Midweek Tech Scan: Happy Halloween, Netflix. Your horror story is real.

Netflix suffers a blow in the stock market; Amazon isn't terribly happy, either. But it's adding video content rapidly.

Crosscut archive image.

Seattle artist Ann Gardner's glass-tile mosaic, "Convergence," is on a facade of the NBBJ-designged building on the Amazon complex.

Netflix suffers a blow in the stock market; Amazon isn't terribly happy, either. But it's adding video content rapidly.

Halloween is coming up.  There are so many things to be scared of: witches, goblins, zombies, Tea Party politics, Occupy Seattle, sharia law, pot holes, driving to West Seattle, Lindsay Lohan’s Playboy photo shoot (well, perhaps not so scary . . .).  Here’s a few more entries.

On a day that saw archrival Netflix shares sink nearly 40 percent in value and an announcement that the video service has lost 800,000 subscribers, South Lake Union-based Amazon.com also found little love from the financial community. 

While Amazon's net sales were $10.8 billion — up 44 percent for its third quarter, and up over $3 billion over the same quarter in 2010— the company's shares nose-dived 19 percent in late trading on Tuesday (Oct. 25). According to a Bloomberg report, net income fell 73 percent to $63 million, or 14 cents a share, from $231 million, or 51 cents, a year earlier.  The company indicated it could post an operating loss this quarter. 

The stumble in profit margins, according to Bloomberg, may be due to efforts to increase sales volume and increase market share.  Translation: Amazon has been on a spending spree to beef up its streaming video library, including recent licensing agreements with Fox and PBS, in competition with Netflix and other streaming movie purveyors, and to present a superior video library for consumers who are buying the Kindle Fire in droves. 

The profit decline may also be due to a possible loss that Kindle Fire tablets may experience on each sale: as much as a $10 beating on each tablet it sells, according to an earlier Bloomberg story. Bloomberg's current report noted that Amazon is pricing its devices to spur sales, and “they don’t care that the operating margin is 1 percent or 2 percent,” said Kerry Rice, an analyst at Needham & Co. in San Francisco.

"September 28th was the biggest order day ever for Kindle, even bigger than previous holiday peak days,” noted Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos in a company press release. Pointing out that the company introduced four new Kindle products that day, including the $199 Kindle Fire, he added, “In the three weeks since launch, orders for electronic ink Kindles are double the previous launch. And based on what we're seeing with Kindle Fire pre-orders, we're increasing capacity and building millions more than we'd already planned."

Meanwhile, Netflix, still bleeding from self-inflicted wounds caused by virtually doubling its monthly subscription rate and other managerial missteps, saw its stock drop from its all time high on July 13 of $298.73 to its close on Tuesday on the NASDAQ exchange of of $77.37 — a loss of about $12 billion in little more than 100 days.  Domestic subscribers fell to 23.8 million as of Sept. 30 from 24.6 million three months earlier, a Bloomberg report noted.

An article from Forbes provides a business-oriented look at the Amazon-Netflix contretemps; and an Atlantic.com column compares Netflix’ woes to BP Petroleum following the BP Oil Guif of Mexico disaster of 2010.  Guess who was the bigger loser?

If you like more traditional scary things, then check out a new series of Halloween-themed iPad/iPhone apps from Seattle game publisher Screenlife, best known for its Screen It trivia games.  The newest member of the family, “Scene It: Horror Movies 2,” lets trivia buffs watch creepy clips, solve blood-curdling puzzles and heart-stopping flim clips (hyperbole is mine, not the press release).  The game is offered free on the Apple App Store as well as available for play through Facebook and the Apple Game Center. Inducing players to buy additional game packs that supplement the game is apparently where the developer makes money.

Screenlife, whose offices are in downtown Seattle and is a division of Paramount Studios/Viacom, publishes trivia games associated with many pop-culture show icons including Glee!, South Park, Nickelodeon, the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas, The Simpsons, and several Disney entries.

And if this doesn’t scare you when you’re tablet-shopping, nothing will. Just this week, another Android tablet is hitting the market, The ViewSonic ViewPad 7E: yet another tablet that I could like.  It has a 7-inch screen — I do like the smaller form factor because it’s much easier to carry. It has a reasonable set of features — WiFi, Bluetooth, not bad screen resolution (800x600 pixels). There's also a reasonable version of the Android operating system and, according to Geek.com, a $200 price.

But like a number of low-cost tablets, including the much vaunted Amazon Kindle Fire, it doesn’t have the Android Market, and therein lays one of the schizophrenic problems in buying an Android tablet. Imagine going to a grocery store and finding empty shelves save occasional cans of off-brand food.  Or shopping in a Soviet-era department store.  It’s not quite that bad for people buying tablets that don’t have access to the Android Market, but it would be better for you if you have access to it.

The Android Market has access to over 200,000 apps — perhaps more by some counts — and it gives Android tablet and phone owners access to the greatest diversity of apps designed for use on Android systems. Not only are there more apps, the key apps in the Android world are all in the Android Market, including all the mobile apps in the Google family: Docs, Maps, Voice, Translate, Books, Earth, Shopper — you get the idea. 

For your tablet to qualify for the Android Market, its manufacturer must pass Google’s Android Compatibility Program, which defines the Android platform’s tech specifications and ensures that apps developed for Android will run properly. If it doesn’t pass, then you need to look elsewhere for an app market. Few app developers try selling their apps directly to the public. Technically it can be done, but a marketplace appears to be a better strategy for selling goods.

Other app stores have sprung up— Getjar and 1Mobile are among the better known (I’ll get to Amazon’s store in a moment) — and they list various Google apps.  Your first reaction may be “Great. Who needs the Android Market anyhow?”  But when you download an app such as Google Docs, and you get an error message saying essentially, “Sorry, Charlie, this app needs the Android Market to install properly,” then you understand the lock that the Android App Market has on many of the key apps for your device.

A few cracks are appearing in the Android Market dominance. The Dolphin web browser, with its 9 million users among the most popular Android browsers and newly available for Apple iPads and iPhones, chose to introduce its newest version on the Getjar store site. According to the San Francisco-based company’s PR agency, Dolphin chose Getjar for its update to reach a different international demographic from the Android Market, but the browser is now available on all Android app markets.

The difference-maker in any discussion about app markets may well be the Amazon Appstore. The Viewsonic Viewpad has it, as do most if not all tablets that do not qualify for Android’s app store.  Although the total number of apps is unknown, Amazon is clearly beefing up its content on every front to compete with the Android store, and to offer a compelling app selection to the millions expecting to purchase the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet; the Fire makes its debut on Nov. 15.

To see how well the Amazon Appstore stacked up, I looked in the store for the 20 top Android apps listed by Inside Business, and 20 of the 50 top apps listed by PC Magazine (there were many duplications). The comparison showed that roughly half of all 40 apps combined were not in the Amazon store, although several alternatives were available for the missing apps. (For a rundown of what I found, please click here.)

Is there an easy conclusion? It’s probably this: if you’re a casual dabbler in the technology world, if you just want to browse the Internet, check emails, search for a movie location, etc., then probably any tablet will do. If you’re used to the services available to Android users, or you need apps that work cross-platform between Android, iDevices, PCs, and Macs, you probably should get a tablet with the Android Market installed.


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