An upcoming update will bring a web browser, email and update store app to Barnes & Noble’s super affordable Nook Simple Touch line of e-readers, which will begin rolling out June 1 according to a source close to the matter who wishes to remain anonymous. The 1.5.0 update was created in response to the positive critical and customer response to the recent Nook tablet update that brought Google Play to B&N’s Android-powered devices.
The Nook Simple Touch and Simple Touch with Glowlight will be receiving the over-the-air update starting next month, marking the first time that Nook’s entry-level readers get official access to web browsing capabilities. Amazon’s competing Kindle devices have shipped with an “experimental” web browser since the Kindle 2, but have not offered an email client on anything except for the Kindle Fire tablets.
Making Nook hardware a little more flexible for users is a good way for Barnes & Noble to help counter flagging sales of dedicated Nook hardware, which were shown to be weak in recent quarterly results. Nook weakness probably ended up prompting the bookseller to offer promotional giveaways with on-hand inventory.
When B&N announced that Google Play would be coming to Nook tablets, I praised the decision as a key step in helping the company position them as affordable, fully featured Android tablets, as opposed to just glorified e-readers that could do a bit more than most. The Nook Simple Touch is still pretty focused on e-books, but as an email triage device and basic browser, especially for text heavy content, it probably becomes a lot more attractive to an audience that mostly wants books but would like a little more general-use value as well. Especially for older buyers, I imagine a simplified device with a cheap price tag has the potential to carry appeal over a much more expensive full-fledged tablet.
Will a browser and email client be enough to right the Nook ship? Probably not on their own, but B&N is at least expending effort in the right direction to combat flagging consumer interest in dedicated e-reader devices.
Editor’s note: Keith Teare is the founder of just.me and a partner at Archimedes Labs. He is also the co-founder of TechCrunch. Follow him on Twitter @kteare.
Because of Google I/O, this was a momentous week for those of us who are watching the rapid transition that is taking place from desktop computing to mobile, and particularly for those focused on mobile-social as I am because of my job at just.me. Here is my take on what we just witnessed.
Standalone Hangouts. Google announced at its I/O event that Hangouts was to be launched as a separate app from Google Plus, taking personal conversations out from the G+ app and putting them into their own space.
Facebook Home problems. AT&T was reported to have decided to discontinue distribution of the HTC First – the Facebook Home Android phone – due to lack of sales. This comes on the back of publicity pointing to a large number of one-star reviews for the software on the Google Play store.
What is at stake?
There are many common themes and questions that underpin the launch and evolution of Hangouts as a separate app and previously led to the decision to launch the Facebook Home product. These products represent two very similar answers to a common question. The primary question is who will users look to to enable their social communications needs on mobile devices?
To set the context for an analysis let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room that is partially driving these decisions.
Mobile Messaging is rapidly becoming the primary way users engage socially on mobile. Figures released this week imply more than 41 billion messages a day are now being delivered via various “Over the Top” (OTT) messaging apps.
Phones were created as social tools. Smartphones are especially good at being social, integrating text, voice, video and images in an endless number of apps that can serve a user’s needs, and all without the need for a web-based social network.
Users are able to communicate with anybody in their address book anywhere in the world with almost any content mix at any time. This has been compelling to users and has driven the growth of apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, LINE, WeChat, KakaoTalk and some other smaller competitors. Almost 750 million users out of a smartphone population of 1.2 billion are already using these apps.
If you are Google, Facebook or almost any other major provider of social communications platforms originally developed for the web, this move to mobile messaging represents a considerable challenge.
Similar challenges exist from media-sharing apps. As users flock to Vine, Snapchat and, previously, Instagram, the social platforms are challenged to continue to be the primary provider of these services to the growing army of smartphone users.
The other core feature of Facebook and Google+, publishing to an audience for all or many to see, are increasingly becoming activities only a few engage in on mobile — and certainly less often than was the case on the web.
What Is A Platform Provider To Do?
If we look out a few years there is really only one product approach available.
That is to build single apps that embrace and extend the current features of the messaging market leaders — hoping to win users over from WhatsApp, LINE, KakaoTalk and WeChat — while also integrating the features of media sharing, private memory collection and publishing into single unified experiences.
Google and Facebook both seem to be pursuing this approach.
Breaking out Hangouts and going after the messaging audience with enhanced features makes sense. But Google also showed Google Now and Voice Search as possible points of integration for all of its mobile-social features. It’s early days here, but Android clearly wants to find a point of integration for all the users’ needs.
Facebook, with Home, revealed its integrated approach, while under the hood it has Messenger, Camera, Pages and the full Facebook app. Poor as Home’s reception has been, Facebook will certainly continue to deepen and refine its integration efforts and its attempt to be the primary UI a user needs on a smartphone.
Vulnerabilities And Strengths Of Mobile-First Companies
WhatsApp and its clones can be thought of as mobile-first companies. Their apps sit on top of the smartphone, particularly the mobile address book, and just help a user chat to their friends, family or colleagues. Their success is their simplicity and the singular purpose they have addressed.
Insofar as they are vulnerable, it is due to being very narrowly focused on brief “in the moment” conversations in the form of a chat or instant messaging UI. They have added the ability to include media in those conversations, and some voice-calling abilities. But their goal is really momentary interactions with individuals or groups. Their requirement to have both sides of the conversation install the app is another liability.
Human beings have broader needs that are currently served by other single-use apps. Evernote for private memories, email for longer more enduring interactions, social networks like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter for public statements of all kinds and Path or Instagram for photo sharing. This is a little like the era of Windows before Outlook when apps tended to do only one thing and users used many apps.
Can Web Companies Beat Mobile-First Companies?
These recent moves by Facebook and Google represent early moves by the web-era companies to react to the successes of the mobile-first messengers. They certainly do not represent end points in any way, impressive as they are. And there is plenty of time for the mobile messaging apps to respond by offering a broader range of social features.
There are already clues to the future – provided by users. The continuing use of email on mobile (trillions of messages in 2013) indicates that users are not entirely catered for by the chat-centric conversational UI. The growth of Vine and Snapchat (single-feature based as they are) indicate not all media-sharing needs are catered for by these apps. There is a lot still to play for.
If we look five years out, it is likely that the iOS and Android core will support a far more integrated set of messaging tools that cater for many of the needs we use single-use apps for today.
Message saving for private use, shared messaging to individuals or groups, media sharing, video and voice messaging (both synchronous and asynchronous), Timelines to look back and recall what we did in the past. These will all be features of the operating system.
As mobile moves from its Windows 3.1 — single-use apps — era to its more integrated future, apps that used to stand alone will have their features sucked into the operating system. Google and Apple have an advantage here of course as they own the operating system.
The Future Is Being Fought Over Now
In that sense the current product focus – decisions about what features to separate into single apps, and how to integrate those into a unified UI all represent the first moves in defining who wins.
Facebook has Messenger, Camera, Pages and its primary app with Home as an integration point.
Google has Talk, Contacts, Mail, Plus, Hangouts perhaps with Now as a point of integration.
Apple is a little behind but has iMessage, FaceTime, Photostream, Mail and Contacts. iOS itself may be the point of integration.
WhatsApp, LINE, KakaoTalk, WeChat and the others will need to move beyond the chat-centric user interface into a broader set of asynchronous messaging features, and a new set of social features, probably with Timeline support, in order to stay ahead of the curve.
The End Of Social Networks And The Start Of A New Era?
The ground has been set for a fascinating next few years as the web-based social platforms seek to own mobile-social messaging and the mobile messaging apps seek to extend into more fully integrated social features.
As of this moment the mobile-first apps have the lead measured by number of users and levels of engagement. To keep it they will need to continue to innovate.
The human race is already social, and the smartphone has everything needed to enable them to act on their social needs. As the growth of OTT messaging and media sharing shows, a user’s social needs are being met with no need for a social network.
In this mobile-social world the only question is, whose software will we all use to enable human social activities? That is what this week was all about.
Tumblr employees feel that Yahoo’s $1.1 billion offer is “too low” and view it as “only a first offer,” according to sources close to acquisition talks. Yahoo may have to increase the offer to close the deal. An acquisition by some tech giant is likely in the cards for Tumblr, though, as sources say the company only has a few months of cash runway left.
The news comes after AllThingsD reported Yahoo was in advanced talks to buy Tumblr for $1.1 billion cash, and the portal’s board of directors are set to meet on Sunday night to discuss the potential deal. Forbes reports that Facebook and Microsoft have also expressed interest in acquiring Tumblr. However, Forbes says that Yahoo has lock-up agreement arranged with Tumblr that prevents the blogging platform from holding a “bake-off” or bidding war for the right to buy it.
If Yahoo comes to the table with an insufficient offer, which our sources say $1.1 billion may qualify as, Tumblr could reject it and shop itself around some more. A frothy M&A market could give it plenty of options. Others might not offer as much as Yahoo, but could offer a more appealing working environment. Take a chance turning Yahoo around? Or go somewhere more stable and relevant?
A few months ago Tumblr let several companies know it was interested in possibly being acquired. Yahoo was the first to come to the table with a firm number, says one of our sources. They say Tumblr is apprehensive about accepting the $1.1 billion cash offer, though. Considering the much smaller, younger Instagram’s acquisition price was supposed to be $1 billion (in cash and stock, though, which would eventually make it worth less), it seems reasonable that Tumblr would view $1.1 billion cash as a lowball.
Tumblr employees have been told that the company only has enough funds to operate for a few more months, as its costs far exceed the limited revenue it earns. Tumblr pulled in $13 million in 2012, but has accelerated its advertising offering in hopes of hitting $100 million in revenue this year. The money’s not coming in fast enough to support its expenses though. Employees were recently told not to be concerned, though, because the company is expecting to be bought.
Of course, Yahoo might be able to push the deal through for $1.1 billion or just a little more depending on how the acquisition is structured. If it promises Tumblr’s CEO David Karp he can retain control of the company, provides the right retention bonuses, or won’t force Tumblr to shoehorn in integrations with Yahoo’s other properties, Tumblr may be more receptive.
In the end it will be Tumblr’a execs and board who make the decision who to sell to and for how much. They could certainly ignore grumbling from employees.
If the deal goes through, it might not be so popular with Tumblr’s users, who range from young hipsters to diehard Internet aficionados. Many thought Instagram’s user base would balk at its acquisition by Facebook, but the photo sharing service has continued to grow, offering some hope to Yahoo and Tumblr if their deal closes.
If Yahoo successfully buys the startup, it could inject some much-needed “cool,” youthful energy, and design sense into the aging tech giant. That’s why Tumblr may not necessarily be worth more than $1.1 billion, but it’s worth more than that to Yahoo. The giant desperately needs to bring in as much talent as possible to replace or at least reinvigorate the ranks of uninspired employees. But if Yahoo pays more and Tumblr doesn’t help turn things around, it could be disastrous. Unfortunately, dialysis doesn’t come cheap.
The first rule of being cool is not telling people you want to be cool. Yahoo is not following this rule, with its M&A team in full pray-and-spray acquisition mode post-Marissa Mayer hire, hitting on everything that walks, or at least has traction.
I’ve heard rumors that Yahoo was trying to get into the following deals over the past couple of months: Foursquare (at an $800 million asking price). Path (at a $2 billion asking price). Pinterest. Hulu. Zynga. Daily Motion. And at a smaller scale: Gdgt. Wavii. Media Ocean (?). A spate of others. And now Tumblr. “Literally they talk to everyone,” said one person familiar with the matter on the matter.
There was a kid in my high school who used to buy the popular kids lunch so he could sit with them. Yahoo has become that kid. At a reported $1b Tumblr would be a pricey picnic, about 1/4 of the cash Yahoo has on hand.
But it could work if it goes through, which I don’t think it will. A Tumblr buy fixes the issue of declining Yahoo traction, particularly amongst us wild, mobile-addicted youth. Yahoo, which wants to be a “key part of everyday life,” is limited by the fact that young people don’t want to use it at all, let alone every day. Tumblr is the exact opposite, hitting the sweet spot of mobile, social communications, messaging and viral distribution — Even bringing in some coin in the process.
Just to heap another dollop of speculation on top of this already absurdly speculative post: It wouldn’t be surprising if Google was also courting David Karp, as Mayer, a former Googler, still thinks like she’s in Google M&A, “Hey, a critical mass of people are using it … Let’s buy it and stick ads on it!.” Imagine what the social blogging platform could do to revive Google+ engagement and content creation … And how much more it would be worth to Google?
And it certainly makes sense for Yahoo to explore this strategy as well, in its larger, non-acquihire deals. But perhaps it should try being less promiscuous about it.
FixYa, a Q&A site where consumers can seek advice from product experts, is launching a new feature today called the FixBoard, which should make the site more useful to big consumer brands.
As the name suggests, the FixBoard is basically a dashboard of FixYa data. It shows, over time, the number of FixYa owners who reported a problem with a company product, the products that have the most reported problems, the most common problems, and how those numbers stack up against the competition.
Rather than just looking at individual questions or individual products, this dashboard provides brands with a much broader view of “what customers are saying,” said CEO Yaniv Bensadon. The data is specifically about activity on FixYa — it doesn’t tell companies about complaints on their own sites or own social media, for example. But Bensadon said FixYa itself has become a big community, with more than 30 million unique visitors per month and 9 million product questions answered total.
He added that even though FixYa has been profitable since 2009, the company is looking for ways beyond its existing ad model for brands to find (and pay for) value on the site. The FixBoard is currently free and available to everyone, but it only covers the top 1,000 brands on FixYa (out of 60,000 total). Eventually, Bensadon said he plans to release a “full-blown” version that companies will have to pay for, covering more brands and offering more detailed data.
I also asked whether any of those potential advertisers/future customers are going to be upset to see the number of customer complaints highlighted in one place and visible to the public.
“We don’t think so — in the same way that no one prevents anyone from going to Twitter and reading the tweets,” Bensadon said. “Now, after several years … brands understand the fact that some users are saying something bad about your brand. It cannot be prevented, and there are two things you can do about it as a brand. You can ignore it, or treat it as an opportunity to engage with your users.”