Opinion

John C. Abell

Apple in miniature

Oct 24, 2012 20:00 UTC

This week Apple faces two significant tablet challengers. The first is Microsoft, which is releasing its long-awaited Surface tablet on Friday. The second is… itself.

Yesterday, amidst the anticipation for the Surface and strong sales for the Kindle Fire, Apple announced a slew of new devices, the $329 iPad Mini the most intriguing among them.

The mobile era has been defined by Apple: iPod, iPhone, iPad, you know the drill. Apple ascended largely unchallenged, facing only a few stunned and weak rivals. By the time it got to tablets in 2010, Apple benefited from an unspeakably large pent-up demand for a device nobody had been clamoring for. Since then it’s sold more than 100 million iPads.

The market has matured in only two years. As Apple got wealthier, the competition got wiser. Unable to counter Apple in the larger tablet space, it started to produce smaller tablets that didn’t compromise on functionality (though, admittedly, they did on apps), some undercutting Apple’s price by 60 percent.

With that success proven — Amazon claims 22 percent for the Fire HD alone — Apple’s competitors started to move in on Apple’s territory — larger tablets. Amazon released the first Fire version 13 months ago, and now comes Microsoft’s Surface. Pre-orders are said to be brisk, but it will take a while to gauge traction. The device is light and portable and solves the one niggling criticism many still have about the iPad: Surface includes a physical keyboard that is cleverly incorporated into the cover. So while the device is a tablet it also doubles as a very small notebook. Not a bad trick.

The tracks of my fears

Oct 19, 2012 15:56 UTC

Advertisers say that if they can’t track you online, your favorite websites will die. They’re wrong.

There is lots of bad TV, and lots of bad Internet. Reducing either would be a public service of incalculable proportions. But just as some broadcasters raise the possibility of Armageddon if ad-avoiding tech like TiVo proliferates, online marketers are now making the same empty threats about the Internet. They say that rich Internet “content” would disappear if something called Do Not Track became the standard.

Do Not Track isn’t the default setting of any major Web browser, even though all offer the option to “opt-in” to a private life — to send a signal to advertisers that, on this occasion, in this window, at this time I don’t want you to make use of my surfing behavior to profile me for the sole purpose of creating ads that marketers think have greater personal appeal and are more valuable.

EBay’s buyer’s remorse

Oct 12, 2012 22:02 UTC

How do you know if you’re in a buyer’s market, or a seller’s?

Offline it’s pretty easy to know. There’s price pressure, abundance and not too many people vying for the same house, commodity or mint condition Pee-Wee Herman doll at the yard sale. In the land of the real, markets aren’t terribly efficient. Before the Internet changed everything, retailers were bound by geography and the ability (and willingness) of people to range. That’s why gas costs a lot more right off the highway exit than it does less than a mile down, where strangers would rather not venture. (Now, of course, there’s an app for that.)

Online, it’s easier to know where the consumer stands. In fact, online, it’s always a buyer’s market. There are, of course, always fixed costs that help determine an item’s price – a book publisher’s monopoly or the cost of jet fuel, say. But a buyer’s power to compare prices from a comfy chair has made it difficult for online sellers to gouge – to insist on a higher price than the market bears – because the market is transparent, fluid and infinite in all directions. Services like Kayak create an almost perfect buyer’s market for air travel, which was already one of the world’s most competitive businesses. Amazon’s ability to offer nearly everything at buyer’s market prices has created a retailing behemoth that doesn’t even need an Apple-like seller’s market to thrive.

And then there’s eBay, an Amazon contemporary with an identity that’s been in crisis for years.

Facebook’s billion: Are you being served?

Oct 4, 2012 22:00 UTC

Facebook has reached an almost unimaginable milestone: 1 billion people are active users. It is hard to get your head around that number, which represents one-seventh of the world’s population (and not every one of us even has Internet access). It’s almost half the total number of people estimated to be on the Web at the beginning of this year.

Even CEO Mark Zuckerberg can’t quite seem to comprehend it: “It’s really humbling to get a billion people to do anything.”

But despite gangbuster growth, Facebook is based on a tricky business model: The more they use members’ shared information to target them for advertisers and marketers, the less members are likely to go along, and the more they’ll realize the bargain they’ve struck. Just as Facebook effectively redefined “Friend,” it is pushing the boundaries of the public-private divide.

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