My Accidental Amazon Ecosystem

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I noticed a funny thing while working in my home office today: There’s a lot of Amazon stuff around. Amazon Prime membership. Amazon Fire 7 tablet (5th generation).  Amazon Fire TV Stick. And now, the Amazon echo dot, which was given to me as Christmas gift.

Woah! That’s a lot of Amazon tech for a self proclaimed Apple fan.

I didn’t get here by way of a conscious effort. The Amazon ecosystem crept into my life slowly over the course of 2016. First was my Prime membership with a trial in January and for real in February. Then, for our family vacation to the beach in Cape Cod, I purchased a “throw away” Amazon Fire 7 tablet.  Then Amazon Prime Day rolled around in July, and I was looking for an easier way to watch Amazon’s Bosch on my TV rather than watching it on my 27-inch iMac. Two days later, an Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote arrived.  And then there is the Amazon echo dot sitting at the corner of my desk that I received as a Christmas gift.

That’s a lot of Amazon stuff.

So, what now? I don’t use the Amazon ecosystem for buying ebooks, music, TV shows, or movies. For that, I solely rely on Apple and their various iTunes stores.  While I don’t expect that to change in 2017, I think that there will be some chances for Amazon to “win” some of my personal time.

I think that the Fire 7 tablet is a lame duck. All of my ebook content from the iBook Store. The only Amazon ebooks that I have are a handful of $2.99 or less books I got for the beach.

I do really enjoy reading Connelly’s Bosh and Lincoln Lawyer books, so when the new season of Bosch is released, I plan on watching with the Fire TV Stick.  I feel that Netflix and iTunes content will stay with my Apple TV.

Then there is the echo dot. The state of AI gadgets, in my opinion, is still very much a “hobby”. Yet, with an Amazon Prime membership, I find that I am buying more things from Amazon than I did in 2015. And that is the whole point of all of this stuff from Amazon.  To get you to buy more things from them.

Damn you, Jeff Bezos, you got me!

With that in mind, I think I will start 2017 by playing with the echo dot to buy things. I think it will be an interesting experiment and a completely different use case than how I use Siri.

Having slipped into the Amazon ecosystem by someone who is such an Apple fan was a jarring realization. I think it happened because subconsciously I feel that Amazon, like Apple, provide a better experience than those of say the Microsoft or Alphabet Google ecosystem.  (Disclaimer: I am a die hard Office 365 subscriber.)

I have been buying goods from Amazon for so long now (I started buying things from Amazon back when it was an online book store), that I have come to trust them with my information in a way that I never felt comfortable with Google’s services.

So, it will be an interesting year, 2017, as I dip my toes into the full Amazon ecosystem with the Alexia-powered echo dot and Fire TV.  I’ll use the Fire tablet to configure and manage the two.

Higher E-Book Prices Turn Out to Not Be Popular with Consumers

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg writing for the Wall Street Journal:

“When the world’s largest publishers struck e-book distribution deals with Amazon.com Inc. over the past several months, they seemed to get what they wanted: the right to set the prices of their titles and avoid the steep discounts the online retail giant often applies.”

The world’s largest publishers were forced to turn to Amazon after the US government successfully sued Apple for conspiring to inflate e-book prices by establishing “agency model” pricing for the iBook Store.  Amazon, got by without at second glance.

Let’s see how things are going:

“The new business model for e-books is having a significant impact on what [the big] publishers report,” said one publishing executive. “There’s no question that publishers’ net receipts have gone down.” 

On Thursday morning, there wasn’t a single title priced at $9.99 among the top 20 titles on the company’s Kindle best-seller list. Last summer, Amazon offered the digital edition of James Patterson’s thriller “Invisible” for the bargain price of $8.99. Mr. Patterson’s newest tale of suspense, “Alert,” went on sale Aug. 3 on Amazon for $14.99, a price set by Hachette, Mr. Patterson’s publisher. The unit sales for Mr. Patterson’s e-books weren’t available.

Sounds like there’s trouble in paradise.

[Via The Wall Street Journal…]

Amazon Stock Dips in 2014, In Part Due to Fire Phone

“Shareholders punished Amazon for its free spending on projects such as the Fire smartphone and other gadgets and a widening network of warehouses close to urban centers. The company has admitted it botched the phone’s rollout, mainly blaming its price for slow sales.”

I guess we can finally all agree that the Amazon Fire Phone, even with the heavy TV ad rotation, didn’t set the world on “Fire.”

[Via WSJ Digits blog…]

A Pair of Often Rumored Phones About to Get Real?

We have been hearing and reading rumors about smartphones from Facebook and Amazon for a long time now.

The Facebook Smartphone

Facebook phone rumors are nothing new.  I recall reading a TechCrunch story about it in 2010.  At the time, Facebook spokesperson Jamie Schopflin told Mashable that, “[T]he story, which originated in Techcrunch, is not accurate. Facebook is not building a phone.”

That was then, and this is now, and judging by the “media only” event invitations that went out, something’s up.  I seriously doubt that Facebook would be holding a media event for a major new release of their mobile app for Android or iOS.

The Amazon Smartphone

Amazon smartphone rumors are a little bit more recent.  They didn’t start until people saw that Amazon could build a credible tablet beyond the Kindle e-reader as CNet talked about back in 2011.  Will we see the book-seller-turned-tech-giant CEO Jeff Bezos on stage later this year hawking a Kindle Fire smartphone?

According to AppleInsider.com, DigiTimes has been at it again leaking information about Amazon’s Android powered smartphone shipping this year.  The rumors of a new Amazon smartphone flared up again when DigitTimes indicated that Amazon was witching from a 4.3″ display to the larger 4.7″ “phatablet” size.  Lending credence to that idea, that an Amazon smartphone is still be months away, is this little snippet that appears in the AppleInsider story:

“Development of Amazon’s rumored handset reportedly remains fluid, and the retailer is said to be “working on or enhancing other specifications” of the device.”

Take Aways

So, what we can gather, if any of these rumors are accurate, is that both Facebook and Amazon are hard at work on their smartphone plans.  Facebook looks to be closer to the finish line as they are calling a major tech event next week.  It is unclear how Facebook would position a smartphone.  Would they view themselves as a premium brand go try to complete directly with Apple and Samsung on the high end?  Would they go after the smaller Windows Phone and BlackBerry market?  Or would they they to complete on the “free with a new 2-year contract” level?

Amazon, still looks to be refining their device to get the most bang for the buck, which makes sense because the Kindle Fire isn’t about profit margins on the hardware, it’s about how much can the vendor sell with their own “a store that fits in the palm of your hand” smartphone.  With that in mind, I can’t see Amazon trying to position their phone any higher than the mid-market.  Since Amazon is more about selling things and content, it makes more sense to me that they would have their own phone on the low end side, and continue to develop their mobile apps for iOS, Android, and all the rest to maximize the number of people viewing the goods they have for sale.

[Via AppleInsider.com…]

Thanks to Mike C. for the tip…

Real Racing 3 Will Be Free, Multi-platform on Feb 28

Electronic Arts will be launching Real Racing 3 for free on February 28 for Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones and tablets as well as in the Amazon App Store.

From the Firemonkeys Forums:

“Today we announced Real Racing 3 will be free. And yes, Real Racing 3 was designed from the ground up to be a free to play experience. We are so excited about this game and wanted it to be accessible to everyone so we didn’t want there to be any barriers to entry. This accessibility is also what drives the awesome new Time Shifted Multiplayer feature, in that you can play competitive multiplayer with anyone any time, and they don’t need to be online with you at the same time.” 

“At launch we have 46 licensed vehicles covering 3 classes, a 22 car grid, real world tracks, 8 varied event types and 900+ events. This means hundreds of hours of gameplay for free making this one of the most expansive games ever on mobile. We plan to continue to add more free and exciting content with every update.”

Bloomberg has this to add:

“Electronic Arts will appeal to a wider audience of casual players by making the “Real Racing 3” multiplayer game free, said Nick Earl, the company’s senior vice president for mobile and social game development.” 

“Electronic Arts Inc. will offer free downloads of its newest “Real Racing” title as the second- largest U.S. video-game publisher works to draw the increasing number of gamers using mobile devices.”

The draw, I think, for this game, is the offline multiplayer mode that will allow you to race against your friends at different times.  Might be worth a test drive.  I’m not a big racing game fan, even though I own both Real Racing HD and Real Racing 2 HD.  (I bought them when they were on sale in the iOS App Store.)

Are Lumia Smartphone Sales Softer Than Expected?

According to a story in today’s Wall Street Journal (link, subscription required), sales of Nokia’s Lumia Windows Phone 8 smartphones may not be selling in the US as well as carriers had hoped.

Deals on the flagship Lumia 920 and 822 smartphones can be found at online retailers like Amazon.com for as little as $0 – $39 dollars depending on carrier and phone configuration.  For example, the high-end Lumia 920 can, with a new 2-year service agreement, can be purchased for $39 at Amazon.com.  At AT&T stores, the phone is still on sale for $99 with a new 2-year service agreement.  Amazon.com also has the Lumia 822 on Verizon Wireless is free with a new 2-year service agreement.  Without a contract, both the Lumia 920 (AT&T Wireless) and the Lumia 822 (Verizon Wireless) sell for $449.99.

Offering smartphones at a deep discount is not uncommon for phones that have been out for six months or more as a promotion to drive sales of new phones in advance of the next year’s model coming out.  It is also a tactic that manufacturers use with their carrier partners to help drive adoption of their phones and their mobile platform.  What is raising eyebrows is the timing of the discounts.  The Nokia 920 and 822 have not yet reached the six month mark.  We know US adoption of smartphones running Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 mobile operating system hasn’t been selling as well as Microsoft had hoped.

So what’s really going on here?  Are AT&T and Verizon trying to drive sales of these new phones with a limited-time, post Christmas discount program?  Is Nokia providing further incentives or marketing support to drive up their year-end sales numbers?  Is Microsoft somehow involved in an attempt to drive up market share numbers against Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms?

Without sales numbers or an official statement from one of the major players involved it’s hard to know for sure.  Deep discounts on new smartphones are not completely uncommon, however, this close to a new product launch does send up some red flags.

[Via WSJ.com…]

Amazon Kindle Event Next Week

This coming week, Amazon is expected to host a media event next week at which many have speculated will unveil the next generation Kindle tablet.

Amazon flamed the “Fires”, sorry obligatory pun was necessary, when it published a press release on Thursday (8/30/12) stating that the current model Fire has sold out.

““We’re grateful to the millions of customers who have made Kindle Fire the most successful product launch in the history of Amazon,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “This has been a big year for digital products on Amazon—all of the top 10 sellers on Amazon.com since Kindle Fire launched just less than a year ago are digital products. Kindle Fire is sold out, but we have an exciting roadmap ahead—we will continue to offer our customers the best hardware, the best prices, the best customer service, the best cross-platform interoperability, and the best content ecosystem.””

So it took Amazon nine months to sell out of their Kindle Fire.  I guess that isn’t too bad.  While boasting “over 10,000 5-star customer reviews” and having “captured 22% of tablet sales in the U.S.,” Amazon continues to keep sales numbers to themselves.

Regardless, the Kindle Fire is likely the best selling Google Android-powered tablet on the market today.  But it may not stay that way for long.  Google has recently started shipping their own 7-inch Android tablet, the Nexus 7 to rave reviews.  And Apple, not wanting to lose any sales opportunities, is rumored to be launching a new 7-inch “iPad Mini” in October, just in time to ruin Google’s and Amazon’s holiday sales numbers.

While we don’t know if Amazon will be unveiling one or two new Kindles next week, what does seem pretty clear at this point is that the online mega retailer won’t be releasing a 10-inch iPad competitor.  AppleInsider.com writes:

“While a larger Kindle Fire may still be in the works, the source says Amazon is sticking with the 7-inch form factor and will announce two new models next week, including a slightly reworked version of the existing tablet. The decision is thought to be a defensive move in response to a growing small form factor tablet market, with new devices like Google’s Nexus 7 offering stiff competition to Amazon’s device.”

We’ll have an update on Amazon’s new Kindle offerings next week.

PopCap Plants vs. Zombies Free in Amazon Android App Store

Amazon.com is offering PopCap’s zombie shooter, Plants vs. Zombies for Google Android devices free today only.

Normally, $2.99, Amazon is giving away copies for Plants vs. Zombies for people who sign up for their new AppStore for Android.  To get started, you need to enter your phone’s telephone number or email address from the Amazon.com website.  You will receive a new text message or email with the link to download and install the Appstore for Android application on your device and then you can download the game.

Plants vs. Zombies is a fun game in which you plant flowers and other forms of vegetation to prevent the zombie horde from making it inside your house.  I’m not exactly what you call a zombie or horror film fan, but don’t let the name of this app scare you away.  The plants and zombies that show up through out the game are loads of cartoon-y fun.

A word of caution before you go hog wild downloading and installing applications on your Droid smartphone.  To install the Appstore for Android application, you must first turn on the ability to install applications for other sources than the Google Android Market.  While this step is not dangerous in and of itself, it does require that you be more vigilant about what software you install on your device because you are turning of a feature that Google perceived to be a security concern; if it the security is to address customer lock-in to the Android Market.

For more details and to download Plants vs. Zombies, head over to Appstore for Amazon website.

Connecticut AG Probing Apple, Amazon on EBook Agreements

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is investigating agreements between the country’s largest e-book publishers and two of the largest sellers — Amazon.com, Inc. and Apple, Inc. — that may block competitors from offering cheaper e-book prices.

Both Amazon and Apple have reached agreements with the largest e-book publishers that ensure both will receive the best prices for e-books over any competitors — contract provisions known as “most favored nation” (MFN) clauses.

In letters to Amazon.Com and Apple, Blumenthal is calling on the companies to meet with his office to address these concerns. Publishers that have reached such agreements with Amazon and Apple include Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins and Penguin.

These agreements appear to deter certain publishers from offering discounts to Amazon and Apple’s competitors — because they must offer the same to Amazon and Apple. This restriction blocks cheaper and competitive prices for consumers.

After a preliminary review, Blumenthal’s office has already found that e-book prices offered by Amazon, Apple, Borders and Barnes & Noble for several New York Times Bestseller books were identical among all four sellers.

“These agreements among publishers, Amazon and Apple appear to have already resulted in uniform prices for many of the most popular e-books — potentially depriving consumers of competitive prices,” Blumenthal said. “The e-book market is set to explode — with analysts predicting that e-book readers will be among the holiday season’s biggest electronic gifts — warranting prompt review of the potential anti-consumer impacts.

“Amazon and Apple combined will likely command the greatest share of the retail e-book market, allowing their most-favored-nation clauses to effectively set the floor prices for the most popular e-books. Such agreements — especially when offered to two of the largest e-book retail competitors in the United States — threaten to encourage coordinated pricing and discourage discounting.”

You can read and download a PDF copy of Mr. Blumentha’s letter to Apple and Amazon on the CT.gov website.  A copy of today’s press release is also available online.

Amazon’s Kindle Coming To Target

According to The Consumerist website, Amazon, feeling some pressure from the Apple iPad, will begin selling their Kindle ebook reader at early as this weekend at retail locations. The first “brick and mortar” retail chain to get the Kindle is reportedly Target.

“Now that the iPad is upon them, Amazon has finally made a deal to unleash their popular Kindle e-reader to the bricks-and-mortar retail market. Amazon has made a deal with Target that will have Kindles in some of their stores as early as this Sunday.

The first stores to get the Kindle will be in south Florida and the chain’s flagship store in downtown Minneapolis. These stores should start selling Kindles on April 25.”

To read the full story, visit the Consumerist website.