Posts Tagged ‘Kindle’

I decided to read the biography of Steve Jobs. Because it was Steve Jobs’ biography, it seemed appropriate to use iBooks. This was my first experience downloading and reading a large book in iBooks. I had previously used iBooks for a number of PDF files so I was familiar with the program and I viewed it positively.

The book itself was fascinating. I give it an A-. It is extensive and comes across as balanced. The main downside involves keeping track of timelines. When the author covers Jobs’s romantic life, the timeline being discussed overlaps the timelines previously covered. I wish there had been a graph showing how the events from different areas of Jobs’s life lined up. Other than that it was an enjoyable and informative read. I won’t cover what was in the book. Buy it and read it. The author did a better job than I ever could.

One of the themes in the book was Jobs’s obsession with creating a consistent and cohesive user experience. Here is where I ran into a problem with iBooks. As mentioned above, the book was an interesting read. I got engrossed in it one day and found the battery on my iPad running low. I decided to charge the iPad and continue reading on my Macbook Pro. Imagine my surprise when I found out you can’t read an iBook on a Macbook Pro. Had I bought the book through Amazon and used the Kindle app I would have been fine. There are Kindle apps for iPhone, iPad, Android (tablet and phone), PC and, yes my dear readers, Macs. Apple needs to fix this immediately. It runs counter to the Apple philosophy and strikes me as glaringly inconsistent. While I think it would be in Apple’s best interest to release iBooks for the PC (but not Android), it is absolutely necessary to at least release it for OSX i.e. Mac. Right now I am advising everyone to stick with Kindle. There are too many reasons to want to be able to read a book on your laptop or desktop computer.

Reading the biography reminded me of my days selling Apple computers. It was 1978 and I was a graduate student in the physics department at Louisiana State University. To earn some extra money, I had taken a part time job at a small store called The Computer Place. It was a lot of fun. We sold Apple II and Commodore Pet computers and later added the Atari 400 and 800 with the Apple II being the big seller. I still have the old Apple II Red Book owner’s manual. I learned the rudiments of Basic, Pascal and Lisp while playing on the computers and solving customer problems. It was a time when the games that came with the Apple II were named Breakout and Star Trek. Only later would Apple be contacted regarding trademark and copyright violations. One Saturday I was trying to answer a customer’s question and was stuck. I decided to call Apple. Steve Jobs answered the phone. He was cordial and answered my question. What that question was I don’t remember. I do remember being impressed that Jobs was there on a Saturday and that he had answered my question as if I was a big time customer. That’s the only contact I ever had with Steve Jobs and it was a very short and minor moment but a fond memory just the same. Little did I know then that I would later be involved in a Silicon Valley startup, Cypress Semiconductor, and have my own up close and personal set of experiences with an intense and focused CEO i.e. one T. J. Rogers. However, that, as they say, is another story.

First and foremost Apple sells a polished user experience. Apple sweats the details. From the moment you walk into the store the experience is polished and first rate. Unboxing your purchase continues the experience. Even Apple’s service group, AppleCare, is different. You get lots of attention from people who know what they are doing. Apple hardware has a lot of refinement. The OS feel is consistent and people consistently talk about Apple products as intuitive and easy to use.

I have written about convergence and transparency. These two trends play right into Apple’s strengths. Apple is selling more and more laptops because people have purchased iPhones. People who have purchased iPads are now buying iPhones. The release of OSX Lion moves the laptop closer to iOS. The iPhone and the iPad use the same OS. This means transparency of use. But, for the first time, I see Apple moving backwards. Their new policy requires that Apple receive 30% of any in-app purchase. I can see how Apple reached this point. Games would be offered for free in the Apple App Store. Once you started playing the game, you found out you had to do an in-app purchase to go beyond level 3. Apple saw this as a direct end run around their app store policies in order to avoid paying Apple their cut. Admittedly, at 30% that cut is big and hence companies, especially small ones, are highly motivated to avoid this form of app store “tax.” None of this is a big problem as long as we are talking about games. Things are different when it comes to magazines and books.

So far the best example of the move towards transparency has been the Kindle ecosystem. There are Kindle apps for just about every device. There are apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Windows. If you buy a book through any one app it is available on all of the others. Bookmarks are shared. You can read on your tablet, pick up on your phone and finish up on your laptop. In every case, when you move to a new device, the app knows where you left off on the old one. This is transparency of use in action. Now Apple is working to hinder that transparency.

Reading books is still a transparent experience. However, buying them now involves exiting the Kindle program and using a web browser to go to Amazon.com. You can’t even click a button in the Kindle app and have it open Safari using the appropriate URL. You can in the Mac Kindle app. What should really happen is that the Kindle store should be built into the Kindle app. I suspect it eventually will be on Android. It will never be on iOS devices. Apple’s 30% cut would change a money maker into a loss leader product. Not only is 30% too high, I see no reason Apple should get anything. The books aren’t being bought through Apple’s online store. Besides, it is anticompetitive. It gives Apple’s own iBooks a competitive pricing advantage. The problem is, iBooks isn’t as universal as Kindle. This small chink in Apple’s image is becoming a growing crack. Online forums have end users griping about it. This is a chance for Google to press Apple and change the image of Android vs. iOS.

Until now, Android has been an interesting phone OS beloved by techies for its openness and many features. Most consumers have viewed, and in fact still are viewing, Apple’s iOS as the more polished and bug free operating system for phones and tablets. Apple’s greed could change that. Android gets more and more polished day by day. If in app purchases become the norm for Android and the exception for iOS then consumers will see Android as the easier and more transparent operating system. Imagine the difference is Amazon makes Kindle apps have smooth integration with the Kindle store except for Kindle on Apple devices. As more people buy and read ebooks, this will push them towards Android instead of iOS. All you have to do is read this to see how Apple may be inadvertently causing apps to be less friendly. Android versions of the apps won’t be so limited.

Right now Apple’s new policy has done little other than make Apple richer and tick off some app writers. However, as Android keeps getting stronger, this policy might come to threaten Apple when consumers begin to find buying and reading ebooks and ezines easier and more transparent on Android than iOS.

If you have been following along with my comments on transparency you might think the only big prize is owning the phone market or the tablet market or both. There’s another prize that’s very big. To understand it you need to take a look at PayPal. When I am online I like it when PayPal is a payment option. I don’t have to pull out my credit card. I just have to remember my PayPal login and I can complete my desired purchase. What if every transaction in the US went through two or three companies? This would be like a super PayPal. It wouldn’t just be online transactions but local purchases such as groceries, gas, clothes and dining.

It’s time for some simple math fun. April 2011 retail sales in the US were approximately $390B. One percent of that is $3.9B. If a company could get a third of this it would be $1.3B. That’s per month or $3.9B per quarter. This is only for the US. How do you get 1% of every transaction? You make them flow through your device. With NFC, the phone is the gateway to your credit card. When watching TV,  think GoogleTV or Apple TV. What if all you needed was one account with Google or Apple and you could cover all of your bills using your phone or your TV? This makes iTunes look puny. Don’t kid yourself, both Google and Apple are eyeing this. I suspect Microsoft is too but they are a bit late.

Amazon, a company I haven’t mentioned till now, sees this  too. Their solution has been to be the central online shopping site. However, remember how the Germans went around the Maginot Line? Remember how I said Apple and Google were doing a similar end around on the Wintel alliance? We could have another end around play here. Imagine your phone being your main device for purchases i.e. replacing your credit card. Apple and Google could move in on Visa and Mastercard. Now that they have you funneling your purchases through them it’s a small step to begin guiding those purchases. Think Apple App Store on a huge scale. Think of the Google Market Place but selling more than apps. Both of these companies are sitting on large amounts of cash and looking for ways to turn that into even larger revenue and profits. What can Amazon do? They can take a clue from their Kindle line. I don’t own a Kindle. However, there are Kindle apps on my laptop, my desktop, my phone and my tablet. When I buy ebooks my first choice is through Amazon. I don’t buy through iBooks because iBooks isn’t as broadly cross platform as Kindle. It’s that old transparency of data thing again. By buying through Kindle (Amazon) I can read the book on all of my devices. I read them where I want, when I want, and on the device I want to use.  Amazon needs to be the one company that will allow both your Apple device and your Android device to use the same account. At all cost they need to make sure the various platforms are open enough to allow them to be the central clearinghouse for your purchases. The same can be said for Mastercard and Visa. Those two companies dominate the landscape right now. However, fundamental changes are afoot and that always spells opportunity for others. For the first time Visa and Mastercard are vulnerable.

When will this take place? No time in the near future as far as the general public will see. However, the initial steps are being taken now. At first you will just place your credit card information in your phone and use it instead of the physical card. This is only slightly different from having Amazon store your credit card information with your account. From there it’s a small step to add extras to the Apple and Google app stores. Finally, Apple or Google issue you the credit line and push Visa and Mastercard out. They will be able to do this by offering incentives from the savings generated by not shipping Mastercard or Visa 2%.