Friday, September 30, 2011

Kindling a fire in the Amazon

One of the worst-held secrets in the tech industry came out this week with Amazon unveiling the (unfortunately named) Kindle Fire. It will be interesting to see whether Amazon, with their pre-existing and successful ecosystem already in place, can compete with the iPad (in ways RIM and others couldn't), or indeed whether this device is even intended to do so in the first place. At half the iPad's size and missing some features (like a camera), one can argue this point. However, that's a discussion for another time. I'd like to discuss the other Kindle devices they're coming out with.

Full disclosure: I own a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch. I understand that some Kindle users can be just as fanboyish as the worst Apple user but I'm trying to be allegiance-agnostic: I didn't buy the Nook out of hatred for Amazon, or indeed love for B&N. I'm a big fan of Amazon's, actually, and the Kindle is a fantastic device. It's just that, at the time of purchase, all the reviews pointed to the Nook being a great device, the Kindle's equal, if not superior. What clinched it for me is the touchscreen on the Nook. Everyone has realized what Amazon hadn't: keyboards aren't cool. Amazon has just realized this themselves because their upcoming Kindles have eschewed keyboards also, joining the rest of the world (except poor, misguided RIM) in the 21st century.

I'm always interested in new technology and competition, as it forces everyone to up their game. I just hope Amazon isn't making a mistake by suddenly coming out with way too many varieties of the Kindle, leading to customer confusion. Let's run through them:
  • The Kindle we all know is being renamed the Kindle Keyboard. It comes in an ad-supported wifi and non-ad wifi/3G version.
  • Then there's the Kindle Touch coming out, similarly with an ad and non-ad version for wifi and wifi/3G.
  • There's also one simply called Kindle, again with ad and non-ad versions but only for wifi. This simple Kindle is a kind of budget version, with no touch screen, but has 5 navigation buttons. I can't imagine the hassle involved without a proper input method - I'd rather have a physical keyboard than no touch and 5 buttons! This Kindle has less memory and worse battery life than the others, to keep costs low.
  • Finally, the Kindle Fire. 
So I count 10 different flavours, sure to confuse customers. If you're reading this blog, I assume you have some sense about you but let's face it: most people don't know much and purchase items with no research. They'll waltz into Best Buy and let an equally know-nothing sales rep talk them into buying something neither of them knows anything about. I think it would have been best if Amazon streamlined their Kindles to the Touch device only, keeping a cheaper ad-supported wifi version and a pricier non-ad wifi/3G version, while still coming out with the Fire (I'm really interested in seeing this machine in action).

It's not like Amazon needs more help selling Kindles. At least I don't think so, since Amazon doesn't release sales info to the public. But I assume they're selling very well, so why introduce a huge gamut of products? I think it's a misstep.

But that's just me, I could be wrong. They might set the e-book industry on "fire". See what I did there? Wordplay. :D

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Good night, M. Night: Shyamalan's Futility

I unfortunately had the mispleasure of seeing M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender recently. I knew it would be awful but I was unprepared at just how awful it was.

I'd seen the animated series upon which the movie is based. The show is rich in storytelling, characters and imagination. It's great for all ages and pretty epic. The movie is none of that. I don't want to spend too much time criticizing the movie, but M. Night has successfully stripped away everything that made the show exciting and charming and instead made a movie consisting exclusively of poorly delivered exposition where stuff just seems to...happen...randomly, from one scene to the next. Just awful.

All this got me thinking, how does this man still get to make movies. And more than that, why do studios allow him to put his name above the title, as if he's a selling point. At this point, his name deters people from seeing his movies. Does his output still make money worldwide? Is that why he's allowed to continue, unchecked?

I had some time on my hands so I put together a list of the movies he's directed, versus their Rotten Tomatoes score, worldwide box office take, budget, and profit to the studio (which roughly amounts to 55% of the worldwide box office). Finding advertising budgets was the most difficult part, but I did my best internet sleuthing to come up with my figures.

To wit:

Movie RT rating Worldwide gross Budget (production + marketing) Studio's take Profit
Wide Awake (1998)41%$1,288,000$6M$0.7M($5.3M)
The Sixth Sense (1999)85%$672.8M$65M$370.0M$305.0M
Unbreakable (2000)68%$248.1M$101.5M$136.5M$35.0M
Signs (2002)74%$408.2M$110.7M$224.5M$113.8M
The Village (2004)43%$256.7M$116.0M$141.2M$25.1M
Lady in the Water (2006)23%$72.8M$150.0M$40.0M($110.0M)
The Happening (2008)18%$163.4M$130.0M$89.9M($49.1M)
The Last Airbender (2010)6%$319.7M$280.0M$175.8M($104.2M)

I rounded the figures to the nearest tenth of a million. So there you have it, his last 3 movies have cost the studios around $250M. Incredible. Is it any wonder that each of those 3 movies was produced by a different studio? Nobody wants anything to do with him after a flop. Looks like Night is running out of studios to burn.

One thing I learned about movies from this exercise is that marketing budgets are often almost equal to production budgets. Most astounding is The Last Airbender's advertising budget: of that $280M total budget, $130M of it was for marketing.


Is it any wonder why this man has no future credits listed on his IMDb page?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Double, double, toil and trouble-some bus passenger

Long have I railed against buses and all the ills they introduce into the world. Never mind the diseased poles and infectious people whose mere breath carries with it sicknesses untold. And worse still, the evil bus drivers who delight in speeding off even though they could have easily slowed down to pick you up. But I digress. I am not here to discuss the actual bus system today. Nay, I issue this missive against the 40-something Greek lady who takes the #33 in the mornings.

Since moving to my current location, my bus situation is great. I have two buses I can take straight downtown in around 25 minutes, and both are generally pretty empty so I'm always guaranteed a seat. The easier of the two buses to catch, the 33, always comes right on time at the stop a mere handful of meters from my building. But then...there's this woman...Surely a coven someplace is missing their High Priestess.

First, the pettiness. She has this giant, black, weeping willow of a hairstyle and she's often dressed in dark garb. I'm surprised she even takes the bus to work - her broom must be in the shop.

Anyway, this woman immediately proceeds to take out her Motorola RAZR from her purse and dial. (Hey lady, 2006 called to say that even in 2006, the RAZR was old news.) She calls someone and talks. And talks and talks and talks for the entire duration of the ride. Can somebody tell me who she's talking to at 8:30 in the morning, EVERY morning?! I keep thinking of the poor soul on the other side.
...Phone ringing...
Person on other side of phone: Oh dammit, Baba-Yaga is calling me again. It's so damned early! But if I don't answer, she'll just keep calling. Awww fine.... Hello? Yes, I understand, your mother sucks, your boss is an idiot, you're overworked, blah blah blah...
BUT (yes, there is a but to this story), since the new year, I've noticed a sadness that has crept into this woman. She no longer talks on the phone every morning for half an hour. Lately, she has either been reading, or just sitting quietly.

My theory?

The person on the other line made a new year's resolution to sleep more.