Friday, January 29, 2010

Lab126 versus Jobs

One of the interesting features of the "facebook for grown-ups" that is LinkedIn is the feature that tells you a bit about the people who have viewed your profile in recent days.

These are often pretty straight-forward and often align with people who have subsequently sent an invitation to connect, some can be related to something where you know you would have appeared in someone's search field (often because of this blog). Today I'm stumped though because my profile had been reviewed by someone from Lab126 which is not only AN company, it is the company that makes the Kindle.

Pretty spooky stuff the day after the launch of the Apple iPad. (Actually more spooky was the number of people at Lab126 who are in the third level of my LinkedIn network.) But it gives me an excuse to talk about the e-reader/netbook/tablet market.

I've only briefly handled a Kindle, I own an Iliad by iRex and like the rest of us have just seen the iPad in the video (I also don't own an iPhone ... yet). The really big differences can be summarised as;

1. A purpose specific device versus a multi-purpose device.
The Kindle is just a reader like an iPod is just a music player. The difference in the memory can also be significant, but not really if you realise the iPad memory will be contended for other things. The devices also have different battery (or charge) life - and that also reflects this distinction.

2. A connected device versus a stand alone device.
Despite the fact the iPad looks like an iPhone on steriods, it probably is better thought of as a multi-function iPod Touch. The "whispernet" solution of content distribution on the Kindle should not be underestimated, especially for subscription periodical content. Even book buying on the road is much easier in this "connectionless" mode. Sure the iPad has kinds of wireless connectivity, but it is the global push model of the Kindle that is cool - and the fact they pulled it off by piggybacking on existing roaming agreements rather than running around the world making separate carrier deals.

3. e-ink versus LCD.
The screen difference is huge. Computer types will rave over the benefit of a colour full motion screen , but serious readers know that e-ink is the only way to go for books. This isn't just an aesthetic thing it really is about eye tiredness and the range of environments you want to read in.

4. The eco-system.
The Kindle eco system is built around the existing power of one book distribution model, while the iPad is off seeking to recreate its iTunes store success. While they've signed partners there is a long way to go, and ultimately for publishers the decision is digital or not - many will likely serve both markets. But we shouldn't forget that there is already a KindleAp for the iPhone and hence the iPad.

I don't think we are anywhere near the conclusion of all this yet. I haven't even mentioned the HP Slate which Steve Ballmer was showing running the Kindle Ap at CES. This runs Windows 7 which means it has got the same touch screen capabilities as the iPad but as noted in this three way comparison there are a lot of problems in getting a desktop OS to perform in a tablet.

It remains interesting as the battle sometimes gets described as a Redmond vs Apple battle, forgetting that one is basically a software house whereas the other is a combined hardware and software. It is a false comparison just as in the Nanny TV show they kept incorrectly comparing a mere producer in Mr Sheffield to a composer in Lloyd Webber. In fact, the geek set who has a dislike of Microsoft should at least acknowledge that it is a separated software house that works with many hardware makers, and when it comes to selling software you don't have to do it through their store!

What still intrigues me is that as we move to tablets people seem to be making a choice between e-ink and LCD. These devices have a front and a back. There is no reason why one can't be made with a selectable screen depending on the task. And Sony does have in their e-reader collection a colour version of e-ink.

The issue then becomes size - the one thing that the Kindle really has going for it. Being single purpose it is slim and light, what you need for being propped up anywhere and reading.

My money is on a tablet running a Windows 8 with dual screens, ten times the memory of the iPad and some version of 4G connectivity. Salivate on that.

Note: The Apple iPad reminds one of the story about Ita Buttrose having to explain to Kerry Packer why, when launching a sister magazine to the Women's Weekly, they should not call it Women's Monthly. Instead they called it Cleo!

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