On The Net, Less Can Offer More

For some time now I’ve been using an iOS/Android app called “Heytell” to communicate with a number of friends and relatives. Heytell’s appeal is that it offers reliable asynchronous voice messages that are quick and easy to send to people when you don’t want to invest the time in a phone conversation. Heytell’s success as an app is that it offers something that’s less than a phone call but does it very well indeed.

Text messaging is successful and popular because it offers the opportunity to send quick and easy messages directly to the cell phones of others if you don’t want to invest the time or effort into writing a full-fledged email. Text messaging’s success is that it offers something that’s less than an email but does it very well indeed.

For some time now, I’ve been experimenting with various set-top boxes, including the Western Digital WDTV as well as built-in apps in a couple of different brands of Blu-Ray players, the software version of Boxee, an Apple TV, and even a Mac Mini connected to my HDTV. All of them had their strengths, however, it still felt as if something was somehow wrong or missing from each one of those experiences and user interfaces.

Over the weekend I bought a Roku 2 XS. The Roku is by far the best set-top box experience I’ve ever had. Roku has got it right. They’ve currently got well over 100 apps to chose from, with many more constantly being added. Roku has a tremendous amount of content provided by those third-party apps, and content drives success. Content is king and always will be.

It hit me what the appeal of a box such as Roku is with its third-party apps. These streaming apps, such as Crackle, Netflix, etc. are something less than a full-fledged cable or broadcast TV network. They can have lots of highly-specialized content to choose from, such as Netflix, or such a small amount of highly-specialized content that it’s only updated once a week. Big traditional cable and broadcast networks provide only one program at a time that the viewer has to make an appointment to watch. Roku video streaming apps provide specialized content that in many cases could never make it on a traditional broadcast network because the audience would be too small. That same specialized content begins to have tremendous appeal in a Roku app venue where it’s something less than a full-fledged network environment, yet delivered very well indeed.

On the Internet, less really can be more.

It’s The Content, Stupid

Admittedly I’m coming in late to the party. I had all sorts of excuses – I already have a MacBook Pro, as well as the latest generation of iPod Touch. Why would I need an iPod with a giant screen to run mostly the same apps I can already run on my iPod?

After buying an iPad 2, I understand what all the fuss is about. It has also become immediately clear to me why there is a booming iPad market but currently not much of a tablet market. The reason is staring everyone in the face, yet few seem to see it, particularly large tech companies that are struggling to compete in the wrong arena.

The iPad is admittedly an incredibly nice piece of hardware – however, that’s not why it is so successful. The reason for the iPad’s overwhelming appeal and success is very simple – it revolves in large part around being able to run well-written targeted iOS iPad-specific apps that take advantage of the iPad’s screen size and svelte form factor. At about the size of a traditional magazine, it takes the best elements of the multimedia computer and puts them into a highly-readable, touch-interactive color screen that will easily fit into places and situations where even laptop computers don’t work so well.

In short, it’s all about the content and being able to easily consume it anywhere. The content isn’t just about browsing, listening to music or watching videos. The content in large part is the iPad-specific apps themselves, some of which are incredible, such as the 100% free Flipbook RSS reader app.

Amazon has a chance at success with the 7” Kindle Fire, not so much because of the $200 price point, but because Amazon has a lot of ready-made content hanging out in its cloud. Many people pooh-poohed the original Amazon Kindle, only to witness it quickly morph into a success. The Kindle was not and has never been a success because of the Kindle hardware – the plethora of Amazon ebook content is what caused the original Kindle rise to stardom. The availability of the content finally got the ebook ball rolling in a huge way, and the mass market finally realized the incredible convenience and advantage of having a cloud-connected ereader.

Would-be iPad competitors will never effectively compete with hardware alone, no matter how sexy or inexpensive they are able to make it. To borrow part of a phrase from an early 1990’s presidential campaign, we would all do well to paste this sign on our wall:

“It’s the content, stupid.”