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July 6, 2010
It’s a Phone. It’s a Tablet. It’s a Tweener!
Since its launch two months ago, Apple posted iPad sales over 2 million. For those of you who have been vacationing in Tibet and missed the category-changing introduction, the  iPad, an e-reader or  “tablet," allows for one to send e-mails, draw pictures, and play games. It’s slightly smaller than a sheet of paper, just one-half inch thick, and weighs 1.6 pounds with an optional 3G built-in modem. The 9.7-inch LED backlit, glossy, multi-touch screen has 1024 x 768 pixel resolution. It is wireless, and the iPad’s battery is supposed to offer up to 10 hours of use and 30 days of standby power. A simple docking stand props it up and accepts a hardware keyboard.

Two weeks ago, Apple released the iPhone 4G, and consumers clamored to get one, too. Apple moved a lot, with people willing to stand in line for hours or wait up to a month to get one -- even with antenna problems that were reported last week. A coming antenna application fix notwithstanding, not only does the new iPhone have an OLED screen, it offers real application folders and unified mailboxes. It’s smaller than its brother, the iPad, more transportable than a netbook, and, of course, you can make phone calls. It also offers video chat and conference call and has an HD camcorder, a five mega pixel camera (with flash), and HD audio. Oh, and GPS. The iPhone 4G is a great media player and can play lots of music and video formats. The new phone offers consumers more than 100 new features.

The iPad runs a version of the iPhone operating system, a variant of the Mac OS X, which means that it can run -- unchanged -- every app in the iTunes App Store, and it runs on one of two modes: just as you’d see it on the iPhone or expanded to be twice as large to take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen. That’s full access to around 185,000 apps like Google Maps, iBooks, digital compass, Safari browser, and TV-out features. It offers more than anyone else, which is critical in the category and one of the drivers in engagement and purchase in the category, no matter what category you happen to be talking about.

With more apps and different formats of devices available, it’s blurred the category lines, particularly between smart phones, e-readers, and computers. Are these devices beginning to sound like something more than just a phone or a lighter computer? More like a mobile Internet device (MID)? It's a “tweener" that’s between technologies and is a real game -- and category nomenclature -- changer.

Competitors have not been waiting to see how things shake out.

Dell has an Android-powered piece of technology, the “Streak,” coming out this summer. They call it a tablet, except this one has a five-inch screen or half the size of the iPad, and it can make calls like the iPhone. While larger than the expected “smart phone,” it’s actually small enough to hold up to your ear to make a call.

OK, it’s smart but not specifically a phone, a computer, or a tablet, as currently defined by the Apple offering. More specifically, it’s a data-centric device that can download Web pages in full width and can be used as a GPS device. Once it's upgraded to the Android 2.2 operating system, it will support Flash 10.1, and with a fast 1-GHz Snapdragon processor and two cameras (front and rear), video chats would be possible, too. One could safely call it a MID or a “tweener" because it is something between technologies.

The tablet category is too new and too small for us to track it in our Customer Loyalty Engagement Index. The way things are going, perhaps we can next year, or maybe we'll have a MID category in 2011. In the meantime, here’s how customers rank their smart phone brands: 

1. Apple
2. Samsung
3. Blackberry
4. Nokia
5. LG
6. Palm
7. Motorola

“Tweener" technology has come and gone before, but up until now the concept hasn’t been able to successfully embody consumer’s increased technology expectations and increased technology offerings in a one-size-fits-all device. That’s because if you rely on traditional category and new-product metrics, it's hard to get consumers to meaningfully articulate size and technology combinations.

Dell's brand recognition might help differentiate the device from the dozens of other upcoming Android devices, but as everyone knows, brand awareness is not a leading indicator of consumer engagement or sales (Dell ranks second behind Apple in the Laptop Computer category and fifth in the Netbook category). With the potential loss of iPhone exclusivity, the rumor is that AT&T will carry the Streak, although Dell has remained silent about both potential carriers and pricing, and Apple hasn’t indicated whether they’ll renew for another two years with AT&T. Rumors of a Verizon iPhone are rampant.

Questions abound: Will the Streak be positioned as a smart phone, a tablet, or a MID? Will it be hard for consumers to grasp the concept of a smart phone tablet-like device? Will it produce significant volume? Can the Dell brand successfully compete against entrenched smart phone brands, particularly Apple, even in a newly rejuvenated MID category? Is it a category at all? What will Apple do next? What should we call these devices?

We vote for calling them “tweeners,” a good term for what’s happening to technology today, both generally and specifically. Is a phone, no matter how “smart,” just a phone anymore? There’s been a lot of speculation
going around about Android-based phones coming down the road, reportedly to be packed with so much new hardware and software and access to more applications that it’s hard to decide precisely what they are. 

Three sure things, though: First, consumer expectations will continue to grow, especially about technology and access to more and more stuff in one device. Second, predictive loyalty and engagement assessments can help to answer some of those looming questions. Third, technology often presumes there's just one right way to do things.

There never is.


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Robert Passikoff, Founder and President of Brand Keys, Inc., has 35 years experience in strategic brand planning for B2B and B2C product and service categories. He pioneered work in loyalty and engagement, creating the Brand Keys Customer Loyalty Engagement Index®, the Brandweek Loyalty Leaders List, the Sports Fan Loyalty Index®, and the Women's Wear Daily Fashion Brand Engagement Index®.

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