Saturday, January 23, 2010

Microvision: Announces March 2010 Launch of Laser Projector SHOWwx in the US Market

Microvision CEO Alex Tokman announced March 2010 as the launch date for its laser based PicoP projector SHOWwx in to the US market. He also indicated that Microvision will sell them from its own corporate website rather than collaborate with an OEM at this time.

You can watch this interview of January 7th at the following link…

Microvision had officially launched SHOWwx into the Asia/Pacific region in September of 2009 followed by Europe /Spain soon thereafter. As we all know, the green laser supply and its price has been the major issue all along and it made sense that the small available quantities be introduced in relatively smaller markets… especially in those regions of the world where Microvision can fetch the maximum pricing leverage due to weak dollar.

As for the US market, it is huge and is also the home to thousands of Microvision’s VIP members. In other words, Microvision has a very large captive market for its initial production of SHOWwx using green lasers from Corning and Osram. Corning was able to produce very limited quantities of green lasers in 2009… but with Osram coming on board in February of this year, the green laser supply should improve dramatically.

Having said that, the next question that begs answering is the reasons for Microvision selling the SHOWwx into the US market on its own rather than through an OEM?

Here’re some thoughts to ponder…

Years ago Microvision decided to focus on the lasers as the source of light for their PicoP Projectors. By doing so the management embarked on a very complex project that involved a myriad of challenges, issues, risks and problems.

When a problem is fearsomely complex, the best thing you can do is take Thoreau’s advice: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” At the same time, though, one should remain aware of Einstein’s advice: “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

It is a reasonable simplification, to reduce all of the big-picture markets for PicoP projectors to the development and marketing of PDE [PicoP Display Engine] to the OEMs, and let the OEMs add frills [and complexity] to arrive at the final consumer product. However, there may be currently an OEM acceptance issue with that approach due to:

• The lack of interest [or vision] on the part of OEMs to embrace the Microvision’s PicoP Display Engine at this stage;

• The potential fear of cannibalization of the DLP based lamp/LED projectors currently sold by the major OEMs;

• The politics of the market place where the competition [like 3M and Texas Instruments] have deeper pockets and well entrenched relationships.

Lack of vision can destroy [albeit slowly] even the mightiest of the companies, for example:

Kodak could have stayed king of the imaging hill, but they chose to ignore digital as a mere fad.

Polaroid went bankrupt and it is widely believed to be the result of the failure of its senior management to anticipate the effect of digital cameras on its film business.

Boeing allowed a labor strike to deprive it of the last good year it will probably enjoy for some time to come.

And poor old Ford may actually have a tough-minded visionary at the helm, but it is an auto manufacturer in a year when that is simply the wrong business to be in.

Can you imagine the fate of the supply chain companies associated with any of the above dinosaurs… well, may be not those of Boeing?

So, any company [like Microvision] that is waiting on the major OEMs [that lack vision] for its market development [and survival] is in it-self lacking vision… by not introducing consumer product(s) that are strategically aligned to the targeted market. Meaning the target market, at this stage, being the “stand alone accessory” PicoP Projector SHOWwx?

I may be wrong, but I get the feeling that Microvision management is not waiting around for the OEMs to make their move; and is approaching the US market for stand alone accessory PicoP projector SHOWwx on its own.

That’s an excellent move considering the relative ease of developing [and servicing] the US market and the pricing advantage of selling directly to consumers at much higher net margins.

There are, however, some considerations that must be addressed seriously before embarking on such a journey. I’m sure Microvision has addressed these at great length and has arrived at its marketing plan for the US. However, we are not privy to Microvision plans so it’s fair to discuss them here in a tone as if something that should be addressed.

Create a 360-degree experience for the consumer:

The PicoP brands [stand alone or embedded] need to match the right product to the right consumers and then connect with them meaningfully at every point of contact. The "360-degree experience" includes everything from packaging, design, and marketing, distribution to after-market support… including programs to help customers discover product benefits, end-of life recycling programs, and user support executed with the care of a concierge service, rather than with the complication and delay of an overwrought bureaucracy.

I wish there was another example besides Apple to demonstrate a successful 360-degree experience, but Apple nails it every time. They do not try to be everything to everybody. Packaging is elegant. The product is beautifully designed. Set-up is simple. Support is available… with room for some improvement here. Messaging is consistent and clear at every touch point.

Pick the right distribution channel:

Market research has revealed that consumers are overwhelmed and confused at retail stores like Circuit City… no doubt a contributing factor in its recent bankruptcy filing. People they tracked on "shop-along" research trips found it impossible to discern the meaningful difference between, say, a $40 mouse and a $70 one, let alone penetrate the chaos that is the flat-screen TV section. Navigating the many dozens of options marketed with buzzwords like "plasma," "digital," or "720p LCD" was daunting, and many potential customers left the store without making a purchase. So the industry can add "loss of sale" to their return losses as well.

Research shows that shoppers frequently visit manufacturer Web sites for information… but rarely make the purchase decision based solely on that information. They used third party sources such as CNET, customer reviews on Amazon or the advice of their peers before making the buying decision. It's no surprise, then, that there is little-to-no brand loyalty. Except, of course, for Apple who has succeeded in translating geek-speak, like "120GB," to terms anyone can understand, like "30,000 songs."  The consumer electronics industry needs to stop talking tech-speak and start speaking in terms that mean something to the rest of us consumers.

If Microvision is marketing the PicoP Display Engines to OEMs, its distribution channel choice is obviously the partnered OEMs. However, if Microvision is also considering the introduction of a stand alone accessory PicoP projector like SHOWwx on it own, it needs to seriously evaluate its choice for distribution channel(s) selected for a consumer product addressing the mass market. Each distribution channel has its unique pros and cons and requires an extensive study that is beyond the scope of this post. However, the most important features involve the optimization of the following desirables…

• Cash flow and margins… credit card sales from company [and affiliate] web sites provides advance cash payment [and better margins] as against 30-day delayed accounts receivables from distributors and retailers. As an Amazon drop-ship retailer the company can have the best of all scenarios… on-line retailing power and credibility of Amazon… customer reviews on Amazon… better margins for the company… advanced credit card payment to the company… control over customer service and support… and consistent and clear messaging to the mass consumers.

• Push marketing… company [and affiliate] web sites coupled with e-mail campaigning are much more effective in the introductory phase push marketing than distributors and retailers.

• Pull marketing… third party review sources [like CNET] and retailers [like Amazon] are much more effective in advance stage pull marketing than distributors and retailers.

• Customer support & service… distributors [like Ingram Micro] and retailers [like Circuit City] are not really known for the type of customer service and support that is conducive to customer loyalty or customer satisfaction. RMAs, re-stocking and re-selling is an expensive process due to mishandling and neglect.

• Consistent and clear messaging… company web site, affiliate web sites and retailer Amazon web site allow the company better control over consistent and clear messaging to the mass consumers.

Tell Your Customer the Truth…

If products do make it to the customer home, many don't make it past the out-of-box experience. Not everyone is an early adopter with an appetite (or tolerance) for splashing around a sea of tech-speak to deal with hours-long product set-up guided by confounding directions, little-to-no customer support, and lots and lots of wires.

Well, that’s all I could muster on a sunny afternoon… while we patiently wait for more announcements and answers about production quantities of green lasers and shipments of SHOWwx to current OEMs and the Mobile phone customer Vodafone.

I’m sure Microvision brass has the answers, and has its reasons for keeping quite on the subject.

Day to day it's hard to see where it will end, but I think we are going to be fine and at the end of the day the MVIS investor will come out whole.

Anant Goel