Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
Ecosystems take years to build and depend on other companies. Really, who has the time these days? Plus, they kick in only if a product reaches critical mass. Microsoft and SanDisk demonstrated
the risk a few years back with their digital media players in seeding the market with third-party cases and docks using their own
proprietary and now abandoned connectors. Over the past year, though, we've seen a number of tech companies take a new approach to mobile product development -- the corporate showcase -- where they convincingly shun any notion of silos by throwing just about everything they've got into a product.
Windows Phone 7
. When Microsoft went back to the mobile OS drawing board, it parted with its PC-like experience (at least until Windows 8
arrives) only to leave no Live Tile unturned in making its handset operating system into a tour de force of the company's products and services. These include deep integration of the Bing search engine, Office, Xbox Live, Windows Live (including SkyDrive), the Zune entertainment services and TellMe's voice platform. Microsoft has also tapped its investments, resulting in some of the best Facebook integration in any mobile platform, and will likely feature future integration with Nokia mapping technology.
Sony Tablet S
. Sony's asymmetrical Honeycomb tablet is so brimming with technology and content from around the company that there wasn't even room to give it its own distinct subbrand like Bravia or Vaio. Sony may not own Android, but the Tablet S
is loaded with Sony's music, video and book stores. It LCD uses Sony's TruBlack technology for deeper blacks and better color "pop." The camera uses the company's acclaimed Exmor imaging sensor, and it's the first tablet to be PlayStation-certified for running games form the original PlayStation catalog like the bundled Crash Bandicoot.
The tablet's infrared remote feature -- a first for a Honeycomb tablet -- borrows technology from Sony's longstanding product line of universal remotes. But Sony's tablets aren't just a "greatest hits" collection. For example, the company has tweaked Android's animation and responsiveness to create what it calls "saku saku" (loosely "quick and smooth") operation. This bears a curious similarity to the "fast and fluid" requirement for designing Metro apps on Windows 8.
Amazon Kindle Fire
. "Ready!" and "Aim!" must have preceded the launch of the Kindle Fire
as it was prepared to deliver a powerful payload back across the bow of Barnes & Noble's Nook Color. The 7-inch, $200 tablet looks PlayBook
-like on the outside but is all Amazon inside. Much as Apple used its iOS products to extend its iPod music franchise into other media, the Kindle Fire does the same with the digitized wares of the Bezos-built bookstore. Books, Android apps and games, music and videos (delivered à la carte or via Amazon Prime subscription) are all provided via -- and likely exclusively via -- the Internet retailer. The company's B2B services -- usually invisible to consumers -- also play a role, providing cloud-based backup and the processing engine used to optimize Web access using the Amazon Silk browser
One legacy that Amazon hasn't been able to bring over from e-paper-based Kindles, though, is free cellular access as particularly unlimited video delivered to Amazon Prime subscribers could cause the Kindle Fire to light up operator's networks. A future version could divvy up tasks, though, so purchasing books, most apps and Amazon Silk Web browsing might be free over a cellular network while more taxing media would be required to be accessed via WiFi.
On one hand, showcase products make for a compelling and differentiated story. On the other, even when corralling product and service components from across one company, integration takes time. In each case, these products entered the market long after those from major competitors did. For particular convergent devices, though, some now see no need to choose between kitchen sink and swim.
Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.