Commentary

Amazon's Mayday: OnStar For Your Kindle?

Amazon recently announced a new family of Kindle devices, and with them, a potentially game changing enhancement called the “Mayday” button.

Similar to the OnStar services offered by GM over a decade ago, featured as a product differentiator in myriad TV commercials, Amazon’s virtual Mayday button provides Kindle users with “on-device tech support,” in the form of a video window and a presumably cheery, cogent and live person, able to guide you through your Kindle-related questions.

Watch these three Mayday commercials (scroll down to “Preview our TV Commercials”), and you’ll begin to see where this technology could go. For a real mindblower, watch this Slashgear look at Mayday, which appears to be recorded by a Google Glass device. (Question – how long before Google Glass will have a Mayday button? Answer – it probably already does, you just don’t know it!)

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On its surface, Mayday looks like a nice enhancement that can insure a more fulfilling Kindle user experience. From a commercial standpoint, one can see that this service could be easily abused, at some expense to Amazon, but one can also see that systems will quickly be put into place to weed out the malicious “chronic” users of the Mayday button.

My mind quickly goes to thinking about unimagined consequences – and opportunities – that become evident when a company the size of Amazon starts staffing a helpdesk of professionals who are able to address real-time questions – particularly on a camera-enabled device that can itself be temporarily “taken over” by the Amazon representative.

Sure, the sophomoric among us (who, me?) are able to imagine hundreds of humorous, if not crass, Mayday misuses that might find Amazon scurrying to prepare/protect their helpdesk heroes from the inevitable Chatroulette encounters. Fast forward through that exercise, and brace yourself for a vision of the Mayday future.

Ask yourself, “What possible opportunity area does a Mayday button – and support infrastructure – open up, to a company led by a visionary bold enough to buy the Washington Post?”

Personally, I’m thinking that books, newspapers, Kindles, and Mayday are really all about more than ecommerce and sales revenues. I suddenly see Amazon more as a company using its retail prowess and revenue streams to catapult itself into becoming a leading communications company.

For starters, how soon before a Mayday button saves more than time… for example, saves a life? OnStar was certainly able to capitalize on real world recordings of car crash victims who were comforted, and presumably saved, by the reassuring voice of a remote OnStar operator. How soon before Amazon is credited for saving a customer from certain death (be it from a tragic fall, a senseless crime, or any number of physical traumas), much of which might be captured in chillingly compelling sound and video?

Go even deeper, and one can see a seasoned Amazon Mayday staff becoming adept at lending hands at near-limitless customer-service related activities. Who needs a “How to” video, when you can have a “How do you do?” video experience, for questions about that new TV you’ve just purchased on Amazon… or anywhere, for that matter!

And are you sure you don’t want a service contract with that new TV?

Is Mayday a foray into enhanced Amazon customer service, or is it the first bold volley of a future communication juggernaut, bringing real people - with real faces, voices, and value - into your space, to help you with whatever you want?

And if so, what does Siri have to say about all this?

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