TIME Television

Fall’s Best New TV Show Is Not on a TV Network

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Amy Landecker and Jeffrey Tambor in Transparent. Beth Dubber

Amazon's Transparent is a gorgeous, nuanced story of a person undergoing change--and a sign of a TV business in transformation.

It’s been a momentous end-of-the-TV-summer while I’ve been on vacation–the Emmys spun Sofia Vergara like a car-show model, Tony Soprano lived (or maybe didn’t), Full House might be coming back. But Labor Day’s over, which means it’s time to put away the white shoes (unless you’re Dr. John Thackery) and start thinking about fall.

While I was away, Time published its fall preview, including my feature on my top pick among the season’s new series, Transparent, which premieres all 10 episodes Sept. 26 on Amazon Prime Video. I know we’re already well into the Netflix age, but there still seems something significant about the most promising pilot of the fall being produced on the e-commerce site of a massively embiggened bookstore.

But Transparent would be worth seeking out no matter who made it. Created by Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under, Afternoon Delight), it stars Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman, née Mort Pfefferman, who is preparing to come out as transgender to the three adult children who have known her as a father their entire lives:

“I had everything to learn,” Tambor says of his preparation. “I remember my first costume fitting. They asked, ‘What do you like?’ I thought, I have no idea what I like.” But he found that the process of becoming Maura was, after all, what the character goes through. Though in her 70s, “Maura is new,” he says. “All the mistakes Jeffrey was making, Maura had to make too.” Mistakes or no, Tambor is marvelous, capturing Maura’s warmth and grace, her anxiousness to be accepted by her children and see them thrive–an experience of parenting that goes beyond any gender identity.

As for Maura’s own identity, Soloway says, Transparent’s first season will explore–in the present and through flashbacks–exactly how far along Maura is in her process. “We’re asking that to ourselves,” Soloway says. “When does Mort become Maura? Is Mort changing into Maura? Is Maura allowing herself to be seen and pushing aside the character or costume of Mort?”

The full article requires a TIME subscription (only $30 a year!) but I’ll have more to say about the show when Amazon makes more episodes available for review before its premiere. In the meantime, I also recommend Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s profile of Soloway for the New York Times magazine, in which Soloway (whose own father came out to her as transgender three years ago) talks about making a show that questions traditional gender pigeonholing–not just in the story but in the way that it’s made. (Which, she says, involves a “more feminine” approach to direction as well as hiring transgender cast, crew and consultants.)

But above all, watch Transparent, whose pilot is screening now on Amazon Prime. It’s a nuanced, gorgeous first half-hour, brilliantly performed and laced with melancholy and humor; you could confidently put it up against the best HBO or Showtime half-hour pilots of recent years. And the fact that platforms like Amazon now exist to give shows like this a chance says that not only Maura Pfefferman, but the TV business itself, is going through an exciting transformation.

TIME Television

Watch the Trailer for Amazon’s Transparent

The drama about family and gender identity arrives Sept. 26

Now that you’ve burned your way through Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, there’s a new drama for you to binge-watch — and it’s not on Netflix. Amazon’s Transparent, about a newly out transgender woman and her family, premiered in February during Amazon Studios’ pilot season, but now all 10 episodes will become available for streaming on Sept 26.

From director Jill Soloway (Six Feet Under), Transparent stars Jeffrey Tambor as Moira (previously known as Mort) while Gabby Hoffman, Jay Duplass and Amy Lendecker play her three adult children. “My whole life I’ve been dressing up like a man,” Moira tells one of her daughter, who’s a little confused about the transition her mother is starting. “This is me.”

[via Entertainment Weekly]

TIME Video Games

Amazon Explains Why It Just Paid Nearly $1 Billion for Twitch

Amazon Said To Buy Twitch For $1 Billion As Google Bid Fails
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Amazon VP of games Michael Frazzini and Twitch CEO Emmett Shear talk about Monday's surprise high-price acquisition and what it means for the popular game-streaming service going forward.

The rumor mill got it wrong.

Twitch, an online service that lets people watch other people play video games, was supposed to go into the arms of Google. That was the received wisdom until late Monday afternoon anyway, when Amazon capsized expectations and announced it would pay $970 million for the fledgling company, an amount said to be less than what Google was offering (the rumor mill pegged that amount at around $1 billion, though never backed it up), but an enormous sum by any measure. It also the most Amazon’s paid for any company to date.

Why the heck would the world’s largest e-tailer–in the news more these days for its consumer electronics and apparent hopes to conquer time and space by deploying fleets of personalized delivery drones–buy a games-streaming startup? This is where knowing a little about Twitch helps.

These days everyone has big numbers, but this one’s genuinely impressive: Twitch says it had 55 million unique visitors to its site in July 2014 alone, and all of those visitors eyeballed over 15 billion minutes of games-related content. The number of people generating all that content? One million, says Twitch, comprising an audience of amateur and pro gamers, game publishers and studios, video game news sites and eSports-related events (eSports being the term gamers call video games played in professional matches). All sorts, in other words, from content creators and consumers to critics and video gaming “athletes.”

Here’s another way to look at it: the Wall Street Journal reported in February that Twitch accounted for nearly 2% of peak Internet traffic in the U.S., or fourth overall during peak hours. The only three companies that scored higher were Apple (4.3%), Google (22%) and Netflix (32%). Think about that for a minute: Twitch, a company that arrived in 2011, accounted for more peak U.S. traffic in February than Facebook.

But why Amazon of all companies? When I put the question to Twitch CEO Emmett Shear Monday night, he said it came down to two words: like minds.

“Talking to Mike [Frazzini, VP of Amazon Games] along the way, it really became clear that we have a shared vision for the gaming industry. We see the same trends in the same space,” said Shear. “And it’s also their culture. Amazon thinks about problems and solving those problems in the same way we do at Twitch. They think about how you can build things for customers, and how to do that in the long run.”

That sense of philosophical camaraderie over the course of multiple meetings culminated in formal negotiations, said Shear.

“One of the things I was really impressed by during the deal discussions was Amazon’s commitment to making Twitch a fully-owned subsidiary, which means I get to remain the CEO, we keep our office, we keep our culture, we keep our strategy,” said Shear. “But we get access to all of these resources and products that Amazon has that’ll let us do all of that better and faster.”

Amazon, for its part, looks less like an outlier and more like a natural home for a gaming-centric service like Twitch when you add up its recent moves. Where rivals like Apple and Google still hold gaming at arm’s length, building platforms and ecosystems to lure third party creators in lieu of crafting first-party content, Amazon’s been quietly cultivating its own gaming stable, edging step by step more toward the sort of holistic approach a Sony or Microsoft or Nintendo might take in securing ownership of both the hardware and software ends of the bargain.

When I asked Frazzini if Amazon paying beaucoup bucks for an enthusiast-angled video game operation is further evidence that Amazon intends to square off directly with gaming’s 800-pound gorillas, though, he was quick to couch the move as strictly consumer-driven.

“I was never, like, ‘How does this, that or the other company do it, and maybe we should,'” said Frazzini. “I’ve always thought about it in much simpler terms, through the lens of the customer experience and what we wanted to create, where we thought we could built inventive new experiences that would resonate. That’s been the driving motivation. If you look at Amazon fairly high-level, what you end up with is, we have a commerce business, and games are a very important part of the commerce business.”

Amazon loves people who buy games through Amazon, said Frazzini, because gamers tend to come back and buy all sorts of other things. But it’s also about more than consumers, he said, talking about the importance of catering to the sort of premium content developers the company’s been wooing with its cloud-focused Amazon Web Services model–which is just another way of saying Amazon’s Twitch purchase is (at least in part) about growing its gaming cred.

Consider Amazon’s two most recent games-related acquisitions: Amazon bought developer Double Helix Games in February, a studio known for the survival horror game Silent Hill: Homecoming as well as its work on a revitalized version of Killer Instinct, an arcade-style fighting game for Microsoft’s Xbox One. And in April, Amazon rolled out Fire TV, a $99 set-top box that not only plays high-fidelity games, but supports them with an optional gamepad–one a traditional console- or PC-gamer wouldn’t be embarrassed to wield.

“I think it’s fairly safe to say at this point that on anything with a screen, games are the number one or two activity,” said Frazzini. “Obviously if we’re going to be in the devices business, we have to be thinking hard about games. And at the center of that is the customer experience, which is what’s so interesting about Twitch for us. Twitch has that same point of view. They think long term. They think a lot about invention.”

Frazzini is naturally effusive when talking about Twitch’s accomplishments since the service’s debut in 2011, going on to call it “just the beginning” of a process that’s about anticipating “where games are going.” Clearly Amazon sees that destination as more than another overloaded app store or slew of iterative mobile devices. Put another way, no one spends close to $1 billion on a gaming service whose most vocal proponents identify as core gamers if they aren’t serious about wooing and winning them over.

The acquisition makes even more sense when you think about services like Amazon Instant Video. Amazon’s been in the video-on-demand business since 2006, and with its recent shift to an all-you-can-eat Amazon Prime streaming video model, whereby Prime members gain access to scads of video content (including the company’s coup-of-coups exclusive deal with HBO) for a Netflix-ian flat fee, capturing new eyeballs by adding a service like Twitch fits hand-in-glove with the company’s ostensible goals. And think of what else the purchase buys Amazon in terms of new eyeballs: Twitch is already an entrenched and critical presence on both Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One.

And for those worried that Amazon’s purchase could somehow harm or curtail the house Twitch built, it’s not clear yet what the actual relationship between Amazon and Twitch will be, but Twitch’s Shear said the most immediate benefits (for Twitch, and thereby its user base) translate as exponentially greater scalability.

“This year we spent a huge amount of money growing our network footprint, and I hope that next year we can spend three times as much money or just leverage some of the network footprint Amazon already has,” said Shear. “Now we can move into locations Amazon already has servers. And that alone is super exciting to me.”

TIME Companies

Amazon to Buy Video Game Live-Streaming Site Twitch for $970 Million

Google had been widely expected to acquire Twitch before today's announcement

Amazon has agreed to buy video game live-streaming website Twitch for $970 million, the companies announced Monday.

Twitch has become a popular online destination for video game players, who use the website to stream live gameplay of titles across a variety of consoles and formats. More than 55 million unique visitors viewed content generated by more than 1 million broadcasters on the site in July 2014.

It had been widely reported that Google was in talks to buy Twitch for about $1 billion, until Amazon’s surprise announcement. “We chose Amazon because they believe in our community, they share our values and long-term vision, and they want to help us get there faster,” said Twitch CEO Emmett Shear in a statement. Twitch will continue to operate as an independent brand from Amazon, he said.

The acquisition is the latest sign that Amazon is serious about becoming a big player in the worlds of both gaming and online video. The retail giant snapped up the video game developer Double Helix Games earlier this year, and the company’s new set-top box, the Amazon Fire TV, boasts a bevy of Android-based games and a traditional video game controller as a main selling point.

“Like Twitch, we obsess over customers and like to think differently, and we look forward to learning from them and helping them move even faster to build new services for the gaming community,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

More important than gaming though will be the foothold Twitch grants Amazon in the world of online video. As a rapidly growing video site that has generated more web traffic than Facebook and Hulu in past months, Twitch will give Amazon greater scale to compete for ad dollars with the Google-owned YouTube, the world’s biggest online video destination by far. Amazon has already been experimenting with pre-roll ads for episodes of some of its original shows. Now the company will have access to millions of additional video watchers between the ages of 18 to 34, a highly coveted demographic on Madison Avenue. “This is really interesting addition and a way to bring Amazon’s brand to that community in a way that they really haven’t been able to before,” says Brian Blau, research director at Gartner.

For Twitch, the purchase is proof that courting a niche demographic can pay off. Twitch began in 2011 as an offshoot of Justin.tv, a more broadly focused live-streaming platform. Shear and his colleagues realized that people were using Justin.tv to livestream gameplay of hits like StarCraft 2. “Watching and sharing in that experience is as much a part of video games as playing is,” Shear told TIME earlier this year. He was proven right—Twitch is now one of the biggest sites on the Web and Justin.tv shut down earlier this month.

But Twitch’s ambitions likely extend beyond gaming. This summer the company began experimenting with live streams of music concerts. Amazon’s long-term aim, Blau says, could be to develop Twitch into a “live version of YouTube.” Such an evolution, though, would require buy-in from Twitch’s fickle user base of passionate gamers.

TIME Companies

Uber Wants To Bring You Your Diapers and Shampoo

The Hamptons Lure Uber Top Drivers Amid NYC Slow Summer Weekends
The Uber app Bloomberg/Getty Images

Uber, but for deliveries

Uber wants to be your delivery boy now, too. The car-hailing service is testing a new delivery feature called Uber Corner Store that will allow customers to get more than 100 items sent right to their doorstep in a matter of minutes.

Via the Uber app, users can select the “Corner Store” option, and will then receive a text from the company with a list of items available in their area. Next, an Uber driver calls the customer and takes his or her order. Then the goods get delivered to the customer’s home. There’s no additional delivery fee and customers are not expected to tip their driver, according to an Uber blog post.

For now the service is only available as a test trial to a limited number of users in the Washington, D.C. area. The item list is mostly limited to pricey name brand products—you’ll be buying Pampers or Huggies, for instance, not store-brand diapers. But Uber says it plans to expand the number of products offered and extend the service, currently only available on weekdays, to weekends and late nights.

Uber Corner Store will compete directly with Google Shopping Express, which lets users receive buy products and receive deliveries from local stores, and Amazon’s same-day delivery service. The new service illustrates Uber’s ambition to extend far beyond being simply a taxi app. The company is also experimenting with a courier service in New York and a moving service called UberMovers in Atlanta and Nashville.

MONEY online shopping

8 Amazing Things People Said When Online Shopping Was Born 20 Years Ago

Vintage 1960s advertisement from the Electric Light and Power Companies of America of what future online shopping could be like
Advertising Archive—Courtesy Everett Collection

My, how things have changed, and yet remained the same. Two decades ago, when the era of e-commerce was born, people fretted about online fraud and security—and that the Internet had too much porn.

Toward the end of 1994, MONEY magazine published a story about the sharp rise in consumers shopping from home. That year, some 98 million consumers made $60 billion worth of purchases from home, nearly all of it through phone orders prompted by mail catalogues and TV shopping channels. Another home-shopping option had suddenly arrived on the scene that year, too–an “on-line shopping service [that] requires a PC or Macintosh that’s equipped with a modem.” The article explained how such curious services worked:

For ordering, many of the “computer stores” offer shoppers an 800 telephone number to call. Others are set up so a shopper can click on a box next to the desired gift, type in payment information and the shipping address and then hit a “Submit Order” button. Some companies even let shoppers pick out the wrapping paper via computer.

That’s pretty much how people talked about e-commerce in 1994, when it was brand-spanking-new, not to mention weird, sorta scary, and totally unfamiliar to most consumers. American Public Media’s Marketplace noted that this week marks the 20th anniversary of online shopping, as chronicled in an August 1994 New York Times story describing how one shopper made history by purchasing a “compact audio disk” (a.k.a. a CD, which is how we used to listen to music before iPods, kids) by Sting—a transaction “celebrated as the first retail transaction on the Internet using a readily available version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy.”

In honor of the big anniversary, we thought it would be fun to look back at how the birth of online shopping was viewed in 1994, a year before Amazon.com arrived. There was some skepticism, lots of confusion, and plenty of futuristic gee-whiz bluster about all of this “on-line” business. For instance, a headline in The Financial Post (Canada) described e-commerce as a “tele-shopping magical experience,” and the story that followed was a bit dismissive of “the latest fad.” An October ’94 Computerworld story pointed to the group of skeptics who categorized online shopping as just another component of the “infohypeway” that was the Internet.

Mostly, though, what’s amazing is that, in retrospect, so much of what was said and written in 1994 about online shopping was pretty much right on the money. From the get-go, many people realized that e-commerce would revolutionize shopping, by making it cheaper, more convenient, and more customizable than traditional shopping in physical stores. There were also tons of concerns about security, fraud, hackers, and porn, as well as predictions that as online shopping grew, advertising would absolutely ruin the Internet.

Without further ado, here are some of the funny, odd, and/or eerily prophetic ways people viewed online shopping 20 years ago, back when it was just a baby.

Online shopping was as hip as the Marlboro Man. An end-of-the-year article from USA Today featured a side-by-side list of trends that were In and Out for 1994. The Out side included no-longer cool stuff like faxes, Bud Light, Joe Camel, theme parks, and TV shopping, while the corresponding IN side listed the Internet, microbrews, Marlboro Man, casinos, and “on-line shopping.”

Everything had to be explained in (now) excruciatingly painful detail. A modem, a New York Times magazine story explained, was “a small device that sends and receives computer language over the telephone and does with computer files what a fax machine does with paper.” You need one of these to use the Internet and possibly buy stuff, you see.

People had no clue where or how to buy stuff. “One dirty little secret on the Internet is that nobody’s selling anything yet,” an executive at QVC told a publication called Network World. At the time, home-shopping networks like QVC were viewed as potentially huge players in online shopping. Few retailers had their own websites or Internet “pages,” as they were more often described, so they used services like the Internet Shopping Network—something of an “electronic home shopping mall,” as Reuters put it—to post items for sale. At the time, the Internet Shopping Network merely listed product descriptions, but the plan was to eventually feature product photos and “eventually, moving pictures of the items.”

Roland Bust, a marketing professor at Vanderbilt University, explained to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that most consumers “don’t know where to go” when they attempted to shop online in 1994. “Like a real mall, a cyberspace mall has lots of stores, and finding a particular product can be hard unless a user knows which stores carry what,” the story summed up. Interestingly, the article also pointed to CD-ROMs as another online shopping option at the time. They sold for $8 and up, and when inserted into a computer, the consumer could access the contents of a couple dozen catalogues, from merchants like Spiegel and L.L. Bean.

There was plenty to be scared about—privacy, fraud, porn, and more. If you think your private information is easy for scammers and marketers to gather now, just think about the Internet circa 1994. The NYT magazine story regarded email as a “reasonably private written message.” The Mail on Sunday (London) warned consumers that purchase orders must be placed on the phone because “credit card numbers given down a computer are not yet safe from fraud.” Five of the 10 most popular “newsgroups” then on the Internet were “sexually oriented,” the Atlanta Journal and Constitution cautioned, and because free porn was easy to come by and the “Internet has more dirty jokes than the walls of a public bathroom,” there was cause for concern that unsuspecting web surfers and shoppers would be horrified with what they (or their children) found. ‘Just the title of some of the discussion groups is something you don’t want your kids to see,” the head of IBM’s Internet services said to the (London) Times.

It was assumed advertising would ruin everything. This now seems pretty laughable, but in the early ’90s, Internet culture was “decidedly uncommercial,” in the words of Computerworld. What was then a niche group of users wanted the Internet to be a place where ideas and information could be shared quickly and openly. But as such it was open to the possibility of “being hijacked by companies, which will flood the system with advertising,” according to the Times.

“Advertisers are looking for ways to exploit cyberspace,” the Atlanta Journal and Constitution stated. And many Internet users weren’t happy about it. So-called “commercial zones” were “created on the Internet for exclusive use by advertisers, but companies haven’t figured out how to get netsurfers to look at them. Efforts to plant ads in the network’s 2,500 newsgroups have caused an uproar.”

Another prophetic assumption: Online shopping would make stuff cheaper. “Selling goods electronically can be 40% to 50% cheaper than by conventional means,” Computerworld explained. Without the need for salespeople or even a physical sales space, it seemed inevitable that online shopping offered sellers a means to lower overhead costs—and therefore lower the prices charged to customers. “Nobody’s going to want to do electronic shopping if there’s no advantage to the customer—and that advantage is cost. You’ve got to save money,” Randy Adams, a serial entrepreneur who went on to co-found Funny or Die, told the San Jose Mercury News in 1994, when he was involved in an e-commerce startup. “I think conventional retailers are not going to like what we’re doing because we’re forcing margins down.”

Sure enough, they didn’t—and they still don’t like how e-retail giants like Amazon are pushing around the competition and product makers alike, usually with the idea of getting prices lower for the customer.

People saw the upsides of customization and convenience, too. Not only would online shopping make it possible to buy stuff 24/7, regardless of “store hours,” and without dealing with traffic or even leaving the house, but e-commerce also brought with it the opportunity to order far more than what one found on a store’s shelves. A 1994 USA Today story focused on the new concept of “made-to-order merchandising,” in which customers could order shoes, jeans, greeting cards, and more in the personalized style and size of their choosing. “The trend is the first step toward on-line shopping—when customers will use computers to order exactly what they want rather than going to a mall,” the article stated.

Overall, they knew online shopping would be a huge deal. “At some point it will be a really big business,” a UBS analyst said to Reuters in 1994. How big? Analysts told Computerworld that “on-line shopping could explode into a $5 billion sales channel in a few years.” In fact, when the Census bureau began tracking e-commerce sales in 2000, it reported that sales had hit $5.3 billion—in the fourth quarter of 1999 alone. Forecasts call for e-commerce sales to hit $304 billion in the U.S. for all of 2014.

TIME Companies

Amazon’s New Credit Card Reader Takes a Swipe at Square and PayPal

The latest entrant into the already crowded field of mobile payment systems comes at a competitive discount

+ READ ARTICLE

Online retail giant Amazon took a swipe at credit card processing services Wednesday with the debut of its latest service: a credit and debit card reader which plugs into a phone or a tablet, providing brick-and-mortar stores with a mobile payment system similar to the ones already being offered by companies like Square and PayPal.

Amazon’s offering, however, comes at a steep discount compared to those now rival services. Retailers that start using Amazon’s card reader, called “Amazon Local Register,” before October 31 will pay a rate of 1.75% on transactions, versus 2.75% for Square and 2.7% for PayPal. At the close of the promotional window, the rate rises to 2.5%, still a bit lower than comparable offerings.

Retailers can sign up for Amazon Local Register for free, but must pay $10 for each card reader. The system also generates detailed customer reports that will give both the retailer and Amazon new insights into the habits of offline shoppers, making it a potential data goldmine for Amazon.

MONEY

This Is the Biggest Threat Facing Google Right Now

Xiaomi released its new smartphone product Mi4 on its annual new product release on Tuesday.
Xiaomi, a Chinese phone maker, sells devices running a modified version of Google's Android operating system, but without any Google services. Zhang Jin/Xinhua—Alamy

Google's Android operating system can be used—and changed—by anyone. Now the search giant might be losing control of its creation.

When Amazon’s Kindle Fire phone debuted last month, the engineers at Google’s Mountain View headquarters probably weren’t clamoring to get their hands on one. Exactly zero of the search giant’s mobile apps are available on the Fire. No Gmail, no Maps, no Play store, no Docs. Even the default search engine is set to Microsoft’s Bing. Amazon might be the first company since Microsoft to announce a major phone completely devoid of anything Google.

Which is strange, because without Google’s help, the Fire wouldn’t exist.

That’s because the very guts of the Fire, the open-source Android operating system, is owned by Google. Since 2007, Google has allowed hardware makers to use Android for free in their phones. Google generally benefits from this arrangement because its operating system plays well with — and thus sends a lot of users to — its own (money-making) applications. But by creating the Fire devoid of anything Google, Amazon appears to have short-circuited this strategy.

Unfortunately for Google, Amazon isn’t the only company doing this. A recent study by ABI Research found that some 20% of the smartphones worldwide run a customized version of Android that isn’t required to carry other Google apps. A portion of these smartphones do include some Google software, but many replace Google’s apps with competing services. For example, Xiaomi, China’s leading smartphone maker, replaces Google Play with its own app store.

To put this threat in context, Apple’s iOS operating system has a market share of only 11%. That means Google, not Apple, is Google’s largest competitor. By powering such a large percentage of the competition, the company has become its own worst enemy.

How did this happen? It goes back to the company’s early decision to grow Android as quickly as possible. In 2007, the year the iPhone was released, Google had virtually no mobile footprint and its executives feared that Apple might soon dominate the market and cut Google products out of the equation. To avoid that, Android was released as “open-source” software, meaning it could be freely modified and included on any phone, free of charge.

For a long time, the plan seemed to work. Manufacturers and wireless carriers loved Android’s customizability as well as its low, low cost of zero. The OS rapidly gained market share; according to Strategy Analytics’ most recent estimate, it currently runs on 85% of all smartphones. As Android became more and more essential to phone-vendors’ bottom line, Google used the threat of withholding its crucial suite of services to ensure phone makers gave its own apps preferential treatment. Android seemed to be under control.

But that control has begun to weaken. The first cracks in Google’s strategy appeared in 2011 when Amazon released the Kindle Fire, a tablet (and Fire Phone precursor) that ran a modified version of Android. Users of the product could still access Google services on the web, but everything on the device, from its custom app store to its Microsoft-powered search engine, steered owners in a different direction.

Other companies soon followed Amazon’s lead. Alibaba’s Android-based Aliyun OS—and the precedent it would set—scared Google enough that the company threatened to pull its services from Acer’s phones if the hardware maker didn’t drop the product. Acer complied, but Alibaba has since partnered with five other smartphone makers.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it may be hard to put back in. Horace Dediu, a technology analyst and founder of the website Asymco, thinks Google-less versions of Android will only become more popular. As handset margins continue to fall, phone makers will have more incentive to replace Google’s services with their own — both to pad their bottom lines and to make their own products stand out among legions of other Android phones.

“If you’re a phone vender, you don’t just want to be in the commodity hardware business, you want to move up the value chain,” Dediu says. “This is part of a decades-long quest for vendors to differentiate and not to allow the platform owner to capture all the profits.”

Over time, he adds, more phone makers in emerging markets like Vietnam and Indonesia will replace Google apps with locally tailored versions, something Xiaomi has already done in China. Samsung, the world’s most profitable Android phone maker, has also begun to challenge Google by shipping phones with a Samsung app store and other software that competes with Google’s apps. The company recently tussled with Google over its new “Magazine” user interface, which hid some Google services.

Other experts play down the threat to Google. Benedict Evans, for example, a mobile analyst currently at Andreessen Horowitz, says an aversion to Google apps is largely limited to China, where the government has crippled or censored the search giant’s services. “Google isn’t on mobile in China, but then Google isn’t in China anyway,” he says. Indeed, outside of China, Xiaomi phones ship with a full suite of Google apps.

That Google allows Xiaomi to sell both standard and non-standard Android products may indicate Google recognizes the danger it faces, and is prepared to make concessions to device makers in certain markets to keep its services available. Generally, hardware vendors are forced to choose between shipping Google apps on all of their Android phones, or being denied Google services entirely. Ron Amadeo, a journalist who has previously written on Google’s attempts to control Android, says Xiaomi’s unique arrangement appears to be a special exception.

The fate of Android may come down to whether other deep pocketed companies can offer compelling replacements for Google services. That’s no easy task, but it’s not impossible. China’s mobile market is thriving sans Google; Samsung continues to develop the non-Android Tizen operating system in case relations with Mountain View sour; and Amazon remains committed to building out its Fire platform. “Within five years,” says Dediu, “things can change a lot.”

MONEY

Amazon vs. Disney, Explained by Classic Animated Character Quotes

140811_EM_AmazonDisney
Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-MEN. 20th Century Fox Film Corporatio—Everett Collection

If you're having trouble understanding Amazon's battles against Disney and the Hachette Book Group, perhaps some wisdom from Jiminy Cricket, Wolverine, and Dr. Doom can clear things up.

In its storied, revolutionary history, Amazon.com hasn’t been hesitant to employ ruthless strategies in its quest to rule retail. The company’s tactics have been so tough that they’ve inspired consumer boycotts from time to time. Amazon’s latest skirmishes position the world’s largest e-retailer in standoffs against Hachette, a book publisher being pressured to lower its prices, and Disney, which failed to reach some contractual agreements with Amazon, and which is being punished by Amazon’s refusal to sell preorders of some of its movies.

We thought it would be helpful—or at least a heckuvalot more fun—to explain more about the ongoing disputes using classic quotes from Disney films and Marvel Comics, which Disney also owns.

“I just can’t wait to be king.”
These words, sung by Simba in Disney’s “The Lion King,” sum up the ambitions of Jeff Bezos and Amazon: The goal is to be the undisputed king of selling us stuff. As soon as possible, naturally. From one-click ordering to Amazon Prime, and from it forays into everything from groceries to a phone that encourages users to shop more at Amazon, it’s clear that Amazon wants to be the Everything Store—and to so thoroughly dominate the world of e-commerce that it essentially takes over the retail world.

In any attempted coup, the grab for money and power can be ugly. Often, the subjects aren’t happy with the policies and terms dictated by the new ruler, especially when they question the legitimacy of the king. In this case, Disney, Hachette, and others are the subjects that aren’t happy with how the self-appointed new ruler is trying to push them around.

“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.”
Jiminy Cricket said these words to Pinocchio, who dreamed of being a real boy. Amazon’s dream is different—to be the real boss of retail. To make Jeff Bezos’s wish come true, Amazon has been making some fairly extreme requests, including an insistence than Hachette cap its e-book prices at $9.99. Amazon is also using some extreme negotiating tactics in its standoff with Disney, notably making it difficult or impossible for customers to pre-order some of the company’s highly anticipated movies, including “Maleficent,” “Muppets Most Wanted,” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

“I am but a humble servant of my people!”
Amazon’s justification for playing hardball with movie companies and book publishers is that it is merely fulfilling its mission to serve its customers best, by way of figuring out how to offer them the absolute lowest prices possible. “We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices,” Amazon said in a recent statement, regarding its ongoing dispute with Hachette. “We know making books more affordable is good for book culture.”

Oh, and where did the quote above about the “humble servant” business come from? It’s a line from Dr. Doom, who was constantly being stopped by the Fantastic Four in his life’s mission to take over the world.

“Avengers, assemble.”
Whenever the bad guys are doing something bad, Captain America calls his Avenger teammates to join together and put an end to the mayhem. Likewise, more than 900 authors have joined forces in a call to arms to stop Amazon’s attempt to break Hachette. “We feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want,” reads a statement signed by writers such as Stephen King and John Grisham that was published in a New York Times ad over the weekend. Among the other forces that are gathering allies and assembling for war: Google and Barnes & Noble, which teamed up last week in a direct attack on Amazon when they announced they would jointly offer same-day delivery of book purchases.

“With great power comes great responsibility.”
The famous wisdom of (Uncle) Ben Parker directed his nephew, Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man), to the path of righteousness. Critics say that Amazon is being irresponsible with the great power it now wields, and literature and the publishing world are among those being hurt as a result. In an open letter titled “If I Were Jeff Bezos” published last week on CNN, best-selling author James Patterson wrote that if he was the Amazon founder and CEO—the guy known for the “superhuman confidence of his laugh”—he would not be “so carried away with this success that I am going to lose sight of scale or sanity. Sure, I have ushered in the age of Internet commerce, but, no, I am not now hanging around just to collect my financial reward, or even to bask in the public recognition.”

And why not? “You see, I, Jeff Bezos, am actually trying to make this a better world … You think I want to be known as the man responsible for the biggest quality drought in the history of novel writing?”

“You give them an inch, they swim all over you.”
Retailers and manufacturers enter tough negotiations all the time behind closed doors; what’s unusual here is that these squabbles are repeatedly being fought out in the open, for all to see and judge. “It’s rare in physical retail to have contract disputes become so public. Most retailers just aren’t willing to hurt themselves by cutting off sales,” Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru told the Wall Street Journal. “Amazon has demonstrated that they’re not going to be the one to blink in these negotiations.”

On the flip side, Disney and the book publishers don’t want to give an inch in negotiations. If they did, the fear is that Amazon would swim all over them, so to speak, in every future negotiation, to paraphrase Sebastian, the crab from “The Little Mermaid.” Sebastian was talking about teenagers, not power-hungry corporations, but you get the idea.

“There is a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?”
Wolverine hadn’t really chosen a side yet when he said these words to Storm in the original “X-Men” movie. The typical consumer probably hasn’t chosen a side in the Amazon wars either. But essentially we’re all being asked to pick—more money and power for the seller (Amazon) or the producer and manufacturer (Disney, Hachette). By following the X-Men metaphor through, you’re siding with a mutant no matter which way you go.

It’s up to you to figure out which side is figuratively being led by Charles Xavier, and which is helmed by Magneto. And how do you decide? Let’s turn back to Jiminy Cricket for an answer: “Always let your conscience be your guide.”

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