Monday, December 6, 2010

Google obsoletes Amazon with Google eBook store

A year ago, I wrote that Google was maneuvering for a scrap with Amazon.  Today, they dropped the hammer.

Google announced it's own book store, with the stated aim of "buy anywhere, read anywhere."  The books are delivered as proprietary-formatted DRM eBooks, or as PDF or ePUB files. Reader software is available for Web browsers, Apple's iPhones/iPads/iPods, Android devices, and the Sony e-reader and the Nook, Barnes & Noble's answer to Amazon's Kindle.

As an avid reader (and e-reader), this comes as both good news and bad news.  The good news is that more competition drives innovation, ubiquity, and value to consumers up, while driving marginal prices down. The bad news is that it means more Format Wars- multiple book titles for multiple reader clients on multiple devices, some probably incompatible with each other.  I think this latter is short-term pain, though; may the best technology win!

But even more interesting to me is the strategic chess game being played by Google, which has now pitted itself squarely against Microsoft, Apple, and now, Amazon, three of the biggest players in the tech industry.  Google competes against Steve Balmer's Microsoft in the areas of search (Google vs. Bing), office productivity software (MS-Office vs. Google Docs), email (Hotmail vs. Gmail), and various other, less important offerings.

Google competes against Apple in the areas of mobile operating systems and devices (Apple's iOS vs. Android), and personalized "cloud computing" (Apple's MobileMe vs. Gmail/G-Calendar/G-Contacts/G-Docs/Picassa).  Google also launched a warning shot over the Facebook bow with it's much-maligned Google Buzz, now rumored to be morphing into something called Google Me.

And now Amazon is in the crosshairs.  Of all the above offerings, this one makes the most sense. The reason is simple:  Google excels at disintermediation. Google's entire purpose is to bypass the gatekeepers (AOL and CompuServe, anyone?), and put consumers directly in touch with what they are searching for.  Why go to Amazon to search for books, when you can just type the title into Google, and get both organic search results and a place to buy it?

Well... not so fast.  Amazon's real value lies more in it's community than it's shopping cart.  Most of us go to Amazon because we expect to read reviews from other consumers, which can help us make a buy/pass decision.  While there are some abuses, such as authors writing shill reviews for their own titles, for the most part, the community reviews work extraordinarily well, both for books and other products that Amazon sells (usually as a middle man).  So the question is:  can Google co-opt the reviews aspect by building a solid community of it's own?

Maybe. Google tried this with the less-than-successful Google Buzz offering, which limps along, but barely. If they can, expect Amazon to shift it's strategic focus to building out it's cloud computing Web Services like S3 and Jungle Disk, but even there, it's rushing headlong into Google's fortified beachhead.

On the other hand, Amazon owns the online retail mindshare for most shoppers. E-Bay has made a dent for adventurous bargain-seekers, but that's a different market. As Facebook demonstrated to Google, it takes more than a free service to win over consumers.  So, if Google does steal Amazon's thunder, it won't happen overnight. It will take a few years to build the community reviews and product base to critical mass; but with Google's massive infrastructure and hardware channel sales partners, it could happen.

The prime innovators continue to be Google and Apple, which each have similar, but strongly differentiated strengths. Apple, with it's elegant hardware, slick user interfaces, and "walled gardens," is the premium price brand. Google, with it's mostly free-but-functional aesthetic and advertising-driven model, is the cheap and frugal choice.  Each have stakes in the other's camp, though.  Google offers premium services for small business and enterprise customers, and those wishing to buy extra storage, while Apple launched iAd, an interactive mobile ad service, similar to Google's AdMob.  For my money, Google and Apple are the ones to watch.

So, it took a year, but looks like we had it right here at Easy Tech Zealot.  Oh, and notice who we're not talking about?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Best Buy fired this man?!

I'm sorry, but this is hilarious, Apple zealot though I am.  Best Buy, apparently, disagrees, since they fired the video's creator, a BB employee.  See if you can figure out why (I can't).

I think the Stephen Hawking voice emulator deserves a Webby. Or at least a Golden Globe.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Digital pen of my dreams

I.R.I.S.' new digital pen looks promising. Writes on regular paper, transmits to a small bluetooth receiver with flash memory and USB port for later connection to your computer, captures data on the screen (when connected) in what looks to be real-time. AND it has Mac drivers! W00t!

I can't wait for one of my early-adopter friends to buy one of these, and tell me if it works!  (Dr. Kai, I'm looking at you!)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Facebook and mobile phone Quiz scams

Image courtesy of Techcrunch

Before anyone sends another virtual drink/flower/gift/gerbil on Facebook, please read this article from Techcrunch. Ditto with mobile phone quizzes.  You may suddenly find yourself tapped for $25 per month bill for the rest of your life!  Or until you cancel your cell phone plan.  Either way, it's beyond annoying.

I decline all invitations to play games on Facebook, accept or send any gifts, take any quizzes, or basically, do anything other than blog and post pictures and video. It's not because I don't appreciate your gifts of electrons, my friends.  It's because the fine print of ALL of those applications- it's right there when you confirm it's okay to install the app- says "You give the publisher of this application permission to ravage your public and private contacts, contacts you've linked to on other applications (such as your Gmail or Yahoo address books), and any information you've posted on Facebook, and do whatever they want with it."  Basically.

In other words, so that I can send you an electronic beer, I give you permission to spam me, sell my email address to other spammers, and do the same for every single person in my address book.   All of this for a beer with no buzz included.  Ah, the price of friendship has grown cheap, indeed, in the Internet era.

For example, Farmville, which is very popular on Facebook, requires you to consent to this statement when you "Allow" the game access to your account:
Allowing FarmVille access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work.
If you click through a few times, to the games' privacy page,
Due to our contractual obligations with these third parties and the need to share information to deliver and support the Service, we cannot provide you with the opportunity to opt-out of sharing information (whether Personally Identifiable Information or other information) with these third parties.
An electron beer could end up costing you $240 per year.  Good reason to stay sober.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Microsoft on iTunes: "We were smoked"

This is an interesting peak behind the curtain at The Great Oz (Microsoft, circa 2003). Founder Bill Gates and product manager Jim Allchin admitted that Apple caught them unawares- again- and wondered how and why the record companies would let something like that happen.

Even more telling, Gates urges his team to "move quick to both match and do stuff better" than Apple in the music space. Seven years later? The Zune. And Zune Marketplace. Actually, the Zune is a good device, and TZM has certain advantages over iTunes, including a subscription model, for those who prefer it, albeit an expensive one. Yet the Zune has a tiny fraction of a market completely dominated by Apple, in a role-reversal of the desktop OS market, where MS is the 800 lb. gorilla.

It is good that Gates and company recognized a problem. Not so good that, after 7 years, they are nowhere near a leadership position in that market.

This is an apocryphal story akin to Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), who, in 1977 declared “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” MS has sleepwalked through much of the last 2o years, relying on it's massive installed user base and gobs of cash instead of innovation and superb execution. In the lightning-paced world of technology, it may be their undoing.

Full text of the disclosed emails follows here, courtesy of Techcrunch:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Apple tablet? Oui

MocoNews reports that French mobile network Orange France's Deputy CEO Stephane Richard confirmed the existence and imminent release of the Apple iSlate.

At 6:15 in the video, you can hear the following exchange, in French. Nothing out of context; this is the context.

Jean Pierre Elkabbach: According to Le Point, your partner Apple will launch a Tablet...

Stéphane Richard: Yes.

Jean Pierre Elkabbach: ...with a webcam...

Stéphane Richard: Yes.

Jean Pierre Elkabbach: ...would Orange users benefit from this?

Stéphane Richard: Sure! They are going to benefit from the web cam, certainly we will be able to, in effect, transmit images in real time. We are going to modernize, in essence, the video phone that we knew a few years ago... the size of the resolution, and the quality of the resolution will be better, and it will be available to all in France.

Start saving your pennies!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Nexus One Launches

Steve, this is your loyal Apple customer base. Um, don't panic or anything, but, you might want to take a look at the new Google Phone. It's, um... well, like... wow. You, you might want to check it out. I'm just saying.