What I take issue with is the premise that Amazon is the “anti-Apple” in its hunger for growth and patience for profits. Apple has its own “Amazon-like-business”: iTunes has been growing at a steady 25% or more and it also has its ancillary zero-profit hardware analogue to the Kindle called Apple TV. iTunes is a great business in the Amazon vein, harvesting hundreds of millions of users (and their credit cards.) Presumably iTunes could also some day “flip the switch” and become profitable, but something magical needs to happen. Something like becoming a payments processor or retailer of other things. Analyst beware however. There might be conditions that make such switch flipping extremely difficult.
In mid-October, we published a story on the entertainment ecosystems of Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon – looking at to what degree their music, movie, TV, eBook and app stores were available in international markets. Apple on the whole seemed to have the best average availability – slightly losing to Microsoft for the app stores and Amazon dominating everyone in the eBook store.
I’ve decided to briefly revisit the topic today because the original post garnered quite a lot of discussion and feedback and because of two “events” that have since happened. Firstly, Apple yesterday announced an expansion of the iTunes Music Store into dozens of new countries (and Movie store in a few additional countries). Secondly, I have since found two pieces of data on which countries Xbox Music is available in (for some odd reason I cannot find any official Microsoft document detailing the countries it is available in). So below is an update to the Music and Movie diagrams and graphs.
Please note: An update to this article is available here, it includes the December 2012 iTunes expansion (Music & Movies) as well as Xbox Music.
The choice of what phone or tablet to buy is one that often involves many considerations, chief amongst those is the physical device and the operating system that it runs. But I think there is a third fundamental consideration that is growing in importance: what services and entertainment ecosystems you’ll be able to access. You need only look back to the recent criticism of iOS 6, in which Apple replaced Google Maps with their own Maps app. Summing it up generally, Apple’s Maps app is sub-par to what it was replacing and that mattered to people – enough that Tim Cook felt the need to apologise for the frustration the switch caused.
Today I want to focus specifically on the entertainment ecosystems of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. I’m referring to the various digital content stores that are run by Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon – specifically their Music, Movies, TV Shows, eBooks and App stores. In my mind, there are four general aspects that make a good entertainment ecosystem:
Wide selection of quality content
Interoperable on a user’s devices
I want to explore the third aspect in depth today, because it’s something that I feel is all too often downplayed by the technology press (which, coincidentally, is based predominantly in the US). I’ll also briefly discuss the fourth aspect as well at the end. Why are these two aspects so important? Well, smartphones and tablets are devices that have universal appeal, so for Apple or any of the other three to win the smartphone or tablet “race” – an entertainment ecosystem that is available across the world, not just in the US, isn’t just a cool extra feature, it’s a necessity. The US may be one of the biggest markets for such devices today, but is there any doubt that these devices will rival the prevalence of personal computers (which are everywhere) in years to come?
I’ve collected data on which countries each service is available in and then added in population figures to create many of the graphs and diagrams you’ll see below, mixed in with some of my own analysis and thoughts. Please note that the five HTML5 map diagrams are interactive, click on the logos of the four companies to compare their coverage.
The official Kindle app for iOS has been updated to version 3.2. Following the redesign introduced with version 3.0 last March, the app was heavily criticized for its implementation of wide margins, which was eventually fixed with an update earlier this summer. Now, the app has been updated with a new setting to control “adjustable margins”. You can choose between three different layout options, as pictured above. The option is available on the iPad from the View Options menu, which also includes settings for font size, brightness, and background color.
Speaking of brightness, Amazon says the control slider has been updated to be more responsive and optimized for “better viewing”. The app’s changelog also focuses on “rapid highlights”, a way to mark important passages of a book for future reference that had been implemented by almost any other eBook reader or PDF viewer on the App Store. This option is available under “My Notes & Marks” in the Go To menu.
Among other changes for Print Replica Textbooks, Kindle 3.2 looks like a solid update that addresses a common annoyance of the app. You can find the update on the App Store.
Amazon and Apple have taken serious steps today in responding to news of how Mat Honan was hacked, which was done not with brute-force but by using social engineering to trick Apple and Amazon support staff to give out various pieces of information and reset some passwords. Amazon reacted first and arguably more decisively by enacting a new security policy of no longer allowing users to change account settings (such as credit card information and email addresses) via the phone.
Apple has meanwhile enacted a 24-hour freeze on resetting account passwords over the phone whilst they review their security practices. When Wired then tried to reset an AppleID password through Apple support staff on the phone, the representative said “Right now, our system does not allow us to reset passwords. I don’t know why”.
An Apple worker with knowledge of the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Wired that the over-the-phone password freeze would last at least 24 hours. The employee speculated that the freeze was put in place to give Apple more time to determine what security policies needed to be changed, if any.
Mat Honan: How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking
You may have heard about Mat Honan (Wired writer) being hacked last week, with his Twitter account being compromised and the hackers using iCloud to remote wipe his iPhone, iPad and Mac. Today he’s written up a detailed article on Wired that goes through how exactly the hackers got access to it all. The scary thing is that it wasn’t done by brute force, but rather by using social engineering to trick Apple and Amazon support staff.
But what happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.
It’s undoubtedly a scary story about the perils of putting our entire lives in the hands of a cloud service – because more so than ever, physical access isn’t needed to wreak havoc. It’s also a friendly reminder to ensure you’re using strong passwords, isolating critical accounts and creating local backups wherever feasible as a last resort if indeed this or something similar does happen to you.
My experience leads me to believe that cloud-based systems need fundamentally different security measures. Password-based security mechanisms — which can be cracked, reset, and socially engineered — no longer suffice in the era of cloud computing.
More than three months after releasing software for Windows-users to send documents to a Kindle, Amazon has now released the Mac version. Announced on Tuesday afternoon, the “Send to Kindle for Mac” application allows Mac users to wirelessly send personal documents to their Kindles via drag-and-drop in the Dock or within the app itself. Users can also send documents to the Kindle by printing from any Mac application.
I have tried the new Amazon desktop utility, and it also allows you to upload files to your Kindle library (devices and Kindle apps) with a contextual Finder menu. The app comes with options to select the Kindle device you want to upload files to, and gets rid of the old email-based “file forwarding” system by integrating a simple upload status indicator within the main interface. Documents can be archived in your Kindle Library (which was recently introduced on Kindle for iOS), and there is an option to convert PDFs to Kindle format. A Getting Started guide with a list of supported file formats is available on Amazon’s website.
Yesterday, the US Department of Justice sued Apple and six publishers, alleging that they had conspired to fix prices. It all centres around the switch from a wholesale model of selling e-books from the publishers to retailers (such as Amazon) to using the agency model of selling books that Apple and the publishers agreed to adopt in early 2010. Some of the publishers have already settled with the DOJ, but other publishers and Apple have vowed to fight the allegations.
But what is the agency model and how does it work? I’ve done my best to explain the two systems and some of the details surrounding the model that was adopted by Apple and the publishers that are in hot contention. I’ve also summarised the DOJ’s allegations as well as their timeline of events that the DOJ goes into great detail in their court filing. Finally, if you find yourself fascinated by the topic, at the end of the post is a further reading section to get more details and some opinions on the issue.
Jump the break to view the full article and video explaining the wholesale and agency models.
Amazon’s official Kindle app for iOS reached version 3.0 today, adding a number of improvements for the new iPad, as well as a new design for the eBook library.
The new view of Kindle for iOS is organized in two separate Cloud and Device tabs. Cloud shows all items available in your online Kindle library; Device shows items that have already been downloaded locally. Items can be downloaded from the cloud with one tap, and they can be removed at any time. On the iPhone, users can choose to view their library in grid view, and a different view setting is also available on the iPad through a button in the bottom left corner of the app. Titles can be sorted by recent, title, or author.
Aside from these new options, the Kindle reading experience seems unchanged from the previous versions of the app; in the standard reading mode, there are still options to search, bookmark and go to the table of contents, sync with other Kindle devices, and change view choosing from three color schemes and six font sizes. On the new iPad, text is “optimized” for the Retina display, Amazon says. The Kindle app can obviously work in conjunction with the Cloud Reader web app Amazon launched last August, allowing users to read eBooks in the browser, while still syncing content and information across devices registered as Kindles.