How Amazon killed the PlayBook’s chance for mass adoption

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So, it’s been a few days since Amazon introduced its Kindle Fire, and now I think we can put a final dot in RIM’s PlayBook’s chance for mass adoption. Poor RIM, undercut by the very same hardware manufacturer that made the PlayBook. But first, let me tell the reasons why I think PlayBook won’t play any more unless RIM acts.

Primary reason is an unclear purpose for an average user. Sure, everyone is making tablets these days, but people buy them for different reasons. Apple iPad is a “wow” device, that is also supported by a large library of Apps for practically anything you can think of. Plus, there’s a sizable music and video offering in iTunes store. So, for those who buy the iPad for something practical there are ways to use it in a daily life (usage might taper off to just web browsing and some games, but it’s initial intent that counts).

For geeks and tinkerers there is a variety of Android devices, with different prices/sizes/memory etc. Those are bought for “fun” and maybe some small practical use.

RIM fell into the same trap as many other tablet manufacturers. They thought they could “make something like an iPad for the same price”, and results are generally abysmal. Android OS is not yet as polished as iOS from UX point of view. Sorry, but it’s a fact — it’s way more flexible and I do like it, but compared to gleaming prettiness of iPad — kinda fail. That negative factor is reinforced by manufacturers’ greed. “If we create a comparable hardware, we can certainly sell it for the same price as iPad!” Well, no, not really. Because the experience is not as good, and price is identical if not higher than an iPad. Users aren’t idiots.

On the left — pretty shiny thing from Apple, with proven wow factor. On the right — either clunky and slow, or something that’s fast but is even more expensive than iPad. What will users choose? The Apple, of course (and the sales confirm it).

So the primary solution (and easiest one) is to slash the price. Make the tablet cheap enough and people will buy it (and make it ridiculously cheap like HP Touch and people will buy all available stock). When RIM announced $200 discount, thus making the PlayBook cheaper than iPad it had a chance. Negative factors still remained — it was a new and unknown to most OS with crappy amount of apps available now. Sure, those who used BlackBerry would probably get the tablet, eventually. But if you look at the actual sales RIM is pretty much doomed — people simply don’t buy as many BlackBerry phones as they used to. 9% vs 28% and 56%. Dooooom.

And now the final nail in the coffin — Kindle Fire, which sells for $100 less than cheapest PlayBook, and has backing of Amazon for media content, support of geeks (“It’s an Android!”) and significant number of apps, even though they are in Amazon market instead of the Android one. People like Kindle e-readers, price is affordable (relatively speaking, we are in recession after all), woohoo for sales.

Now some people claim that PlayBook is better than Fire and technically it’s true. Yes, there’s a camera. But how many people do you see on the street taking snapshots? I thought so. Frontal camera? But RIM doesn’t allow you to video chat with anyone now, does it? It’s not like an Apple with FaceTime available on multiple devices. More memory? To run what apps?

What about Fire? Browser? Check. Book reading? Check. Same sized screen? Check. Familiar brand? Also check. After this, do you still think users will flock to PlayBook which is “just $99 more expensive” but has pretty much zero content/ebook/apps in the eyes of a non-BlackBerry user? Yeah, good luck with that.

And as long as RIM will continue to huff and puff about wonderful “value” and not have a price that is identical or cheaper (Amazon actually breaks even on the hardware, unlike RIM) with clear set of Video/Book/Games/Apps (advertise more that Netflix streaming is there, movie rental solution, readers etc), their sales will continue to pewter out. They’ll miss again, show a strained smile and declare whatever sales they get as “satisfying” (kinda like Microsoft does for its Windows Phone platform). The longer they wait, the more disappointment this will bring.

If they really want to be a player in the tablet market, all of the above-mentioned problems with PlayBook have to be resolved now. Tablet should be mega-cheap, so users would buy it out of an interest. Media apps have to dazzle, and be a breeze to use and fancy enough to catch user’s eye in store (right now stands are just boring, there’s no huge difference between noname tablets and PlayBook demo at staples). Ads should blanket every kind of media. Or at least all that saved ad budget should be thrown into price reduction. $150 PlayBook, anyone?

A Gifted Man: meh with a medical angle: 3 out of 5 stars

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While I do love the Vampire Diaries, it only comes on once a week. And in between I do need to watch something, just to take my mind off of work stuff. Hence the new season of hunting for new things to watch have started.

I decided to try A Gifted Man. Medical drama. Supernatural angle. Ghosts. And yet the whole thing results in kinda “meh” feeling. Mostly because it’s not very believable that a neurosurgeon of Dr House’s caliber played by Patrick Wilson would accept that easily hallucinations of his dead wife. Plus, unlike elaborate and fun ones in Dr House, these ones seem to be rather bland. Ex wife is remarkably intact, bats eyelashes, asks hubby to do good things. Groan.

And the first signs of upcoming “drama” events are already visible — as dr Holt can’t help but “chat” with the ghost left and right, other clinic workers notice that he’s talking to the empty space, and I bet there will be some “questions” in next episodes. At a certain point this brilliant neurosurgeon will have to take a leave of absence (at the insistance of colleagues and/or board of directors of that fancy clinic) and he will dedicate his time to helping poor and uninsured.

That’d be heartwarming, and incredibly dull story-wise. And I don’t think that script-writers have balls to make the ex-wife into a scheming evil nasty that is trying to ruin ex’es reputation by distracting him from important things and making all the wrong choices under guise of “doing the right thing”. Pity, though, could be an interesting twist.

So far — 3/5 , for good acting and pretty scenery. Might see one more episode before giving up completely.

DreamWorks Animation signs with Netflix for $30mil a movie

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The New York Times writes about a streaming deal between Netflix and DreamWorks Animation. While it’s a great news — any additional content on streaming is welcome after that kerfuffle with price changes and all, I couldn’t help but notice that little analyst estimation of $30 million per picture per unspecified time period.

Now, analysts are often wrong, unless there’s some sort of a leak of the actual contract, but $30 million per movie? Now do you understand why Starz would spurn $300 million offer? Because they would be providing more than 10 movies in that streaming agreement. Even if that “unspecified time period” is 5 years, that’d still be $6 mil per movie per year, and Starz’ library is certainly large enough to exceed 50 movies.

Sure would like to know more about the financial part of the negotiation, but that’ll probably be understandable so other movie studios wouldn’t get over-excited about demanding the same amount.

And one more interesting twist — Netflix doesn’t require an exclusive right for the new movies, so DreamWorks will be able to sell the same content to cable companies too. Biggest loser is probably HBO, as they’re no longer exclusive partner, and if Netflix manages to pull in all other third party providers, people might get more inclined to pay Netflix and get all the same content + some extra B-movies than splurge on HBO (this, of course, excludes fans of HBO series).

Good work, Netflix.

p.s. Updated to clarify that this is about DreamWorks Animation
p.p.s. And do keep in mind, the streaming won’t start until 2013

Google Wallet: a fun beginning

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The new service from Google Google Wallet is a fun beginning. While it’s rather limited at the time, I believe it could be a nice and useful way to help users to save real money. But there are certain things that should happen first or at least very soon:

– Any card, any bank, for real
Right now the service is quite limited — only MasterCard, only CitiBank. There are rumors that Visa is about to join (heck, all card providers support some form of NFC — Blink payments for Chase, ExpressPay for Amex, etc — look at that little terminal at CVS — it’s covered with logos like a toad with warts). Right now Google offers a “virtual card” as an intermediary step between your non-MasterCard and your favorite Diners Club. This is bad. What if you want to return a purchase. A problem with an item? No matter how “evil” some credit card companies are, other offer quite a lot of benefits, from extension of your initial warranty (yes, on most “platinum” or equivalent cards with up to a year), to a price guarantee. It may require a phone call, but generally your credit card will be happy to help you. Plus, it’s just inconvenient that you’d have to “freeze” some money on your Google pseudo-card instead of just making a direct purchase.

– Help users pick the best card, every time
There’s no information about “additional” help at this point that Google Wallet could provide to users. Specifically, if they were supporting many different cards (heck, even Citi has a set of MasterCards) that have different points/miles/specials. I.e. if card A offers double cash-back at a gas station, show that, and let user know. People would be quite happy with it. Such “hint” can be also extended to other things, such as spreading out credit line usage, or picking the one with smallest finance charge at this time. Credit card companies will probably balk at this (competition, reduction of profits for them), but user adoption would increase. A lot.

– More phones, more carriers
Only one model? Sorry, but that’s just a technology demo, not a real product. Nokia way back then had one just like this, failed miserably (though Japan does have pay systems like that). Only one carrier? Even biggest problem. When marketing push comes to shove (as in now) users should be able to go to their favorite carrier’s store and get a phone with this wallet thing NOW. Otherwise it’ll take a constant torrent of ads to remind them when they finally decide to switch from carrier A(T&T) to carrier S(print). You know, minimize the expense. Of course the advertised system requires actual phone module (even though there’s a talk about “sticker-type of solution”, but that wouldn’t really be the same, security-wise etc)

– Expand Google Offers
Right now only special deals from Google are considered. That should be expanded and open to any provider. Okay, maybe not just any but many, so all of those savings communities (FatWallet, Slickdeals, Retailmenot etc) would be able to offer you a subscription that integrates into Wallet. You go there, and it shows you a coupon for office supplies, or a pizza. Yes, Google offers are nice (where they are available) but the more the merrier. Provide a platform, let users enjoy variety of services.

– Integrate Google Checkout/Mask the card when user wants to
This is mostly similar to “any card any time” — add your own Google Checkout into the mix, and, when user requests, use single-payment-number type of transaction. That way the convenience extends to regular online purchases, small stores, everywhere. You can even throw in Mint-like data organization (though some users may somewhat freak-out about it)

– Real human support, please
The biggest concern will be “what if my phone is lost or stolen”. Yes, the pin number should help (and/or annoy for cases when you’re buying stuff yourself), but users should know that they won’t get in trouble if unfortunate happens. There should be live support line that would immediately block the phone, and help by informing relevant card providers of a possibility of fraud as well. I know this will be the biggest challenge for Google as user support is the last thing engineering geniuses think about (and Google is not generally known for tendency of allowing human interaction)

I hope Google will move forward quickly. While the economy is not smelling like a bunch of roses right now, this is a real chance to help users in a meaningful way to save some money. Some people might dismiss $5 or $10 savings this could bring, but such service would have no costs to the end user. You have a cell phone? You should be able to get Google Wallet, and save a little…

Netflix separates DVD service into Qwikster

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So, Netflix is going to further separate out DVD-by-mail from network streaming and now there’s going to be Qwikster. Aside from reminding me of that Netsle’s drink mix, it’s a bit sad that logo and web address will change. More interesting, is how much of a firewall will there be between the companies. Specifically, would Qwikster revenues ever be used to acquire new licenses for streaming? Also, how much does billing service cost per transaction, as now users will have two charges on their credit card — one for each service.

Aside from that, there’s that pesky de(s)-integration of a single queue concept for those, who uses both. I suppose it’s logical to presume that people will be pushed one way or the other to just have dvd-by-mail service or streaming. It also means that for many movies, that are not available for streaming, users will have to search twice — re-login into Qwikster, do the search, add to queue there, etc. UI-wise it’s way more awkward than “Not available for streaming — add to your mail queue?” and I certainly hope there’ll be some technical solution to re-integrate services back.

From technical point of view, I understand advantages of two teams having two domain names (heck, I’m a developer, I know how much easier it is to just split things than marrying cat-and-dog back-end systems). Though I probably wouldn’t have listed that as one of the primary problems this solves.

I expect there will be even more screams from users (especially DVD-and-streaming ones, now to be forced into two sites). Biggest advantage — official “Aye” for videogame rental service (Gamefly is probably already slightly panicking). The most interesting thing to watch — how user flow and profitability levels change. It’s a fascinating real-life example that allows you to see transition from older technology to new one (with added drama of movie studios trying to resist it). Fun times ahead! Oh, and the popcorn is ready 🙂