John C. Abell

Amazon lights a fire, Apple ices the cake

Sep 29, 2011 13:11 UTC
That was the week that was.

I can imagine saying that in years to come about the eight days that began on Wednesday with Amazon’s paradigm-busting entry into the tablet business, its deeper walk into the cheaper e-ink e-reader woods with less expensive Kindles, bookended next Wednesday by Apple’s latest iPhone(s) reveal.

Both unveilings have lots to do with “everywhere” consumption, and both have aspects of evolution. But a counter-revolution began this week, and we’ll be talking about for years to come.

Dare I say it: Amazon’s $199 “Fire” tablet may not make us forget Apple’s tablet, but it could very well be the first credible answer to the question: “Why wouldn’t I buy an iPad?”

It helps that this device comes from a very credible source. Amazon pretty much invented the e-book business. Before that, it sold lots of print books (still does). But the vision and seeming conflict that didn’t deter founder and CEO Jeff Bezos from a business then dominated by big box stores, and especially Barnes and Noble, is the same drive that has him now taking on Apple in its strongest suit.

Let’s face it. When you introduce a new tablet there is really only one horseman you are worried about. No offense HP, Samsung, Research in Motion, etc. But that’s the reality of it. The comparison is inevitable, and the only one a consumer cares about.

What would Netflix do?

Sep 20, 2011 21:22 UTC

By John C. Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

There was a time, actually not that very long ago, when the headline for this post would have been an excellent question. NetFlix enjoys customer loyalty which rivals the rarified levels of Apple. Its stock price was setting records — so much so that some head-scratching Street types couldn’t exactly explain why, without resorting to the sort of “good will,” “first adopter,” and “eyeballs” metrics that got us all into trouble a decade ago. Netflix even got extra cred with the Netflix Prize competition, a $1 million bounty for anyone who could just incrementally improve the service’s legendary recommendation algorithm.

It short, it looked like Netflix could do no wrong. It was the Google of streaming media. It created a DVD revolution, allowing couch potatoes to travel no further than their mailboxes for DVDs, killing off the Blockbusters of the world (which had killed off the local video stores) — and then it disrupted its own disruption. Netflix is already a verb — like Google — and was on track to become an ultimate comparative entity: Soon there would be phrases like [your rock star company here] is the Netflix of [insert vertical].

But a funny thing happened on the way to world domination.

First Netflix pissed off everyone with higher prices by turning a buffet plan for streaming plus DVDs by mail into two a la carte offerings, at a significantly higher cost for a woefully underestimated number of customers who still wanted access to both services. This untelegraphed move was accompanied by a poorly-received explanation about why, even if this wasn’t a good deal for customers, it just had to be.

Windows 8: Worth the wait, but is it too late?

Sep 14, 2011 19:55 UTC

The release of Windows 8 is now in the home stretch, and the vast majority of the world’s computers are about to begin getting the digital equivalent of a complete makeover.

The newest form of Windows — which, despite all the attention Apple gets, still operates more than 90 percent of computers — has a couple of things going for it. It supposedly will run anything that runs on Windows 7 so there won’t be that awful, elongated period when software is suddenly no longer compatible with your machine.

More importantly, Windows 8 borrows heavily from the relatively new user interface metaphors for tablets, which will make it much more palatable for tablet makers to offer Microsoft what could be a third strong contender (along with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android) on this surging device vertical.

Whither AOL and Yahoo?

Sep 8, 2011 16:35 UTC

About 1,000 years ago, while I was working at Reuters, I did a couple of really smart things: I bought shares in a dial-up Internet company with a mere million or so users, and a web search and catalogue service with a very funny name.

It wasn’t 1,000 years ago, of course, but it sure feels like it has been that long since buying shares in AOL or Yahoo would have been considered genius.

These now-iconic corporations more or less defined the heady, early days of the Internet boom, both as investments and as vast unexplored digital continents which, a few minutes before, hadn’t even existed.

The future is calling, AT&T, and it’s not T-Mobile

Sep 2, 2011 15:44 UTC

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger is shaping up to be an iconic business case saga and a judicial milestone. Who would have thought that nearly 40 years after the U.S. Department of Justice convinced a judge to break up “Ma Bell” that the DoJ might be able to convince another judge to tell that same company you can’t get too big again?

But of course AT&T can get big again, and become so dominant again that it is a feared monopoly that must be dealt with — if it should be so lucky. But getting there will take build, not buy.

Getting so large that you could control a market to the real or potential peril of the consuming public happened a lot in the industrial age, with railroads and oil, and even the movie business, which was ordered in 1948 to divest itself of theaters. But that was at a snail’s pace. These days eyebrows are raised by the Microsofts and Apples and Googles of the world who manage, in what seems like a blink of an eye, to provide goods or services so many people want that competitors have a hard time keeping up.