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Midweek Tech Scan: Amazon is no turkey this holiday

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. Credit: Screenshot by Skip Ferderber

Not a bad weekend for the folks at 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.)

All you need is a strong enough data signal to keep in touch with your network within the facility.  And remember that this service still utilizes your monthly data plan, so be careful.

I wasn’t able to test the system, but I did manage to take a close-up look at our own Sea-Tac Airport, and found interior maps of the airport, including its first and second floors, and the names of several restaurants.

It’s not just airports.  If you’re in an Ikea store, Home Depot, or Macys (depending on  location), the same you-are-here-the-petfood-is-there concept is available.

If your company or public facility wants to get in on the fun and make it easy for the public to make its way around your building, there’s a link for uploading floor plans. Mayor McGinn: Are you listening?

Looking for more information about where this new interior map service is active? Use this link for American and Japanese locations.

And finally, last week we reported on cable giant Comcast’s plans for keeping its cable service relevant in the diversifying diaspora of digital content from the cable box to computers, laptops, set top boxes and smartphones. 

One of the key elements in Big Cable’s plans is to make their shows available everywhere, tying that diversification to existing cable subscriptions: the “TV Everywhere” initiative. So when HBO Go, HBO’s full library of movies, TV series, documentaries, etc.. became available on the Roku set top box, one of our readers became curious why Comcast/Xfinity had not yet made it possible for its subscribers to see the HBO shows on Roku when all that is needed is for the cable company to set up an authorization agreement with Roku.

I asked a Seattle-based Comcast PR representative.  The answer? There is no time estimate when the service will be available. HBO Go now joins a list of list of services that should be available on all digital outlets, and, for some unfathomable reason, have not yet received Comcast’s corporate blessing for the Roku box.  

“All I can tell you is that we are working to make XfinityTV programming available to our customers in more ways such as Xbox, connected TVs, websites like XfinityTV, tablets, and other devices,” the PR person reported.

Another similar-in-spirit issue is with Max Go, the library for Cinemax, HBO’s sister network, which is available on the iPad but not available as a “TV Everywhere” outlet for Comcast subscribers. In other words, you can download the app but can’t watch it.

Much if not all of this programming is available on the Xfinity website, assuming that your device is able to view the programming on that website. I can access the website on my desktop and laptop computers, but my Google TV device can’t access it nor can I watch it on my Android tablet or smartphone. I can access a wide range of shows on my iPad, but not necessarily as many episodes of a show as I can on my computer. Example: Want to watch Starz’ new series,” Boss,” starring Kelsey Grammer? The iPad has 2 episodes; the Xfinity Internet account has 7.

So why not Roku? Why not Max Go? Why can’t the iPad have as many episodes available as the online site? 

Many questions, few answers. You’d think these companies would learn by now.

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