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Amazon Tablet Follow-Up

clock March 23, 2011 08:33 by author Tom

MG Siegler addresses the Amazon Tablet issue in a post entitled “Why Amazon *Has* To Make A Tablet Now”.  My original point is still the same.  Amazon would be foolish to alienate all the other tablet manufacturers by making their own.  But he did raise two interesting points I wanted to address.

There has been a lot of talk today about how and why Amazon could become a big player in the tablet space. And a NYT report from last week points to Amazon specifically looking at expanding their work on Android in the space. (We also heard about an Amazon Android tablet back in September from the same source that knew about their app store.) But there really should be no question about it. After seeing their Android Appstore, it’s clear not only that they need to get into this game, but that they’re going to.
Currently, to install Amazon’s Appstore, you need to jump through a bunch of loops. This laborious process has been ripped apart — “8 easy steps” — and rightfully so. This isn’t like installing just any other Android app. You have to alter system settings and send yourself files. If you’re somewhat geeky, it’s not hard. And to be fair, Amazon does the best job they can walking you through the process on their site. But there is no way that an average person is going to do this.

This seems like a case where he’s taking a short term problem (the difficult install) and using it to suggest Amazon pursue a very expensive, very long term strategy.

Making a tablet is no trivial task.  A quick look at all those generic tablets littering K-Marts and Discount Stores around the world proves that point.  Industrial Design is hard.

Companies like Motorola and Samsung have a deep bench of people who specialize in this type of thing and even they have trouble keeping up with Apple.  So Amazon would be entering a highly competitive industry and they’d be doing so at a huge disadvantage (remember the Kindle essentially had no competition when it was released).

So the question is this: Which is easier, coaxing other tablet manufacturers to pre-install your app store or entering the highly competitive tablet market and trying to become the dominant player?  To me, the answer to that question is obvious.  Even if Amazon had to pay tablet manufacturers to be pre-loaded it would still be much cheaper than entering the tablet business themselves.


The key to Amazon’s Appstore is going to be getting it pre-installed on devices. Earlier, my colleague Jason suggested that Amazon should strike up deals with carriers to get their store pre-installed on Android devices. I too have no doubt that those discussions are already well underway. The problem is that at least some of those carriers (and OEMs) are also doing their own app stores — will they really want more competition?

Well…you can’t win them all.  Yes, there will be other companies that venture into the “app store” market but I have to believe they’ll be few and far between.  Apple and Google have both said they make little to no money off their app stores. 

Amazon’s interest is in being the world’s #1 retailer in every category.  Apps are a growing product category so it makes sense for them to get into the market.  Plus it compliments a strategy where they can act as an iTunes replacement for Android devices. 

But if you don’t already have a retail infrastructure it makes no sense to build your own app store.  I mean, you’d have to build an entire infrastructure around a business with miniscule margins.  

That’s even more true when it comes to Video, Music and Books.  You’d have to negotiate distribution deals with hundreds of labels, studios and publishers.  There’s no way that’s worth it especially if Amazon’s offering you a piece of that business for the low, low price of a pre-load. 



Amazon: The Benevolent Background Player

clock March 23, 2011 00:03 by author Tom

Dan Frommer wrote a piece today in which he suggests Amazon should build its own Android tablet.  In it he says…

 

It would be foolish not to include Amazon on the list of potentially huge players in the tablet industry.

While the company is still only selling simple Kindle e-readers, Amazon has quietly built all the tools it needs to compete against Apple and the other tablet makers with its own Android-based tablets.


I vehemently disagree with him on this.  Yet I agree with every point he makes.  Let me explain…

Amazon, at its heart, is still a retailer.   They take products from manufacturers and sell them to customers.  That’s what Amazon’s business is based around and they’ve stuck to that in almost every new industry they’ve entered. 

In fact, there are only two exceptions I can think of (Amazon Web Services and The Kindle) and in both cases there was a retail oriented reason for straying from the norm. 

In the case of Amazon Web Services the reason was excess resources that were sitting around unused.  Amazon, like any other store, has busy periods and slow periods.  Because of this the company was having to keep a lot of computing power in reserve for those busy times.  But that computing power cost money and went unused 99% of the time.  Amazon Web Services were a way to generate revenue from that necessary excess.

In the case of the Kindle they had a retail product (e-books) that lacked a quality distribution method.  E-Book readers sucked before the Kindle.  Most still do.  So Amazon realized they’d have to make a decent device since one didn’t exist and that’s exactly what they did.  But again the point was to create a distribution mechanism for products they were trying to sell.

Which brings us back to the tablet idea.  If Amazon builds their own tablet they risk alienating all the other Android device manufacturers.  The only reason for them to take that risk is if there isn’t a quality device for Amazon to distribute their products (as in the case of the Kindle). 

But that’s not true.  The Android tablets coming out are fairly high quality.  In fact the only flaw most reviewers seem to find is in the software (Honeycomb was obviously rushed out the door).  So Amazon is much better off playing the benevolent partner to all these manufacturers.  Allowing the manufacturers to easily compete with iTunes without building their own music, video and book store.  In doing so they can become the defacto media distributor for ALL Android devices rather than limiting themselves to just the one they would build. 

Historical Side note: The above scenario is exactly what happened to Pepsico (makers of Pepsi along with other soft drinks) in the 80s.  Frustrated by their inability to capture more of the fountain drink market from Coca-Cola they decided to purchase Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell.  In doing so they slowly drove all their other customers away.  By 2001 they had an even smaller portion of the Fountain market so they spun the three food chains off into their own company. 



Pluses and Minuses of Anonymous Comments

clock March 11, 2011 00:54 by author Tom

Slate author Farhad Manjoo brings the issue of Anonymous Comments back in a piece entitled “Why we need to get rid of anonymous comments”.  I don’t agree with the piece but give him credit for admitting the consequences of his desire…

Advocates for anonymity argue that fuckwaddery is the price we have to pay to ensure people's privacy. Posting your name on the Web can lead to all kinds of unwanted attention—search engines will index you, advertisers can track you, prospective employers will be able to profile you. That's too high a price to pay, you might argue, for the privilege of telling an author that he completely blows.

Well, shouldn't you have to pay that high a price? I'm not calling for constant transparency. If you're engaging in private behavior—watching a movie online, posting a dating profile, gambling, or doing anything else that the whole world shouldn't know about—I support and celebrate your right to anonymity. But posting a comment is a public act. You're responding to an author who made his identity known, and your purpose, in posting the comment, is to inform the world of your point of view. If you want to do something so public, you are naturally ceding some measure of your privacy. If you're not happy with that trade, don't take part—keep your views to yourself.

Essentially the author is saying he knows there are negative consequences but he feels the benefits to society out weigh those.  So the question is whether he’s right on that point.  In order to determine that I’ve listed the pluses and minuses of such a policy.

Minus: People’s REAL lives are impacted even when their comments are benign

People can be fired for their political views.  People have been fired for their sexual orientation (not legally but it costs money to sue and if you’ve just been fired it’s hard to find lawyer money).  People in high positions can be fired simply for having benign hobbies that seem unprofessional (I know a CEO who was fired for collecting Comic Books). 

Beyond the professional it’s even easier to become ostracized from a group.  How many of  us have had to choose between two friends because of some silly argument?  Once people’s every online comment is posted to their Facebook wall you can expect even more of those rifts to occur. 

So there are literally a million ways that a person’s benign online activities could harm their actual life. 

Minus: You lose worthwhile comments

From the post…

Sure, this isn't terribly high-minded. I'll concede, too, that forcing people to use their real names might give us more "sterile and neutered" comments, as the blogger Steve Cheney argued last week. And perhaps we'll miss some important comments that could only be posted anonymously. If TechCrunch writes a post wondering about some terrible new Apple policy, for instance, we likely won't see an anonymous comment from a whistle-blower explaining the policy. But I doubt that's a real loss—I don't think raucous comment forums are the first place that whistle-blowers turn to.

So essentially he concedes the point but then immediately backtracks because he realizes the point is valid enough to disprove his whole theory. If we’re losing valuable insights from inside sources than it really isn’t worth it.

Plus: There are fewer nonsense comments

This I’ll concede. Since TechCrunch banned anonymous comments there have been far fewer comments to read. And since most TechCrunch comments tend to be from people who were too lazy to read the previous comments and see their point was already made 50 comments ago that has helped.

Fallacy: Cutting out Anonymity creates a better environment

To quote the post again…

I can't speak for my bosses, who might feel differently than I do. But as a writer, my answer is no—I don't want anonymous commenters. Everyone who works online knows that there's a direct correlation between the hurdles a site puts up in front of potential commenters and the number and quality of the comments it receives. The harder a site makes it for someone to post a comment, the fewer comments it gets, and those comments are generally better.

Cutting out the anonymity gives us a more sterile environment?  As I was writing this post the quoted Slate story was #2 on their homepage.  The #1 story was on Newt Gingrich.  These are some of the Facebook comments on that post…

What a freakin’ creep. – Emily Jane Pucker

“Or an orgy. That's what I call putting the 'c0ck' back in 'caucus'.  
If a handsome, charming devil like Clinton can't resist temptation, what hope does an angry potato-body like Gingrich have? Then again have you SEEN the women he was cheating with. Cruella DeVil as played by Joan Rivers!” – alex

“Yes, they're called his second and third wives. At least Clinton had the brains not to marry his bimbos.” – Top Scientist

“He's a twit demagogue who sincerely believes he is sincere, and, not to forget, a serious intellectual. We will remember him as the man who was getting the same treatment at the same time as the president he impeached for same.” – Robert J Crawford

“To summarize, he screwed his mistresses because he loved screwing America so much.  
He's a horrible Ewok, this Newt” – Jaysit

And that’s just from the first page of comments!  Doesn’t seem very sterile and neutered to me. 

Conclusion (or The False Plus: A Blogger’s ego is preserved)

So in the end the positives are mostly a fallacy and the negatives can lead to people losing their jobs, friends, etc…  Doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me.  So why the sudden push against Anonymity on blogs?   

As Allen Stern of CenterNetworks so deftly put it

The real issue I see is that many bloggers don’t want feedback – there is no freaking way someone commenting on my post can be right. There’s no way my grammar could be crappy – or my research wrong. Imagine if each blogger spent some time looking at their comments and then decided if perhaps I should change how I do research or try a new style. My fear is that a move to Facebook comments will mean more “you are great” and less “here’s why you are wrong” comments.

That really is the issue here.  When you look at the pluses and minuses of the situation you realize there’s very little reason to ban anonymous comments unless you simply don’t want to face what they have to say.  And contrary to common belief Internet trolls usually speak the truth.  They speak it in a way that’s unnecessarily harsh but that doesn’t make it less true. 

But that’s the way of the world.  Politicians get elected every year by promising things we know they can’t do.  But people still vote for them because even in the most important areas of life people don’t want to face hard truths. 



Trolls In Plain Sight

clock March 7, 2011 22:28 by author Tom

As surprising as it might seem some bloggers choose to be inflammatory to boost traffic.  I’ll give you three guesses as to what popular blogger’s traffic is down 2/3rds since this time last year.  Here's a hint…

These [people who say Facebooks unanonymous comments kill authenticity] are cowards.

See, where I ONLY post opinions I’m willing to sign my name to, lots of people are actually cowards and just not willing to sign their names to their mealy-mouthed attacks.

Don’t give me that horseshit that you won’t be able to whistle blow at work.

I once took on Microsoft WHILE I WORKED THERE because of an injustice I felt was happening at every level. The execs had decided to pull support for an anti-discrimination bill due to pressure from a local church. I thought that was horseshit and wrote about it continually for a few days. Within a week Ballmer had reversed himself and within a year that bill passed for the first time in eight years of tries. What you didn’t know back in 2005 was that my boss was a member of that church. Every day I went to work that week I knew it could have been my last day at Microsoft. In my discussions with my wife I told her that I could get fired at any moment for what I was writing. She knew my boss at the time belonged to that church. She knew I was calling Steve Ballmer a coward. She knew I was behaving in a way that would be seen as really nasty by nearly everyone at work.

I really don’t have time to beat around the bush here so I’m going to be painfully blunt. 

If you’re a father of two school-age children without a college degree and you’ve managed to get a six figure job than you shouldn’t be risking that job to express your opinion online.  Doing so isn’t brave.  It’s at best overly self important (“No one will stick up for this issue if I don’t”).  At worst it’s just selfish and unthinking (“My integrity is more important than whether my kids have food on the table”). 

If there’s one thing the economy has taught us in the last couple years it’s that there’s not always another job waiting out there.  So even if Scoble wants to treat his own life and the lives of his own family in such a haphazardly way he's way out of line accusing others of being cowards for not doing the same.

Being an adult means accepting responsibility for the trusts that are placed in you.  It means denying yourself the pleasure of doing whatever the heck you want if your actions might hurt others who depend on you. 

Finally let’s be honest here.  You don’t need to be anonymous to be a troll.  A troll is just someone who posts inflammatory messages to get attention.  I can think of at least one blogger who uses his real name while doing just that (unless you honestly want to make the point that calling a large swath of people cowards isn’t trollish behavior). 



Why Apple Wins

clock March 2, 2011 17:51 by author Tom

I’m not really blown away by the iPad 2 but I didn’t expect to be.  One of the great things Apple does is to throw an incremental release between big product jumps (think iPhone 3GS).  So someone who bought an iPad 6 months ago doesn’t feel like they were completely ripped off.  That’s what the iPad 2 is. 

What really impressed me (and what I think says the most about Apple) is the new “Smart Covers”.   Engadget has a bunch of pictures and a video here.

This is not something that would have come out of Samsung or Motorola and that’s an important point. 

Apple’s view of a product is more holistic than other manufacturers.  They’re thinking as much about the little things as they are about the big things because they…to use a management term…take ownership of the whole product.  They aren’t just building a device around someone else’s operating system they’re building the whole interaction.  A product in its entirety from the chip to the OS to the case.  It takes that kind of thinking to realize “these thick cases are ruining the user experience of our thin device” or "all those finger smudges on the screen really ruin the experience"

To quote Steve Jobs’ presentation…

"This is worth repeating. It's in Apple's DNA that technology is not enough. It's tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it's the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive."

I’m more of a business oriented person so when I talk about Apple’s approach I’m usually discussing the profit implications.  Apple’s great at cutting out middle men and coat tail riders and getting as much profit out of their customers as possible because of it.  But the design aspect of that approach is even more integral to the company’s success and these smart cases are the perfect example of why that’s the case.



A (rambling) .Net Developer’s Shaken Faith

clock March 2, 2011 14:04 by author Tom

.Net development is essentially dead.   WPF was undermined by Silverlight.  Silverlight was then killed by Microsoft’s desperate attempt for publicity (which led them to push HTML5 a technology they barely even support).  While traditional ASP.NET has been waning for years to the point where I don’t know anyone who would consider starting a new project using it.   And Microsoft’s mobile presence is non-existent beyond Windows Phone 7’s tiny ecosystem (it’s telling that Appcelerator is working to add Blackberry support while not even mentioning WP7)

Right now the focus seems to be on ASP.NET MVC.  Almost every blog post Scott Guthrie’s made this year has been on MVC and Microsoft seems to have moved (or hired) their best people onto that project.  I consider this a good thing but I know a lot of ASP.NET developers feel burned by it.   I mean, if you look at ASP.NET MVC it essentially uses all the skills Microsoft told their developers to shy away from (Javascript, CSS, etc…).  So as the focus shifts a  lot of .Net developers are finding their proficiency falls below rails and python developers on Microsoft’s new platform of choice.  While knowledge of things like XAML, Skins and other Microsoft technology has been depreciated.  

(For the record this post was inspired by my attempt to mix Silverlight with ASP.NET MVC only to find Adobe’s Flash was a much better fit)

This is a huge problem even for those with the skills required by MVC.  Because the community is shrinking.  That means fewer answers out there, less support for the technology and eventually fewer jobs.  Even in corporate environments Microsoft’s starting to lose its grip.  With companies like IBM offering support for Python the question of Microsoft’s future relevance in the development sphere is very much up in the air. 

Even their servers are looking less attractive lately.  To this day it shocks me that Microsoft chose not to offer a direct upgrade path from Windows 2000 to Windows 2008.  As far back as I can remember it has always been considered good practice to “skip a generation” in regards to corporate software.  It keeps costs down while providing a stable environment and by only skipping one generation you don’t fall too far behind.    Not acknowledging that shows a real disconnect between Microsoft and their customers which in turn erodes that ecosystem as well. 

Microsoft’s server strategy has been moving in the wrong direction since Active Directory was introduced.  Active Directory is essentially a registry for your network and it causes just as many problems.  I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had trouble installing software only to find another software package left errant objects in the Active Directory and those objects were interfering.   But since Microsoft built its entire server strategy around the technology it makes everything else dependent.  You can’t have a Windows DNS server, DHCP server, and so on without Active Directory. 

This adds external dependencies which is the exact opposite of what you want to do with servers (servers are all about stability and uptime so you want as few dependencies as possible).

Which brings me to the point of this post.  You have both the development ecosystem and the IT ecosystem under it deteriorating yet Microsoft doesn’t see it because the numbers  have yet to drop.  I, for example, still buy Windows servers and still use Visual Studio but you can see where my head is at. 

I really like the Razor engine and I really like NuGet.  They’re both good technology and I’ve been trying to embrace them.  But I have responsibilities both to myself (to keep my skills current) and my organization (to build technology that won’t be orphaned in the future) and I’m not sure Microsoft is the responsible choice anymore.   The debate in my mind is whether to hunker down and fully embrace Razor in the hopes that Microsoft will clean up their act or toss it completely and start slowly moving to a Linux/Ruby/Python alternative. 



About Me

Not really relevant right now. This blog is on hiatus. I really haven't decided if it is an indefinite hiatus yet

For the record if you've tried to e-mail me over the last 4 to 6 months I didn't mean to ignore you. The e-mail forwarding isn't working and I didn't realize that until months worth of e-mails had been deleted on forward. The tom@tomstechblog.com address still won't forward to the postmaster account and I don't know why because it's provided by the webhost. But if you're one of my old blog pen pals I would always welcome an e-mail from you at the postmaster@tomstechblog.com address

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