The Macalope Weekly: Making excuses
The Kindle Fire arrived this week and the reviews seem to be saying “What did you expect for $200?” Then we’ll look at market share (yes, again) as a pundit says it’s really important, but doesn’t seem sure why. Finally, which Android user experience is the one we’re supposed to be so scared that people are getting used to?
Fair to middling
The reviews are in and the Kindle Fire rates a “+++AAA WOULD BY AGAIN” or a “meh,” depending on who you talk to.
PC Magazine’s Sascha Segan gives it a pretty positive review:
The Amazon Kindle Fire puts the Apple iPad on notice.
BOOM. YOU’RE ON NOTICE, IPAD. BOO-YAH!
Now if we only knew why.
Then there’s the price: Android along with amazing specs for just $199.
Sascha probably didn’t mean to suggest that Android was part of the price that you have to pay to use the Kindle Fire. But maybe he should have.
That cloud storage is very important. With only 6.5GB of free, onboard storage, you can only store three or four movies and some choice playlists on the tablet at a time.
So good luck at that beach place you go to with no Wi-Fi. Not that anyone is ever without WiFi in the “always-on Internet” future we live in as we fly about in our rocket-propelled helo-cars looking so smart in our silver jumpsuits with our ray guns and such.
At the end of a list of bugs that includes sluggishness, buttons that don’t react, and bad error messages, Sascha concludes:
Overall, though? Pretty great for a $200 tablet.
So, cheaper products should just naturally be slow and buggy? Since when? It’s not unreasonable to expect that early adopters will experience bugs, but cheaper devices should not simply be buggier and slower. That’s ridiculous.
Apple recognizes that if a device can’t complete a task with a reasonable user experience, that device really shouldn’t be trying to perform that task. Which is why the company sells the MacBook Air and the iPad instead of netbooks. And, consequently, why every other tablet and laptop maker is scrambling to catch up.
Certainly we can excuse the Kindle Fire for having some early fits, but if these don’t get fixed, that’s on Amazon, not the user for buying a lower-cost device.
It doesn’t replace the Apple iPad: It complements the iPad, which is bigger, more powerful, more expensive, and has far more apps.
Well, we’ve come a long way from the salacious lede, haven’t we, Sascha? What was the iPad put on notice for again?
Wired’s take is slightly less enthusiastic than Segan’s:
Is it tablet [sic] that people will grab again and again for web browsing, book and magazine reading, casual gaming, and more?
No. It’s not that kind of tablet.
Wow. That’s kind of a letdown. Particularly after that big comparison page.
While Amazon touts the Kindle Fire’s browser, it’s Web browsing where it falls down, according to Wired. Apparently, there’s a reason that Amazon’s trying to move more of the heavy lifting of Web browsing to the cloud: It’s because its mobile browser sucks. Who knew there was heavy lifting in Web browsing? Certainly not iPad users.
The one thing that all the reviewers seem to agree that Amazon really gets right with the Kindle Fire is the shopping experience. That is, of course, the Kindle Fire’s raison d’être. So, if you’re looking for a more stylish, mobile way to buy more things from Amazon, this is definitely the tablet for you.
The world is big enough for both the Kindle Fire and the iPad, even if Amazon itself doesn’t think so. Is the Kindle Fire a good value for the price? Sure seems like it might be, assuming that Amazon gets the user experience ironed out. Is the iPad still a good value for the price? Sure seems like it.
The Macalope has dire news, dear readers. It has to do with a little metric called “market share.” It appears (are you sitting?) that iOS has a lower smartphone market share than its oft-janky competition.
Yes, here we are again. This time it’s Dan Frommer making the case about “Why Apple’s iPhone market share actually matters”.
That’s the title of the post. Remember that because it’ll become pertinent by the end.
Frommer is probably the smartest guy to make this argument to date, although he did write for Business Insider, so he can’t be that smart. Thankfully he lays off the “IT’S WINDOWS AND THE MAC ALL OVER AGAIN” analogy, but he’s still making the same point.
It’s about building the dominant mobile platform for the next several decades.
Why is this that important?
He does. Not. Say. Literally. Nowhere.
Isn’t that odd? The Macalope thinks it’s very odd. The title suggested we would learn why market share was important, but all Frommer tells us is that present market share leads to future market share.
The reason the horny one imagines Frommer doesn’t really say why market share is important is because he’d have to say something about profits. And any dire warnings about profits would be ludicrous because Apple’s profit share is over 50 percent and growing. Google, meanwhile, has more than twice the market share of the iPhone, yet it makes two-thirds of its mobile search money from iOS-based devices.
This is not the domination you’re looking for.
And a big part of that is getting that platform into as many hands as possible, teaching the world how to use it, and building an addictive experience around it that people can’t easily switch away from.
Except switching isn’t really that hard anymore. Certainly not as hard as it was with personal computers back in the 1990s. PCs were thousands of dollars, and applications often hundreds. Now phones are often free and apps usually cost no more than a few dollars. (Apparently it was that “-lication” suffix that made them so expensive—who knew?) While video is still mired in DRM, almost everyone sells music in open formats now. Platform lock-in simply isn’t as big a factor as it used to be, which seems to indicate that we’ll continue to have a mixed platform environment for the foreseeable future as people switch when they feel like it.
Except for iPhone users, of course, whose customer loyalty is 12 points higher than the next highest smartphone manufacturer.
Frommer at least notes that this race is “nowhere close to being decided” but, again, it’s more complicated than he makes it out to be.
Frommer mentions profit in an offhand matter—yes, pedantic Apple nerds, I know Apple has 52 percent of the profit, ugh, let it go already we’re talking about platform lock-in and blah blah blah. But, you know, profit is the name of the game. That’s it. Capitalism 101. This isn’t some side metric. It’s the metric.
Frommer offers a list of things Apple could do to drive market share, some of which are good, some bad.
…experiment with larger screen sizes…
Uh, no. Apple is not Samsung.
Consider sacrificing margins a bit to drive further sales. Billions more in the bank won’t help if Google really does get its act together and pull away.
Uh, actually it will. You can buy a lot of beer and donuts with a billion dollars. You can’t buy jack with market share.
OK, we’re about four-fifths of the way through the piece about how market share matters, so it’s time for the ass-saving pivot!
Now: There is also a good chance that there just won’t be a single, dominant mobile platform for the next several decades—that there will always be two or three companies vying for the position, but never a clear “Windows”-like leader.
Perhaps this market share stuff really doesn’t matter that much, and won’t.
Dan. Dan. Daaaaan. What was the title of your post again, Dan? Read the title and then read that sentence. Daaaaan.
Saturday Special: Whose experience is it anyway?
Let’s talk about that “addictive user experience” for a second, because this basic point of Frommer’s seems to assume facts not in evidence. Take Mike Loukides’s experience with Android (tip o’ the antlers to Ben Brooks).
But man, AT&T’s notion of Android is a lot different from Google’s. Android as Google ships is it really quite good. Not excellent, but more than good enough. AT&T has taken that basic goodness and broken it by piling on glopware, bloatware, and you-don’t-need-it-and-you-can’t-delete-it-ware. They’ve rearranged things in stupid ways, changed icons that were familiar and serviceable, and botched things up in many other ways.
Wait, you’re saying that AT&T, left to its devices, will crap up a user experience? No. Way.
So, is that the “addictive user experience” Frommer’s talking about? One that’s not only not as good as Apple’s but is inconsistent across carriers? That sounds addict-a-riffic. And all the carriers do this to varying degrees. Which is, of course, one of the reasons they like Android. It plays to their pre-January 2007 sensibilities that only they know how to make their customers just the right amount of miserable.
The Macalope appreciates Loukides’s perspective. He’s chosen Android with his eyes open.
The price of openness may well be letting vendors break stuff. And I suppose I’m willing to pay that price. But I don’t have to be happy about it.
There are plenty of reasons to use Android over iOS. Just don’t try telling us it’s categorically better.
[Editors’ Note: In addition to being a mythical beast, the Macalope is not an employee of Macworld. As a result, the Macalope is always free to criticize any media organization. Even ours.]