E-Reader Mania Hits Barnes & Noble in the Pocketbook

The mad rush for e-readers this holiday season has led Barnes & Noble to offer in-store certificates worth US$100 to customers who won’t get its device, called the “Nook,” by Christmas Eve as promised.

B&N has said that demand is so strong it can’t keep up with the orders.

Meanwhile, archrival Amazon.com is rubbing salt into B&N’s wounds, offering free one-day shipping so anyone ordering its Kindle e-reader on Wednesday will get it in time for Christmas.

It Only Hurts When Customers Order

Customers who pre-ordered the Nook but might not get it by Dec. 24 will get a $100 gift certificate good at Barnes & Noble online stores, spokesperson Mary Ellen Keating told the E-Commerce Times.

Customers in this group who ordered a Nook as a gift will also get a certificate stating the device is on the way. “It’s just something you can put under the tree,” Keating said. “There’s no money attached to it.”

Only a few customers will not get their shipments by Christmas Eve, she added. “The vast majority of customers who pre-ordered Nooks and were given a pre-holiday estimated shipping date should receive their devices in time for the holidays. We are working very hard to keep up with the demand and to get all Nook orders out the door and to customers on or before Dec. 24.”

The Barnes & Noble Web site now says the Nook has an expected ship date of Feb. 1 for new orders.

Paying Through the Nose

With the Nook carrying a retail price tag of $259, Barnes & Noble is paying heavily for its delayed shipments — $100 is close to 40 percent of that price. Keating declined to discuss the issue.

“Forty percent of the retail price is quite a hefty sum,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“Still, it’s better than alienating a lot of existing customers who may end up with Amazon.com’s Kindle instead,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Right now, Barnes & Noble are screwed because folks want the product. By offering this certificate, it might win some of these customers back.”

Stranger in a Strange Land

Barnes & Noble is getting hammered because it’s at the beginning of a steep learning curve.

“The real underlying challenge for both Barnes & Noble and Amazon is that neither of them is a consumer electronics company,” Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group, told the E-Commerce Times. “That means they have to learn about and suffer through all the processes needed to create a consumer electronics device, even though they are able to outsource the manufacturing to Chinese manufacturers like Hai Hon.”

Some of the problems are connected with setting up and running a supply chain, while others are learning how many iterations it takes to get a solid software image,” Howe pointed out. “Experienced consumer electronics companies know all the gotchas in their genes. Inexperienced ones have to learn them the hard way.”

Amazon has had about two years to learn the tricks — it launched the kindle in December 2007. In contrast, Barnes & Noble unveiled the Nook only in October.

Apart from macro-issues such as setting up the supply chain, micro-issues are plaguing Barnes & Noble.

“Late in the fourth quarter is a horrid time to ship a new product. You need lots of volume, the chance of breakage is high, and the folks you need to help fix problems wander off on vacation,” Enderle explained. “Barnes is just having a typical fourth-quarter bad launch.”

The Nook has two screens — one color and one black-and-white.

“The issue with the Nook was, it was too complex, and they’ve been having a lot of breakage over and above manufacturing issues,” Enderle observed. “These problems have chewed up supply. It isn’t an e-reader problem — it’s a Nook problem.”

All I Want for Christmas Is an E-Reader

In fact, the demand for e-readers is strong, according to vendors. Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Sony all claim sales are high, though none of them would release any figures.

Perhaps that’s because their claims may contain some hype. “My colleague Dmitriy Molchanov is projecting three million e-readers sold this year, which is a little lower than many are claiming,” the Yankee Group’s Howe said.

“The bottom line: It’s a fascinating new category, but it’s still an expensive gadget for people uncertain about whether they’ll have a job next year. The prices will have to get lower before e-readers become mainstream holiday presents.”

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With Sheryl Sandberg Gone, Does Meta Grow Up, or Die?

COO Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook Communities Summit 2019 | Image Credit: Meta

The typical path for a new tech company is to hire someone experienced to run it in the early years, have them train the founders, and then have the company transition to being run by the people that created it.

The reason behind this approach is that the typical creator will be good at understanding the technology behind the product they have created and its initial goals but lack experience across a breadth of areas like finance, HR, operations, security, and government relations that a fast-growing company needs to be successful.

Microsoft, Apple, and Google all started this way and eventually transitioned to management by subject matter experts. Facebook grew up a bit differently because Mark Zuckerberg locked himself in at the top as company owner, and Sheryl Sandberg operated like a co-CEO, which you could argue worked given Facebook’s growth, and didn’t work given the massive amount of hot water Meta, Facebook’s new name, is now in.

With the mistakes more often connected to Zuckerberg’s decisions and likely coming with a Sandberg “I told you so,” it appears Sandberg has decided to step aside and move on before she gets blamed for a catastrophic decision she couldn’t correct.

What does it mean for Facebook when the adult leaves the table, and the unprepared CEO then has nothing to turn him toward a less risky path? Let’s discuss that this week. Then we’ll close with my product of the week, a new autonomous robotic vacuum which is the best I’ve tested so far.

Meta’s Big Problem

Meta comes across as a company that was accidentally successful. What I mean is that often a concept that doesn’t seem like much explodes and becomes far more successful than anyone realized was possible. Given that Facebook started as an app to help new college students develop friendships, its growth into a multinational social media platform was understandably unexpected.

At the heart of Facebook’s issues is an executive management structure that is relatively unique in the market in that it pretends to be a corporate structure while it’s more like a sole proprietorship where the board and stockholders are powerless. (If Meta fails, there is a high probability that this structure will have been the cause and that the SEC will ban it from that point on as a result.)

This structure places an inordinate amount of power in the hands of one inexperienced person who likely would have had to step down were he in a normal corporate hierarchy considering the high-profile scandals Meta, as Facebook, has experienced to date. As a person in Zuckerberg’s position starts to get desperate, that desperation can drive decisions that look attractive tactically (like changing the company’s name and focus) but are likely to be catastrophic strategically.

For instance, Meta’s premature move to the metaverse is clearly putting undue pressure on its social media efforts, and the Facebook component of Meta is having trouble competing with challenging services like TikTok.

So, Meta’s big problem is Zuckerberg’s power and inexperience. What it had to offset this problem was Sheryl Sandberg who is now stepping out of day-to-day operations and, I expect, will eventually step down from the Meta board as well, once she fully understands that the board has no authority but may still have personal liability for Meta’s mistakes.

The Metaverse Isn’t Ready Yet

Right now, the metaverse is successful in areas where Meta isn’t playing. These areas include simulation for autonomous machine training, aerospace, training people, and large-scale architectural projects. Meta wants to use the metaverse as a communications medium. This has been tried in the past by services like Second Life, but Second Life also suffered because the technology wasn’t, and still isn’t, where it needs to be.

Current communications platforms that are functioning — like Teams, Webex, and Zoom — haven’t, for the most part, pivoted toward the metaverse simply because it isn’t ready yet. It lacks the real-time performance and photorealistic experience that users have indicated they want in such a platform. Given, users still mostly need to use VR hardware.

In the past, users rejected any solution (think 3D TVs) that required wearing a prosthetic like a VR headset, and it’s unlikely this will change until such time that users become comfortable with the visual and tactile interfaces needed in the metaverse.

As Meta’s social media business drops off due to changes in tracking like Apple is driving, or changes in the regulatory environment, which is happening globally, or due to the aging-out of users (which also seems to be a trend), the metaverse business will need to ramp revenue to make up the difference. However, the capabilities that would allow such a ramp appear to be years in the future and way too late to offset the current declining revenue trends on Meta’s core social networking business.

So, it appears to me that Meta is heading for a lot of trouble that Zuckerberg isn’t prepared to deal with.

Wrapping Up: Departure Good for Sandberg, Bad for Meta

While passing control of a company to the founder after a period of caretaking is common, this is typically done once the founder is ready and at a time when the company is operating well and under little threat. It’s done this way so the inexperienced founder isn’t overwhelmed.

On the other hand, if you are that interim leader, you aren’t being listened to, and have no ability to prevent the next crises, you need to leave to avoid being blamed for things you failed to stop.

I think that’s what is happening at Meta. Sheryl Sandberg doesn’t want to continue to be a blame magnet given the decisions increasingly are not hers and the company appears steadily headed in the wrong direction. She’d want her legacy to be Facebook’s success, not its failure, and with the latter outcome becoming more likely all the time, Sandberg has rightly concluded it would be wise to preserve her reputation of success by separating from the company before it has another catastrophic failure, which seems more and more likely.

On the other hand, her leaving will effectively force Zuckerberg to step up and, while this is rare, sometimes pressure can hone a manager and make them better. I expect we’ll soon see if that is the case at Meta. So far, it doesn’t appear to be.

Tech Product of the Week

DreameBot D10 Plus Robot Vacuum and Mop

I’ve been testing autonomous vacuum cleaners for nearly two decades and was impressed early on with the competition between the Neato and Rumba offerings.

The early Rumbas weren’t very smart, tended to wander randomly around the house, and were both a lot of fun to watch and very inefficient. They were more sweepers than vacuums, meaning they didn’t clean very well.

Then Neato came along with a more advanced AI and an actual vacuum which cleaned more efficiently. The carpet lines were straighter and more pleasing to the eye.

Rumba eventually advanced its own AI and added the capability to automatically empty the dust bin at the dock, so I went back to using these more advanced Rumbas. But even these newer models had a habit of getting stuck or doing bad things like running over dog poop and then painting the floor with it. This happened at my house once. We came home to dog poop evenly spread across the brand-new carpet of our family room.

Just as I was writing this, the Rumba got under a designer glass table and decided to push it all around the bathroom. Nothing broke, but we are now locking it out of that room.

The DreameBot D10 Plus has similar capabilities to the Rumba in terms of having a dock that empties itself, but it has a far more advanced AI. This robotic vacuum is a steal at $399 (my similar Rumbas were over $1,000 each), and I was immediately impressed with the vacuum’s ability to map our family room and all the connected rooms accurately, then proceed to vacuum the entire floor without once getting stuck.

Dreametech Bot D10 Plus robot vacuum

DreameBot D10 Plus Robot Vacuum and Mop

While I tend to prefer the squarer face of the higher-end Rumba and Neato robots for corners, the far lower cost and improved AI of this D10 Plus offset this small issue significantly.

This vacuum has a damp mop capability that is like other standalone products but, like them, I find just using a mop easier. We also have a Rumba Scuba, Rumba’s wet mop/vacuum solution, but I still found it easier to use a regular mop. I didn’t find the wet mop capability that useful because you must wet the mop by hand and then wash it when done.

There are products that appear to blend these two functions better, but given the complexity, I’m not yet convinced they are where they need to be to do the related job automatically. The Dreametech Bot W10 self-cleaning robotic vacuum is more than twice the price, but it does appear to have a far better mopping function if that is of interest. The W10 also has the more squared-face form factor I mentioned above that I prefer.

As a vacuum, the DreameBot D10 Plus impressed me a great deal. It’s surprisingly quiet for a robotic vacuum (the Neato makes a lot of noise), and it’s white (I typically prefer black) but has a very clean design that looks good in any room where it resides when not in use.

It is fascinating how fast products out of China have been improving. The DreamBot D10 impressed me both for its capabilities and impressively low price.  As my product of the week, the DreameBot D10 is the best robotic vacuum I’ve tested to date!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

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Why the Real Estate Industry Should Embrace the Cloud

The increased adoption of cloud computing over the past decade has enabled businesses across industries to meet their growing technology needs while efficiently gaining access to exciting new tools.

However, not every industry has kept up with the evolution of cloud technologies brought forth by digital transformation. A prime example is the real estate industry. Overall, the real estate sector has been slow to digitize operations and move to the cloud; leaving agents, brokers and their clients underserved.

Cloud computing can cover a lot of ground, with both infrastructure-as-a-service and software-as-a service availability. There is great potential for the real estate industry’s future in both areas.

When properly implemented, cloud computing accelerates the innovation and digitization of real estate services, bringing new apps and tools to the market more quickly. This also adds even more value to the buying and selling experience for agents, brokers and consumers alike.

While the cloud offers much potential for the real estate industry, it is important for companies to have an informed idea of what they want to accomplish before moving some or all their IT functions to the cloud. Don’t just jump on the cloud bandwagon; instead, determine what goals you want to achieve by moving to the cloud and develop a plan for an orderly transition.

If a company’s cloud infrastructure ends up looking exactly like its previous on-premises setup, it’s probably not taking advantage of all the benefits the cloud can offer. Real estate companies moving to the cloud need to think strategically about adding value through the transition.

With that caveat, there are tremendous benefits for real estate companies that move to the cloud.

More Data, More Power

A seemingly immense obstacle real estate companies face is the daunting task of implementing cloud-supportive infrastructure. But the truth is that real estate companies don’t have to plan, build, or operate their own data centers.

Instead, the cloud infrastructure providers can set up and maintain the infrastructure while real estate companies focus on what they do best: selling properties, serving customers, and equipping agents and brokers with the best tools to help them do their jobs.

Cloud infrastructure also offers real estate companies the computing power to run modern tools like data analytics and artificial intelligence. These technologies can help real estate companies find new customers, identify people likely to be interested in buying or selling their homes, and match customers to the best real estate agents to service their needs.

Real estate organizations often have access to huge amounts of market and customer data. However, the sheer volume of data makes it difficult to capitalize on. With cloud computing, real estate companies can gain access to the massive computing power needed to crunch the data, while paying only for the time they use that infrastructure.

Mobility and Disaster Recovery Solutions

Another benefit of storing data in the cloud is that it’s accessible from various devices, which is a boon for the growing mobile workforce. Agents, brokers, and home buyers and sellers are increasingly using smartphones and tablets to get work done remotely. The cloud is much more flexible, accessible, and secure than being tethered to a physical hard drive or on-premises server.

Furthermore, companies that transition to the cloud don’t have to build and maintain a remote disaster recovery site, which can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. Instead, critical data in the cloud automatically fails over to a secondary site in the event of a disaster. All that is required to access data in the cloud — anytime, from multiple devices, anywhere — is a solid internet connection.

Budget-Conscious Security

Major cloud infrastructure providers have a security track record that most real estate companies can’t compete with. They have huge teams of security professionals and the best available security technologies, policies, procedures, and controls to protect the information on their servers and data centers 24/7 with little or no human intervention.

Cloud security measures also support regulatory compliance and establish authentication rules for users and devices. This high level of data security is particularly important in the real estate industry, with customers sharing banking and other personal data during what’s often the largest financial transaction of their lives.

Customers want their real estate transactions to be as secure as possible, and cloud infrastructure providers offer that higher level of protection.

Creating an Open Ecosystem

On the software-as-a-service side, the cloud is the perfect way to host multiple apps and software tools that improve agents and broker productivity. One way to approach this is through the development of a real estate app store that includes a range of software, including CRM tools, lead generation software, open house apps and productivity tools, with everything hosted in the cloud.

In doing so, this creates an open ecosystem, where agents and brokers have a choice of software tools to use, including some apps developed in-house and others from third-party partners. The cloud enables an open ecosystem in which agents and brokers simply decide which apps they want to use from a menu of options available. This provides flexibility while also empowering personal choice and customized solutions for home buying and selling and beyond.

Convenience Is the New Normal

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced real estate companies to conduct more business remotely, with documents shared online. Some firms have been moving a greater number of transaction steps to the virtual realm, using cloud-based services to host and gather documents and collect signatures.

While some customers will continue to demand face-to-face contact with agents and brokers, a significant number will embrace the convenience of a mostly online, cloud-based approach.

The industry is already seeing great benefits from cloud computing. Expect many more advantages to reveal themselves as the industry continues to digitize its operations.

Too often, we see that the failure to innovate today equates to playing catch-up tomorrow. The benefits of cloud technologies for real estate services professionals are clear, and the obstacles of price and infrastructure are entirely surmountable.

Business and information technology leaders in this industry must look beyond outdated legacy systems and begin embracing the cloud — now.

Rizwan Akhtar is executive vice president, chief technology officer of business technology, at Realogy. Akhtar holds an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of South Asia and an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

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