Archives for posts with tag: Amazon

[iPad and patent application]After watching bits of the iPad announcement simulcast and following the “live tweets” my reaction to Apples tablet is, … well …

Meh…

It didn’t live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s an important step towards the future of media consumption and eReading. But was it equal to the hype? No. Did I expect it to be equal to the hype? No. Could anything short of the second coming in 3D live up to the hype? Nope.

For folks who have followed the leaks/​speculation on the tablet for a while, there wasn’t much news in the announcement.

So quickly, here are my thoughts:

  • It’s a terrible name.
    Not surprisingly #iTampon was a rising trend on twitter after the announcement. The jokes write themselves. In fact, they wrote themselves years ago on MadTV. While this isn’t a Chevy Nova, it’s a bad name for a product.
  • Is it going to be a sucess? Yes.
    The price point works. Will it be overtaken by Android slate format tablets? Yes. But they won’t get as much press. Nor will a single company control as much of the market share.
  • Its running a build on the iPhone OS
    The iPhone OS has done more for Touch than any other Moble OS, so it’s not surprising that Apple stuck with what works.
  • What’s surprising by its absence (camera, multitasking, flash)
    The lack of Multitasking and Flash are legacy issues tied to the iPhone. The failure to implement both is dumb and will need to be corrected. No Flash is especially troubling when imagining the future of cross platform enhanced books. I’m curious about why no camera was included. It couldn’t have affected the chipset that much…
  • $12.99-$14.99 for eBooks?!
    I’m unconvinced that Apple will be able to get away with charging on average $2 more for eBooks than Amazon, B&N, and other eBook resellers.
  • How will 3rd party reading apps do?
    Likewise, I’m very interested to see how 3rd party eReader apps perform on the iPad, in particular the Amazon Kindle Reader and Blio.
  • 3G for Data Transfer only
    The 3G models are data transfer only. I had been hoping that they might handle voice as well. Still the tablets have bluetooth capabilities and built in microphones, so Voice over IP is a possibility.
  • Clogging a clogged network
    $29.99 a month (no contract) unlimited 3G internet access isn’t going to help AT&T’s network load or pricing problems. But when Apple says “jump” they ask “how high.”
  • Unlocked doesn’t necessarily mean unlocked
    Having unlocked 3G doesn’t mean that you have 3G. According to reports the tablet won’t get high speed internet access of T-Mobile’s network as it doesn’t use the correct 3G frequency. So you’re not quite as free as you might expect.
  • Pricing and the “premium” option of 3G
    I’m a little curious as to why the addition of the 3G and SIM card results in a $130 premium. My gut (and experience with product development) tells me that Apple is taking a hit on some if not all of these devices… not a terrible one (especially if AT&T is subsidizing), but a hit none the less. Given that the current 8GB iPhone costs approximately $175 to manufacture and that doesn’t include development costs, I have a hard time believing that the 16GB iPad can come in at $499. If anything, I suspect that they’re making the loss back on the 3G models.
  • Who wins in Apple v. Amazon?
    I’ve seen tweets from folks in publishing who seem giddy about Apple challenging Amazon. I’m not sure if this is a win:win scenario, especially given Apple’s across-​the-​board application of a 30 (Apple) /​70 (Publisher/​Developer) profit split. I suspect this is more like one Empire versus another with publishers, creators, and readers caught up in its wake.

As far as the overall effect on the market and on user practices.… Well, rather than writing my own account, I’ll turn it over to Berkman Fellow Doc Searls who wrote the following, incredible articulate overview of the pros and cons of the iPad platform for users:

I got a ride home tonight from Bob Frankston, who was guided by a Nexus One vocalizing directions, serving as a better GPS than my dashboard’s Garmin. Earlier in the evening Bob used the Nexus One to do a bunch of other stuff the iPhone doesn’t do as well, if at all. More importantly, he didn’t need to get his apps only from Google’s (or anybody’s) “store”. And if somebody else wants to make a better Android phone than this one, they can. And Google, I’m sure, hopes they do.

One big lesson here is that the market’s ecosystem includes both the vertical silos and the horizontal landscapes on which those silos stand, and where all kinds of other things can grow. Joel may be right that “the average consumer” will have no trouble being locked inside Apple’s silo of “simple, closed Internet devices”. But there are plenty of other people who are neither average nor content with that prospect. And I’m betting that, in the long run, they comprise a bigger market. Not because their numbers are larger, but because the room for growth is so much bigger.“
http://​blogs​.law​.harvard​.edu/​d​o​c​/​2​0​1​0​/​0​1​/​2​8​/​u​p​-​t​h​e​-​c​r​e​e​k​-​w​i​t​h​o​u​t​-​a​n​-​i​p​a​d​d​le/

Aside: Between twitter, blogging, and eMail lists, I’ve had a lot to write about the future of eReading and the iPad. Lest anyone think that I’m getting too big for my britches, let me assure you that I don’t assume anyone is reading any of this. Part of my goal is to simple get my thoughts straight on most of this since I’ll have to talk intelligently about it at two upcoming conferences. I fully acknowledge that despair​.com is right in saying:

[Blogging: Dispair Style]

This continues an exploration of the technologies and trends that are influencing the future of reading. Previous posts have discussed the GMS mobile telephony standard and how the iPhone has changed the expectations smartphones and other screen based consumer electronic devices. As always, crossposted at the OPL)

[App Store]As mentioned previously, one of the things that smartphones did was to highlight the value of the Operating System. Beyond the user interface of the phone, the key place that the OS created value was through app delivered via App Stores. There is no question that the undisputed leader here is Apple. Gartner Research recently reported that Apple accounts for 97.5% of all applications downloaded from all app stores.

Let’s spend a moment with that number. First note that it includes the download of paid and free applications. The research group Gigaom has calculated that approximately ¾’s of the applications downloaded from the store are free applications (please, visit that link for a beautiful visualization of this information). Still, the results of people paying for a quarter of those applications is nothing to dismiss. In December of 2009, the quarter of the downloads from the App store that were paid for accounted for $250 Million in revenues of which 30% goes to Apple and 70% goes to the developers.

Also, it’s important to note that not all of those downloads took place on iPhones. Many purchases were made via the iPod Touch, which also runs the iPhone software. This tends to lend some credence to the possibility that the upcoming Apple tablet will run iPhone software, or at least have access to the Apple App store. It’s in Apple’s best interest to make sure that as many devices of their devices as possible can buy from the store.

Given the relative “newness” of the Blackberry/​RIM, Android/​Google, and Microsoft App stores, it shouldn’t surprise us that Apple is so far ahead. We can expect that as those stores mature, and as the number of devices that can access these stores increase, Apple’s share of the download market will decrease.

The greater point in all of this is that users see smartphones as a platform for apps and that they are willing to routinely download and even pay for apps, if the installation process is “one click” easy. Those apps in turn, are expanding people’s expectations about what a smartphone can do. And as we have seen expectations are often carried over to similar product categories – especially if the products are in similar price ranges. Just as people have come to expect that eReaders have touchscreens, similar expectations may develop around downloading and running apps. Take for example the Amazon’s announcement of a Kindle Software Development Kit. Also note that such a move isn’t just about keeping up with the ApplesJones, it’s also the hope of developing their own app store (you know, it’s not like Amazon has experience handling eCommerce).

The Smartphone Mobile OS

As people expect more and more from their phone, the line between the smartphone category and the portable computer category will begin to blur. Based on products shown or rumored at CES, it’s clear that said blurring has already begun. Smartphone OS’s have begun to “invade” other devices. Google’s Android OS has made its way onto netbooks and eReaders. And while Microsoft currently has different operating systems for mobile phones (Windows Phone) and other mobile devices (Windows CE), there is much speculation that these will eventually fold into the same platform. Finally,as mentioned above, in addition to driving the iPod Touch, there is much speculation that the upcoming Apple iSlate will also run the iPhone OS.

Beyond including access to apps, there are a number of reasons why Mobile OS’s are on the rise:

  • They are (in theory) designed to run efficiently on lower powered processors. While the capabilities of mobile CPUs continue to increase, they still lag far behind their traditional computer brethren. So mobile OS’s have to do more with less and while balancing functionality with heat discharge and power consumption (you don’t want to have to recharge your device more than once a day).
  • Touch (either finger or stylus) is the primary interface device. Unlike traditional OSes which focus on mouse and keyboard, these platforms were designed from the ground up to be touch first and keyboard second.
  • Telephony and mobile networking is built into the OS. Since they are designed to work as (smart)phones they have to be able to connect to a mobile phone network. This means that when a manufacturer chooses to implement a given mobile OS they know that they have the software capability for mobile networking.
  • And in addition to telephony, there are a number of other “bonus” features enabled by the OS including support for built in cameras, accelerometers (motion sensors), magnetometer (digital compass), and GPS.

Where manufacturer/​developer choice comes in

For manufacturers, choosing one of these OS’s means that you don’t have to program your own custom OS for your device. However there are a range of decisions and, in some cases, restrictions that influence the decision of which OS to use.

Of the major OS’s: Apple Iphone, Google Android, Microsoft Phone, RIM Blackberry, and Nokia/​Sony Ericsson/​Samsung Symbian – only Android and Windows Phone are licensed so that any manufacturer can incorporate them into their devices.

Apple, Nokia, RIM, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung tightly control their respective OS’s, placing them on devices that they manufacture. The advantage to this, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, is that they can tightly control the hardware that the platforms run on. The argument for this control is that it provides users with the best possible base experience: You never have to worry about encountering iPhone software on a device with a slow processor.

Microsoft and Google take a different approach. By allowing anyone (or at least anyone who is willing to pay the development licensing fee in Microsoft’s case) to develop hardware for their platforms, the hope is to capture the market through volume. The recent proliferation of Android devices is a great example of this. It’s hard to say “no” to a free OS that provides all the advantages listed above.

On one hand, this flexibility means that these OS, in Microsoft’s case Windows CE, find their way into a wide range of devices including eReaders and tablets. However, there are potential dangers to this strategy. Microsoft attributes part of the problems that they have had with their Mobile OS to inconsistent user experiences due to variation screen sizes and processor power across devices:

Our fragmentation issue is primarily around screen resolutions and assuming a minimum CPU and storage. So it has been a little bit challenging, because that choice, that flexibility, that freedom that people have to build any kind of device and use any kind of device: touch, non-​touch, keyboard, soft key, has required a little bit extra effort in some cases for developers to target apps that run across a wide array of devices…” ~ Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan, Senior Marketing Manager

For app developers, there are different costs to be weighed. If developers choose to program for Android, it means learning a new OS. Microsoft, on the other hand, markets their OS by highlighting the advantage that programming for the OS is very similar to writing a standard Windows program, which helps keep costs down. Apple makes a similar claim about the Cocoa programming language for the iPhone – if you can program a Mac, you can program an iPhone.

Obviously market share and platform popularity influence choice as well. But, returning to the beginning of the article, distribution through App stores may be the biggest factor. By signing on with Apple, for example, a developer knows that if they can get their application into the iTunes App store, then they have the greatest audience exposure and a “turn key” infrastructure for getting paid.

The question that we’ll tackle next is how Smartphone Apps are changing our expectations about what programs (and computers) can do.

Two weeks ago at the online O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, I closed a presentation on eReaders with a discussion of the Microsoft Courier, a dual touch-​screen digital codex. In theory, Microsoft will be bringing this 7” folding computer to market sometime next year. What excites me about this device, in terms of eReading, is the potential for new interactions with a text. One obvious option is to actually read an eBook in codex format (as we would a traditional “paper” book). However, that’s not really particularly interesting, nor does it necessarily take advantage of the real potential of this sort of device to create revolutionary new forms of reading.

How might the second screen enhance reading? I’m not sure, and I haven’t had a chance to really wrestle with that. But we can look to the example of the Nintendo DS portable gaming system. A key feature that differentiates it from the Playstation Portable(PSP) is the integration of a second, touch sensitive screen, into game experience. Given the possibilities that opened up, we shouldn’t be surprised if similar things happen with reading when we add a second screen. But, in order for that to happen, something else needs to occur.

Beyond the Courier’s innovative form, it has another key advantage over existing eReaders – it’s a software development platform. I can’t go out and download software to run on a Kindle. This means that the way we read on it, and other eReaders, is restricted to how their designers imagine we should read on them. While I trust Amazon to be experts at delivering content to the device, I don’t associate them with innovation in terms of reading; nor do I look to Apple or Microsoft (or Google… more on that in a sec) for that matter.

Just as modern printing was started by an run-​of-​the-​mill goldsmith in Mainz1 , I think that a truly revolutionary form of on-​screen text interaction is probably going to be created by a programmer that nobody has ever heard of (maybe a member of the Open Publishing Lab). In order for that to happen, eReaders need to be able to have Software Development Kits and run third party software.2

Bottom line, beyond price point and color, at the conference I said the future was multiple screens and open software development. Why didn’t I buy a lottery ticket that day??!! Since the conference, three new eReaders have been either hinted at or announced that all feature dual screens. And, if I’m reading the tea leaves right at least two of those will support third party software.

Each of the units features one eInk display and one LCD display. Two are tablet format with side-​by-​side displays. The third is a codex like the Courier. And, perhaps most interesting, if the rumors are true, all three will run Google’s Android Mobile OS.

The first reader, and the one we know the least about, is the just announced Barnes and Noble Nook. It features two screens and runs, according to Gizmodo, Android. Gizmodo, an indispensable website for staying on top of tech developments, also ran the following “leaked” renderings of the device. And at $259, the same price as the single eInk screen Kindle, Amazon should be concerned. The Nook adds a number of new features including unique ability for users to lend eBooks to friends. For a full comparison, see Barnes and Noble’s comparison of the Nook to the Kindle.

[Barnes and Noble eReader]

The other two readers were announced this week. The first of these two is the Spring Design Alex eReader. Like the B&N model, it’s a tablet with neighboring eInk and touch sensitive LCD screens. And, based on the press release, it’s definitely running Android. Also, like the B&N reader, it features telephony networking, via a GSM chip which means that it can access the web in the US and Europe. Spring Design also says that it will have expandable memory via SD cards. The similarity between it and the B&N device, in terms of features and form factors does lead one to wonder if there might be an OEM agreement between the two companies.

[Spring Design Alex eReader]

The final eReader is the enTourage eDGe™. The eDGe is a codex design which folds down to 8.5” x 10.75” x 1” (approximately the size of an average hard cover) with side-​by-​side sensitive eInk (stylus) and LCD (touch) screens. It will be expandable via USB and SD card and will have audio and video playback capabilities. Unlike the proposed Microsoft Courier, it doesn’t have a camera. And another big difference, like the Alex, it’s running Android. It’s also $490, which means that it has a tough road to hoe.

[enTourage eDGe™ eReader]

[Andriod Logo]
From a brief bit of research, there’s nothing floating around the web to suggest that Android is optimized for dual screen display. In fact, the only other dual screen Android device I was able to find is a Russian cell phone. That said its a free, open, wireless platform and operating system. It does everything a device needs to act like a computer, uses little power, and supports endless outside development.3 And that final point is the most important for this story. Android is, without a doubt, a software development platform, which, in theory means, that all of these devices should be able to run third party software. And that possibility of opening up software development means that we may be approaching the next phase in the development (tipping point perhaps) of eReaders.

There’s also another takeaway here. In a matter of a few days, Android has become a major platform player in the eReader space. If I was Apple or Microsoft4, I’d be taking notice at this point. If these third party companies pull it off, Android will have officially expanded beyond mobile phones to other hand held devices. Likewise, if I was Amazon, I’d be a bit concerned as well. The Kindle is a closed platform, whose primary appeal is based on an easy, one-​click buying experience – not necessarily a reading experience. All of these devices are internet enabled, meaning that it’s entirely possible that they could bring a similar one-​click experience to shopping for reading material. Couple that with potentially revolutionary reading experiences and we could have the makings of real Kindle killers.

Time will tell. And this should definitely make for an interesting Tools Of Change conference this Spring!

  1. sorry Gutenberg, but its true []
  2. At the time I presented, the Plastic Logic reader, just renamed the Que, was one example of an coming eReader that was supposed to have an associated Software Development Kit. []
  3. Thank you to Evan Schnittman for reminding me of what makes Android such a enticing mobile development platform. []
  4. It’s somewhat ironic that Android’s expansion to other mobile devices comes at a time when Microsoft is rebranding its mobile platform as phone only. Though to be fair to MS, apparently the Plastic Logic Cue will run Windows CE. []

Presenters and attendees at this year’s O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference spent a discussing the topics of social reading and community. One constant question was are these spaces that Amazon or Google will own? A week after the fact, and drawing on my experiences with online community at kodak​.com, I’ve come up with the following assessment:

In this area, Amazon’s further ahead than Google, but I’m not sure that either is really in the right place (or could be the right service) for this to work. The reasons for this is that they’re fundamentally in the same business:

Connecting people with content

The sustainable community model is:

Connecting people through content

Amazon is arguably further along because they’ve fore fronted the approach of “Connecting people with content through other people.” Amazon makes you aware of other people asynchronously browsing the
content (with things like reviews and other people like you have bought). But there’s no concerted effort to connect you with those people. For example, you can submit reviews, but you’re not necessarily encouraged to engage in a discussion of reviews (though a threaded system of some sort). Likewise you can create lists, but not comment on lists. And while Amazon has discussion boards, they’re buried well below the fold line of the page (and beneath all the relevant content).

In Google’s case, those other people and what they do are a hidden aspect of the algorithm. Using Google is currently (gmail, gtalk, and latitude excluded) a solitary experience. While everyone is using it, you are not made aware of them (this concelment of the everpresent other is perhaps why Google can get away with more privacy things than Facebook).

Now all that said, as we learned at Kodak​.com, its far easier to get people to discuss a given topic a a site organized around that topic than it is to get them to talk about a topic at a site organized around the medium that enables that topic. In plain language, people are far more likely to talk about photos of their baby at babies​.com rather than in a “babies” forum/​community at kodak​.com.

Just as the photo was just a medium for the content (the baby) that connected, so to is the book another medium for the content that connects people. This is definitely an area where publisher and genre sites have an immediate advantage (provided they have to tools to do it).

None of this is to suggest that google or Amazon couldn’t overcome this. But it would take a lot more work than is immediately apparent (and take them outside of their current business models).