It occurred to me that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the first time I ever accessed the Internet. Gather around, kids, and let’s return to a time when the Internet was just for nerds.
Comixology, a service that was like the Amazon of comic books, was bought by the Amazon of everything else and they promptly disabled the ability to buy comics from within their iOS app ostensibly to avoid paying a 30% cut to Apple. No one knows for sure. All that’s certain was that what was an incredible comic book store for your phone is now a neutered comic book reader app. What was once a two click process to get a new comic requires you to leave the app, open a browser, log in, pay, and sync the purchase back to the app.
I witnessed a lot of sentiment on Twitter where it seemed like many folks missed the point. Gems like …
1) “It’s Apple’s fault for being so greedy taking 30%!!!” – Google and Amazon both do the same thing for things using their payment backends but only Apple is evil for doing it because they don’t let their vendors circumvent them … they’re so evil!!! Apple charges access to its customers the same way that traditional brick and mortar retailers do. Rent a storefront and you pay rent whether you sell anything or not. Apple’s customers tend to be the most affluent and willing to spend which I’m told is something that’s useful to people who are looking to sell things. The App Store is insanely profitable even after the 30%. This is an argument that is demonstrably false. ComiXology came along and made a great experience out of reading comics and got people excited about comics. It was the most profitable non-game app for the iPad in the Apple App Store. The business model worked. It was profitable. Somehow ComiXology that was a fraction of the size could make a profit even after a 30% cut to Apple but Amazon can’t???
2) “Now more money will go to the creators!” – There will undoubtedly be far less money collected to go to anyone overall when you cordon yourself off from the most profitable customers in mobile but keep telling yourself that. The bulk of the sales on ComiXology (I would assume) would be the comics from Marvel and DC so this means nothing. Will independent authors make more? Theoretically however if you don’t get promoted in the App Store and it’s cumbersome to make a purchase, expect to make a lot less. For example, I’d rather get 70% of $5,000 than 100% of $500. Most of the folks I saw just assumed people would keep using ComiXology. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. There will be a lot less new users and that’s what will hurt. Growth will slow.
3) “Can’t you just open a browser and buy something? Is it that hard??” – Sure I can but new users likely won’t know about this and won’t come in droves like previous users did. Customers are attuned to in-app purchases. They do it for games as that’s the prevalent gaming model and game publishers aren’t complaining about that 30% cut … they’re making money hand over fist. The expectation in this day and age is that if you’re selling something on iOS, you make the purchase in the app. If you don’t do in-app purchases, you will not make money. This is more or less accepted as fact. To use a real world comparison, this is like entering a comic book store, finding what you want to buy, then having to leave and make your purchase in the alley behind the store. Sure I can open a browser but new customers who weren’t comic readers could be lured into becoming customers by the frictionless purchasing experience. If Comixology had launched years ago with this convoluted experience, no one would’ve used it. If it was a superior model, Comixology themselves would’ve adopted this model before being bought by Amazon. The beauty of ComiXology is that it brought new users to the platform that weren’t comics readers … like me. I would sometimes spend $30 in a night reading an entire series. They were all impulse purchases. I’m proof that the previous model worked.
In my opinion, Amazon bought this to make the Kindle Fire tablets more compelling. I get that. That’s how capitalism works. I do believe that this will hurt ComiXology’s sales. Amazon has proven they are not deterred when they don’t make a profit so I doubt they’ll reverse course on this policy. My prediction is that Marvel and DC will either retain the right to keep in-app purchases in their Comixology-powered apps or they’ll move to a different back end provider when their deals with ComiXology expires and independent publishers will watch their sales recede like a waning tide.
I’ve been a big fan of Marvel Unlimited, which is like Netflix for Marvel Comics, and while their interface doesn’t have the patented guided-view technology, it’s good enough. Marvel’s own app uses a ComiXology backend. I’m hesitant to keep using it but they’re still doing the in-app purchases so maybe I will.
My opinions get put here but my useful “getting things done” work is stored and shared in Evernote. The first of these pieces has been posted. It’s my tips on traveling with my technology in an efficient manner. Check it out over at Evernote.
Presented without comment …
Paul Thurrott reviews Microsoft Office for iPad – Paul Thurrott, who has long run winsupersite.com, posted his review of Office for the iPad and it’s a great review … unless you count all the digs he tries to throw at Apple.
” … the only thing holding it back, really, is Apple’s antiquated mobile OS.”
“The device itself is beautiful, thin and light, and iOS 7, while an improvement over previous versions, still lacks basic productivity features like the ability to run at least two apps side-by-side. So it’s important to understand that the biggest limitation of Office on this platform isn’t Office, it’s the iPad. You can only do—or at least see—one thing at a time.”
“This smaller UI is more appropriate for the relatively small iPad screen.”
“This fairly pedestrian UI means that the sort of user interface innovation we see in apps like OneNote for Windows 8 is nowhere to be see in Office for iPad.”
I understand that Thurrott’s audience is comprised of diehard Microsoft fans. Instead of bitterness, they should be happy about this product. It marked the day that Microsoft stopped trying to protect the PC and started living in the world of software as a service. It’s finally waking up to the threat of Google who is platform agnostic. The iOS versions of Google’s products are top notch. Taking a page from Google’s playbook, Microsoft has taken its first step to not being an “also-ran” on mobile along with making Windows free on devices 9″ and smaller. The era of Windows is dwindling. Mobile is the future. Android is free. iOS carries no charge to the consumer. Windows has been commoditized. I see a lot of businessmen with iPads. Haven’t seen a single one with a Surface. If you are a Microsoft devotee, Office for the iPad is a great thing because it heralds Microsoft is finally waking up to the threats it’s been facing for the last decade.
This next comment is where Thurrott goes from merely being catty to being strangely obtuse.
“When you open a document from OneDrive or OneDrive or Business, it downloads from the cloud but isn’t saved to the device by default, no doubt a nod to the iPad’s relatively small storage capacity.”
I’m not sure what Thurrott is referring to. My iPad has 128 GB. Let’s overlook that the Windows guy isn’t insightful about iPads. The strangeness of his remark is that he is either ignorant of or purposely ignoring that Microsoft wants your data just like Google and Apple do. Apple wants me to save my documents to iCloud and Google wants me to save it to Google Drive. To get the ability to create and store documents, you have to have a 365 subscription which gets you OneDrive automatically. Software as a service is a lot less useful if you can’t get to your documents from any platform. Thurrott is thinking at the platform level. That’s no longer relevant. The app –not the OS– is king. Office is no different now than Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like. If I were to switch from iOS to Android, in one afternoon I could replicate 90%+ all the apps I have from iOS on to Android. Why is that important? The platform is irrelevant. Consumers can get to their apps via the web, phone, or tablet. Office was the outlier in this regard and competitors were eventually going to encroach. How strange is it that Apple of all companies had iWork on the web before Microsoft had Office on the iPad? Do you want to know why Office for iPad saves to OneDrive by default, Paul? Kids with Chromebooks accessing Google Docs and storing it on Google Drive has Microsoft sweating bullets … not some inane notion that an iPad’s storage is “too small” to hold what’s usually only a few kilobytes in size. The notion that kids growing up get used to a world where applications are ubiquitous and have no loyalty to a platform is horrifying thought to Microsoft whose entire fortune was built on the back of an operating system that is showing its age and becoming increasingly vulnerable to competitors. In short, they finally realized that irrelevance lies at the end of this path and are trying to course correct and minimize the gains company like Apple and Google have already effortlessly made because they had no legacy platform to protect.
As he closes his review he has a paragraph entitled “Why Bother?”
“Once you get past the weirdness of Office even being on the iPad, it sort of settles in. Yes, it’s here. Yes, it works as expected. But … why bother? Why even release such a product?”
Simply put: Because they had no choice anymore. You go where the users are. 12 million downloads in nine days. At best, that’s ~$1 billion dollars in revenue that Microsoft got IN NINE DAYS. By mid-2013, Microsoft had sold less than 2 million Surface tablets that had Office available for them. Customers overwhelmingly don’t want the tablet Microsoft has been selling. Microsoft has seen the light. Finally.
Last week, Facebook acquired Oculus (makers of the Oculus Rift) for $2 billion dollars. Previously, Oculus had raised a nice chunk of change through Kickstarter and many of those backers were now upset. Markus “Notch” Persson even rage quit his port of Minecraft to the Oculus Rift because “Facebook creeps me out“.
First, Oculus was a scrappy upstart that was about to compete with Sony head on and likely Microsoft and many others. It’s extremely difficult to fight entrenched competitors who are far more well funded than you. They were buying old smartphone parts to fashion the original Rift prototypes. The simple fact is the odds were against them succeeding long term on their own. That’s not to say they couldn’t but they wouldn’t have been able to compete at the scale of a larger company.
Second, everyone who backed their Kickstarter campaign got what they were promised: the SDK. I’ve always been wary of Kickstarter because you’re not buying something tangible necessarily … you’re pledging money to an idea that may or may not come to market. It’s like investing without ownership. I’m wary of it myself but maybe that’s just me. On the one hand, I wish Facebook should refund everyone who backed the project. It might go a long way to creating goodwill and positive PR for Facebook. On the other hand, many of the most vocal opponents simply hate Facebook and nothing would change their opinion one way or the other.
Third, Facebook is trying to ensure relevance beyond its primary social app. Instagram, WhatsApp, and now Oculus is Zuckerberg’s attempt to position his company to be around for the long term. It’s doubtful that they’ll simply graft the existing social app on to the VR platform.
Could it all go south? Yes. Could you be playing virtual FarmVille in five years? Maybe. It could also be something revolutionary that doesn’t resemble Facebook as we know it today. It’s too soon to tell. I like the idea of Oculus having deep pockets and hopefully doing what they would’ve been doing if they hadn’t been acquired.
Further reading: TechCrunch has a good article on why the haters should relax.
In 2012, Wired contributor Mat Honan got hacked and this year Naoki Hiroshima got hacked. Why? In both cases people wanted to own their short Twitter handles. It’s strange to think that something so trivial and ultimately unimportant caused such a problem and in Honan’s case almost caused him to lose precious data that wasn’t backed up. Social engineering played a big part of the problem that led them to getting hacked and while there’s not a lot you can do about that you can at least make things more difficult on would-be hackers with two factor authentication. Two factor authentication requires something else in addition to a password to get access to something. It may be a text message to your device, an additional piece of information about yourself, a PIN that only you know, etc.
Techcrunch tells us of a site called TwoFactorAuth.org that keeps a list of services that offer two factor authentication and gives you an ability to let the sites that you rely on that don’t offer it that they should.
At a bare minimum, you should ensure that your domain registrar, email provider, and cloud providers are all using it. Controlling a person’s email address gives you the ability to reset their passwords on any number of services and you don’t want people to be able to wipe any files / backups or be able to hold them hostage as was the case with Honan.
Macrumors wonders if Microsoft Office is losing relevance by not offering Office on other platforms like iOS?
Here’s a better question: How does a company whose dominance of a single platform for decades react when another platform emerges that starts to eclipse theirs? The thing you don’t do is give users a chance to see how easy it is to live without your platform.
Satya Nadella has his job cut out for him.
The Simpsons sum it up perfectly: