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Welcome to ZenUnwired; a blog dedicated to tracking developments in technology and strategy, and to deciphering the impact of these developments on wired and wireless ISP's, device manufacturers, OS and application developers, and most importantly - you.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is it time for Carrier-branded Tablets?


Recently, while playing with a Galaxy Note (and contrasting it with a Kindle Fire), I began wondering - is it time for carrier branded tablets? 

Conceptually, a CE manufacturer could create a tablet that is customized to a carrier's needs, where the customization goes beyond the presentation layer. For example - instead of a Galaxy Tab running TouchWiz with Sprint bloatware, can Samsung make a SprinTab - where the entire UI and CX is Sprint controlled/managed? Just like how the Kindle Fire is completely Amazon controlled/managed?

At a purely conceptual level,
  • Developing a customizable service layer means that the CE manufacturer can tweak the service layer to any carrier's requirements. So a SprinTab will look and feel completely different than a VZPad. This "customizability", if achieved, should help the CE manufacturer sell abundantly more devices, at a higher margin than in the cut-throat open market. At the same time, carriers could be - at least theoretically - more willing to subsidize their own custom-tablets (maybe even in the form of bandwidth-built-in- "comes with 1GB of wireless data per month"), especially if the OS'es are locked-down.
  • The CE manufacturer could create an ecosystem of vendors behind the tablet. For example - the CE manufacturer could partner with Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble for books, with Amazon, Spotify or Pandora for music, with Netflix, Hulu or Vudu for video, with Google Play for paid apps, etc. The CE manufacturer then could give carriers the optionality to use their own vendors or services (e.g.: Sprint Music on the SprinTab), or let them choose from a list of preferred vendors. 
  • From a carrier's perspective, the tablet becomes the customer's central gateway to the internet, and results in additional revenue streams, with minimal required oversight . Depending on the quantum of digital content purchased, the tablet could become a sticky product too (migrating digital content like books might be difficult). Of course, carriers could position this tablet in myriad ways like - subsidize the tablet for higher tier subs (i.e. incent customers to buy up), enable any/all carrier-services on the tablet and integrate them into the main interface (vs. into one app, in a sea of apps), etc. Therefore, a well thought out approach could have the potential to mitigate the dumb-pipe scenario.
  • From a consumers perspective, a deeply discounted tablet could be just too tempting to pass up.

I admit, this concept needs a lot more thought and refinement. But that said, carrier-branded tablets might be a concept that warrants a second look.

P.S.: If you havent guessed already, SprinTab, VZPad, etc. are just hypothetical products with no basis in reality, implied or otherwise