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May 24, 2010

Can Google cross the retail chasm with Google TV?

Filed under: apple, apple tv, google, television — Rakesh Agrawal @ 6:40 pm

Sony Dash at Best Buy

Last week, Google announced Google TV, a product that marries the Web with TV. It’s a product category that I’ve been excited about for several years.

But creating new product categories is hard. Retail is hard. Doing both together is really hard.

I was reminded of that today at Best Buy, where I saw a display for Sony’s Dash. As best as I can describe it, it’s a cross between an alarm clock, picture frame and MP3 player. Despite Best Buy having a real Dash, I still couldn’t try it out. The unit seemed to be glued to its stand. The screen said it was looking for a network, which it never found.

I then went over to check out Insignia GPS devices. The connected GPS unit sells for $199. Given that Insignia is Best Buy’s house brand, you’d figure it would get some decent promotion and training. I asked the blue shirt if there was a display unit. Nope. How much is the service? “I think it’s like $10 a month.” (The correct answer is $14.99 a month.) What’s the difference between it and the not connected unit that sells for $69? “I think it lets you connect to Google.”

Like Google TV, these are products that need to be experienced. They are either new products or significant (and premium-priced) variations on existing product categories. If people can’t try them or, at the very least, talk to someone who has in-depth knowledge about them, people won’t buy them. (As an early adopter, I probably will… but that’s not a huge market.)

Contrast this experience with the Apple Store in the same mall. There were two tables, each with about a dozen functioning iPads. You could pick up an iPad and play with it for as long as you wanted. There were employees available who knew the device and could answer questions. The biggest challenge? They were sold out of all but the 16GB WiFi iPad.

As I wrote before the first iPhone was released, Apple’s retail stores give it a huge leg up when it comes to introducing new product categories. The excitement that they create for product launches (read: free media), combined with the opportunity to experience new products is unmatched in retail. If Apple decides to make Apple TV more than a hobby, its store employees will play a big part in shaping user perception.

A big unknown is the price of Google TV. People might pay an extra $50 on a $800 TV for the Google brand, even if they’re not quite sure what it does. It’s unlikely that the price premium will be that small, given the cost of just the Intel Atom processors. I’d expect Google TV to add at least $100 to the price. The other big challenge is that a lot of people have recently replaced their TVs as a result of the digital TV transition. 65% of homes already have at least one HDTV, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

A standalone box is going to to be an even harder sell to all but the geeks. The market is littered with unsuccessful standalone boxes from hard drive and networking gear manufacturers. They’ve all suffered from poor retail support and complexity of set up.

For Google to succeed, it will have to spend a lot more money on buyer education than it traditionally has.

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More on: Google, television

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May 11, 2010

Geo-enabled Twitter comes alive on Twitter Maps

Filed under: bing, geotagging, lbs, local search, maps, mobile, social networking, twitter — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:56 am
Bing's Twitter Maps show you what's going on

Bing's Twitter Maps show you what's going on

I’ve been playing with Bing’s Twitter Maps lately and it’s one of the better implementations of Twitter’s geo APIs that were introduced last fall. It shows tweets within the last 7 days plotted on the map. Google Maps recently introduced a similar feature, but it seems to only show items that are fed through Google Buzz (including tweets that people have configured to send to Buzz).

Some future applications of geo-enabled Tweets:

  • Events. For last-minute party goers, a real time view of what’s going on around town, complete with pictures and real-time reactions.
  • Ticket scalping. Rather than walk around for blocks talking to scalpers about what they have, glance at a list of tickets posted. The information transparency would result in a higher price to sellers and a lower price to buyers than what scalpers typically offer. (In my experience at baseball games, scalpers usually ask at least 3x what they paid.)
  • Finding a place to go. When in new cities, it’s often hard to figure out where to go — what are the lively neighborhoods at night. By looking at a map of recent tweets, you could quickly discover where people are still awake.
  • Read reviews from friends. Geo-enabled tweets filtered by those you follow would provide socially relevant recommendations.
  • Offers from local businesses. These could be persistent or distressed inventory. Slow night? Tweet an offer to draw in customers.
  • News. Twitter has long been used for user-generated breaking news. With geo-enabled tweets, breaking news could be aggregated by location in addition to hashtags. The biggest stories could be identified by an increase of tweets from a location (versus normal) and retweet frequency. News from media outlets could also be plotted.
  • Construction and accident information. Avoid bottlenecks by seeing tweets from fellow drivers, DOTs and news sites.
  • Trip sharing. Find others at the airport headed your way, cutting costs and reducing pollution.

And, of course, there’s friend finding, which is the most talked about use of geo-enabled tweets.

So far, the percentage of tweets I see with geo information is tiny (>1% of those I follow). But as more and more geotagged data is put into Twitter, the key will be applications providing the right tools to filter all of that data. At a minimum, we’ll need the ability to filter by time of tweet, people we’re following, hashtag and application (e.g. foursquare).

Unfortunately, bing’s Twitter Maps doesn’t seem to be available where real-time information would be most useful — on mobile devices.

More on: geotagging, social networkingTwitter

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