Explaining Southern California's economy

The Great Tablet Distraction Debate grinds on

Amazon Introduces New Tablet At News Conference In New York

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 28: The new Amazon tablet called the Kindle Fire is displayed on September 28, 2011 in New York City. The Fire, which will be priced at $199, is an expanded version of the company’s Kindle e-reader that has 8GB of storage and WiFi. The Fire gives users access to streaming video, as well as e-books, apps and music, and has a Web browser. In addition to the Fire, Bezos introduced four new Kindles including a Kindle touch model. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal weighs in, cleverly, on a micro-debate spurred by this New York Times article about how people are too distracted while reading on a tablet — an Apple iPad, an Amazon Kindle Fire — to actually, you know, read.

Madrigal attacks the NYT story at three levels:

•You can just as easily be distracted while reading a book on paper as you can while reading a book in a digital format

•Reality is far more distracting than what's going in that magical little gadget in your hot little hands: "If the e-reader engages you more with the thing in your hand, even though the gadget itself is more distracting, that could be a net distraction win."

•We will evolve into an undistracted, tablet-using species: "Humans respond to the novel technologies they encounter to reshape their experiences of them. If distraction is really bothering all these people, and they really want to read books, then they will find a way to do so."

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Why Apple won't become a $1,000-per-share company

Apple's New iPhone 4s Goes On Sale

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple Store customers look at the new Apple iPhone 4Gs on October 14, 2011 in San Francisco, United States. The new iPhone 4Gs features a faster dual-core A5 chip, an 8MP camera that shoots 1080p HD video, and a voice assistant program.

Apple finished up the day at $545 a share. So it's almost halfway to being a $600-a-share company. Which would put it $400 from being a $1,000-a-share company. And there's a raging debate right now in the financial world about whether Apple can make it across that finish line and become the first-ever $1 trillion market cap company. 

For perspective, no one has even even gotten close. And $1 trillion is about as much money as has been made on the Internet in its entire history so far. Big number. Very, very, very big.

At Business Insider, former tech stock analyst (and BI CEO) Henry Blodget makes what I think is the best case against Apple getting to $1,000 a share:

The most extraordinary aspect of Apple's business right now is not its revenue growth, which is plenty extraordinary. It's its profit margin.

In fiscal 2011, Apple had a mind-blowing 24 percent net profit margin.

Why is that mind-blowing?

It's mind-blowing because hardware companies just don't have profit margins like that. Even software companies don't usually have profit margins like that.

The hardware business is generally a cut-throat commodity business with razor-thin profit margins.

Dell, for example, which used to be considered a talented hardware manufacturer, has a 4 percent profit margin. HP, which sells hardware and software, has a 6 percent margin. IBM, which sells hardware, software, and services, has a 15 percent margin.

So you can understand why Apple's profit margin is mind-blowing.

And—here's the important point—Apple's mind-blowing profit margin may well be a temporary aberration.

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Raspberry Pi and the advent of the $100 tablet

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Apple's new iBooks 2 app is demonstrated for the media on an iPad at an event in the Guggenheim Museum January 19, 2012 in New York City.

Over at Fred Wilson's AVC blog, he writes about the gangbusters success of the Raspberry Pi, a very rudimentary Linux-based $35 computer that has no display or keyboard but can be plugged into a TV. And he comes to two striking conclusions, in as few words as possible:

When the cost of tablet displays comes down, which they will, I think we'll see sub $100 tablets. And I suspect that will happen in the next 3-5 years.

For markets that can be end to end digital, like education, this is a game changer.

Let's tackle his first point: a sub-$100 tablet. This is a disaster for Apple (keep an eye out for my post later today about how Apple can and can't get to $1,000 a share). Cupertino needs to defend its pricing model at all costs. As I've written before, price is the most important thing for Apple — not innovation or design. In fact, I'd argue that pricing, specifically pricing for a 30-percent profit margin, is Apple biggest innovation. At least of the Steve Jobs Second Act Apple.

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How much traffic is the Los Angeles Times willing to lose on new paywall?

Mercer 3958

David McNew/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Times building as seen on the evening of September 20, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.

It's finally happened. The Los Angeles Times has joined the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in charging for online content. It's a paywall, but they're not calling it that. They're calling it a membership program. And the switch gets flipped March 5.

LA Observed sums it all up (and also included LAT President Kathy Thomson's memo):

Freeloaders get 15 stories for free in a month. Otherwise, it's $3.99 for a week of digital access, less if you take the Sunday paper in print, the Times story says. There's a cheaper introductory rate of 99 cents for four weeks of what the paper calls a membership program, to go into effect March 5. Print subscribers get the online paper for free.

You can compare this with the New York Times paywall, which we learned earlier this month has managed to convince 325,000 folks a month to to pay for access the online edition. The NYT also charges a 99-cent four-week intro rate, but thereafter it jumps to $15-35, depending on whether you want full online, mobile, and tablet access. For now, the LAT is keeping tablet and mobile access free — perhaps because it's reportedly pursuing a proprietary tablet that may affect how content for the device is bundled. 

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Hewlett-Packard tablet reload still won't move the needle

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was chosen to take over at Hewlett-Packard.

As you may recall, Hewlett-Packard distinguished itself in the tablet market by bringing out the TouchPad at $500 and then having to slash the price to $99 (well, BestBuy slashed the price) a little over the month later. Debacle! And this was with a reasonably nice device that ran WebOS, the superb operating system that HP picked up when it took over Palm.

Now Meg Whitman — she of the ill-fated bid for governor of California, now HP's CEO — has said that HP will introduce another tablet "before the end of this year" (Bloomberg) and that it will run Microsoft's Windows 8 OS...eventually.

Oh, also, there will be Intel chips.

It will be an HP Wintel tablet.

Hooray! What a wonderful plan! But... 

As I've written before, there is no tablet market — there's an iPad market. And the only company that's been able to take a bite out of Apple's dominance is Amazon, which with its Kindle Fire isn't selling a tablet but a tricked-out Kindle (a Kindroid) to use as leverage to get more people to purchase Amazon content.

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