With CES getting officially getting underway on Monday, and announcements already starting to trickle out, I thought it would be interesting to ask what it will really take to shine at this show. To most people, that means eclipsing Apple and the public’s current iPad fixation. Unlike some pundits, I don’t think the next big thing will be an iPad clone. Interestingly Samsung just passed Apple as the largest cell phone maker, but then again, the iPhone is old news. Microsoft tried to beat the iPod with the Zune, but what really beat the iPod was the iPhone, and what beat the iPhone was the iPad. The challenge wasn’t to have the highest-selling product, but to have the product folks were talking about the most and lusting after.
The way you’d beat the iPad isn’t by building a better one, but to create what folks will line up for next. Let’s talk about what a contender might look like.
If you think about it, the iPhone was a hybrid between a phone and an iPod. Basically, it was an iPod Touch with phone features. Ironically, Microsoft had an internal meeting prior to the creation of either the iPhone or the Zune, and a number of executives felt that rather than building the Zune, Microsoft should have built an iPhone-like device. Eventually it did with the Windows Phone 7, but only after the Zune had failed and the iPhone had largely begun to run its course.
The iPad is a hybrid of an iPod Touch and a netbook, or basically an iPod Touch with a 9.7-inch screen. As folks tired of being excited about the iPhone, the iPad caught their interest. This would suggest the next big thing might be a hybrid.
Apple is reportedly working on a hybrid of a TV and an iPad, or an iPad with an incredibly large screen that would replace a TV. However, TVs have been really hard for technology vendors to sell (Gateway, HP, and Dell all failed at selling them). The market refresh on TVs is still pretty new, since TVs have an expected service life of seven years. The end result is that even a great product might be difficult to sell because too many people have sets that are too new.
Another coming hybrid is a hybrid notebook computer, and these come in two flavors. The first was the Asus Transformer, which was a table that doubled as a notebook, and the most recent is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Hybrid, which is a notebook that blends an ARM processor with an x86 processor. Currently, these products run Android or a blend of Windows and Linux, but with the release of Windows 8, a seamless hybrid model could take hold, and folks could find it compelling. Microsoft is rumored to have $750 million focused on the Windows 8 launch (the Windows 95 launch, one of the biggest on record, was only around $250 million). The combination of strong marketing and a sexy product could be that next big thing.
Intel’s big push is Ultrabooks, and a number of vendors will be launching versions next week. These are MacBook Air-like products designed to provide the weight and battery life advantages of a tablet with the usefulness of a notebook. Intel is rumored to have $300 million targeted at this offering, and some of the products you’ll see next week are like personal art. Later, derivative products running Windows 8 will have a touchscreens, and that enhanced experience could make it the next big thing.
Amazon Super Fire
The Amazon Kindle Fire was the one tablet product that did reasonably well against the iPad last quarter, selling around 25 percent of the volume of Apple’s own flagship product. Amazon could take the Fire up-market, using its competitive user interface and services coupled with a heavily subsidized price to undercut Apple, while continuing to provide more comprehensive entertainment collections through its media properties. The end result could be a next-generation tablet that could displace the iPad in consumers’ hearts and minds.
The Qualcomm Marisol division is close to releasing its next-generation transflective display in volume, which could result in next-generation cell phones and tablets that can be easily used outside. This could potentially make Mirasol-equipped devices far more attractive than current the iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad offerings, and some of the first devices to adopt the technology might even come from Apple. Rumors are flooding the valley about an impending launch of a new iPad, and were it to either have an extremely bright LCD or next-gen transflective display, even recent existing iPad users would likely buy it and enjoy their iDevices outdoors more.
A significant enhancement like this could be a game changer, and start those lines forming.
Something different this way comes
Apple has had hit product after hit product, but with Steve Jobs gone the likelihood this can continue is sharply reduced. Still with the right product, not a clone of what Apple is currently offering, the market could likely be turned to the latest shiny thing. Something will eventually eclipse the iPad, just as the iPad eclipsed the iPhone, the iPhone eclipsed the iPod, and the iPod eclipsed the Walkman. We’ll see if a candidate emerges at CES. Last decade, the only company capable of eclipsing an Apple product was Apple. We’ll see if that continues post Steve Jobs.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.