Monday, December 28, 2009

What MS has been up to

The Courier is Microsoft's entry into tablet computing, albeit with a twist. It's not a tablet, it's a booklet. A hinged, double-screened notebook computer with a combination touchscreen and pen stylus user interface. It looks sexy as hell, and this demonstration video illustrates how it will likely work.

I love this! I've been ragging on Microsoft pretty hard for the last couple of years, and with good reason, frankly. But this is great news for consumers, and maybe, along with the advent of the new Windows 7 operating system, and the Bing search engine, could keep Microsoft relevant, even if they are lagging seriously behind in the smartphone arena.

What's more, it could keep Apple, Google, and Amazon on their toes. It does seem like MS is targeting a very different user need with the Courier. I think most people are expecting the new Apple iSlate to compete more with the Amazon Kindle, and it's own iPod Touch, than with HP and Dell's tablet offerings.

I can't wait for Christmas 2010!

Apple iSlate vs. Amazon Kindle: eBook Steel Cage Match!?

The Apple rumor mill is now projecting that all the activity around an overgrown iPhone-like device will not be an Apple "netbook", or tablet computer, but rather an eBook reader, set to compete with the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook. Supposedly called the iSlate (yeesh...), the Apple reader will have a separate part of the App store dedicated to eBooks for the device.

This makes a lot of sense, in the wake of certain publishers who have released their book publications as iPhone apps, rather than as PDFs, Kindle Books (.azw format), or .mobi (MobiPocket format). The advantage of this for Apple is that it leverages their current iPhone/iTunes Store momentum and infrastructure, while maintaining ease-of-use for customers. It does, however, mean more VHS/Betamax format wars for consumers.

Right now, it looks like Mobipocket and other formats, used by open-book readers like Sony, the Nook, Philips', and others, are fighting an uphill battle, at least in the U.S. The Big 3 in the electronic publishing industry are PDF, MobiPocket, Kindle Books. But even though an iPhone app is not really a file format, is is a method of delivery, which is ultimately what the file formats allow. Amazon and the iTunes Store offer convenience of delivery, sync, and portability, while PDFs offer print options and ubiquity due to a 15-year head start. Since Amazon purchased Stanza, buying books from the Fictionwise book store has become more disjointed and harder to do. IPhone app-books, in contrast, are becoming easier and easier to download. Another advantage for iTS users is that they can purchase their audiobooks from the same place, to the same devices. Amazon's Kindle does "read" certain books to you, but reviews of the auto-reader are mixed.

No doubt Android (Google's smartphone OS) will be incorporating app-books into it's store soon, if it has not already. That, together with Google's recent eBook moves and it's ginormous search-engine audience, could be the beginning of a slow death of Amazon's initial raison d'etre. I foresee an Apple vs. Google fight to the death in most consumer information markets, including eBooks.

Good thing Amazon has leveraged it's cloud computing and fulfillment infrastructure into separate businesses. Wonder what Microsoft is up to?