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Battle of the titans

28 September 2017

Two of the world's top tech companies are at war, and customers are being caught in the crossfire.

The companies I'm talking about are Google and Amazon.

Each company has worked hard to establish their position in the marketplace and although it might not seem like it at first, there is now significant overlap between some of the services and products on offer. This means competition!

Unfortunately, rather than competing on price, features and service - strategies that would see the customer as the ultimate winner, they are starting to fight dirty and that leaves customers disadvantaged and annoyed.

In the latest salvo between these waring factions, Google has just blocked YouTube videos for the users of Amazon's Echo device.

The "official" reason given by Google for this move is that the Echo delivers a broken "user experience" due to its incomplete feature-set and implementation.

Well that's arguable.

What the Echo doesn't deliver is ads.

With this in mind, some might (quite reasonably) consider that Google's blocking of YouTube videos is a sensible step because the Echo is effectively depriving them of the ad revenues which are YouTube's raison d'etre.

Others have suggested that at least users of YouTube's "RED" service (a subscription to YouTube which nixes the ads anyway) should be entitled to continue accessing the service via the Echo. The problem with this assertion is that the Echo has no capabilities for allowing those users to log in and establish their credentials.

This might seem like just a bit of tit-for-tat but it is actually the latest round in a skirmish that's been dragging on for quite some time now.

The previous conflict and exchange of blows surrounded the issue of streaming media boxes.

Google's Chromecast device won't stream Amazon's video content and Amazon won't allow the Chromecast to be sold on its shopping site. Tit for tat (again).

Now from where I stand, I probably tend to side with Google on this one (gasp!).

If I was creating an ad-funded product and a competitor had a device which used my content in a way that effectively bypassed the advertising, I'd be pissed off. This is really no different to walking into a hire centre and "borrowing" a trailer for a day without paying. No, nothing has been stolen (in the traditional sense) but the hire centre would have been deprived of revenue it should be entitled to.

However, I am surprised, given the move against Amazon, that Google hasn't revoked the YouTube API keys used by the Kodi YouTube add-on. Just like the Amazon Echo, the Kodi add-on doesn't display any advertising and given the number of folk who use Kodi these days, that audience (and resulting loss of revenue) would almost certainly be orders of magnitude more than the Amazon audience.

So is Google's move against Amazon one based solely on commercial expediency? Or is it something more?

I guess we can only speculate at this stage but I guess that something Amazon is doing or planning is in conflict with one or more of Google's future strategies and they want to take every opportunity to fire salvos at Amazon when they can.

How will Amazon respond to Google's move?

Well one thing is for sure... they have to do something. YouTube is the pre-eminent online video streaming service, totally eclipsing everything else on the Net (including Netflix and Amazon's own service). Not to have YouTube on a device like the Echo would be a big setback for Amazon -- but then again, I suspect that the pain of having ads served up by a competitor would also grate.

Ah well, children will be children I guess.

Meantime, as an aside, I find myself needing to buy a tablet computer (because I don't have, want or need a smartphone) and have been looking at the Lenovo Tab 4 Plus. What do readers think. It seems to have a current version of Android (7) and also has 5G wifi (important for some reviews I have in the pipeline). Anyone seen a better option at the same or lower price?

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