I’m not a terribly picky consumer. I mean there are particular shops and sellers I’ll favor for particular products (I get nearly all of my PC equipment from PC Case Gear, for instance) but if I’m looking for an one off item I’ll usually go wherever I can find the best price from a reputable seller. If I don’t get a recommendation from a friend this usually has me shopping through sellers on eBay or through price aggregation sites and for the most part I’ve never been lead wrong with this. My most recent experience, one that involves the Australian retailer Kogan, wasn’t a particularly bad experience but I feel that there’s some things people need to know about them before they buy something through this online only retailer.
So the item I was looking for was a Canon 60D to upgrade my ageing 400D that’s served me well for the past 5 years. I did the usual snoop through Ebay and some other sites and found it could be had for around $900, shipping included. After doing a bit more searching I found it available from Kogan for a paltry $849 (and it has since dropped another $20) and even when combined with the shipping it came out on top. The rest of the items I was looking at (namely a Canon EF 24-105 F/4L lens, Canon Speedlite 403EX II and a 32GB SD card) were also all available from there for a pretty good price. All up I think I got all the kit for about $150 less than I would have gotten it through eBay which is pretty amazing considering that I’ve struggled to find cheaper prices before.
I hit a hurdle with them when they requested a land line phone number they could call so they could verify the credit card information used in the transaction. I have a land line number but it’s not hooked up to anything (the only phone I’ve got seems to be broken as it doesn’t ring when I call it) as its just used for the Internet connection. I offered to forward this to my mobile if they needed it but they instead just called me on my mobile directly. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of people getting asked for land lines to verify things (I gave a reference for a friend and they insisted on being given one) so I don’t know if they can do some kind of verification on the back end that that number belongs to me or something, but even if they did then the same tech should work for mobiles as well. Anyway it was a small snag and it was just unfortunate that it meant my order didn’t get processed until the following Monday, no big deal.
Now since I ordered everything together I expected it all to come as one package but that’s not the case with Kogan. I received my 4 items in 4 separate deliveries through 2 different shipping companies. Now I’m lucky and my wife was at home because she is studying for exams but at any other time I wouldn’t have been there to pick up all these different items. This wouldn’t have been too bad if they all arrived on the same day but the delivery time from first received to last spans just over a week and a half with the last item arriving yesterday (I placed the order on the 01/06/2012). Considering that I’ve ordered similar items from Hong Kong, the 400D being one of them, and have managed to receive them all at the same time I found this piecemeal mailing approach rather annoying as I bought all the items to be used together and it wasn’t until yesterday that I had the completed package.
Looking at Kogan’s website you’d be forgiven for thinking that all their products were Australian versions until you get to the fine print at the bottom of the page. I’m not going to blame Kogan for this, they’re quite clear about the fact that anything that doesn’t carry the Kogan name will come from their HK branch, but it certainly does give the impression to the contrary. I’d like to think of myself as an observant person and I didn’t pick up on the fact that it would be coming from HK until I saw where it was being delivered from. This isn’t a bad thing per se, just something you should be aware of when you’re comparing them to similar sellers on eBay and the like.
Realistically had they shipped everything in one lot, even if it was a little late, I don’t think I’d be feeling as sour about my Kogan experience as I do now. I bought the items figuring that shipping wouldn’t take more than a week as I had an upcoming trip that the camera was intended for. Thankfully the trip was cancelled so I wasn’t left with half of the items that I wanted to take with me, but it could have just as easily gone the other way. I can probably see myself going back there for single items, possibly an extra battery for said camera, but for anything else I think I’ll be going elsewhere. This isn’t to say that you should though, but do take these points into consideration before making your purchase.
UPDATE: You should read my latest post on Kogan here as they’ve really improved the whole experience since I wrote this almost a year ago.
I remember buying my first high definition TV way back when my wife and I moved into our first house. Back when I was living in a share house (this was around 5~6 years ago now) one of my room mates made the decision to get one. After moving out I figured that I could go without one for a while since I had a relatively large CRT screen that I could use in the interim. It didn’t take long before the urge hit me and I set out to get one for myself.
My requirements were simple: I wanted a LCD that could do 1080p so that it would last me a fair while. Back then you were lucky to find any content that was greater than 480p that wasn’t on a DVD so I figured a 1080p screen would suit me for the foreseeable future. I had a budget limit too, $3000 was the top price I could pay and not a cent more. Of course all the sets that had my required feature set were well out of my price range, but I eventually lucked out when I found one that had a “bonus” 27″ set that I convinced them to take back and remove the price of it off the larger set. Flush with victory I walked out of there with a brilliant Samsung 46″ LCD display that still sits prominently in my living room today, and probably will for a few more years to come.
Now I consider myself something of an audio/visual buff (not to the point of stupidity, mind you) so there was another reason why I wanted something capable of 1080p. You see our eyes, well ones with 20/20 vision at least, are able to perceive details down to a resolution of about 1/60th of a degree of an arc. With this information in mind we can then extrapolate whether or not a screen of a certain size at a certain viewing distance will show any perceivable difference. At the time I relied on some helpful forums that had rough guides as to what resolutions needed to be viewed at what distances but I just recently found this chart which demonstrates the principle much more clearly:
Looking at my choice of screen (46″, 1080p) with my view distance (around 6~7ft) it’s clear that I made the right choice. Interestingly enough though should I want to go for the next resolution up and get the full benefit of it I’d have to get a screen that’s almost triple the size, which makes sense considering just how much higher resolution 4K footage is compared to 1080p. I’d strongly recommend using this as a guide if you’re considering buying a HDTV in the near future as there’s simply no reason to go for the biggest/highest resolution screen you can get if you’re not going to be able to tell the difference between it and a cheaper set.
This is all rendered somewhat moot by the fact that a set that’s very comparable to mine now retails for just $799 thanks to Kogan. Back when the choice between the biggest/best and the appropriate was on the order of a couple thousand dollars it really did matter. Today it’s not so much of a big deal as a very nice set can be had for under a third of the cost that it used to be and the differences between them are usually limited to the screen size.
You’d think that this kind of price differential would make my blood boil but it’s just the way technology works. If you want something like a HDTV there’s really no point in delaying it for the next model as there will always be something better and cheaper just around the corner. I committed to the purchase fully aware of what I was getting into but I also made sure that my cash would see use over many, many years. So in reality I’ve pretty much came out even and I have never felt wanting for a new HDTV.
I spent the better part of my youth pirating nearly every bit of software I wanted. It’s not that I was doing it on principle, no it was more that I didn’t have the cash required to fuel my insane desire for the latest computer hardware, software and everything else that I had my eye on back then. Sure you can argue that I should have just gone without instead of pirating but in the end they were never going to get money from me anyway. For those software and games developers that did make a decent product they’ve since received a well paying customer in the form of my current self who spends lavishly on collector’s editions and any software that he needs.
One area I’ve never paid a dime for (although I happily would, as I’ll explain later) is TV shows. I was a pretty big TV watcher as a kid, even going to the point of recording shows that I couldn’t watch in the morning (because I had to catch the bus) so that I could watch them in the afternoon. As I discovered the wonders of playing video on your PC I started to consume most of my media through there as it was just so much more convenient than waiting for a particular show to come on at a certain time. Australia is also quite atrocious for getting new shows as they’re released, usually coming to our shores months after their release to the rest of the world, if they do at all. However whilst I might be able to get everything for free it’s still somewhat of an inconvienence, especially when I see a service like Steam that has no replica in TV in Australia.
It’s not like these services don’t exist either. The USA has things like Netflix and Hulu that stream TV shows to users and the latter will even do so free of charge. From a technical standpoint there’s no reason why these services can’t work anywhere in the world, they’re just another set of packets travelling alongside all the others. However both of those services employ heavy geo-fencing, the process by which anyone connecting to it is identified by region and, should they be outside the USA, be blocked from viewing the content. Primarily this is because of licensing agreements that they have with the content providers who want to control which content goes where. For places like Australia however this just leads to people pirating the content instead of watching it on TV or buying it in stores, something I’m sure they’re not entirely happy about.
This issue came up recently when a bunch of ISPs got together and proposed a new system to deal with copyright infringement. On the surface it looked like long time supporters of privacy were caving under pressure from rights holders but it’s actually anything but. More its an idea to make the discovery process more open and focuses on educating the end users rather than punishing them. Whilst I don’t like the system proposed I did like the fact that they recognised rights holders needed to do a better job of providing content to Australia residents. The fact of the matter is many turn to piracy for the simple reason that they simply can’t get it anywhere else. A service like Hulu in Australia would be wildly popular and would be as good for the rights holders as Steam was for the games industry.
Steam has shown that convenience and service are what drive people to piracy, not strictly price. Of course Steam’s regular fire sales have made sure that people part with more cash than they usually would but the fact is that they deliver a product that’s on the same level of convenience (sometimes better) than the pirates do. Right now rights holders are still delivering products that are less convenient (and sometimes, even worse overall) and so the piracy option is far more attractive. I know this is asking a lot of an industry that’s feared technology for the better part of a century but in the end the problem doesn’t lie with the pirates, it lies with them.
Microsoft has a few ways it goes about building out a presence in a market. The first, and the most rare, is that the develop a product in house from scratch to compete directly in a market that’s currently booming. The most recent examples of these sorts of products are the Xbox and the Zune both wholly developed by Microsoft to compete in the gaming and portable music player industries respectively. The second way they establish themselves in a market is to buy out either the top competitor or one of the more successful competitors as they did for things like Softricity who were the leaders in application virtualization software. Lastly sometimes they’ll say they’re getting into a market but will never make any serious attempt to do so just to kill off any potential competition, which they attempted to do back when the iPad was still a rumor and they announced the Courier tablet which failed to materialize.
Whatever strategy they adopt to establish themselves in a chosen market there’s always one common theme to their approach: throw money at the problem until it becomes successful. Now this isn’t a strategy that every company can adopt (realistically only a minority can) but Microsoft is usually so flush with cash that they can afford years of losses without it posing any sort of risk to their core business. Most notably they did this for a good 7 years with the Xbox division before it managed to turn a profit, sinking billions of dollars into the product before it actually made them any sort of money. They also continue to do it for products like the Zune which continues to languish behind Apple’s iPod but that’s still got a couple years before it reaches the 7 year mark that the Xbox did, but there’s really little hope for that product.
Their latest endeavor which is seemingly flush with cash is their Windows Phone 7 product. Whilst the sales of the devices haven’t been that stellar they’ve still managed to take a small percentage of the smart phone market. Their partnership with Nokia sets the scene for them to become a potential juggernaut in this sector but they’ve got a long uphill battle ahead of them and the gamble isn’t a sure thing for either side. Microsoft now appears to be looking to strengthen their WP7 offering even further by shelling out a cool $8.5 billion dollars for everyone’s favorite communications app, Skype:
The purchase price includes the assumption of Skype’s debt.
The agreement has been approved by the boards of directors of both Microsoft and Skype.
Whilst the acquisition is not solely dedicated to the WP7 product line it’s still the one that has the most to gain from it. WP7 doesn’t currently support any form of video calling like Apple’s FaceTime or Google’s Video Chat does and Skype could provide a good chunk of the underlying infrastructure, saving Microsoft a lot of work. Skype’s vision of being available everywhere lines up quite well with Microsoft’s three screens idea and I’m sure they’ll be looking to leverage Skype’s vast network to push their cloud products further. Still one has to wonder if the $8.5 billion price tag they paid for Skype is worth it, considering its Microsoft’s biggest acquisition to date.
When I first heard of the news that Microsoft had bought Skype my first reaction was that this was a maneuver to deny Facebook the chance at getting it. There were rumors of Facebook testing the waters of an acquisition for a while but it seems that in the end the only serious bidders were Microsoft and Google. It then becomes clear that Microsoft simply did not want the Skype network in the hands of one of its largest competitors and Facebook was probably not that interested in the first place, especially if Microsoft (who owns 1.6% of Facebook) was going to pony up the cash for them anyway. Google might not have been completely serious about their offer anyway since they already have most of what Skype has to offer and might have just been making sure Microsoft spent more than it had to (hey they’ve done it before).
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft leverages this investment, especially with its current product lines that have direct synergies with Skype. They’ve certainly been doing all they can to make sure their mobile sector succeeds and if Gartner is to be believed then we’re less than 4 years away from them becoming the dominant platform. I’m not so sure about that idea but I do know that Microsoft does have the resources to throw at this problem until they become big in this sector, and the Skype acquisition is a testament to that fact.