Amazon Fires a Shot Across Apple’s (and Google’s?) Bow(s)


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I love the new Amazon Fire. I’ve already pre-ordered mine. What appeals to me about the prospect of using the new Fire is the fact that I’ll be able to read in color as well as black and white. I’ll be able to enjoy a huge number of e-books at my fingertips directly from Amazon, and enjoy movies and TV shows as well. I’ll be able to read in bed without turning on the light. And, it’s lightweight and small enough that I can balance it in one hand and it won’t add much weight to my travelling gear. I also feel a loyalty to Amazon and a desire to buy directly from Amazon because they make my life convenient and easy.

KindleFire I also own an iPad and I have the Kindle app on my iPad. Right now, I tend to read on the iPad more than I do on my older Kindle, because the brightness of the iPad display makes it easy to read in bed without having the light on. I also use my iPad primarily to watch TV shows and movies; not for work.

I’m a loyal Amazon customer and an Amazon Prime member. I’m obviously the perfect target customer for Amazon. Will I ditch my iPad? No. Will I switch much of my leisure activity to my Amazon Fire? Possibly.

The Real Battlefield: Easy to Consume Digital Media
But what I love about the Amazon Fire/Apple iPad duo is that they both offer great experiences. And, what makes those experiences great isn’t just the high res displays and the full color; it’s the ease with which I can find and download any media I choose to consume in a few seconds. Both Amazon and Apple excel in understanding and offering immediate gratification. When I have a few minutes to unwind, I want to dive into that alternate reality quickly—to lose myself in someone else’s story, to be uplifted and entertained. Both companies excel in providing a full wrap-around customer experience—easy to sample, quick to download and run locally—one-click purchasing and backed up in the cloud. (Well, in Apple’s case, soon to be backed up in the cloud).

I don’t consider either company to be “winning” over the other. I believe that both Apple and Amazon have what it takes to win and keep my loyalty. I see my spending increasing with both brands year over year, and my enthusiasm remaining unabated. With Apple, I expect their devices to always be superior. With Amazon, I expect the range of goods and services I can procure and enjoy will continue to make it my first choice for browsing, shopping, and consuming. Both companies will retain my loyalty and know a huge amount about my tastes and interests for years to come.

The Breakthrough Technology: Cloud + Rich Local Experience
What distinguishes both Apple and Amazon’s customer experiences is that both companies understand that consumers want a rich interactive offline experience (reading or watching movies or animation) AND an easy, seamless quick online experience. Amazon Fire’s new Silk browser is designed to be speedy and satisfying by pre-caching the next thing you’re likely to want ahead of time.

Silver Lining for Cloud Nay-Sayers
The good news for cloud computing aficionados is that Apple and Amazon’s infrastructures to support consumer credit card data, digital media downloads, pay by the drink transactions, and digital library back-ups will prove robust enough to convince business execs that cloud computing is here to stay. If you’re using and enjoying cloud services in your consumer life, do you really tell your IT department that cloud computing can’t be done securely?

Dark Shadow: Trust, Privacy, Big Brother or Customer Experience Ecosystem?
Among the most insightful analysis in the flurry of Amazon Fire punditry, was this post by Chris Espinosa, found and forwarded by Pioneer, Scott Jordan (thanks, Scott!):

“The ‘split browser’ notion is that Amazon will use its EC2 back end to pre-cache user web browsing, using its fat back-end pipes to grab all the web content at once so the lightweight Fire-based browser has to only download one simple stream from Amazon’s servers. But what this means is that Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet. People who cringe at the privacy and data-mining implications ought to be just floored by the magnitude of Amazon’s opportunity here. what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they’re being offered there. What’s more, Amazon is getting this not by expensive, proactive scraping the Web, like Google has to do; they’re getting it passively by offering a simple caching service, and letting Fire users do the hard work of crawling the Web. In essence the Fire user base is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, free and providing Amazon with the most valuable cache of user behavior in existence.”

~ Chris Espinosa, Posting on Posterous

After lots of people commented on Chris’s post, pointing out that this is not a radical new implementation of technology, and hotly debated many of his points, he thanked the posters and responded:

“RE the privacy issues, I’m aware (and appreciative) of Amazon’s privacy policies, and as a customer they seem to work well for me. I’m generally not commenting on the privacy implications of browser intermediation, but the synergy issues of Amazon’s access to the aggregated browsing history. That’s why even though [Opera|Firefox|RIMM|Danger] had this model years ago, Amazon’s deployment of it is materially different: none of those companies ran a multibillion-dollar hard- and digital-goods marketplace that could directly benefit from aggregating browsing history, as Amazon benefits now from aggregating their customer browsing history on their own site.”

~ Chris Espinosa

I agree with Chris. Perhaps we DO trust Amazon (and Apple) more than we trust Google and others to be monitoring our every click. But the point he is making is important. If we do our browsing, shopping, and enjoy our entertainment through Amazon’s Silk browser, Amazon will be able to amass a huge amount of really valuable information about millions of consumers’ shopping and browsing behavior. This is information that Amazon can use both to personalize and improve its offerings and to spot emergent patterns in order to run out in front of the parade. Implicit in this pact we are making between ourselves and Amazon is the understanding that other Amazon merchants will also be participating in this ecosystem. We’re back to the “walled garden” concept that Apple uses in its iTunes world. Both Apple and Amazon will not only be able to provide a better, more immersive experience, but they’re able to see and gather patterns about what we’re doing. Presumably, that will make our Apple and/or Amazon experiences richer and more satisfying, as long as they don’t violate our trust (or let others, e.g., government agencies) spy on us.

Amazon & Apple’s Ecosystems May Disintermediate Google
In his original post, Chris goes on to point out that the irony for Google is that not only will Amazon have more info than Google does about our searching and browsing habits, when we use the Amazon Silk browser, but that Amazon is using Google’s “free” Android mobile operating system to enable this capability:

“And all of this on Google’s dime. They use a back-revved version of Android, not Honeycomb; they don’t use Google’s web browser; they can intermediate user click through on Google search results so Google doesn’t see the actual user behavior. Google’s whole play of promoting Android in order to aggregate user behavior patterns to sell to advertisers is completely subverted by Amazon’s intermediation.

Fire isn’t a noun, it’s a verb, and it’s what Amazon has done in the targeted direction of Google. This is the first shot in the new war for replacing the Internet with a privatized merchant data-aggregation network.”

~ Chris Espinosa, Posting on Posterous

So Chris Espinosa is making two points here: 1) Amazon will be able to see and track an amazing amount of information about our navigation patterns and our tastes, as long as we are using the Silk browser on our Fire devices. 2) Amazon is doing this monitoring in a way that Google won’t be able to participate, although Amazon is using Google’s own technology, in part, to enable it.

This is fun!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patricia Seybold
With 30 years of experience consulting to customer-centric executives in technology-aggressive businesses across many industries, Patricia Seybold is a visionary thought leader with the unique ability to spot the impact that technology enablement and customer behavior will have on business trends very early. Seybold provides customer-centric executives within Fortune 1 companies with strategic insights, technology guidance, and best practices.


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