Amazon Is Quietly Innovating Where It Counts - Media Experiences
Because of the nature of the holiday buying season, the focus in reporting on the great horse race among Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, etc. tends to revolve around hardware. But as I spend some time in the last week playing about with the new Kindle HDX tablet, which I will write about elsewhere, it strikes me that Amazon is wisely aiming a great deal of its innovative energy toward improving the media experience itself. Let's just review some of the bits and pieces it has introduced and expanded in recent months.
MatchBook. This program allows an Amazon customer to go back to the beginning of her hard copy book buying history with the company and buy digital versions of book she has purchased for a nominal few bucks. This little customer convenience speaks to one of the ways a lot of people read books -- across print and digital.
X-Ray for Books and Video. I don't know why this platform within both Amazon books and movies has not received more attention, because it is magnificent. For books, X-Ray ties the book to a database of explanatory and critical information like character breakdowns, definitions, and key terms. Other similar features in the Kindle Read also can translate passages and look up terms. But with video on a Kindle device like the new HDX models, this background info really takes off. Because Amazon owns the iMDB movie database, it can index individual actors in a scene and the music playing, and offer up trivia about the movie. It can pull in and link to a wealth of other content about the actors and music. I hope they innovate even more with this experience and allow for different interfaces. It has the promise of bringing Blu-ray-like functionality and depth to streaming media. X-Ray is the kind of feature that you find yourself using habitually once you discover its utility.
Finally, there is Whispersync for Voice. Because Amazon owns the audiobook leader Audible, it can bundle e-books and audiobooks. But Whispersync for audio actually uses the cloud and indexing technologies to synchronize your reading of the book with the audio version. There are a great number of people out there, myself included, who have tried making their way through a book by jumping between audio and text versions. This technology actually bookmarks your progress in either version, synchronizes them and allows you to pick up in audio where you left off in text and vice versa. For people who are really into books and find themselves immersed in a plot line, this enables you to turn off the light while reading it in bed, knowing that you can find out how the plot turns while listening during the morning commute. The technology works extremely well, and it encourages new ways of experiencing a book.
I will save discussion of the new and well-advertised Mayday button that brings up a video helper life from Amazon. Suffice to say that it is a brilliant concept. But it is also indicative of the ways in which Amazon seems to be innovating around deepening and changing the ways in which people interact with the technologies. Curiously, I think Amazon itself has not found the right ways to communicate these innovations in its own advertising. In its latest round of ads for the HDX tablet, it actually mocks Jony Ive in comparing the unit with the iPad and makes it a spec battle. While it is true that the Kindle ecosystem wants to deflect attention from its relatively weak app collection, it surely could be leveraging more aggressively and convincingly that it is adding real depth to the basic act of media consumption itself.