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    Midweek Tech Scan: Amazon is no turkey this holiday

    The company sets new sales record during cyber weekend. Meanwhile, where's Microsoft's tablet, and is it too late? Also, a great new Google Maps feature, and cable flunks a consistency test.

    In a new version for Android tablets/apps, Google Maps lets you look inside some buildings, in this case Sea-Tac's second floor. Click on image to enlarge.

    In a new version for Android tablets/apps, Google Maps lets you look inside some buildings, in this case Sea-Tac's second floor. Click on image to enlarge. Screenshot by Skip Ferderber

    Not a bad weekend for the folks at Amazon.com. Over the weekend, including the double whammy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Amazon set some new sales records.  According to a report from ChannelAdvisor, a retail company advisor, Amazon chalked up a 58 percent sales growth over the holiday weekend.  Many of those sales apparently were conducted either on the fly or from a living room couch; the report noted that 10 percent of Thanksgiving Day sales came from people hunting and pecking on their tablets and smartphones, and most of that figure were from people on their tablets. 

    Nationwide, the Wall Street Journal reported online sales reached an all-time high:  $1.25 billion, up from last year’s $1.03 billion.  And if you’re a habitué of Wal-Mart or Best Buy, sales will continue for the next few days in what is looking now like “Cyber Week.”

    Bracketing that news was a report from Amazon itself on the sale of its Amazon Kindle ebook reader readers including the 8-week-old Kindle Fire ereader-cum-multimedia-device.  Without mentioning figures, the company announced that the Black Friday sales of the Kindle family of readers, six devices in all, were the company’s best evern, four times greater sales than the previous year, and the Kindle Fire was the top seller among its siblings. 

    To box up all those goodies for shipment, Amazon announced last week it was looking for a few good men and women, numbering in the thousands, as temporary help during the holiday season in its Nevada, Indiana, Kentucky, and Coffeeville, Kansas fulfillment centers. The criteria?  Applicants had to be able to stay on their feet during shifts lasting 8.5 hours, and lift up to 50 pounds.  For a lucky few, holiday temp work could be a door to a full-time job: Amazon indicated it has converted more than 4,700 temps into full time employees during the last 12 months.  There was no indication if all those jobs have been filled.

    Meanwhile, over in Redmond, that holiday feel-good spirit may be a little forced on the sprawling Microsoft campus. 

    Tablets are understood to be the hottest growth area in consumer technology.  A Morgan Stanley report from early 2011 entitled “Tablet Demand and Disruption” (well prior to the explosive growth of the Apple iPad 2 and the recent introduction of the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet) noted that tablet shipments could reach the 100 million mark.

    Microsoft is virtually nowhere to be seen as the end of 2011 is close.  In a blog based on a new report, Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder says that, at best, a Windows-based tablet will be “a fifth-mover after iPad, Android tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab, HP’s now-defunct webOS tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.”

    While other major players in the market are on their second-generation tablet products, Microsoft has yet to produce its first tablet based on its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.  The analyst concludes, “Microsoft has missed the peak of consumer desire for a product they haven't yet released.”

    He and his associate, Sara Rotman Epps, also noted that the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are reshaping expectations of what tablets are supposed to be.  Their conclusion is that a Windows 8 tablet will have to provide consumers with something new, not a me-too response.  And they point to Amazon as a company with a product strategy they might follow.

    For the company who defined technological innovation for a generation, someone even suggesting that Microsoft should look to Amazon for strategic assistance — a company who, in the analysts' words, “fundamentally changed the tablet product experience by leading with content and services rather than feeds and speeds, at a compelling price point” — must be a bitter pill indeed.

    Another function of Thanksgiving is that it signals the beginning of the hooliday high-volume travel period.  As an early Christmas-Hanukkah-Kwanza Day gift, Google has introduced an updated version of Google Maps — only for Android tablet/smartphone users at this time — that lets you chart your course inside landmark buildings such as airports, shopping malls, or retail stores.  If you want to know where the Billy Goat Tavern and Grill, or my personal favorite, Chicago Style Hot Dogs, are located when you travel through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, your Google Maps should tell you where your eateries are located and where you are in the airport. (Hint: Both are in Terminal 1.)

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