The concept of a tablet-based device as a control point in the home is quickly becoming a reality. With weekly rumors of Apple’s tablet work hitting the blogs, and discussions among VCs and entrepreneurs as recent as yesterday’s Cyberposium 15 at Harvard Business School where there was a panel discussion on converged devices within the home, the need for a 10″ lean-back device seems to be there. Application focus is on a number of things including enhancing the consumer entertainment experience, providing better family organization apps in key rooms of the house, as well as delivering better search and discovery methods for finding and viewing media in many ways.
Seattle-based Innovative Converged Devices (ICD), previously known as Velocity Mobile, recently announced Vega, the first in a family of converged devices for the home. The company is actively in discussions with IPTV service providers and CE brands in several countries and hopes to white label its products and have them available in by late Spring 2010.
Vega is based is an Android-based platform running on NVIDIA’s low-cost Tegra processor, which sports high-end graphics, HD video playback and encoding (1366×768). It supports WiFi, 3G services, Bluetooth, USB, micro SD, a 1.3 mega-pixel camera with bar code scanning capabilities. ICD has a magnetic docking accessory for charging and wired connectivity. ICD is focusing on 11″ and 15″ class products and is working with the DLNA on a stack to use with the platform, and with Android development in hopes of getting the OS to work with OpenGL. It currently developed off the standard Android SDK, with the difference being the screen real estate (Android today only supports up to 5″ displays).
Vega is positioned as a touch-sensitive, very low power (11.5 hrs. or 4 hrs with video playback), multi-user kitchen-based device that would deliver a variety of applications such as family calendaring and scheduling, video chat, bar code scanning, and digital sticky notes to online TV and video viewing from sites such as Hulu, YouTube, MTV, CBS.com, the BBC, as well as sites running flash-based content.
The business model built around Vega will vary by country and brand. In Europe, IPTV services uptake has been as high as 80% in some countries, and providers are interested in new products to enhance media consumption within the home in hopes of gaining more stickiness to their service bundles. Retailers such as Carphone Warehouse in the UK are also interested. ICD’s currently focused on five countries, working with a partner in each on white label solutions. Some IPTV providers may give the hardware away while others may subsidize the cost and provide an incremental monthly service charge. Some providers are interested in Vega as a wireless hotspot, and could integrate both WiFi and 3G radios for increased in-home coverage. The platform will be going through testing and partner product development cycles, with integration into customer launch cycles and marketing plans for next year.
I expect Vega to be one of a number of Android-based offerings within the home over the next few years. Nokia has also been working on their implementation of a consumer internet tablet and has shipped several products, and just recently shifted away from Symbian to Maemo for a richer application experience.
On the application side, integration with a host of service providers is anticipated. With online grocery shopping big in the UK, one grocery chain in particular is interested in Vega and its ability to bar code scan grocery products in the home and upload orders directly into its fulfillment system. In the US, ICD is talking to IPTV and cable providers and CE OEMs and some such as Comcast and Verizon have experimented with home hub-like devices and solutions but have not been successful.
The challenges will be for IPTV, cable, and the retail channel (service provider and big box) to describe the value proposition of connected tablets, while offering them at very attractive price points in an economy where consumer confidence and discretionary spending will remain low for at least 1-2 years.