Jeff Bezos: How Amazon Web Services Is Just Like The Kindle Business

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Amazon Web Services, which provides computing and storage services to hundreds of businesses, began as a seemingly crazy idea in 2006, but it has since grown into a $1.5 billion business this year,  according to a new report from R.W. Baird. It’s believed to be one of Amazon.com’s fastest-growing businesses, the largest piece of an “other” revenue category that grew 68% in the third quarter, to $648 million, far outpacing overall company revenue growth of 27%.

Today, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos offered an explanation of how AWS, often seen as something that has little to do with its core retail operation, fits into Amazon’s business, and how it runs on similar principles. In fact, he says, it’s quite similar to Amazon’s Kindle business, where the company makes little money on the device but a lot more if it’s used–in that case to buy lots of books and movies.

Bezos made his comments, which were webcast early Thursday afternoon, to close the company’s first public conference on Amazon Web Services, a three-day geekfest that started Tuesday in Las Vegas. Following are his edited and sometimes paraphrased comments in conversation with Werner Vogels, Amazon’s chief technology officer, sometimes ranging well beyond AWS to entrepreneurship, rockets, and a humongous clock in the mountains of west Texas. (Unfortunately, he had nothing to say about Amazon’s surprisingly large ad business.) You can view the whole keynote here or click the video above.

Vogels: The last time you were onstage, at the Kindle Fire announcement, you said that Amazon should only win when our customers win, and that’s how the Kindle Fire business works. I’d like to think AWS also works that way, but elaborate on that.

Bezos: It’s very similar to our Kindle device business. We sell our hardware near break-even, so we make money when people USE the device, not when they BUY the device. That is very aligning with customers. It causes us to have the right behaviors.

AWS is very similar. It’s a pay-as-you-go service. We’re not incented to get people to overpay for hardware. In the long run, that will work out very well for customers, and it will work out very well for Amazon.

Vogels: You’ve always talked about flywheels, which in Amazon retail is low prices, convenience, etc. What’s the flywheel in AWS?

Bezos: I always get the question, what’s going to change in 1o years? I almost never get asked, what’s NOT going to change in the next 10 years? That’s the more important question, because you can build a business around things that are stable. One is low prices. Another is faster delivery. Vast selection.

On AWS, the big ideas are also pretty straightforward. People will want more reliability, lower prices, etc. The big ideas in business are often very obvious. But it’s hard to keep a firm grasp of the obvious.

Vogels: What are the real mechanisms of innovation?

Bezos: Innovation is a point of view. You have to select people that want to innovate, to explore. An explorer company isn’t for everybody. But for people who get up in the morning and want to change things, it’s a lot of fun.

Other things important for innovation isn’t as fun. One is you have to have a willingness to fail, to be misunderstood for long periods of time. Then, you can ramp up your rate of experimentation. Successful invention requires you to increase your rate of experimentation. AWS is one of those things that helps startups do experimentation faster. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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Apple’s iPad Mini Cannibalizes Other iPad Sales While Google’s Android Tablets Steal Share

Apple Introduces iPad Mini... and some new com...

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Apple’s grip on the tablet market it single-handedly popularized is slipping.

The maker of the iPad line of tablets still leads the market with a 55% share, according to a new report from market research firm ABI Research. But that’s down 14 percentage points in one quarter alone, and the lowest since the first iPad launched in 2010.

The problem, according to ABI, is that Apple was late to come out with a seven- to eight-inch tablet, well after the point at which it was becoming obvious that people really like that size. And when Apple did finally debut the iPad Mini, it was at a substantially high price relative to rivals such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire. “With the introduction of a smaller, lower-cost iPad mini, Apple has acknowledged Android’s beachhead of 7-inch-class tablets, though at the same time, it has failed to deliver a knock-out punch through innovation, pricing, and availability during the most critical selling period of the year,” ABI senior practice director Jeff Orr said in the firm’s release.

Worse, ABI says, the iPad Mini didn’t take back share from tablets powered by Google’s Android mobile operating software. Instead, people simply ended up opting for lower-cost tablets. Android’s market share rose to 44%. Another recent report from Finvista Advisors predicts that Android tablet sales will overtake the iPad’s by mid-2013. Android also recently bested Apple in smartphone shipments, at least before the iPhone 5 launched.

It’s not clear from the ABI report which companies benefited the most from the market-share shift. But it wasn’t just Google. According to one report, Google is expected to sell about 4 million Nexus 7s by the end of this year, but that’s somewhat fewer than some analysts expected.

Amazon says Kindle sales are strong, but it’s not providing specific figures to prove it. A report from Pacific Crest Securities says it’s likely to pick up a bit of market share in the fourth quarter, but not much.

The big losers are clearly every other tablet, including those running Windows–though that, too, could change if Microsoft’s new Surface tablet takes off.

Now, Apple’s share decline may well reverse in the current quarter, the first full one for the iPad Mini and other new iPad models, squarely in the heart of the holiday shopping season. And of course, it’s far better for Apple to cannibalize its own products than let others do it.

Problem is, it’s too late, at least for the moment. Now, rivals are eating some of Apple’s lunch, too.

Apple CEO Tim Cook Is Blowing Smoke When He Dismisses Rival 7-Inch Tablets

Apple Introduces iPad Mini... and some new com...

Apple’s iPad mini

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

As a company that way more often than not comes out with superior products, Apple rarely appears defensive. Today was an exception.

On Apple’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Tim Cook took repeated potshots at small tablets of the kind that–yes–Apple itself just debuted. The iPad mini is clearly aimed at blunting the appeal of seven-inch tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire.

While I think Cook is probably right that the iPad will continue to dominate tablets, and even that it continues to make the best ones, his overenthusiastic criticism of seven-inch tablets struck me as surprisingly defensive. Saying Apple didn’t set out to build a “small, cheap tablet,” he called the competitors “compromised” products. “We would never make a seven-inch tablet,” he sniffed.

Why not? Because they’re too small, he said. The iPad mini is almost an inch larger, which means a 30% larger screen and 50% larger viewing area. I’ll grant that that is noticeable, and appealing.

But c’mon. These are all tablets you can hold in one hand, and acting as if the iPad mini is something utterly unique–”in a whole different league,” as he put it–comes off more than a bit desperate. Apple is clearly playing catch-up here, and trying to position the iPad mini as nothing like the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire only serves to make us realize that Apple actually does feel threatened by these devices that beat it to what has turned out to be a real market. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Apple Leaves Gaping Price Hole Between iPad Mini And Rival Tablets

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Let’s just get it over with at the outset and concede that Apple’s just-introduced iPad mini will be a holiday hit, selling millions of units to people who know they can’t go wrong giving a gift of a new Apple product.

And at a starting price of $329, that gift-giving isn’t a budget buster for many people. Let’s face it: Apple has yet another great-selling product on its hands, this time in the palm of ours.

And yet, I wonder if Apple just punted a chance to grind its rivals in smaller tablets, chiefly Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire, into the dust. The Nexus 7 starts at $199, the Kindle Fire even lower at $159. But Google also may release a new Nexus 7 model next week at an Android event, potentially dropping the price of the current low-end model to just $99.

OK, so let’s get something else over with. By all early reports so far, the iPad mini is better than either of those two existing devices. It feels better, it looks better, it’s lighter, it’s thinner, it even still has a noticeably larger screen and especially viewing area than the Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire. Not least, it has Apple’s App Store, with apps that fit the tablet form factor rather than plastering smartphone apps onto a bigger screen.

So yeah, millions of people will love it.

But millions of other people will be hearing a lot about the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire, too, and Google and Amazon.com have a huge incentive to advertise the heck out of them. Honestly, if you don’t do a side-by-side comparison, which is tough to do, you may pick up a Nexus 7 or a Kindle Fire and say, “Hey, this looks pretty good. Why do I need to spend an extra $130, or even more?”

That’s why it’s surprising that Apple, whose CEO Tim Cook has talked about not leaving a significant price umbrella for Apple products, did just that with the iPad mini.

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

LIVE: Apple Launches iPad Mini Starting At $329

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

We’re about to hear about Apple’s latest must-have product, so far dubbed the iPad Mini.

Whatever it’s called, it’s sure to shake up the already dynamic market for tablets. In particular, the rumored 7.85-inch iPad Mini could, depending on its price, instantly provide potentially crushing competition for Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire tablets.

You can watch the livestream of Apple’s event, which also is rumored to include a new MacBook Pro and a full-sized tablet updated with the latest Lightning connector and other features, on Apple’s site, at least on Safari-equipped PCs and iPhones and iPads. There are plenty of other people, including Forbes’ Connie Guglielmo, tracking every word and movement of Apple execs, so what follows here will be strictly the highlights from the livestream.

Just before the 10 a.m. Pacific start, panning cameras are following the crowd of journalists filing in to the California Theater in San Jose. … And we’re underway as CEO Tim Cook takes the stage, first to provide updates on the iPhone 5.

* There are now 200 million iOS devices out there.

* 300 billion iMessages have been sent, 28,000 per second.

* There are now 700,000 iOS apps, including 275,000 iPad apps.

* 35 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store.

$ 6.5 billion has been paid out to Apple developers.

* Apple announces a new version of iBooks that features continuous scrolling and is better integrated with iCloud. You can also tap on a passage or quote and share it with friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Now on to the Mac. He says it has been outgrowing the PC market by about seven times in the past year, and has outgrown it for the past six years. It’s now the No. 1 desktop and No. 1 notebook in the U.S. “But we are not standing still. And we’ve got some really great stuff to show you  this morning.” Cue Phil Schiller, who notes that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best-selling Mac.

* And so, as expected, he shows the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s three-quarters of an inch thick (or thin), 20% thinner, and weighs only 3.5 pounds, almost a pound lighter than the previous one. And four times the number of pixels in the Retina display–twice as many as a 52-inch HDTV. Flurry of new specs, chip, etc. “PowerNap” updates email, etc. while the computer is asleep.
Oh, the price: $1,699. It starts shipping today. MacBook Air starts at $999, Pro at $1,199, Pro with Retina $1,699.

Next, a new Mac Mini starting at $599. “You knew there would be something named Mini in this presentation, didn’t you?” he coyly asks.

And one more Mac thing: a new IMac. Yup, it’s ridiculously thin–only 5 millimeters, 80% thinner than the last one (though with a bulge in the middle of the back for, well, the computer. Almost looks like a stand for a real computer. “The most beautiful Mac we have ever made,” Schiller coos.

How did Apple make it that thin? “Isn’t it something how something new makes the previous thing instantly look old?” he notes, thus summing up neatly Apple’s business model. No optical drive is one reason it’s thinner. There are 27-inch and 21.5-inch models. They’re also up to 8 pounds lighter than the previous iMacs.

* Another new thing: The Apple Fusion Drive. It has 160 GB of flash storage with a 1-terabyte or 3-TB hard drive, fused into one drive. The point: You can use the flash storage for much faster access and the disk drive storage for stuff like movies you don’t need constantly.

Cook’s back with more news. Apple has sold its 100 millionth iPad, in just two and a half years.

* He also intros the new version of iBooks Author. Feels like a breather for the main event, and indeed, Cook goes back to the iPad.

* And so Schiller comes on to intro the fourth-generation iPad, which has a chip that’s two times faster, for speedier graphics. Also 10-hour battery, better camera, high-speed LTE cellular data connection with “greatly expanded” coverage. It starts at $499 for 16 GB of memory, $629 for the cellular model.

* And finally–the iPad mini! Yes, that’s what it’s called after all.

Why do you need a smaller one? Hold it in one hand–that’s one reason. And really everything else, he says.

* It’s 7.9 inches diagonally, 7.2 mm thick, 25% thinner than the regular iPad. Weighs only 0.68 pounds, 50% lighter. He even compares it to Google’s Nexus 7 (“and Android tablet”), saying that the iPad mini is aluminum and thinner, with a 35% larger display area–50% larger in viewing an actual web page. 

It’s interesting that Apple finds it necessary to compare the iPad mini to a specific rival, even if it’s unnamed. Clearly Apple has viewed it as a threat that it needs to blunt.

* So what’s inside? Apple A5 chip, FaceTime HD camera, 5 megapixel iSight camera, faster WiFi, Lightning connector, 10 hours of battery life.

* Yes, and the price? $329 for the low-end 16 MB WiFi version up to $529 for the 64 GB WiFi version. For the cellular models, $459 to $659.

Methinks that especially if Google comes out with a new $199 Nexus 7 next week and reprices the current low-end to $99–coupled with Amazon’s $159 low-end Kindle Fire–Apple may have left at least a small pricing window for those products. Or, maybe not so small. Will it be enough of a window given Apple’s customary premium (both in price and in product quality)? We’ll find out this holiday season.

Cook wraps up and that is indeed a wrap.

AWOL From Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet Lineup? That (Mostly) Ad-Supported Model*

* Updated below.

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

A few days ago, it looked like an ad-supported (read: cheap) Kindle Fire might be in the lineup introduced this morning at Amazon.com’s debut of new Kindles in Santa Monica.

Sorry, no dice. The company did introduce a lot of other products, of course, including a faster, cheaper, $159 version of the Kindle Fire with longer battery life, as well as new high-definition “HD” models–including, in something of a surprise, one that has a nearly 9-inch screen. The 7-inch version with 16 GB of memory will be $199, the original price of the first Kindle Fire. It will ship Sept. 14. The 8.9-inch version will be $299, $200 less than Apple’s iPad, and will ship Nov. 20.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also pulled an Apple-like “one more thing” move by introducing a $499 8.9-inch Kindle Fire, also shipping Nov. 20, that has 32 GB of memory and much faster 4G data connections, though that service will cost $50 a year for 250 MB a month. That doesn’t seem like much data, at least for video streaming purposes.

On the more traditional e-book front, Amazon also showed a new Kindle called Paperwhite for $119 for a WiFi version and $179 for a free-3G version, as well as a newly named basic non-touchscreen Kindle now called the $69 Kindle. That one, $10 less than the previous version, is the ad-supported Kindle.

But it’s not the cheaper ad-supported Kindle Fire that some folks apparently had expected. * Update: To make it clear, as Amazon did not at the launch event, all of the new Kindle Fire models will have some advertising, or what Amazon calls “special offers” and “sponsored screensavers” that previously were only on the Kindle with Special Offers. So in a sense, the whole line has at least a small ad component that ultimately may have some impact on the price of the devices. But it still looks fairly minimal compared with the potential for a tablet whose cost could be substantially subsidized by ad revenues in a similar way that carriers subsidize cell phones. Although Engadget reported Amazon would soon allow buyers to pay a fee to avoid ads, CNET now reports Amazon has no immediate plans for that.

Why not a much cheaper, largely ad-supported model, given that it would have provided Amazon an additional way to differentiate itself from Google’s, Apple’s, and other tablets? …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

Amazon’s Ad-Supported Tablet: What Took So Long?

The current Kindle Fire

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Ever since the first, rather expensive smartphones came out five years ago, I wondered: Why not offer cheaper ones supported by advertising? After all, even if you’d prefer not to see ads, you’re already taking a subsidy from a wireless carrier that often entails (I’m talking to you, Verizon) carrier widgets and interface limitations than are far more onerous than any advertising.

But since then, the only ad-supported portable devices that I can think of, at least that are still around, are Amazon.com’s Kindles with Special Offers. Now, however, the Wall Street Journal says Amazon may debut an ad-supported new 7-inch tablet as a followup to now sold-out Kindle Fires, as a way to offer a lower price in an increasingly competitive tablet market. The tablet could come as part of an expected Amazon launch of new tablets on Sept. 6.

The tablet apparently would display an ad as the device “wakes up.” The story mentioned no specific price break. The Special Offers Kindles offer a $30 to $50 price break, which if applied to the current Kindle Fire price of $199 would come in as low as $149. That would provide a considerable discount from Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, whose key appeal since it debuted in mid-July has been its low price.

Apple also is expected to come out with a similarly sized iPad Mini this fall, that could be priced as low as $249. However, Apple’s brand would still make a higher-priced device appealing to many people.

Assuming the ad-supported Amazon tablet actually launches, what took so long? Well, for one, tablets are still a pretty new category, so perhaps it just took awhile to work out the economics. Also, it’s possible that the ad formats on each tablet have to be so unique that it’s hard to get marketers interested at a more than experimental scale. Not least, a lot of people may figure that if they’re already paying a couple hundred dollars or more for a device, having to watch ads as well is a step too far.

But given that the three key tablet combatants today–Apple, Google, and Amazon–each are already in the ad business to varying degrees, and as it becomes clearer what kinds of ads work best on mobile devices, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more ad-supported models before long.

Here’s How Badly Google Wants To Make Nexus 7 Tablet A Hit

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Only a couple of times has Google deigned to clutter its famously spartan home page with advertising. This is one of those times.

Today, Google is running an ad below its search box for the Nexus 7, the seven-inch tablet that it hopes will steal a march on Apple’s enormously popular iPads. Why now? Google hasn’t said, but it seems likely the ad push is looking ahead to Apple’s expected October release of the seven- to eight-inch iPad Mini, as well as to the expected announcement of Amazon.com’s new Kindle Fire next week.

As tablets take the computing market by storm, Google clearly views them as a critical device on which to make sure its search and other services, and the advertising that rides atop them, continue to be front and center. I remain doubtful about whether Google itself really wants to become a full-on maker of hardware, Motorola Mobility acquisition aside. But at the very least, a successful Nexus 7 could spark other manufacturers to pick up the pace of innovation in tablets.

That’s all the more critical in the wake of Apple’s big win in court last week, when Samsung was found to be infringing multiple Apple patents. Although Google’s underlying Android software was not directly involved, the jury’s ruling cast a pall on Android’s potential for further gains vs. the iPhone and the iPad.

The Nexus 7 spot marks a rare appearance of a Google ad on its home page, though not the first one. The company also ran ads for Motorola’s and Verizon’s Droid phone in 2009, followed by one for Google’s own Nexus One phone a few months later. It also has promoted other Google products, including the T-Mobile G1 phone in 2008. And just a few days ago, if you hovered over the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, you got alternative messages that sent you to other Google services.

Still, don’t expect to see Google start splattering ads all over its home page. After all, then we’d all stop writing about how unusual it is and Google won’t get the free publicity it’s getting right now.

Why Google’s New Tablet Could Be The iPad’s First Real Competition

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Google is just a couple of days away from debuting a new tablet that could finally shake up a market utterly dominated so far by Apple’s iPad.

Reports from Gizmodo and others say Google is likely to introduce the diminutive 7-inch tablet at its Google I/O developers conference (whose Wednesday keynote I will be covering live here). The kicker, according to the reports: The tablet, built by Asus, will start at $199 for an 8 GB of memory, up to $249 for a 16 GB version.

Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire already plowed this pricing ground, of course, so such a tablet wouldn’t be entirely new. But while the Fire has been reasonably successful for Amazon, it hasn’t made much of an apparent dent in the iPad because of its limitations, including a somewhat app platform controlled by Amazon itself. And the Fire doesn’t run a standard version of Android, making it tougher yet for developers to do apps for it.

Let’s not forget Microsoft’s coming Surface tablet, either. But the reported pricing on that device, introduced last week, sounds quite close to the iPad’s. So unless it’s significantly better, which seems doubtful, it seems unlikely to mount a serious challenge.

But Google’s tablet, assuming as Chairman Eric Schmidt has promised (and this is a very big assumption) that it performs well, could for the first time challenge the iPad. And it would come at a time when tablets are the focus of everyone in tech from chipmakers and hardware manufacturers to app developers to marketers and publishers hoping to capitalize on a new mobile Internet device that could give them the creative canvas to rival (or exceed) the appeal of television and magazines. Here’s why Google might have a hit this time:

* It’s cheap. Now, merely being cheap won’t guarantee people will buy it in sufficient numbers to matter. But at $199, it doesn’t have to be every bit as good as the iPad. As Clayton Christensen has noted in cases dating all the way back to the transistor radio in the 1950s, a rival can most successfully challenge an established incumbent not by matching it feature-by-feature, but by offering something good enough for most people for a lot less money.

* The rock-bottom price will attract more app developers. If it’s decent enough to sell a lot thanks to the low price, that suddenly makes Android a more attractive platform for app developers. One of several reasons the iPad is the most popular app platform is that Apple controls the operating system version so developers don’t need to rewrite an app for each device running different versions. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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