Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Amazon vs. Apple? No, it's Amazon and Apple vs. Everyone Else

To me, there's something magnificent about a well-executed product strategy.  Features and price and marketing all come together to delight a particular type of customer, and everyone wins.  The developer gets to sell a lot of products, and the users get something that improves their lives.

In the tablet market right now we have the privilege of watching two companies do great strategy, Apple and Amazon.  The press wants to label the Kindle Fire an iPad killer, but really it's the first sensible iPad counterpoint, a tablet device with its own unique design center and business model.  I don't think either one's going to kill the other, but I think together they're likely to chop up almost every other company that gets in their way.  In particular, that means Microsoft, RIM, and Google.

Let me start by talking about the new Kindle line, and then its likely impact on the market.

Two tablet paradigms

When Apple entered the tablet market, it asked "what can we do to redefine computing for tablets?"  It re-thought the user interface, application model, and an endless set of other details to create a unique new computing experience.  Apple has been rewarded with explosive sales growth.

With the Kindle line, Amazon asked a different question: "What can we do to redefine content distribution?"  The answer led it to a tablet computer, but one with very different hardware specs, user experience, and a vastly different business model.  None of the Kindles can match the iPad feature for feature (link), but they're not intended to.  At $499 and up, the iPad is a serious investment for most people, a lifestyle statement.  At $199 and down, the Kindles are impulse buys, the sort of thing people will get under Christmas trees or just buy for themselves because it looks neat and why the heck not?

Apple makes money from the sale of the iPad and its accessories, with a bit more coming from applications and content.  Given the breath-taking pricing for the Kindle line, Amazon will probably lose money on the hardware, or at best break even.  Its main profit will have to come from the sale of ebooks and movies and all sorts of other media products, plus some apps.  Those revenues may take years to fully develop, so Amazon is playing a very long game.  That's why I see Kindle as a strategy rather than just a product.  The company is betting that by subsidizing the Kindle now, it can dominate electronic media distribution for the indefinite future.

To keep iPad successful, Apple will need to continue to add wonderful new features to it, constantly refreshing the "magical" experience.  It will also continue to drive it into markets where tablet computing can make a big difference.  Apple is already making a huge push in education; some people tell me Apple has almost completely refocused its education salesforce on selling iPad to schools rather than Macs.  And there are plenty of reports of iPads moving into other verticals like aviation.

I'm sure the Kindle Fire will also show up in schools, but at heart the Kindle line is a Volkspad, priced to be the tablet thing that everyone eventually gets for basic content access.  Already about 40% of tablet owners also own e-readers according to Pew Research (link), and I expect that percentage to increase. 

Over time we might see Apple and Amazon compete more directly; it all depends on how much Apple is willing to subsidize hardware to get long-term revenue from content.  There is also potential for product line conflicts -- if Apple makes a lower-priced iPad, it might cannibalize iPhone sales.  In the past Apple has tried to keep its product lines separated in price, and it hasn't used the subsidy model.  This is a very interesting test for Apple's new CEO Tim Cook, and I'm glad Steve Jobs is still on the scene to advise him.

But in the meantime, it's very likely that iPad and Kindle will coexist nicely in the market.  The losers, I think, will be everyone else trying to play in the tablet space.

Hammer and Anvil

Companies trying to sell tablets against Apple were already suffering from slow sales.  Now instead of just being pounded by the iPad hammer, they've been undercut by the Kindle anvil.  For most of them, there's no place to go.  It's very hard for me to picture how somebody like Samsung is going to get market traction with its current tablet line, and I think the RIM PlayBook, due to its size, is going to suffer against Kindle Fire.  Between slow sales of its current phones and now the PlayBook's dwindling prospects, I hope RIM has been very very careful about managing its inventory of parts and finished devices.  Otherwise it could end up with a massive inventory writedown in a couple of quarters.

I will be very interested to see what Barnes & Noble does next with its Nook Color tablet.  Nook Color is similar in many ways to Kindle Fire, but B&N was reluctant to add a lot of Android apps because it was afraid people might buy it as a tablet rather than an e-reader.  Amazon appears to have overcome this fear, and there's a danger that B&N may have let its opportunity for leadership slip away.  On the other hand, if the next Nook Color has better features than Kindle Fire, Amazon's announcement might validate B&N's product and help it sell.

And then there's Microsoft, which has a beautiful-looking new Windows 8 tablet interface coming maybe late next year.  I'm excited, I hope it'll be wonderful, but I'm starting to wonder if any customers will still be available by the time it ships.

There is still plenty of room in the market for competing tablets, but they'll need to be aimed at different usages than the iPad and Kindle.  The biggest opportunity is for a stylus-equipped business productivity tool, an info pad (link).  But none of the major hardware companies are working on that; they seem to prefer to bash their brains out competing directly with the iPad.

You're not the licensee Droid is looking for.  Google's reaction to Kindle Fire speaks volumes about its goals for Android.  Kindle Fire is based on Android, and will run Android applications.  Android has been struggling in the tablet space, so you'd expect that Google would be delighted to have Amazon on the Android bandwagon.  But you'd be wrong.  Let's look at the press release Google issued today to welcome Amazon to the Android family.  Wait a minute, there is no press release.  Okay, so let's look on the Google blog.  Nothing at all.  Maybe a tweet from Andy Rubin?  Dead silence.

The problem is that Amazon is using Android as just an OS, not using the Google-branded services and application store that Google layers on top of the OS (link).  Although Google touted the openness of Android when it was first launched, the reality is that Google is using it as a Trojan horse to force its services onto hardware.  What Amazon did with Android is very threatening to Google, and so you're not likely to hear a lot of supportive words from them.

Silken dreams.  Speaking of threats to Google, we should discuss Amazon's new Silk browser.  It supposedly integrates Amazon Web Services with the browser to produce a faster, more efficient browsing experience on Kindle Fire.  Given the inefficiencies of web browsing over the wireless networks, this is potentially a compelling innovation that also might make it possible for future Amazon tablets to browse over 3G networks using less bandwidth than competing devices.  That might lock in a structural cost advantage for Amazon's tablets.

Kindle Fire today is a WiFi only device, but I'd be very surprised if we didn't see a 3G version sometime in 2012.

Silk potentially gives Amazon a very powerful position (link).  I can picture a couple of ways it could be used to disrupt the mobile market.  First, Amazon could tie the browser to its own content services and distribute it to other hardware vendors.  Basically, it could try to make Silk the content layer on Android that Google wants to be.  This could be a good business move for Amazon, since it's not making money from the hardware anyway.

Google would hate this passionately, but with the company already under antitrust scrutiny, it would have to respond very carefully. 

Amazon's other play could be to expand Silk into an enhanced platform for mobile web apps.  I've been waiting for someone to make web apps work properly on mobile, and many smart people have been getting more and more depressed about the lack of leadership in mobile web APIs (link).  Amazon has the expertise and the incentive to fill that gap.  The question is whether it wants to. I think it should, I hope it will.  If it does, Silk could become the platform for the next great generation of applications, giving Amazon enormous power in the computing market.

This will be a fun space to watch. Apple and Google will both feel pressure to respond to Silk to prevent Amazon from getting a decisive lead in mobile web apps.  Maybe just the threat of Silk will be enough to finally drive some innovation in the mobile web platform.

I may be indulging in wishful thinking, but there's a possibility that ten years from now we'll look back on Silk as the single most important thing in today's announcement.

Or not.  It depends on what Amazon's agenda is, and they're not telling.

Slouching toward Bethlehem.  One revolution I'm sure is coming is the remaking of the print publishing industry.  As I've said before (link), once about 20% of the reading public has electronic devices, an established author can make more money bypassing print and selling direct through e-readers.  I think the new Kindle line, and especially the entry-level Kindles at $99 and below, will finally push us past the 20% threshold.  It will take a couple of years to play out, but this will force the long-awaited restructuring, or destruction, of the traditional book publishing industry.

(Note:  I wrote this before I read John Gruber's take on the new Kindles.  He and I are thinking along similar lines. link )

Friday, 16 September 2011


To briefly review: A thousand years ago in this remote, unspecial, spot, an otherwise ordinary group of Indians were somehow infused with the talent,  desire and determination to build mega structures like the one pictured here--containing 500 plus rooms, numerous Kivas and ceremonial plazas. 12 of these grand houses were constructed in the immediate vicinity and another 15 in the outlying areas.  Nowhere else in America has similar super building occurred. The obvious question is: WHAT GOT INTO THESE PEOPLE.  WHY, WHY, WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS.  

Here's what remains of the structure pictured above.  I have asked my "good genius" (my deepest intuition) to consider the question and get back to me. (I often pose important questions to a committee of three in my head:  My subconscious, My database and my conscious reason) Here's its report:

1. An ordinary clan of ancient Indians, following water or fleeing hostilities or seeking greener pastures, made their way to this canyon and this spot.

2. An anomaly of this spot is a super-abundance of perfectly sized building stones----1,2and 3 inch layers of sandstone---perfectly flat on two sides. Kids playing could pile up impressive stacks---and soon discovered that mud between the layers would harden and stabilize stacks---making even more impressive structures.  Adults quickly grasped the possibility of easy-to-build walls for houses----and further, the bonus of houses sharing a wall -- or two--or even three----AND the bonus of houses on top of houses---thus sharing a roof.  BINGO --pueblo style building is underway.

3. Density dwelling works  social magic on the tribe---intensifying idea exchange--culture elaboration--and speeds creation and spread of cultural memes. (mental bits of culture--songs, tales etc)
(see Palo Solari's work with Arcology)

4. With food and water problems solved (for the moment) people turned their attention to the fun pursuits of building with these terrific stones.  Human ego, being what it is, bigger and ever more impressive houses were constructed.

5. Excellence in construction began to be noticed and appreciated----triggering a FEEDBACK SPIRAL of excellence. (i.e. beautiful work---when publicly appreciated---evokes even more excellence---and appreciation--and excellence.......)

6. The occasional visitor---noting the quality and size of construction here---spread the word---and more visitors came to see---creating another FEEDBACK SPIRAL of fame--tourism--more fame etc.
Eventually the community spiraled its way to SPECTACLE.

7. Spectacle evokes a numinous effect. (Awe)---like seeing Solomon's Temple, or the pyramids or Hoover Dam.  Spectacle too, feeding on awe and fame generates ever greater spectacle.

8. Architectural authority arose to shape the growing spectacle into some order.

9. Meanwhile, nearby clans are building spectacles of their own.

10. Divine guidance: Throughout the entire process people seek guidance from the Shaman.  He too spirals toward ever more elaborate theology and ritual. Visitors and locals enjoy a bigger and bigger "show".

11. Commerce quickly raises its head---and another feedback loop spirals upward.

12. The various feedback loops enfold and further enhance each other.  In short Chaco canyon becomes a terrific place to visit for a good time.  Branson Missouri's rise to super-tourist spot is very similar.  We RVers can see how spiraling has made Quartzsite, Az our "Mecca".

13. Tyranny or no tyranny?  Well yes and no.  Slavery? No!---- Social coercion--Yes! Theology always jerks people around---by fear and hope--so they spend energies working for the church. In Chaco, no doubt a theology arose with a governing priesthood and masses worked "voluntarily" for the deity.

14. Why did it end?---It was a social empire and It ran its course---usually 300 years is about max for them---bad weather probably precipated a downward feedback spiral and its charm died quicker than it rose.

15. What have we learned here?  That lightening can strike in unlikely places---that empires--of all kinds--political--social--religious--commercial are giant feedback loops that rise--ascend--and decline.
That tiny causes can have huge effects.  An abundance of flat--perfectly sized building stones---started a local building craze that swelled to a spectacle--to a monument---to a 300 year "happening".

That feedback loops--once recognized--are seen to be all around and in us---and can serve for good or ill.  Social Manias--like statue building on Easter Island----Tulip mania in holland---pyramid mania in Egypt and House mania in the US ----rarely serve humanity well---though they produce impressive stuff.

That humans like to get excited and lose themselves in something bigger than themselves.  It is near ecstasy to allign your energy and intent with many others---and  is extremely powerful. The dilemma of mavericks and extremely independent personalities is that unless they join some sort of human surge---they miss out on all the fun. 

At the psychological level--chaco suggest that tiny steps in the direction of your dreams can start an upward spiral of great satisfaction and who knows what else.  My friend Boonie persuaded me to try blogging-----and ---now I have a game to play that connects me with the world.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS SPECTACULOR MYSTERY? I'ts 80 miles 0ut in the desert ---think I'll go out there and let 'my good genius" have a crack at it.
Driving North from Thoreau, NM into Indian country.

Hardly a soul out here.

13 miles to that horizon---so far so good.  I've left my trailer behind because:
I knew this was coming: 20 miles of very iffy road.  They deliberately make getting there difficult to discourage all but those seriously interested in this phenomenon.

And it was indeed iffy---occasionally had to creep along at walking speed.

I'm here---ready to confront the mystery.

That's fajada butte---up there on top is where the famous solstice sun dagger was discovered. On June 21st a dagger of light falls precisely on a target chipped in the rock. (That's the new Visitor center in the plain)

A terrific campground---I'm sleeping in the tent. I wandered around  late at night and met a mysterious guy with an Indian Drum---who told me he was on a spiritual quest and that the moon would be full at 2 am---time for his ceremony.  (turns out, many are here in search of something mystical)

Here is what all the hoopla is about---Pueblo Bonito---the epicenter of a cultural tsunami---as it appeared a thousand years ago.  It is huge--over 500 rooms---and built so well that a fair chunk of it remains. (as you will see)

Me at the outer edge.

A representative chunk of it---- walls smooth on both sides with rubble filling the center----they built 5 or 6 stories high----9 ft ceilings.  So what's the big mystery?  Hang on---I'll tell you!

Is that precise construction or what? The mortar is mud and that is all origional masonry--a thousand years old.  So you're impressed----but not mystified?  Hang on--I'll get to it.  
Aaaah but look here----ANOTHER whopper of a pueblo barely a mile away.

Let's go up on top of the mesa to get some perspective.  See that crack up there--thats how "they" got up there and interestingly---that's still the way up there.  I went---but it was a bit hairy.
And what's up there?  ANOTHER grand pueblo------and just to the right of it--STILL ANOTHER vast complex with a huge plaza in it's center.  There's no water up here to speak of----why in heavens name did they do this?
Here's the pueblo I just mentioned----wanted to show again the superb masonry---corner perfectly square and smoothe after a thousand years.
Now I sit down to let pueblo Bonito speak to me. Luke climbed up the scary trail with me and comes over to get congratulated.
And there it is again---in all its mystery---just one entrance---a massive endeavor in a very unlikely place.  Soil and water are just marginal. It thrived for 300 years---and then the people went elsewhere.
Now brace yourself----THERE ARE 12 OF THESE GREAT HOUSES almost within sight of one another. This is the largest and oldest.  Beginning to get the feel of the mystery: Why did a building frenzy happen here?  Why did the cultural pattern created here spread hundreds of miles in every direction.  They found cocoa from central America here---parrot skeletons---metal goods--and guess what? TWO GIANTS buried down there. (giants in that they towered over the locals)---but nobody else.
I've asked my good genius to digest all this and give me a plausible answer---AND IT HAS---
tomorrow I will spell out the very surprising answer---and its direct relevance to you.
It's near midnight and I'm sleepy.  I leave you with this odd photo of a guy balancing on his hands in some sort of spiritual posture--RIGHT ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF!  He was one of a dozen here on a pilgrimage seeking ------something!

Friday, 9 September 2011


STORIES REACH ME OF A LAND---- FAR BEYOND GAPING  CANYONS---Where clever "Hobbits" have retreated to live their lives in underground houses--that they build themselves.  A place without power lines--where water and sewer systems are custom built--one by one---a community without stores---where only industrious, creative "Hobbits" dwell.  I will go and see---and take you with me.
I drive across a long flat plain---
through rolling hill country
Across the awesome canyon.
Out there---- in what was considered wasteland----perhaps 200 creative people live---people who dare to do a different thing---who march to a different drummer.  The tires are a clue--what do you think imagination can do with used tires?
Moving closer---I feel the magic  ----many have fantasized doing this---and here it is --for real--people living underground---their lifestyle powered by the sun.
Imagine--designing and living in your own personal castle!
Here's one under construction.  I inquired about the legalities-- Zoning--building codes etc:   Bottom line:  THEY HAVE IT COVERED.  Very bright, determined people fought and won the battle for legitimacy.  New Mexico has strong---blue state thinking---and are innovative in many ways.
Beer cans---secured with concrete.

And they will gladly tell you all about it.  You too could become a "Hobbit" and live in an "Earthship."
Perhaps buying this fixer-upper
That's me--Admiring a wall of beer cans---hoping a hobbit will emerge.
AH YES---Here's what I wanted to show you.  Note the tires are stacked in staggered rows--each is filled with dirt (for firmness and insulation ) and secured with concrete. Chickenwire and concrete will result in a smoothe  finished wall.  Often they get the tires free.

A particularly well made one! Can you see the dozen others scattered across the landscape? Note that all face south to catch the winter sun.


A Rancho Grande---with scads of solar power---I count 26 panels--each delivering up to 120 watts. Far more than the ordinary household needs.  ( I have 3 of that size on my roof --providing all the power I need---even to run power tools and watch tv etc--And I'm Ok even without sun for 3 days---power is stored in 3 AGM batteries)

Community spirit thrives--I am told---but these special people apparantly appreciate privacy.
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  My hat's off to these pioneers in alternative housing.  But I do not believe it is the wave of the future---just some components of it---I believe the spirit shrinks with this much apartness---from urban density---and from community.  I cast my vote for Palo Solari's Arcology--that I visited last year.  A "beehive" community of efficiency and connection.  And of course I cherish my own lifestyle of mobility---and connection with my community of Nomads.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011



I previously showed you the Indian town of Dulce, NM---but forgot the most interesting story: The council debate and decision regarding alcohol on the reservation.

Here's what made the debate so interesting:  There is a dangerous 18 mile stretch of mountain road between Dulce and the nearest liquor store---Chama, NM

Just look at all that inebriating stuff---only one of two well stocked aisles.  Are you beginning to get the drift of the problem?  There are a fair number of alcoholic Indians in Dulce who really, really want a drink and so they drove the dangerous road to Chama and too many of them did not make it back---so many---that the council met to consider the problem.  Perhaps improving the road would help! Or persuading the drinkers to become Christian---Or a bus run to Chama---or designated drivers---or a billboard campaign about the dangers of drunk driving.  AND THEN-----AND THEN---one brave soul said: WHY DON'T WE JUST ALLOW ALCOHOL TO BE SOLD HERE IN DULCE?  No doubt a strained silence fell across the room.  PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICALITY clashed! ERADICATE AND ACCOMODATE squared off !  ABSOLUTIST AND RELATIVIST waged war! Guess who won:

The PRACTICAL, RELATIVISTIC, ACCOMODATORS won and now there is a liquor store in Dulce. Drunk driving deaths are down.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  This was a wise decision I think. They opted for HARM REDUCTION--and I hope our government will adopt a similar strategy for marajuana and other drug use. I do not use drugs but millions do --and making them legal would reduce their harm---and our prison population.  

Monday, 5 September 2011


THE DAY IS BARELY HALF OVER----and already our adventure cup is about full---

When in the middle of nowhere we see this imposing building---apparantly abandoned---of course we want the story----and cross some barriers to get here.

Obviously a structure of style and elegance--this was the central room.
And the walls call forth the artistic impulses of a graffitist.

Lucas stares in puzzlement at the wreckage---as do we.

This was instructive: That is a pile of bat manure---- droppings from that crack up top.  I guess bats are always looking for new homes.

We conclude this was a resort lodge---Stone Lake Resort---with lots of large guest rooms----and this is the view of Stone Lake.  We later learned that it has a prominent place in Indian Mythology.  From out of this lake---the story goes---emerged the Jimez tribe.  I wondered if the tribe tells  the story to the young as a myth or as the truth.  I'm suddenly curious how Indian tribes in general present their mythology to the kids---do they really grow up believing all that stuff about humanity emerging from a hole in the ground or a lake etc---about coyote as a  trickster and about Hopi Kachinas being able to make it rain and so forth.  I once asked some Hopi kids if they believed that Kachinas really lived in the San Francisco peaks near Flagstaff.  They said yes---of course! My mother and community "laid a myth" on me and I was 27 before I was able to shake it.  

But I digress----continuing on I saw about a hundred of these curious structures scattered across a huge meadow.  I just gotta know why.

Saw this guy working on one----stopped and asked---aaahh what a story---prepare yourself.

Meet Mr. Wainright, a very friendly and informed Jacarilla Apache Indian. The thing he is building is a family shelter and dining place for an upcoming celebration called Harvest feast. All Jacarillas will come to this meadow on September 15th ---and cluster in family groups AND in CLANS.  There are two Jacarilla clans--the RED----descendents of a mountain tribe  and the WHITE---descendents of a plains tribe.  They all gather on this day primarily to say thanks to the creator for the plants and animals that sustain them AND to engage in a ceremonial foot race.  Afterwards, they paint themselves and gather in a grand council to pray and bond and recount their history.

I quiz him further--taking notes:  There are about 3,600 Jacarilla total---most live in the City of Dulce.
Their reservation is huge---about 50 miles by 25 miles (perhaps overgenerous as reservations go) Larger tribes have much smaller areas) He explained that the Stone Lake Lodge was a gift from the OEO (office of economic opportunity) and that when it failed, their shaman investigated and determined that it was because it was built on rattlesnake ground.  
We moved on to the city of Dulce---Walked around.

Has a GREAT super market---a spectacular mural covers three walls.

Then we left the reservation---driving back to Chama---been a great day!
RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  This is what I did with my freedom---on this day.  What would you do with yours?  I hope to illustrate for my readers that deep freedom is possible and to share with them my particular slant on filling time. (generating meaning) I'm open to suggestions on WHAT---REALLY---IS WORTH DOING.