredible templates and wonderful toys (using iPhone as remote for Keynote), they lack the depth of features that Office has.  If Microsoft ports Office to Surface with full functionality, they will be much more useful in a business environment and have a broader following in business.  Whether this is useful in a retail environment will depend on the application.

Surface may not have the cache of iPad.   Surface may not be the tablet the customers at Starbucks are using, but it may well represent the evolution of the computer at work. From a retail perspective it provides another potential low cost option with a slightly larger beautiful screen. The ability to add data entry without sacrificing usability and portability for client based solutions will help with some applications as well.  Add the ubiquity of Windows as a platform in retail in North America, and Surface could find a foothold in retail applications.  There are lots of details to shake out, but don’t discount it without investigation.

Google Nexus – Google also announced a new tablet recently.  One of many interesting releases from Google this week, the new tablet is made by Asus.  Much different from the iPad and Surface, the new Nexus tablet is a much smaller and low cost unit.

Priced at $199, the unit seems a more fitting competitor to the Kindle Fire.  Like the Fire, it is more of a paper back sized device purpose built to consume media – read books and magazines, watch video, play simple games and browse the Internet.  Like the Kindle Fire, the Nexus is closely tied to a content ecosystem in Google Play.  Nexus leverages the latest version of Android for Tablets  – Jelly Bean.

While not as feature laden as the iPad and Surface, tablets like this will continue to drive expectations of low cost devices that can be harnessed for many uses.  This relatively sophisticated technology is being driven closer and closer to a $0 item used as a loss leader to drive consumption of media, lowering the desire for consumers to pay without clear benefits.

The impact of this device on retailers is more on increased competition for the likes of Amazon, Kobo, and Kindle for electronic media.  It would be surprising to see these devices used in a retail environment as a selling or transactional tool, but that could all change tomorrow.

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2011.41 | Views of the Future

Microsoft’s Vision – I love this future looking view of productivity from Microsoft Office.  Everything is squeaky clean, everything works together, and somehow the wifi at the hotel doesn’t require a code and is faster than dial-up.  All joking aside, it’s a really well made video, and provides some great vision into how things could pan out in the future.  The hard part from a retail technology perspective is making all of this work together seamlessly. That, and people are going to have to learn a lot of new touch gestures! (via Gizmodo)

BMW – BMW’s 300 series are going to have a full colour Heads up Display in 2012.  Consider this an alpha release of the cool computer screens on the car windows on the Microsoft offering.   If you think about it, it also fits the vision of having shopping available in cars as you have seen in future posts.  While voice commands are making great leaps through technologies like Siri, the visual plays a role as well.  The challenge here is not overwhelming safety tools with sales messages.

inPulse smartwatch – There are a few smartwatches out there that are starting to make the rounds.  These wearable displays like the inPulse smartwatch give you access to your phone, providing details on your messages, calls, emails, and more.   I’m really not all that interested in the watch itself.  Having a secondary display is clunky and unnecessary for me.  I would just as likely just pull out my phone as have one more screen with me.  What is interesting is that these devices represent the baby steps of moving a mobile device into one that can interact with screens around them.  While AirPlay does this relatively well between Apple devices, if we are going to see that future with all the devices interacting together some serious work needs to be done to get that in place so that iOS, Blackberry, Android and Windows Phone will speak to other Windows, Linux and OSX devices.  Devices like these watches are transitional technologies that will lead the charge in making that happen.

 

2009.43 | Experience Based Retail

500x_Microsoft_Store_topRetail is certainly moving away from the old fashioned stores we knew as children, where one walks in and just buys something off the shelf.  With so much competition, convenience and so much available for purchase online, it seems inevitable that many specialty retailers will work towards experience based retailing to differentiate themselves.

HMV announced this week that they will open a movie theatre above a store in London.  Microsoft opened its first “we’re hip like Apple, too” Store this week in Arizona.

At the suggestion of Steve Jobs, who is on their Board of Directors, Disney is moving in the same direction, and are reputedly looking at a major overhaul of their retail chain which is expected to leverage the same interactive store model and wireless handheld POS as the Apple store.

On the content side, Disney’s Keychain solution promises consumers the opportunity to use media across platforms. This seems like the answer to the age old problem of buying the same media on multiple formats (anyone remember betamax, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray), but its use will certainly depend on what price they are looking for as well as the requirement for one to be online all the time to consume.  The technology seems solid as long as consumers can get past the need for the tangible item – did I mention price and bandwidth?  Downloaded a 2Gb movie lately?  Yikes.

In the world of experience with self-service, Tesco opened its first all self-checkout store this week in the UK.   Now they have full self-checkout – assisted self service, really – on two continents.

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