Short Nerd Chief

Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

Wii in stock at Amazon

Posted by Fred on December 21, 2007

Lord knows how long they’ll last, but Amazon has Wiis in stock as of this moment.

Inevitable update: Now they don’t. They lasted for about 20 minutes.

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USA Today discovers shopping via mobile phone

Posted by Fred on December 19, 2007

USA Today notes that Those Darn Kids use their mobile phones for more than just talkin’:

Parents may often shop at the same stores as their children these days, but few shop anything like their kids do. Teens and twentysomethings are twice as likely as their elders to use mobile devices for tasks other than talking. And they are far more likely to opt in for text promotions, mobile coupons and mobile search services.The mobile facility of their young customers has also left retailers with a lot of catching up to do. Some major retailers, including Nordstrom (JWN) and Macy’s (M) in some regions, don’t have their full store inventories available for mobile searches, and some products pop up as available only online. Mobile coupons can’t be scanned at the registers, which slows down the process. And shoppers using mobile devices often can’t complete a transaction with a brick-and-mortar store on the devices.

The article mentions Slifter and NearbyNow, each of which purport to check local bricks-and-mortar inventory.  Neither reports any results for Richmond, so I have no idea how useful the services are.  Finding out whether something is in stock and where would be cool, although one could always use the phone function of a mobile phone to figure that out.

Shopping via mobile device is getting better, but it’s still pretty haphazard at best.  Too many websites rely on Flash, which doesn’t work for most mobile users.  Other sites work, but look like hell on a mobile browser, or take forever to download over a non-3G connection.  Other retailers deserve praise (and business).  Amazon’s mobile site loads quickly (it’s only about 6K including images), and you can set it up for one-click ordering using Amazon Prime.  I’ve been known to order movie tickets via Fandango Mobile on the way to the theatre (not while driving, of course).  Papa John’s will let you order pizza via text message.   Apple wants to give you the “real web” via Safari, but I’d settle for a mobile web that works.

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Amazon vs iTunes – which is better for singles/album only?

Posted by Fred on December 3, 2007

Omar likes Amazon’s MP3 store over the iTMS because he can buy individual Daft Punk songs.  In my limited testing, I think there’s a lot to like about the Amazon offering.  It certainly seems cheaper than iTunes Plus for DRM-free music.  It also seems to have more DRM-free selection.

I also agree that searching for a song on iTunes only to be told it’s Album Only is incredibly annoying.  I’m not sure, however, that Amazon is much better.  For example, search for Nina Simone’s Sinnerman (my usual test of Album Only-ness) on Amazon, and you’ll strike out just like on iTunes :

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Truth be told, it’s probably more the labels’ fault than it is Apple’s.  One advantage Amazon does have is variable pricing.  Normally, this operates just as a way to screw the customer, but in this case, if Amazon charges more for an otherwise album only track, you’ll still come out ahead if you don’t want the whole album.  Overall, the Amazon store is great for the music listener if it encourages labels to pick MP3 over AAC or WMA.  Even better is Pepsi’s promotion with Amazon, which will distribute up to a billion DRM-free MP3s and Wal-Mart’s apparent ultimatum that labels give it music in MP3 format only (no more DRM-choked WMA files).

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Scoble hates on the Kindle: doesn’t do enough irrelevant stuff

Posted by Fred on November 26, 2007

Scoble doesn’t like the Kindle much.  If by “not much” we mean “everyone associated with the project should be fired.” He’s got an advantage on me – he’s used one for a week, which is exactly a week longer than I’ve used one.  But I still say his criticisms are (largely) bogus.

Scoble: No ability to buy paper goods from Amazon through Kindle.

Me: Robert gets off to an OK start here; it’s odd that you can’t use an Amazon product to buy other Amazon products.  But is the Kindle an all-purpose internet device or an e-book reader with internet functionality designed to complement e-book consumption?  It seems that Kindle’s mobile broadband and web access is really intended to get content from the interwebs onto the device so you can read it. Everything else is secondary (but it’s still an odd choice on Bezos’ part).

Scoble: Usability sucks. They didn’t think about how people would hold this device.

Me:  Fair enough if true.  Ergonomics are important, and others have complained about button placement. It does seem ergonomically superior to the Sony reader and much smaller repurposed devices (PDA, iPhone, etc.).  An e-book needs to be roughly the proportions of an actual book, in my opinion.  There’s a reason books are shaped like they are.

Scoble: UI sucks. Menus? Did they hire some out-of-work Microsoft employees?

Me: Robert is starting to go off the tracks here.  This is a variation on his later beef about touch screens.  Not everything is an iPhone. Not everything should be.  Sure, a UI based on big icons and a touch screen would be great, but for 90% of the time you’re using the device, you don’t need to touch the screen (it’s an e-book reader, remember?).  The primary requirements for the display are (a) that it is easy to read, which means black text on a white background and (b) it doesn’t drain the battery in two hours.

Scoble: No ability to send electronic goods to anyone else. I know Mike Arrington has one. I wanted to send him a gift through this of Alan Greenspan’s new book. I couldn’t. That’s lame.  No social network. Why don’t I have a list of all my friends who also have Kindles and let them see what I’m reading?

Me:  These are actually two different complaints, but they come from the same place.  Just like everything need not be an iPhone, not every service should be Facebook.  This mad rush to create social networks around everything diminishes both the social network and the service.  There’s plenty of other avenues to share your reading list with your friends, and Amazon rightly chose to concentrate on the core functionality of the Kindle instead of the latest Web 2.0 faddishness.  It’s a far more significant accomplishment that you can download e-books into your library wirelessly than it would be to create a Kindle social network that most people wouldn’t use anyway.

Scoble: No touch screen. The iPhone has taught everyone that I’ve shown this to that screens are meant to be touched. Yet we’re stuck with a silly navigation system because the screen isn’t touchable.

Me: Wrong, wrong, wrong. Touchscreens are a good idea for some devices, but a bad idea for others.  In some cases, adding a touchscreen would make the device harder to use (imagine replacing the TV remote with a touchscreen). In this case, adding a touchscreen would require compromises in other areas. It would make the device significantly more expensive.  It’s already too expensive at $399. It would decrease battery life, as the reason the battery lasts so long is that e-ink only draws power when the display changes (ask Steve Jobs about design compromises driven by lengthening time between recharges). Finally, the screen on the Kindle is designed primarily for displaying text.  Everything else is secondary, and for now at least, there’s no such thing as an e-ink touchscreen.  And for an e-book, e-ink and menus trumps touch.

The Kindle is clearly an imperfect device, that is incrementally better than what came before it. The technology still isn’t there to make it good enough to replace paper for me, and the economics of the Kindle Marketplace are still off.  So there’s a lot to criticize.  That it isn’t an iPhone/Facebook/browser that happens to also display text isn’t where to start, however.

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Amazon Customers Vote: a Wii for $79, Whee!

Posted by Fred on November 15, 2007

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Amazon’s Customers Vote promotion is back. As the site itself says, “the products that get the most votes in each of six rounds will be offered at ridiculous winning prices, and the runners-up will also be sold at slightly smaller discounts. (But they’ll still be sweet deals.)” General categories include video game consoles, photo and video, toys, high-def DVD, and two categories that defy description (what do a flat-panel TV, stand mixer and robot vac have in common?). Here are the current vote leaders:

  1. Nintendo Wii for $79 (55%)
  2. Panasonic SD-1 High-Definition Camcorder for $299 (54%)
  3. Razor E100 Electric Scooter for $29 (65%)
  4. Toshiba HD-A35 1080p HD DVD Player for $149 (46%)
  5. HP Pavilion TX1305US 12.1″ Notebook PC for $299 (62%)
  6. Samsung LNT4661F 46″ 1080p LCD HDTV for $719 (65%)

I voted for all of those except the Panasonic SD-1. I’d rather have the Panasonic L1 7.5MP DSLR instead. As these things always do, the discussions page has degenerated into XBox 360 vs. PS3 fanboyism. Why are people such idiots?

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Hulu, or Who Knew it Would Be So Useless

Posted by Fred on October 29, 2007

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The news embargo on Hulu has lifted, so a bunch of tech journalists who haven’t actually used the service are posting pre-reviews of the fledgling video site based on demos NBC showed them and some press releases.

Kara Swisher, for example, who has been deservedly critical of the service, now says that:

From a demo (here are some screen shots of pages) I was given Friday by Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, the boyish former Amazon exec who seems to have learned to swim well with the Hollywood sharks, I am impressed thus far.

I will, of course, reserve judgment until I get to test-drive it for a while, but in concept and tone and aims–that is, more open than I ever expected the service to be–it is off to a good start. (Actual reviews of these sites I will leave to Walt Mossberg.)

If you’ve forgotten what Hulu is, other than another stupid quasi-Hawaiian name reminiscent of Mahalo, recall that NBC got irritated with Apple for its pricing inflexibility (it now appears that NBC wanted to charge $2.99 per episode for Heroes to see what would happen, and Apple said no thanks, competition should drive prices down, not up), and teamed with Fox to form Hulu, which will offer streams of current TV programming and some movies. It thus is an attempt to compete with (a) the iTunes Music Store per-episode download service, (b) YouTube, (c) illegal BitTorrent downloads, (d) the network’s own websites, (e) Amazon’s Unbox and other movie download services, (f) DVRs, (g) DVD sets and a bunch of other stuff besides. In reality, the big dogs are YouTube and iTMS. Hulu will offer a dozen movies to start and the most recent five episodes of current network programs (delayed by at least a day to protect their original airings and give you a chance to skip the ads on your TiVo box). It will be an ad-supported service, but the precise nature of the ads is up in the air. Given that this is NBC, expect at least some ads to be in-stream and unskippable. They just can’t help themselves.

The service hasn’t even launched yet, but the restrictions seem clear (despite what Kara says, it is not open, at least not compared to other non-Hollywood offerings). No user-generated content (no big loss, in my opinion), no downloads, no desktop player, no mobile access, no real-time or close to real-time access, no proper archive of content. You get five episodes of Heroes, which you can watch in a Flash player via a browser or embed in a website so other people can stream it in a Flash player via a browser. You’ll be able to recommend clips or make quasi-mashup highlight reels.

The TV networks are sitting on a treasure trove of content, but they’re just too paranoid to release it into the wilds of the internet. Just think of what Hulu could be if the networks grabbed that brass ring:

  • The archive.org of the TV generation. Sixty years or more of programming, available on demand. Want to see the Vitameatavegamin episode of I Love Lucy? Stream it on demand, or download it for a buck or two. Stick some ads in the free stream or plaster them on the website to get cash for the non-downloaded content.
  • Mashup central. People love best-of clipfests – where would VH1 be without the commentary-laden clipfest? Release downloadable clips of content and let people mash them, combine them, snark all over them. Then let them upload their creations to Hulu, highlight the best of the bunch. If they’re really good, stick them on real TV and come full circle.
  • Compete with the iTMS. This means really compete, offer-an-alternative-like-Amazon compete. iTMS shows are laden with DRM, play only on Apple TV, iPhone or an iPod and cost too much. Provide DRM-free downloads for a buck that can play on anything that plays video, or offer Hi-def downloads for a reasonable price increase. Get creative with pricing, but that doesn’t just mean “charge more for popular stuff.”
  • Replace the DVR and/or DVD box set. This is covered above in a way, but offer a high-quality stream in real-time. That way, I can start watching Heroes at 8:12 on a Monday if I don’t get home in time. Include ads if you want, but let me skip them. It has to be no worse an experience than I get by paying 10 bucks a month to Comcast. You can also bypass the plastic discs for catching up on past seasons. I caught on to Friday Night Lights late and bought the DVD set. Why? Let me download season one and watch it on the PC or stream to the TV via a media server. I don’t need the discs and won’t have time for the extra features.

Hulu, of course, does none of these things. NBC and its partners are too afraid of cannibalizing other channels, too afraid of alienating advertisers, too afraid of P2P and BitTorrent and the internet. Hulu could kill the iTMS, but this version of Hulu won’t. I generally agree with Marshall Kilpatrick:

No user generated content (not even best-of), no desktop player or download of material (it’s all in a Flash player) and very little viewer interaction is enabled. Viewers are allowed to select which section of the precious Hollywood content they are most in love with, that section or the whole video can then be shared with a friend or embedded on a website. This is just a multi-partner content deal with paltry technology behind it and a whole lot of money for marketing. Nothing innovative to get excited about.

Marshall wants social elements, too, but I’m a misanthrope who doesn’t care to be your friend on Facebook or otherwise, so making the solo viewing experience first-class is more important. But Hulu isn’t social, isn’t first-class, and won’t shake anything up. It’s just another half-baked service with a lot of marketing and a stupid name.

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The ultimate in variable pricing – name your own price for In Rainbows

Posted by Fred on October 1, 2007

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How much is Radiohead’s new album worth? Pick a number between $0 and $82. Lots of people are going to write lots of words about how “this changes everything.” It doesn’t, of course, but it is a nice pricing model for bands that are big names not signed to record contracts. It also keeps Radiohead’s name out there given that they are not now, nor will they ever be, on iTunes, thanks to their refusal to sell downloads of individual songs (Amazon, on the other hand, has no problem selling the Radiohead albums as downloads for $8.99).

So what does it mean? I’m not ready to call it the first step to Mike Masnick’s music utopia where “Radiohead isn’t really selling the ‘music.'” Radiohead know full well that most people aren’t going to pick a price of $0. The calculus that goes into this sort of the system is the same as when Cory Doctorow offers free downloads of his books while also selling them at Barnes & Noble – many people will buy the book/album, and those who pay nothing will presumably provide nice PR to get more people to buy the paid product. This calculus works even without the $82 diskbox. Radiohead is selling the music; if they weren’t, the only thing they’d be charging for would be the box set.

It’s also not at all clear how the model scales beyond Radiohead. Most musicians are signed to record labels, who aren’t going to adopt this model, even if this experiment is a success (in fact, the only lesson the majors are likely to draw is “people will pay 80 bucks for a deluxe edition!”). Further, while Radiohead can get the buzz necessary to drive people to a website, how are unsigned or unknown acts supposed to do the same? One can envision a site that collects such acts in a central repository, but it’s still a stretch.

Finally, the Radiohead experiment, in and of itself, is unlikely to prove anything. If blog comments are any indication, some people will buy the download as a political statement, a way to stick it to the hated RIAA. It’ll be the second or third or fourth such effort, after the novelty has worn off and purchases are not part of an anti-cartel manifesto that one can draw reasonable conclusions.

Update: Jason Kottke points out that Radiohead is not the first to try this (notable earlier efforts include Magnatune and Jane Siberry).  That you and I have heard about Radiohead’s efforts and not the others proves the point – this model works best for those artists who are already established, especially if they have a certain amount of geek cred, as does Radiohead.

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