Tablet strategies: The plot thickens
Big week for tablet news. Apple launched its 7.9-inch iPad mini on Tuesday, and Microsoft will release its new Windows 8 OS and Surface tablet on Friday (the official launch event is Thursday). These new tablets reinforce the need for media companies to make tough choices about the resources they’re devoting to tablet design and delivery.
The new Apple and Microsoft devices will add to a market that continues to surpass expectations. Tech researcher IDC recently raised its 2012 forecast for global tablet shipments to 117 million units, up from an earlier estimate of 107 million. IDC also revised its 2013 forecast to 166 million units, up from 143 million.
And that was before Apple officially introduced the iPad mini. The 7.9-inch iPad represents a shot across the bow of the Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7 and other 7-inch tablets. The price points don’t match, with the iPad mini starting at $329 and most existing 7-inch tablets less than $200, but Apple is clearly going after the lower end of the market, including e-readers.
Tab Times' David Needle notes, however, that there’s a risk for Apple in this approach, because it’s now legitimizing the space for low-cost tablets:
The introduction of the iPad mini also validates the smaller tablet form factor so ridiculed by the late Steve Jobs. Android devices like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 at $199 are perfectly fine consumption devices for watching movies, checking email and web surfing. If you didn’t think so before, Apple just made its rival’s case – smaller is beautiful.
The good news for publishers and other app developers: Apple says existing iPad apps won’t have to be modified to run on the mini.
Apps are perhaps the biggest hurdle facing Microsoft as it officially launches Windows 8 and its Surface tablet. The Surface device is getting rave reviews, although most are tempered with concerns about the availability of apps and Windows 8 itself.
The New York Times’ David Pogue sums up the good and the bad in his review: “The Surface is a brilliantly conceived machine whose hardware will take your breath away — but whose software will take away your patience.”
Most publishers have been muted regarding their Windows 8 plans. On Wednesday, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal launched Windows 8 apps, according to Tab Times. Hearst’s 20 titles will be available through the Windows 8 versions of the Barnes & Noble Nook and Zinio newsstand apps, a spokesperson said. It’s an approach that many publishers are likely to take: invest in native iPad apps while supporting other platforms with lower-cost digital replicas sold through newsstand apps.
Update: Condé Nast announced on Thursday that it will deliver 21 apps for Windows 8 at launch – although none of them are full digital editions. The apps include “sampler issues” of “special editions” from Condé Nast titles. The sampler editions, which are free, include story highlights from the monthly editions of Conde’s 14 digital editions. Theme-based special editions, priced at $6.99, include such titles as “Domino: Best Rooms,” “Glamour: 1,000 Ways to Dress 10 Pounds Thinner” and “Lucky: The Ultimate Style Guide.” The full set of 14 Condé Nast digital editions will be available through the Next Issue Media app “in the coming months,” according to a press release.
Next Issue Media has said its digital subscription service will support Windows 8, but the company won’t be part of Friday’s launch. A spokesperson said Next Issue is “still in discussions with Microsoft, and we will be sharing our progress in the coming months.”
Next Issue’s digital catalog, offered on the iPad and select Android tablets, includes more than 70 titles, currently all from the joint venture’s founders: Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp. and Time Inc. In an interview in July, CEO Morgan Guenther was bullish about the Windows 8 platform. “It’s a very interesting and potentially explosive category, because you can move [apps] into the desktop and ultrabooks,” he said.
IDC says share of Windows-based tablets will grow from about 1% of the market in 2011 to 4% in 2012 and will capture 11% of the market by 2016. That share will cut into both Android and iPad: IDC expects iOS share to slip from 60% this year to 58% by 2016, while Android will drop from 35% in 2012 to 31% by 2016.
At this point, the smart move for publishers investing in native apps is to focus on the iPad. They can cover the other platforms through digital replicas or, as a better alternative, by optimizing their websites for tablets and other touch-enabled devices. Leveraging HTML5 and responsive design is still the best way to “future-proof” investments against the rapidly evolving tablet space.