Amazon next Google? Maybe not…

A couple of days ago I said that Amazon might be the fearsome Microsoft killer we were expecting Google to be. But after reading the latest reviews of Amazon’s new Unboxed, I should take that back.

Which shows that it isn’t enough to be first. You also have to have the goods. It also shows that the first round of hype will get wiped out in days by a deeper look (yes, I’m sorry I hyped everyone up here).

Here’s the reviews that caught my eye:

Simon Phipps: “Unbox Unusable.”
Tom Merritt, on CNET: “My Fight with Amazon Unbox.”
Uninnovate: “Amazon Spends Over a Year Developing Movie Download Service Then Shackles It With Absurd Restrictions.”

36 thoughts on “Amazon next Google? Maybe not…

  1. Paul said:

    “Um…what’s the iPod exactly? A single platform. Put down the Kool Aid (or should we call it Apple Juice?) and take a deep breath.”

    Wrong, bucko. iTunes and the iPod are compatible with more platforms than anything else — OS X, Windows, Motorola and Cingular cell phones and Linux with a little tweaking. If you want to criticize the iTunes/iPod phenom, it should be for FairPlay, the DRM, not platform incompatibility. That is not a valid criticism. But, be careful since most other download services and MP3 players use a flavor of DRM, too.

  2. Paul said:

    “Um…what’s the iPod exactly? A single platform. Put down the Kool Aid (or should we call it Apple Juice?) and take a deep breath.”

    Wrong, bucko. iTunes and the iPod are compatible with more platforms than anything else — OS X, Windows, Motorola and Cingular cell phones and Linux with a little tweaking. If you want to criticize the iTunes/iPod phenom, it should be for FairPlay, the DRM, not platform incompatibility. That is not a valid criticism. But, be careful since most other download services and MP3 players use a flavor of DRM, too.

  3. Amazon’s first mistake was relying on Windows Media Player DRM. That right there cuts off half of the most valuable, informed market: Mac and Linux users.

    Google gets it. YouTube gets it. They provide their video in flash 7 format with the understanding that a third-party extension exists to allow viewing that content on any computer on any operating system.

    In a rush to appease movie studios by implementing a draconian, proprietary DRM whose development Amazon itself cannot control, it has shot itself in the foot.

  4. Amazon’s first mistake was relying on Windows Media Player DRM. That right there cuts off half of the most valuable, informed market: Mac and Linux users.

    Google gets it. YouTube gets it. They provide their video in flash 7 format with the understanding that a third-party extension exists to allow viewing that content on any computer on any operating system.

    In a rush to appease movie studios by implementing a draconian, proprietary DRM whose development Amazon itself cannot control, it has shot itself in the foot.

  5. “a service which treats the customer as an untrustworthy pawn in a game between Big Media and Channel is fundamentally flawed “

    Oh please…
    You’re treated as an “untrustworthy customer” every time you enter or exit a retail store and have to suffer the indignity of passing by the scanners at the door. Do you throw a temper tantrum whenever you pass those scanners? Do you refuse to shop at stores that have such scanners?

    Do you throw a fit when asked to present your ticket when entering a stadium to watch a baseball game or a concert?

    It’s not uncommon to be treated as “untrustworthy”. This is nothing new.

  6. “a service which treats the customer as an untrustworthy pawn in a game between Big Media and Channel is fundamentally flawed “

    Oh please…
    You’re treated as an “untrustworthy customer” every time you enter or exit a retail store and have to suffer the indignity of passing by the scanners at the door. Do you throw a temper tantrum whenever you pass those scanners? Do you refuse to shop at stores that have such scanners?

    Do you throw a fit when asked to present your ticket when entering a stadium to watch a baseball game or a concert?

    It’s not uncommon to be treated as “untrustworthy”. This is nothing new.

  7. Another issue I have with your “analysis”, Robert. The notion that Amazon would be the “Microsoft killer we were expecting Google to be”? Even if Amazon did corner the online movie/tv market, how would that be a “Microsoft Killer”? I don’t see the connection here.

  8. Another issue I have with your “analysis”, Robert. The notion that Amazon would be the “Microsoft killer we were expecting Google to be”? Even if Amazon did corner the online movie/tv market, how would that be a “Microsoft Killer”? I don’t see the connection here.

  9. Simon, I agree. Unbox in its current form appeal to a small minority only. If I were at Amazon, I won’t start this service in its current form. It may hurt Amazon’s brand if people are annoyed with the service.

    I am in the camp that every company must treat users respectfully — no matter what. All, I was pointing out that in this case a part of the problem arises because 1.) every company wants locked-in customers 2.) studios, who never had a cheap distribution medium such as the Internet, are not taking the right amount of risk in balancing the advantages/disadvantages of this medium.

    Like Microsoft does not mind its operating system running on Mac hardware, similarly Apple must separate out its hardware (i.e., iPod) and software (i.e., Fairplay and iTunes) and start licensing its DRM (it does not effect their experience of those people who chose both iPod and iTune).

    On the other hand people, by accepting a closed system such as iPod+iTune, have pretty voted what they like. The have forced Microsoft to follow the same approach too. How can you then blame Microsoft? Microsoft has put an open system out, “PlayForSure”, and enabled companies like Amazon to at least put out these services.

    In due course, people will vote what they like. And we, eventually, will get a product which may not be the optimum product for us but make us happy enough to use it.

    PS: The commentator is a Microsoft employee. The views expressed are his own.

  10. Simon, I agree. Unbox in its current form appeal to a small minority only. If I were at Amazon, I won’t start this service in its current form. It may hurt Amazon’s brand if people are annoyed with the service.

    I am in the camp that every company must treat users respectfully — no matter what. All, I was pointing out that in this case a part of the problem arises because 1.) every company wants locked-in customers 2.) studios, who never had a cheap distribution medium such as the Internet, are not taking the right amount of risk in balancing the advantages/disadvantages of this medium.

    Like Microsoft does not mind its operating system running on Mac hardware, similarly Apple must separate out its hardware (i.e., iPod) and software (i.e., Fairplay and iTunes) and start licensing its DRM (it does not effect their experience of those people who chose both iPod and iTune).

    On the other hand people, by accepting a closed system such as iPod+iTune, have pretty voted what they like. The have forced Microsoft to follow the same approach too. How can you then blame Microsoft? Microsoft has put an open system out, “PlayForSure”, and enabled companies like Amazon to at least put out these services.

    In due course, people will vote what they like. And we, eventually, will get a product which may not be the optimum product for us but make us happy enough to use it.

    PS: The commentator is a Microsoft employee. The views expressed are his own.

  11. Great bit of pedantic misdirection over a detail no-one much is emphasising, Kamal, but the point is that a service which treats the customer as an untrustworthy pawn in a game between Big Media and Channel is fundamentally flawed in the emerging, participative market. Apple has a near monopoly on music players, Microsoft has a monopoly on desktops and both are using their position in a way that shows their contempt for people like me.

    It’s bad enough that the DVDs I buy are region-coded and crippled in other ways; a service like Unbox that has even less flexibility for a similar price is a loser from day one. The question is whether the market is willing to bear the abuse for the sake of coolness and convenience like it is with ring-tones; my guess is it’s not.

  12. Great bit of pedantic misdirection over a detail no-one much is emphasising, Kamal, but the point is that a service which treats the customer as an untrustworthy pawn in a game between Big Media and Channel is fundamentally flawed in the emerging, participative market. Apple has a near monopoly on music players, Microsoft has a monopoly on desktops and both are using their position in a way that shows their contempt for people like me.

    It’s bad enough that the DVDs I buy are region-coded and crippled in other ways; a service like Unbox that has even less flexibility for a similar price is a loser from day one. The question is whether the market is willing to bear the abuse for the sake of coolness and convenience like it is with ring-tones; my guess is it’s not.

  13. James @6, you are suggesting that Amazon should sell video without DRM so that it could be played on iPod. Sorry James this is not the solution. Apple would have a DRMs in the movie download service they will offer.

    Does Apple would give these movies without DRM so that it can be played on other devices? As far as I know, if I need to play something from iTune store then I need to install iTune software. Why can’t I play that on Real Player or Window media player or some open source player?

    If something does not work on iPod then please direct your blame to Apple. Not to Amazon. It is more of Apple’s job to make sure that things work on iPod. Even in this Unbox case, if you want Unbox to work on iPod then who could do it? Not Amazon. Not any other company or studio. It is Apple who could make Unbox work on iPod. How? iPod can either license PlayForSure from Microsoft or could offer Fairplay license to Amazon. If there is any other way please let me know. If not then direct your blame to you know where it should.

  14. James @6, you are suggesting that Amazon should sell video without DRM so that it could be played on iPod. Sorry James this is not the solution. Apple would have a DRMs in the movie download service they will offer.

    Does Apple would give these movies without DRM so that it can be played on other devices? As far as I know, if I need to play something from iTune store then I need to install iTune software. Why can’t I play that on Real Player or Window media player or some open source player?

    If something does not work on iPod then please direct your blame to Apple. Not to Amazon. It is more of Apple’s job to make sure that things work on iPod. Even in this Unbox case, if you want Unbox to work on iPod then who could do it? Not Amazon. Not any other company or studio. It is Apple who could make Unbox work on iPod. How? iPod can either license PlayForSure from Microsoft or could offer Fairplay license to Amazon. If there is any other way please let me know. If not then direct your blame to you know where it should.

  15. Well, geee, opine on stuff you have actually reviewed, imagine that. ;) It’s horrible, rather boxed-up, imho. Non-starter is def. the theme.

  16. Well, geee, opine on stuff you have actually reviewed, imagine that. ;) It’s horrible, rather boxed-up, imho. Non-starter is def. the theme.

  17. First, none of this is Amazon’s fault. People should stop blaming the companies that bring things to market in this way because of the pressure being applied to the studios and focus the blame where it belongs: on the studios themselves. Until that happens studios will continue to be able to hide behind the Amazons of the world and never have to change.

    Second, to commenter #3 who says: Does the customer want a service that is tied to a single platform and won’t work on an iPod?

    Um…what’s the iPod exactly? A single platform. Put down the Kool Aid (or should we call it Apple Juice?) and take a deep breath.

  18. First, none of this is Amazon’s fault. People should stop blaming the companies that bring things to market in this way because of the pressure being applied to the studios and focus the blame where it belongs: on the studios themselves. Until that happens studios will continue to be able to hide behind the Amazons of the world and never have to change.

    Second, to commenter #3 who says: Does the customer want a service that is tied to a single platform and won’t work on an iPod?

    Um…what’s the iPod exactly? A single platform. Put down the Kool Aid (or should we call it Apple Juice?) and take a deep breath.

  19. kamal. in a sense, you are both right and wrong.

    I can put any video I want on my ipod, I just have to repurpose it to the right format .m4v- there are quite a few mac apps that can do that.
    I can rip dvd’s, etc and use them on the pod very easily.

    I just can’t (well I could using a screen capture app) use WIndows drm video.

  20. kamal. in a sense, you are both right and wrong.

    I can put any video I want on my ipod, I just have to repurpose it to the right format .m4v- there are quite a few mac apps that can do that.
    I can rip dvd’s, etc and use them on the pod very easily.

    I just can’t (well I could using a screen capture app) use WIndows drm video.

  21. I am not sure how many restrictions of Unbox is due to Amazon and how many are due to the prticipating movie studios. Scoble, one of the articles you linked to is blaming Amazon for not allowing movies to play on iPod, is not a restriction due to to Amazon. Apple does not want any competition on its device. Instead Apple wants to extend its success on iPod to any future movie download service.

  22. I am not sure how many restrictions of Unbox is due to Amazon and how many are due to the prticipating movie studios. Scoble, one of the articles you linked to is blaming Amazon for not allowing movies to play on iPod, is not a restriction due to to Amazon. Apple does not want any competition on its device. Instead Apple wants to extend its success on iPod to any future movie download service.

  23. Why would Amazon.com want to be the next Google? It seems like Amazon.com is going after all these different web services. Why worry about those? Why not just make the e-commerce experience better? That is what I go to Amazon.com for.

  24. Why would Amazon.com want to be the next Google? It seems like Amazon.com is going after all these different web services. Why worry about those? Why not just make the e-commerce experience better? That is what I go to Amazon.com for.

  25. Amazon’s Unbox service reveals why Apple has taken such a long time to bring its movie service to market. Amazon is a slick corporation and I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense. It’s the first company to use computer technology in a way that both maximizes its own profits and its customer’s power at the same time. So for Amazon to have created Unbox, a non-starter in every sense of the word, one clearly sees the not so invisible hand of a fearful and greedy Hollywood.

    This is what Jobs has been fighting. Whatever else one might say about Jobs, he believes he knows what his customers want and he delivers it with as little compromise as possible. Does the customer want a program that invisibly connects to the mothership? No, and Apple got a good sense of that with its last iTunes release. Does the customer want a program that cannot be de-installed without connecting? No. Does the customer want a service that is tied to a single platform and won’t work on an iPod? No. Does the customer want to buy a show that he cannot burn to a DVD? Absolutely not. Does the customer want to buy a show that can be shown on only two computers? Pfui! In just a few days we’ll see how much Jobs had to give up to Hollywood.

  26. Amazon’s Unbox service reveals why Apple has taken such a long time to bring its movie service to market. Amazon is a slick corporation and I don’t mean that in any pejorative sense. It’s the first company to use computer technology in a way that both maximizes its own profits and its customer’s power at the same time. So for Amazon to have created Unbox, a non-starter in every sense of the word, one clearly sees the not so invisible hand of a fearful and greedy Hollywood.

    This is what Jobs has been fighting. Whatever else one might say about Jobs, he believes he knows what his customers want and he delivers it with as little compromise as possible. Does the customer want a program that invisibly connects to the mothership? No, and Apple got a good sense of that with its last iTunes release. Does the customer want a program that cannot be de-installed without connecting? No. Does the customer want a service that is tied to a single platform and won’t work on an iPod? No. Does the customer want to buy a show that he cannot burn to a DVD? Absolutely not. Does the customer want to buy a show that can be shown on only two computers? Pfui! In just a few days we’ll see how much Jobs had to give up to Hollywood.

  27. Apple’s approach on video so far is not promising. I am a big iTunes music customer (much to James Governor’s disgust) because their DRM scheme is restrictive enough to satisfy Big Media but relaxed enough to allow me to redirect the music as I wish, via CD burns and MP3 re-rips and stuff like MT-DAAPD

    By contrast, I have bought almost no video from them as they have prevented that same freedom for video of all kinds. I can see this (obviously huge) market staying strangled by the greed-fuelled uninnovation of Big Media, especially as they lobby their way to criminalising all the early adopters.

  28. Apple’s approach on video so far is not promising. I am a big iTunes music customer (much to James Governor’s disgust) because their DRM scheme is restrictive enough to satisfy Big Media but relaxed enough to allow me to redirect the music as I wish, via CD burns and MP3 re-rips and stuff like MT-DAAPD

    By contrast, I have bought almost no video from them as they have prevented that same freedom for video of all kinds. I can see this (obviously huge) market staying strangled by the greed-fuelled uninnovation of Big Media, especially as they lobby their way to criminalising all the early adopters.

  29. It’s going to be very interesting to see what (if anything) is announced by Steve Jobs on Tuesday. Disney content is in the bag (one assumes), but it will be the deal he has struck with the other studios that will be the making of the service.

    Let’s hope they realise that the Amazon model is not the way to go… in fact, the Apple model may not be much better, but we can hope.

  30. It’s going to be very interesting to see what (if anything) is announced by Steve Jobs on Tuesday. Disney content is in the bag (one assumes), but it will be the deal he has struck with the other studios that will be the making of the service.

    Let’s hope they realise that the Amazon model is not the way to go… in fact, the Apple model may not be much better, but we can hope.

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