This year, Amazon has better ideas than Apple

Even though Google brags about hundreds of millions of active Android devices, it is not them who can rule the imagination and the purses of the masses embracing mobile devices. For a while, the exclusive license to tell people what to think and what to admire was held by Apple, but the monopoly is over as of last week. It’s Amazon who Apple will have to compete with, not Google, Samsung, or Microsoft.

So yes, Apple did prove once again that they rule the smartphone market, but only because they originally set the bar so high that no Android smartphone manufacturer can reach it. It’s just too high.

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But that is not necessarily good news for Apple or their clients. The Sep 12, 2012 conference was a boring event. We did not get to see anything new beyond small tweaks and upgrades. There is nothing revolutionary about iPhone 5, iPod Touch, or iPod Nano. What is more, I firmly believe that whoever designed the new Nano or the color iPod Touch cases would be chased out of Cupertino by the late Steve Jobs before they would have a chance to finish their internal presentation. The new Nano is simply ugly and I have a feeling people will not want to be seen with one. But these are my personal opinions and I will most likely be proven wrong in the near future.

What is much more worrisome is the Apple’s lack of ideas about their future. Adding Siri to iPod Touch is a logical step forward, as is adding LTE to the iPhone, or designing the new headphones, or adding the noise cancellation feature to the iPhone. But all iOS devices have a problem with antiquated media player software and book readers. Here, Apple looses to Amazon whose team is finally starting to show some great ideas.

Setting aside the specs war, the pricing, and the stability of the software, Amazon has better ideas on how to enrich the reading and viewing experience. I am specifically thinking of the X-Ray and Whispersync technologies.

For books, X-Ray is a combination of text and metadata search, which lets us check for other books by the same author, for example. We can purchase them directly from the Kindle, which is good news for us, for Amazon, and for the publisher (and maybe even for the author).

This is not the only type of information we can search for using X-Ray, but Amazon is already showing us how it might use that technology to sell us more stuff. Suppose you are reading a book about France and want to learn more about that country, X-Ray could show you guidebooks, maps, clothes, language courses, and maybe even travel offers? Bit by bit, Amazon could potentially make hundreds of dollars from one initial book sale.

X-Ray for Movies lets us pause the movie, display the list of the actors in the paused scene, check which other movies they played in. X-Ray nicely enhances the curious reader’s or viewer’s knowledge while giving Amazon opportunity to make money on the emotionally-guided decisions we make in the heat of the moment. Do you like some actor’s performance? Display X-Ray for Movies, check his other movies and buy all of them. Do you like the soundtrack? The novel the film is based on? The director’s biography? It all can be sold and delivered to you in under 60 seconds.

Jeff Bezos has pitched his tent in the same spot that Apple occupies in the emotionally-driven sharing market (iPhone + Instagram + Facebook/Twitter), but Jeff Bezos makes money every time we want to read, listen to, or watch something while Apple only makes money when they sell you a new iPhone. In the long term, Apple is worse off than Amazon. In a way, Apple reminds me of Sony at the height of their analogue era when they had little clue about monetizing the digital revolution.

The third leg of the Kindle empire, Whispersync for Voice gives us ability to listed to the ebook we are reading in the audiobook format instead of the standard robot voice of the text-to-speech translator. Amazon can do it, because they own Audible, an audiobook publisher. This means we can now listen to a professional voice actor reading our book on the way home, pause it when we get there, and continue reading the book in bed, right from the place we stopped listening to the audiobook. In the morning, we can continue listening to the audiobook from the place we stopped reading the ebook.

Apple does not offer such solutions in such a simple format and it doesn’t look like they know how to do it. Google and Microsoft are behind Amazon, too, at least as far as these new ways to monetize metadata are concerned.

I was hoping to see some kind of breakthrough today, but I didn’t see any. True, Apple did upgrade many components, but none of those could be called revolutionary. Maybe next year? It seems to me that Apple has no idea what it should do next and for now they just want to surf the Steve tide. But Steve is gone and you can already see the coming problems in the way pro Mac users are being neglected and in letting the ugly new Nano see the light of day.

Amazon has better ideas today. That’s what should keep Apple execs awake at night, not some cheap iPhone knock-offs.