Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Big January Coming from CES, Google and Apple

Image representing Nexus One as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase
January 2010 is going to be a big month for new product announcements. First up is Google, which has scheduled a major announcement for next Tuesday (January 5th) on the Googleplex campus, most likely to showcase the Nexus One mobile phone in partnership with T-Mobile. As I speculated earlier, leaked details indicate that there will be only one rate plan available for the phone if you get it from T-Mobile, but it's not a bad one: Unlimited voice and data for under $80 US a month. The phone will be subsidized if you get it from T-Mobile; the price will be $180. The price of the unlocked phone from Google will be $530; I thought that Google would at least partially subsidize the price of the phone and offset it with advertising revenues, but I was wrong.

Consumer Electronics ShowImage via Wikipedia
The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens in Las Vegas next Thursday, January 7th. There's not a lot of pre-show buzz about new products, but here's what I expect to see:
  • Several new eBook readers (both hardware and software). In software, the biggest noise is likely to come from Kurzweil and Baker & Taylor's blio--eBook reader software designed to maintain "page fidelity" rather than make eBooks readable on devices with tiny screens. There will undoubtedly be several hardware eBook reader announcements, including some with two-page displays and full color.
  • More Internet set-top boxes like the Roku. This might be where Comcast first shows the Roku-like set-top box that it's been working on to support its Xfinity service, and Video Business Magazine
    Image representing Roku as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
    accidentally broke an embargo yesterday on a new set-top box called Popbox. Also expect to see lots more Internet-enabled Blu-Ray players supporting Netflix, Amazon On Demand, YouTube and other services. Internet connectivity will be the thing that drives sales of Blu-Ray players, not Blu-Ray itself.
  • More companies will jump into the "dead-simple" camcorder space pioneered by Cisco's Flip. Samsung recently shipped its first model, and I expect to see Panasonic make an announcement as well. Expect to see more models with image stabilization, more control over image quality and better sound, as well as WiFi and geolocation. The challenge will be to make camcorders that are more sophisticated but still inexpensive, small and simple to use.
  • There will undoubtedly be more waves of HDTVs, including someone pushing the "world's biggest" model. There will be more OLED models on the floor, still at stratospheric prices, but with larger screen sizes that are more practical for everyday use.
  • Expect more add-ons for the iPhone and iPod touch to increase their functionality, and possibly, the first wave of similar add-ons for the Motorola Droid. Hardware add-ons for Android phones will be much more difficult to monetize because there's no standard form-factor or dock interface, but some companies will jump into the market.
Apple's announcement at Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco on January 26th is probably the most-anticipated event of all, because the expectation is that Apple will announce a tablet computer. The rumor mill has been going wild with this one, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple announce a dramatically expanded iTunes Store along with the tablet with a big selection of eBooks, magazines and newspapers to go along with the music, video and movies already on sale.

Pricing will be a huge issue. If Apple announces a tablet for around $1,000, as has been rumored, its market is going to be very limited. I think that they have to keep the price for the tablet to $500 or less, and they may have to get there by striking an exclusivity deal with a mobile operator such as Verizon or AT&T to subsidize the cost of the tablet in return for a two-year service contract.

In any event, this is going to be a very busy January.

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