Posts tagged with ‘amazon

Qwilt’s Sin of Omission Regarding Apple and Amazon

Last week, media outlets were abuzz with news that Amazon was claiming to have passed Apple as the third largest video service site, coming in behind Netflix and YouTube.

Here’s The Verge, reporting on the news:

Amazon’s been trying to turn Instant Video into a major player in the streaming space, and it looks like its dedication is starting to pay off: Amazon says that Prime video streams have nearly tripled year over year, and it cites video-delivery firm Qwilt to say that Instant Video is now the third largest video site overall, behind Netflix and YouTube.

That’s a fairly representative blurb about Qwilt’s numbers and Amazon’s willingness to cite them in a press release.

A quick look at Qwilt’s announcement raised some red flags:

  • There was no source data listed.
  • The accompanying blog post included pro-Amazon hyperbole.
  • The included infographic provided no useful comparative data but does include a picture of an Amazon-branded rocket ship next to a skyrocketing arrow.

Here’s some sample language (emphasis mine):

If Amazon says they will boil the ocean, better run to the beach and hop in fast before the water is scalding…

The growth of Amazon continues to amaze and confound Wall Street. CEOs across the globe marvel at Amazon”s insatiable appetite for new markets, new products and new revenue…

Amazon”s traffic volumes, as measured by Qwilt in March of 2014, increased by 94% over the previous 12 months. In some US operator networks, between March 2013 and March 2014, Amazon”s streaming video traffic increase was nearly 300%…

Of course, on seeing these developments, we smile knowingly and approvingly…

Despite the red flags and obvious questions regarding bias, Qwilt’s claims were widely reported as a major win for Amazon in the streaming space.

I immediately questioned the findings (and the subsequent rush to report) on Twitter:

I’m fucking shocked that people (ahem, @verge) are reporting on this @qwilt claim without questioning the data 04/08/14

The fact that @amazon cited an @qwilt report with unofficial numbers rather than providing official numbers is a HUGE red flag. 04/08/14

@Mark1Fisher Where is the underlying data on this claim? 04/08/14

Qwilt’s Mark Fisher eventually responded (both on Twitter and in the comments on his blog post) with a promise to reveal the underlying data, which was eventually tacked on as an update to the original post.

As I expected, the story gets less interesting for Amazon as soon as you see the data, which I’ve summarized in a chart:

image

Yes — based on Qwilt’s data — Amazon did in fact pass Apple to take the third spot behind Netflix and YouTube but the more reasonable takeaway to report is that there’s Netflix and YouTube — and then there’s everyone else. (Granted, it was impossible to know that, let alone report that, without demanding the underlying data, which no one bothered to do.)

Indeed, Qwilt’s data reveals that Amazon’s movement isn’t the most interesting shift from 2013 to 2014, which just makes Fisher’s hyperbole all the more obnoxious:

  • Netflix increased its percentage from 52.5% to 57.5% in one year. (This means there’s a 54.5% gap in 2014 between #1 Netflix and #3 Amazon that isn’t discoverable in Qwilt’s initial post.)
  • YouTube dropped from 28.2% to 16.9% in one year. (This 11.3% drop is impossible to glean by reading Qwilt’s initial post.)
  • Even though Amazon passed Apple to reach #3, Twitch (what the hell is Twitch?) also passed Apple to climb to #5, pushing Apple back to #6. (Twitch wasn’t even ranked in Qwilt’s 2013 top 10 and isn’t mentioned at all in the original blog post. Indeed, Qwilt included a top 5 graphic — sans underlying data — that includes Apple while omitting Twitch.)
  • HBO Go did not rank in Qwilt’s 2013 top 10, but has moved to 0.5% in 2014. (This increase is not evident in Qwilt’s initial post.)
  • Apple actually gained 0.2%, even as it lost two spots on Qwilt’s list.

Keep in mind that Apple doesn’t actually provide a one-to-one competitor to Netflix or Amazon Instant Video, both of which are subscription models that provide all-you-can watch access to a curated library of video content. Apple (currently) only provides rental and purchase options for individual titles from a curated library.

It’s also worth noting that Qwilt offers absolutely no data about how people are watching any of this content: Netflix streams are attributed to Netflix but Qwilt does not break down those streams by device.

This means that it’s entirely possible that more Amazon Instant Video content is streamed from Apple’s iDevices than is streamed from Amazon’s Kindle devices. 

It’s also not clear how any of this data relates to revenue or profit: Does Netflix make more than Amazon who makes more than Apple, or does Apple (due to a rental/purchase model) bring in more money than Amazon despite a drop to #6 in 2014?

My guess is that Qwilt is another company in a long line of companies that knows that headlines that lead with Apple draw more attention than headlines that lead with virtually any other company. If it takes a little data manipulation (a snip here and the failure to mention Twitch there) in order to get the emphasis tuned juuuuuuust right for maximum page views, well, why not? 

Especially if no media outlet is going to question the results?

Blech.

The reviews are in: Amazon’s Turd Generation Fire TV

I’ve not found a “recommend” review yet, but here are some highlights from the Tom’s Guide review, which seems representative:

To add other entertainment sources, such as Netflix, YouTube or Pandora, you have to download the apps to Fire TV and log in to each account.

Seems kind of dumb, but it makes sense when you get to the bigger problem: Fire TV comes with 8GB of non-expandable storage and only 5.5 GB (more on this later) of that is usable.

The Watch List and Video Library items also include only Amazon content. To get to any other source, such as Netflix or Crackle, you need to go down to the Apps menu and then select Your Apps Library to finally get outside the world of Amazon. And here, entire content networks such as Hulu Plus get jumbled in with individual games you have purchased, even though there is another main menu item just for games.

All apps are equal, some apps are just more equal than others.

In our tests, Amazon’s voice-recognition tech understood us very well, as long as it knew what to expect. Specifically, voice recognition currently works only with content that is in Amazon’s catalog and titles on music-video site Vevo. For now, at least, it can’t help you with YouTube or Netflix. For that majority of cases, Fire TV also has a hunt-and-peck text search.

Weird that this didn’t come up in Amazon’s launch event. (Or, maybe it did and it just didn’t come through in any of the live blog feeds.) At any rate, marketing a device as “better” because it features an amazing way to search for content but not making that “better” way work universally (or much at all, it seems) is a goofy choice. Though, it is a very Amazon choice. 

Fire TV’s music offerings are even slimmer. The device will support Amazon’s own music service in May.

It baffles me that Amazon launched a media box that doesn’t yet have access to some of Amazon’s own content. For this reason alone — but the lack of universal support for voice search also come to mind — I believe Amazon launched sooner than they had originally planned to get out in front of a (still hypothetical) 4th Generation Apple TV reveal.

Parents can also set time limits for when and how long kids can watch. With the $3/month per child or $7 per family for Amazon Prime subscribers (or $5/$10 for nonmembers.)

So, on top of $99 for the box, on top of $99 per year for prime, there’s another $3-$10 per month cost for a curated selection of kid’s content?

On games:

And if you have purchased a title for Kindle Fire or even a regular Android device, you will get the Fire TV version for free if and when one comes out.

That’s actually a good (if obvious) deal. The real problem I have with gaming on this thing is that 5.5 GB of usable free space is pathetically low for any device that features “games” as a selling point. There’s a USB port on the back that Amazon currently says supports no accessories, but when and if it ever does, one of them better be an external hard drive. (More money to spend to make this thing usable, alas.)

Reading the reviews, my first reaction after the launch event still seems to hold up: This would have been an amazing device had it been released alongside or after either the 1st or 2nd generation Apple TV.

It’s didn’t, though — it’s launching two years after the 3rd generation Apple TV, and doesn’t even seem to be much better than that, and it costs more.

($99 for Fire TV + $99/year for Prime subscription + $39 for Game Controller + $3/month for FreeTime subscription. That’s a lot of add on.)

The price of Prime is going up. (Of course it is.)

The email I’ve long expected finally arrived: When my Amazon Prime subscription renews in December, I’ll be charged (as will everyone else) $99 instead of the usual $79.

We are writing to provide you advance notice that the price of your Prime membership will be increasing. The annual rate will be $99 when your membership renews on December 3, 2014.

Even as fuel and transportation costs have increased, the price of Prime has remained the same for nine years. Since 2005, the number of items eligible for unlimited free Two-Day Shipping has grown from one million to over 20 million. We also added unlimited access to over 40,000 movies and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video and a selection of over 500,000 books to borrow from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Some will argue that this isn’t a big deal, or that the increase is long overdue, and it’s difficult to counter that argument because $99 is still a steal for what you get. (I for one do not plan on canceling my subscription.)

Still, I predicted that this (and more) was inevitable almost two years ago:

Is Amazon primed to raise prices? Of course. But first they’ve got to put Barnes and Noble out of business.

I wrote that article just before the start of Apple’s price-fixing antitrust trial. At the time, Nook was still a thing that people bought in a way that meant the device had a somewhat hopeful future and Amazon’s control of the ebook market was a competitive 65-ish percent — down from a high of almost 90 percent.

From my article:

If the bet is to sustain these losses in order to “entice customers to buy more and exclusively on the site” — which is another way of saying that Amazon is attempting to buy the market out from under its competitors — who is it that honestly believes that the low prices and too-good-to-last free offers will stick around once they’ve (inevitably) achieved that goal?

Today, the Nook is all but dead, Barnes and Noble is desperately seeking suitors in order to stay afloat, Apple is appealing the verdict after losing its DOJ price-fixing trial, and Amazon’s share of the ebook market is reportedly growing again. (Small wonder.)

Everything’s coming up Milhouse Amazon! 

More from my article:

Amazon can’t give away money forever.

This could lead to a future in which Amazon controls the publishing industry, prices normalize at a level that is higher than consumer have been groomed to expect, there’s no competitive alternative to turn to, and wary publishers spitefully hold back on ebook innovation even more than they already do.

We’re not quite there yet, but a 25 percent increase in a beloved service is not something that happens without careful consideration, even if the deal is still pretty damn good. Argue what you want, but it’s now $20 less good than it was yesterday.

I’d be shocked if it’s the last surprise we see from Amazon over the next couple years. I argued then and I’ll argue again that Amazon is beholden to investors no matter how much they profess to care about us as customers, and investors will eventually want a return on their investment.

Sony gave up on ebooks, Barnes and Noble may eventually be forced out, and Apple has been neutered by the DOJ: What’s to stop Amazon from doing whatever they want once they have what the need?

It’s not like Amazon bought out the world’s most popular online audio bookseller only to lower royalty rates on self-published audiobooks, right? Who knows if the DOJ will ever decide to focus its sights on Amazon.

Meanwhile, Amazon is great for consumers, right up until it isn’t.

God damn! Amazon is asking for protection money from traditional booksellers!

image

In every gangster movie ever the city is overrun with crime because the city is overrun with gangsters. Said gangsters then approach the little guy (who just wants to run his humble corner store) to ask for “protection money” against the violence that the little guy wouldn’t need protecting from if the gangsters weren’t there at all.

It’s a great business plan, if you can get away with it — and if you have no morals. 

And yet it pretty much sums up Amazon’s new Amazon Source service:

We designed this program with bookstores in mind. The Bookseller Program offers a discount on the price of Kindle tablets and e-readers, plus the opportunity to make a commission on every book your customers purchase from their device, anywhere, anytime. With the Bookseller Program, you get a 10% commission every time one of your customers buys an e-book from a Kindle tablet or e-reader that they purchase at your store. This program allows you to give your customers a choice between digital and physical books, offer them access to a wide selection of e-books, and profit from every e-book they buy on their new device, from your store or on the go.*

So, to recap: Traditional booksellers (large and small) are fighting for survival because ebooks, which are largely bought and consumed on devices controlled by Amazon, are the future.

Amazon saunters in, tells traditional booksellers that the solution is to pay Amazon for Kindle hardware (at a minor discount) and then the bookseller will get a (minor) cut of the price of every book purchased on that Kindle for two years.

Amazon has actually improved on the protection money racket by getting the little guy to pay for the guns!

As usual, this is Amazon trying to look like a saint while behaving like a sinner, though I’m sure they’ll get a pass yet again, because Amazon is pretty great at what they do.

Still, there are some obvious red flags when it comes to Amazon’s generosity: 

  • As I have already mentioned, more than anything else, this is Amazon trying to sell more Kindles. Selling more Kindles benefits no one except Amazon given that booksellers can’t re-sell Kindles for a meaningful profit because Amazon already sells them at close to cost. (Remember that Target eventually refused to sell Kindles, in part because of Amazon’s aggressive pricing strategy.)
  • Basically, booksellers will make 6% (the 6% they saved on the purchase) for every Kindle they sell, unless they sell Kindles for more than Amazon sells them for, which would mean they’d never sell a Kindle. Gah! Best case, that’s around $6 to $20 multiplied by however many Kindles they sell. Small stores aren’t going to sell hundreds of Kindles, let alone thousands. Tens? Maybe. But just maybe.
  • "Anytown Books" isn’t going to benefit from the 10% cut on ebook purchases because 1) the deal only lasts for two years and 2) most small booksellers won’t be able to buy (and then sell) enough Kindles to make any real money as a — let’s face it — glorified Amazon Associate. The volume potential simply isn’t there. Also, the above asterisk means terms and conditions apply. Who wants to bet that those terms and conditions don’t work in favor of booksellers?
  • This 10% cut is made even worse by the fact that Amazon loves to tout the fact that it sells ebooks for as little as possible. You may have heard about this in a little story called “Apple was successfully sued by the Government for trying to sell ebooks at a price that was attractive to the people who own the rights to said ebooks.”
  • Every Kindle a bookseller does sell increases the odds that those customers never walk through the door again and never buy a “real” book again. Those “never agains” negate margins that actually make the bookseller money. In essence, the more Kindles they sell, the worse off they are. Thanks, Amazon! 

In short, this is yet another Amazon attempt to convert bookseller customers to Amazon customers under the guise of supporting booksellers.

More likely, Amazon Source — if adopted — will simply accelerate their demise.

We’re looking to sell Lendle.

We launched Lendle just over a year ago. Amazon had just begun to embrace digital lending and we knew we could build a great social experience for millions of Kindle owners. 

We love being part of an industry on the move and taking on some of the tough issues surrounding ownership and digital content, but our primary goal has always been to create the best social-lending site we could build. 

That has always meant a site that focuses on lending above all other considerations.

LENDLE

At its core, we’re a matchmaking service for Kindle owners. Our Lendlers list the books they’ve purchased, which in turn provides the foundation for our library of lendable content. 

When someone requests a book, we make that request available to the Lendle community.

We’ve introduced several new features over the last year, but they’re all designed to drive and improve the core lending experience. 

To date:

  • We have fulfilled over 70,000 loan requests. 
  • Our community has added nearly 50,000 unique (lendable) titles. 
  • All told, Lendle lists 330,000 books available to borrow.

We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve built, and we think Lendle has been an amazing success. 

With all that said, we started out as a team of three, and we remain a team of three: We’ve not outsourced the design, the troubleshooting, or the customer service, and we’ve accomplished all of this without accepting a single penny of outside funding.

Lendle has always been a huge undertaking, and as our community has grown, so too have our responsibilities. 

On top of all that, two of the three of us have full time jobs outside of running Lendle, and various other “living life” priorities that we would like to focus on.

We don’t want any of that to get in the way of the customer service we expect of ourselves, and we don’t want our additional workload to have an effect on potential new features or the overall Lendle experience, either.

With that in mind, we’re looking toward the idea of selling Lendle to someone (or a group of someones) who is interested in building upon our successes, and taking the community to the next level.

Such a sale would involve:

  • The Lendle brand, including all associated trademarks. 
  • All associated code.
  • Day-to-day operations.

Lendle means a lot to us. We’ve put over a year of our lives into growing a great community and implementing new features and we’ve done our best to put a unique spin on social-lending to ensure that Lendle stands out amongst the competition.

Even so, there’s still a vast untapped market for social-lending that is millions of potential Lendlers strong, and we think a nimble and innovative home for Lendle can only lead to great things. 

As competition in the ebook space heats up, we expect to see more and more acceptance of digital lending amongst publishers, authors, and retailers. Already, TOR Books — an imprint of publishing powerhouse Macmillan and one of the largest publishers of Science Fiction and Fantasy novels — has announced that it will drop all DRM from its collection in early July 2012.

In addition, Amazon is moving into publishing more and more, and we expect this to increase the lendable content available to Lendlers. Most recently, Amazon Publishing bought the publishing rights to the entire James Bond backlist.

The best is yet to come.

If you’re interested, get in touch!

http://lendle.me/contact/

Site: Lendle

Seth Godin, Apple, Rejection, and Permission Marketing

Seth Godin’s book, Stop Stealing Dreams, was recently rejected by Apple for sale in the iBookstore:

I just found out that Apple is rejecting my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and won’t carry it in their store because inside the manifesto are links to buy the books I mention in the bibliography.

Quoting here from their note to me, rejecting the book: “Multiple links to Amazon store. IE page 35, David Weinberger link.”

A bibliography at the end of Godin’s book links directly to several books on Amazon. Amazon, in turn, competes with Apple in the ebook market. Apple takes a look at Godin’s links and says no dice. 

It’s worth noting, I think, that Godin partners (or at least used to partner) with Amazon on The Domino Project, a publishing platform. 

John Gruber suggests that Godin’s iBooks version could simply link to Apple’s iBookstore, instead of linking away to Amazon.

I’d second that suggestion, not as a way to appease Apple (assuming, of course, that it would), but because it seems like the common sense, consumer-friendly option. I’ve already made the decision to buy an iBook — don’t be cute and link me away to Amazon for follow-up purchases. 

Out of curiosity, I checked the price and availability of the books Godin links to, both on Amazon and on the iBookstore:

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow | Amazon: $15.00 | Apple: $12.99
  2. Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling | Amazon: $11.41 | Apple:$11.99
  3. Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything | Amazon: $16.30 | Apple: $8.99
  4. Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track | Amazon: $25.54 | Apple: $23.99
  5. Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education | Amazon: $9.95 | Apple: $2.99
  6. Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges | Amazon: $10.88 | Apple: $12.99
  7. Horace Mann’s Troubling Legacy: The Education of Democratic Citizens | Amazon: $28.59 | Apple: NOT AVAILABLE
  8. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It | Amazon: $14.94 | Apple:$12.99
  9. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength | Amazon: $16.06 | Apple: $14.99
  10. DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education | Amazon: $9.90 | Apple: NOT AVAILABLE 
  11. Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? | Amazon: $11.85 | Apple: $9.99
  12. Civilization: The West and the Rest | Amazon: $21.50 | Apple: $16.99
  13. Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room |  Amazon: $17.15 | Apple: $12.99
  14. Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential (Preorder) | Amazon: $16.97 | Apple: $12.99

The Amazon links I’ve used come from a freely-available HTML version of Godin’s book. I don’t know if the version Godin submitted to Apple contains different links or different versions of the same links, though I think the answer to that may be an important consideration.

Out of fourteen books, all but two can be purchased through Apple’s iBookstore. Of those twelve, ten are cheaper (in some cases, a lot cheaper) to buy from the iBookstore than they would be by following Godin’s existing Amazon links.

Clearly, a hypothetical customer who purchases Stop Stealing Dreams from the iBookstore 1) prefers (or at least enjoys) ebooks and 2) has chosen Apple’s offering over utilizing the freely available Kindle app. Common sense, then, says you cater to that customer’s established preference, right?

My first thought was to investigate whether or not Godin was using Amazon affiliate links, which would at least provide a monetary explanation for his desire to carry over those links. (Apple would definitely frown on that, though.)

As it turns out, he’s not (or at least he doesn’t appear to be) but that doesn’t mean he’s using standard Amazon links:

amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0865716692/permissionmarket/ref=nosim/

According to the internet, permission marketing is a term that was coined by Godin in the late 90s. Fast Company published a lengthy article on the subject in 1998: 

Seth Godin’s company, Yoyodyne Entertainment, is all about fun and games. But its mission is serious business. Godin and his colleagues are working to persuade some of the most powerful companies in the world to reinvent how they relate to their customers. His argument is as stark as it is radical: Advertising just doesn’t work as well as it used to - in part because there’s so much of it, in part because people have learned to ignore it, in part because the rise of the Net means that companies can go beyond it. “We are entering an era,” Godin declares, “that’s going to change the way almost everything is marketed to almost everybody.”

More:

The new model, he argues, is built around permission. The challenge for marketers is to persuade consumers to volunteer attention - to “raise their hands” (one of Godin’s favorite phrases) - to agree to learn more about a company and its products. “Permission marketing turns strangers into friends and friends into loyal customers,” he says. “It’s not just about entertainment - it’s about education.”

Curious.

I honestly don’t know what it means, if it means anything at all, that “permissionmarket” appears in Godin’s Amazon links and, as I mention above, I don’t know if it appears in the links that were included with the version of Stop Stealing Dreams that Apple ultimately rejected.

I do know that Apple, citing privacy concerns, is notoriously picky about letting 3rd parties use its platforms as a vehicle for collecting customer data. As an example, Apple doesn’t allow magazine publishers access to valuable customer data without explicit consent from the customer.

For what it’s worth, the above link — without the permissionmarket bit — seems to work just fine:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0865716692

More from Godin:

And there’s the conflict. We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.

I have a lot of respect for what Seth Godin has to say, and I think the Domino Project remains a laudable and important undertaking.

With that said, Godin’s idealism (as it relates to this rejection) is a bit hard to swallow given his past connection to Amazon and the fact that he seems to exclusively favor Amazon links whenever he links his readers away to purchases. I’d be more inclined to sympathize with his position if he’d taken the time to provide links to a broader content ecosystem, when possible, especially given that it wouldn’t be particularly difficult to do so. (It took me about 20 minutes to compile the above iBookstore and Amazon links.)

From a customer service standpoint, it just doesn’t make much sense to link me away to Amazon when I’ve already opted to patronize Apple’s iBookstore. That is, unless permission marketing plays some role in Godin’s decision to do so?

Given that I’ve confessed a certain level of ignorance on the subject, I’ll update if and when I learn more.

Competition.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire is a watered down, crippled version of the iPad. In almost every way, Apple’s product is better than Amazon’s 1st generation tablet.

I own both, and I’m comfortable with saying that. Of course, I haven’t returned my Kindle Fire, and I don’t plan on giving it away, either.

I do like the weight of the Kindle Fire while reading, but if that’s all I’m going to use it for, I like the weight of every available e-ink Kindle even more. (That’s a savings of at least another $100.) 

Lodge any of the above criticisms, though, and you’ll likely hear: “Of course, dumbass! The Kindle Fire isn’t meant to compete with the iPad. It’s well under half the price of the cheapest iPad 2, and it was never meant to be anything more than a consumption device for people on the go!”

Someone should probably clue Amazon in on this line of thinking.

Currently, the top hit on Amazon when searching for “iPad” is a link to a chart comparing the Kindle Fire and the iPad 2. (Hat tip to Daring Fireball.)

As far as I can tell, Amazon doesn’t even list the iPad at its selling price of $499 — it starts “new” at $518.75, from various retailers who aren’t Apple. A quick check shows the iPad 2 currently in stock on apple.com, though I suppose it’s possible that it’s not available from Apple, on amazon.com. Sure seems fishy, though.

Back to that chart:

Marco Arment has already posted a pretty great rebuttal, so I’m not going to bother questioning or exploring the validity of Amazon’s arguments, except to say that this doesn’t seem to be the chart of a company that thinks its product isn’t directly in competition with the iPad 2, and better.

No matter how I read it, I’m not getting:

"Hey! We know you might want an iPad 2, but why not save $300 and buy a Kindle Fire instead? It even does some of the things an iPad does! If all you’re interested in is browsing the web and reading some books, you’ll love our Kindle Fire, and you probably don’t need the extra power, or the hundreds of thousands of apps, available with an iPad."

Instead, they’ve produced a feature for feature comparison which seems to argue that much of what the iPad does — both technically and functionally — the Kindle Fire does even better, or at least just as well. For $300 less!

Clearly, Amazon wants potential shoppers to feel like there’s nothing that an iPad 2 can do that the Kindle Fire can’t do just as well, or even better. For a lot less.

Web browsing? Way faster. Cost? Way Cheaper. Screen? Nicer. Apps? No difference! Storage? Less is actually more!

And, just in case you don’t want to take Amazon’s word for it, they’ve helpfully added a smattering of effusive praise from outlets who hadn’t yet spent any meaningful time with the product. Please don’t look at the man behind the curtain!

Amazon’s got every right to promote its product, and even to compare it against a competitor’s product. (Even if it’s arguable that they’re playing a bit loose with context.)

They’d be foolish if they didn’t do so. 

With that said, can we at least drop the idea that it’s unfair to point out the Kindle Fire’s flaws, as compared to the iPad 2? If the comparison is good enough for Amazon, it’s good enough for those who disagree with Amazon’s assessment.

Surprise and Delight

It’s been quite an ordeal, but a Kindle Fire finally made its way into my hands.

I’ve been playing with it off and on for a couple days, now, and — it’s pretty much everything you’ve read in any of the reviews you’ve read. No more, no less.

Which is to say, a lot of people have already nailed its strengths (relatively few) and weaknesses (many).

The one caveat I’d add is that many of the weaknesses are rooted in software, and that’s the sort of thing that can be fixed, at least.

So, instead of rehashing what’s been said elsewhere, I’m going to touch on something that hasn’t been beaten to death, and that’s the idea of surprise and delight. 

The underlying premise of surprise and delight is that you run up against a problem, and as you’re doing what you think should happen, it actually happens, or it happens in a way you didn’t anticipate, and you think to yourself: “Wow, I can’t believe someone thought of that. Genius!”

iOS is filled with surprise and delight moments. Perhaps the best example is the ability to type a period with one continuous motion — without lifting your thumb — even though the period key isn’t on the “home” keyboard screen. Uninterrupted flow. One click where three might otherwise be necessary.

In my experience, Amazon’s devices don’t seem to contain many surprise and delight moments, if they contain any at all.

As has been discussed, there’s no dedicated hardware home button on the Kindle Fire.

Instead, each app has a touch-based home button. That’s fine, and I think it’s something I’ll eventually get used to and it’s something people who haven’t used an iOS device might not even need to get used to.

With that said, the home button is situated in the bottom-left of every app. This is a real problem when you’re holding the device one-handed with your right hand, because it’s nearly impossible to reach the home button while doing so.

There are any number of reasons why your free hand might not be available for button pressing, but the least tawdry (and most important) reason is that some people don’t have left hands.

The obvious solution, then, is to simply put the home button in the bottom-middle of every app. Boring, but perfectly acceptable.

The surprise and delight solution is that the Kindle Fire somehow knows which hand it’s being held by, and accommodates for that preference (or disability) by moving the home button to an accessible corner. 

Suddenly, the user thinks: “Holy shit, that’s genius, I can’t believe Amazon thought of that.”

Except, no one thinks that, because Amazon’s Kindle Fire isn’t filled with surprise and delight moments. 

That doesn’t mean Amazon won’t sell millions of Kindle Fires.

What it might mean is that people will buy them, but they may not find much of an urge to actually use them, once the novelty wears off. Or, they may not find much reason to ever buy another tablet device from Amazon. Or, maybe no one ever talks about the Kindle Fire in a way that makes other people excited to own one as well.

Surprise and delight is the stuff of fanboy devotion. It’s the foundation of customer loyalty. It’s why Apple can lag way behind Android in units sold but still dominate mobile browsing statistics.

You can hate me for being an iOS fanboy, or call me a shill, but whether you like it or not, Amazon, at least, wants me to be an Amazon fanboy — Bezos wants to command a loyal army of Amazon fanboys — and he’s not going to get that through sheer volume.

"Meh" doesn’t build loyalty, or sell services.

If I could work anywhere…

Alongside Jeff and Kent croft, I conceived, co-founded, and launched Lendle a little over four months ago. Our little slice of the book-lending market has performed beyond our expectations, and I think it’s fair to say all three of us are amazed at how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.

For me, though, the most satisfying aspect of running a social book-lending site has been the chance to do something I’ve always known I’d love: Evangelize, promote and drive the social aspects of a product I am truly proud of.