Fat Books & Thin Women

#Longreads : Farhad Manjoo’s “The Great Tech War of 2012”

Check back every Wednesday for a link to a new longread. Your thoughts on this week’s read, and suggestions for future articles and essays, are always welcome!

Farhad Manjoo’s “The Great Tech War of 2012” has been making the rounds, and it’s not hard to see why. Reading this article as I flipped from websites and products operated or created by Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, it became painfully clear just how much of the average person’s life is influenced, even owned, by these companies. And with Steve Jobs gone, it’s hard not to wonder if Apple can continue leading innovations in technology (and make such a huge profit while doing so), or if another company is going to begin exerting greater influence over the technologies we use.

Manjoo looks at the reasons all four companies have succeeded to date, as well as the ways in which they are competing against each other (which aren’t always apparent to the average consumer) and the bets they’re placing on what sort of technologies and business models will work in the coming years. At this point, as Manjoo points out, Apple, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are four of the most high-profile companies in America. Average people are able to tell you who runs each company, who founded it, and what it does, in a way they can’t with companies that may earn more but aren’t a part of this high-stakes war for our technological future.

The best part of this article may well be the links to pages titled “Why Apple Will Win”, “Why Facebook Will Win”, etc., which briefly summarize the strengths of each company.

Who do you think will win the tech war of 2012 – Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, or a company that doesn’t even exist yet? Who do you want to see win?*

* I’m pinning my hopes on Apple, largely because I feel such affection for every Apple product I own. My quality of life improved immeasurably once I replaced my netbook with a Mac, and life without an iPod? Facebook, on the other hand, just seems creepy – I’ll keep my facebook page because having one is an unfortunate necessity for Life Today, but reluctantly and mostly because I want to stalk people I went to high school with, haven’t spoken to in seven years, and hope to never see again. (So maybe it’s not only that Facebook the company is creepy, but that it turns us all into creeps.)

Read Farhad Manjoo’s “The Great Tech War of 2012”


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Comparing Facebook to Google, Amazon, and Apple seems really weird. The latter three all deal in services and hardware, but Facebook is only a service.

Between those last three, I think Apple is going to stay on top, too. I heard yesterday that they’re going to start supporting Flash, which has been a huge complaint for so long that correcting it might end up cutting into the Android handset/tablet market.

I’m not sure why, but I can see Amazon collapsing under its own weight sometime in the future. Like the more they start offering other things, the more people will wonder what Amazon has to offer that an actual big box store doesn’t (maybe it’s me, but there are certain items that really should be seen/touched in person before buying). Plus, if you live in a state where you have to pay retail tax on online purchases, you may as well go to a store to avoid getting hit with shipping fees as well.

Comment by ohemgillie

I thought it was odd that facebook was included, too, when I started reading, but after a while I started to get it. They didn’t toss these computers together for the 2012 battle because they’re all working in the same area, but because they are working so hard to subvert the other companies. Just imagine the information facebook is collecting about all of us and our tastes and what this means in terms of their ability to target ads or even searches on the internet (should they go for that, which it seems they almost inevitably will). And facebook is starting to explore hardware, not unlike google’s new attempts to make android more profitable by taking over the hardware end, as with that new phone that’s got the facebook share button on the keypad. Facebook’s far smaller than the other companies at this point, but it’s also managed to revolutionize the way we communicate and share ourselves in a very short period of time. It’s a little horrifying to think of how they can take advantage of the information we toss up there in coming years.

I don’t see amazon going under. You’re right that it’s got a lot more weight to carry, as a company, because it’s still working within a retail model and has to have fulfillment centers around the country, unlike the other companies. But amazon has the kindle, is a huge seller of ebooks, has revolutionized the way people are reading…and offers free shipping and far steeper discounts on most products than brick-and-mortar stores can. They’ve also proven adept at taking over threats, as with zappos (plus their creation of endless.com). Hell, I hardly ever bought shoes in stores when I lived in the States, because it was so much easier to go to one of these amazon sites, order a couple pairs, and return them (for free) if I didn’t like them. No physical store can ever match the range of products or services amazon offers; I see them getting bigger, crushing more of the competition, and getting more into the hardware business as with kindle & the fire tablet.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Amazon is shutting down warehouses and fulfillment centers to avoid paying state taxes, though. They’ll probably find a way to offshore those operations, but what will that do to prices and shipping costs? Their discounts will only go so far if all shipping suddenly becomes international shipping because it’s coming out some other country halfway around the world.

I’m skeptical of the Fire tablet (and the Kindle to an extent) since the Nook has essentially become a standalone Android tablet and the possibility of Apple supporting Flash in the near future. Standalone tablets will eventually replace e-readers, so the Fire had better be amazing or it’s going to lose to the Nook.

Comment by ohemgillie

From what I’ve read (and on stuff like tablets I’m clueless – these didn’t exist last time I was in the States, and you don’t realize how fast technology changes till you’ve been left out of it for a couple years) the main thing the Fire has going for it is its price; it isn’t competing with the iPad, exactly, as much as it’s going for the sort of consumer who has thought about getting a tablet but doesn’t want to drop $500 on it. As the girl who gave up on using her mom’s iPhone because it was too confusing, I’m nowhere near capable of discussing these things in terms of hardware rather than price range.

As for where amazon has its fulfillment centers – it’s a huge company, I suspect that if they began having serious problems with shipping quickly & affordably they’d put some lobbyists to work.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Also, I like how my replies from here on out will have to end with some variation of “I don’t understand technology anymore.” to wit, I have only once seen an iPad, my parents’ iPhones (not to mention bluetooth – what IS that?) made me want to cry, I’m still unclear on what android is (like the technology for the iPhone…only it can be on any phone??), and I don’t understand why anyone would want constant access to their email. Slash their bosses, I guess. The peace corps has left me woefully underprepared to reenter the states with all its gadgets and fancy “touch screens.”

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

Android is an operating system owned by Google. A lot of phone manufacturers are allowed to use it, as opposed to the iPhone’s operating system only belonging to Apple and BlackBerry’s operating system only belonging to RIM.

This allows Android to have phones and tablets at a variety of price points across several handset brands and service carriers. Because they’re a Google product, things like Gmail and Google Maps are already built in. My dad actually had to get a Gmail account just to register his Android phone when he first bought it, but he was able to sync his work email and personal email addresses with no problems.

Personally, I don’t care for either Android phones or the iPhone mostly because I don’t like touchscreen phones (I say this after using a touchscreen BlackBerry for 2 years).

Android’s openness and accessibility will be the biggest advantage the Nook has over the Fire/Kindle, but ultimately things like the iPad and the Samsung Tab will win out because they’re devices that can do lots of other things really well PLUS act as e-readers.

Comment by ohemgillie

thanks for the android explanation. i remember seeing billboards for android when i was at home and just not “getting” it – i couldn’t figure out why they were advertising what i guess is an operating system of sorts for phones, rather than actual phones. this helps make some more sense out of the article, as far as profits go – that apple makes far more money on each iPhone sold than google makes on each android phone sold, to the degree that apple doesn’t even have to think about market share.

I’m glad I’m not the only one not into touch screens. Something about them turns me off…they’re so easy to smudge, look so easy to break…plus, i’ve been operating for my whole life with one T9 equipped phone after another, and I’m not ready to move away from that.

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

QWERTY keypads are actually pretty easy to figure out. The one thing I really liked about my first BlackBerry was that you could program the keypad to be T9 and then switch QWERTY at any time.

Most touchscreen phones have the option of rotating to landscape, so the keypad is bigger. That also makes it easier to use when you’re just starting.

The one thing to watch out for is how the numbers are laid out. My dad’s Android has the numbers across the top of the keypad like a computer keyboard, which is really confusing on a phone. I don’t remember what the numbers are like on an iPhone, but I think it looks like what you’d expect a phone number pad to look like. BlackBerry does look like what you’d expect; on the touchscreen models, there’s a number lock button and on the seed key models, the numbers become the primary function if you’re in a number field, or you can hold ALT if you’re in a text field.

The #1 complaint I’ve heard from both Android and iPhone users is about the battery life, but I think that has to do with apps and whether you’re closing them properly or letting them run invisibly in the background.

Comment by ohemgillie

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