Wednesday Jul 25, 2007

Amazon Unbox - Off the Hook - Good Stuff

Ok, after I ranted away on how bad Amazon Unbox let me down while I was in the hospital, I am giving it a cautious thumbs up now. I was checked into the hospital again for the recurring pneumothorax and had another surgery. Prior to that, I had contacted the gentelman at Amazon that wanted to look at the problem I had with getting to movies while I was laid up. After sending him the logs, he saw there was definitely an issue with the network sending SOAP requests back and forth through the wireless proxies at the guess is its because I hadn't yet connected to the hospital wireless when I brought the client software up.

Basically, the hospital network uses Cisco software. When you connect to the wireless, you automatically get routed to an "agreement" page where you accept the terms and conditions, then you "appear" to have open access to the network. Well, the requests between the Amazon Unbox Client and the Server software appear to have gotten snagged somehow in the middle. This type of setup is the same as Starbuck's TMobile, the airport, yadda yadda.

Armed with some new knowledge I grabbed the updated 2.0 Unbox client software. I was SURE to be logged into the hospital network prior to the client starting, wondering if that was one of the numerous problems I may have encountered.

The 2.0 software is getting better I must say! The user interface had Unbox sale videos right in the window. This was nice, I found a $0.99 rental (Man of the Year) and clicked on it. This brought up my browser and took me to, hopefully the software folks can finish the integration so I never have to leave the client itself...I hate browsers popping up, it is very disconnected.

I hit the rental button in the browser and waited to see if the download would start in the client software. It started within a few minutes! First barrier overcome. Now, the download did take a LONG time, unfortunately. But with the 2.0 software, there was a nice progress bar right under the video along with the bit rate that the video was being tranferred at. Much nicer, easy feedback is what we need.

The gentleman that contacted me ALSO let me know the screen saver issue I ran into would be fixed in this version of the software as well.

Now, listen up movie studios, moguls, and executives. You have to work with Amazon to fix this one day to watch problem. There is a massive revenue stream sitting here for you to take advantage of. Allow a Netflix / Blockbuster / Hollywood Video style service where I can rent two movies from Amazon, but cannot get another until I've returned the movies I've watched. Give me time to watch the movies (not 1 day). Give me a "return the movie" button as well so I can return a movie unwatched (Amazon, even consider refunding part of my rental if I don't watch it). Amazon has a great service here and it is improving. There will ALWAYS be hackers and people will always find a way around copyrights. BUT, if you make the service as seemless as Amazon is getting (especially with the Tivo integration), and you have lots of $0.99 sales, there is no incentive to try to get around it. This is a great and promising service, work with Amazon to be successful rather than allow the streaming networks to win.

If you work with Amazon, and the Amazon client software gets better than the BitTorrent client software (and it is already there as far as professionalism and polish), Amazon will help you win against the pirates. Most pirates aren't pirates out of saving $3, they are pirates because it is EASIER to use the pirate software and it gives them something they can't easy video downloads.

Here's my advice to Amazon Unbox Users (Tivo or PC):

  • Watch the sales, good deals!
  • DO NOT expect to watch the video immediately, rent in the morning, watch in the evening. It is faster than NetFlix, slower than going to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video up the street.
  • If your download doesn't start quickly, contact Amazon, the folks seem friendly and nice so help them to succeed. Of course, contacting them is a little mysterious, it looks like you can go to the Unbox Support link at the top of the page, and then there is a "Contact Us" link in the right column.

I did see the other day that Blockbuster was eating into the Netflix profit and Netflix was losing customers for the first time ever. Personally, I have a Hollywood Video monthly agreement where I can just walk up (2 blocks away) and get 2 videos. It is quick and convenient. I believe NetFlix is about to be in a fight for its life. Amazon is a more "traditional" rental service, no long term agreement/monthly agreement necessary. I like it and may have to toss my Hollywood Video agreement soon...if we can get the downloads a bit quicker and more consistent.

For now, I have every intention of continuing to leverage Amazon Unbox for when I travel, get stuck back in my hospital bed, or have the urge to drop a movie to my Tivo when I'm up at work.

This is good stuff. Amazon definitely has a good lead with video delivery. My advice to Amazon:

  • Focus on appliances and get agreements with the DVR gurus, you need to conquer the appliance space...what about Microsoft XBox and Sony Playstation 3, seriously...get a channel with them (I don't think my Wii is reasonable, not enough memory).
  • The software for PCs is OK, but you probably know that it is not where you are going to make a killing. The PC software will be used for convenience...things like my hospital use case, travel with the kids in a hotel room (this is FAR cheaper than a rental in a hotel), business trips. So the PC software must be completely laptop friendly.
  • Work with these movie studios, they are making your service less competitive than traditional media, that doesn't seem right. It works for them to have your client software better than BitTorrent.

Thanks for the help Sam!




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