Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Non iPad iPads Are Coming ... But Will Anyone Care?

So, HP's new Windows 7 tablets (the "Slate 500s") are coming this fall after all. All hail the onslaught of non-Apple tablet computers!

But, will consumers care?

If past is prologue -- and in this case, my prediction is that it will be -- then the answer will be a resounding no. Consumers will continue to care about the iPad ... and very little else. Sorry HP -- it's not your fault. The simple truth is that consumers don't just care for the iPad -- they covet it! And, that means that, rightly or wrongly, all other tablets (non-iPad iPads) likely will be met with yawns. That goes for HP's Slates, Dell's tablets, Sony's tablets ... and on ... and on.

Now, don't get me wrong -- consumers will buy non-iPad iPads -- but they will do it for utilitarian reasons (and primarily because of lower cost). And, even when they do, most of them will leave the store with an "it's not an iPad" look of resignation on their face. Not because the HP Slate, or the Dell tablet, or the Sony is a lesser tablet in function (in fact, they may out-perform the iPad). Rather, simply because it is not an iPad -- in their minds, it is not as sexy -- it is not as cool -- it is not an Apple. And, let's face it -- we are in an era where everyone wants to have everything Apple -- even when Apple gets it wrong! (witness Antenna-gate, which has done little to slow the feeding frenzy). Hey, I am one of 'em -- I have had my blackberry for 10 years, and I now plan to head over the Apple store to pick up my reception-challenged iPhone 4 in the next week.

The iPad scenario -- and the steady drumbeat of followers like HP with its Slate -- feels an awful lot like 7 years ago when the iPods first came out. The iPod knocked it out of the park with consumers -- everyone wanted one ... no, NEEDED, one. And, then all the non-Apple guys followed with the promise of better iPods.

Except they weren't.

Well, that's not quite right. They may have been "better" -- but they weren't better in the minds of consumers who had been hype-notized by the Apple marketing machine and overall design aesthetic and simplicity.

So, fast forward to now. Like I said, things "feel" the same to me in relation to the iPad -- and iPad competitors (like the HP Slate).

Sorry HP, it's not your fault, but you face an uphill battle. Life isn't always fair ... especially as the population of the Apple faithful explodes.

Pandora -- "Show Me the Money!" -- I Want to Believe!

Online music streaming service Pandora is a TechCrunch darling -- featured once again today amidst the news that the service just crossed the threshold of 60 million registered users. That certainly is a great feat -- and it is to be congratulated (although, let's not forget that "registered" users is not the same thing as "active" users -- there is a world of difference -- signing up to use a service is not the same thing as actually using that service).

And, let's further not forget that sheer growth in registered users does not a viable business model make -- and, despite TechCrunch's persistent plaudits for purported profitability, I have yet to see any real revenue and operational numbers that lend credence to that claim. In fact, online music pioneer Michael Robertson recently conducted his own financial analysis of Pandora and concluded that the company was not profitable -- in a word, he debunked.

As I have written several times before, I too have serious doubts that Pandora is profitable -- i.e., that its business model works.

To be clear, this does not mean that I don't want it to. As I always write, I like Pandora. I follow the company closely for a variety of reasons: (1) I am one of the few paying subscriber (the vast majority of users stream music for free in an ad supported model); and (2) I simply respect online music services that "work" and previously served as President & COO of online music pioneer Musicmatch (which was acquired in 2004). But, I still don't see much of a difference between Pandora and a plethora of other providers.

Bottom line -- "Pandora, show me your bottom line! Show me the money! I want to believe. But, I ain't George Michael, I gotta have more than Faith!"