Archive for Commentary
Blackberry used to be the definitive smartphone for business users until the iPhone and Android really took off. The Waterloo based company released Blackberry 10 a few years ago and changed the way they fundamentally ran their backend services. Now things are different, they are outsourcing all phone development to Foxconn and has signed an agreement with Amazon to offer apps to their users. Has Blackberry lost their way?
Business users and government were all enamoured with Blackberry because of their safe and secure environment. All emails, text messages and core services used to be routed through Blackberries own internet servers. This appealed towards people who travelled, because it would automatically compress pictures and attachments. The process resulted in less roaming fees for data consumption and telco companies actually sold Blackberry data plans as a separate entity.
Blackberry 10 changed the way data on the phones works by abandoning their internet service and now all information is delivered by the phone company. Not only does this result in higher costs for roaming and data but everything is less secure. BBM is the only facet of the modern day operating system that actually is still done through Blackberry, but it is a small compromise.
Most government and businesses have mostly abandoned Blackberry, you would be hard pressed to go a few weeks without another agency not renewing their contracts and going with Apple or Google. There simply isn’t any compelling reasons to stick with the company, when it involves a hefty cost of infrastructure and a less secure experience via Amazon.
I am not sure if most Blackberry customers are aware of the privacy ramifications of having Amazon services loaded on all Blackberry 10 smartphones. This will result in many peoples personal information being shared in order to serve you apps, books, magazines and videos easier.
Blackberry has lost its charm. I had every single phone since the original Pearl and stuck it out until the Q10 and Z10. Blackberry World is a ghost town and the company is letting go most of their development relations team. This will result in less apps being added in a native format, after all, 48,000 apps on World is done by a single developer. There is no BIS services anymore, which prevents me from saving money on roaming and traveling. Now the phone quality is diminishing with everything being outsourced to China.
I will stick with my iPhone 5 from now on, since the build quality is assured and I don’t have to worry about where my next app is being downloaded from or have to sideload in content just to get Instagram working.
An article appeared this past week in the New York Times that finally shows a bookseller and book industry professional doing something about Amazon. Instead of blog posts about the retail giant’s underhanded ways or entire three-day conferences devoted to how publishers can bring down the largest online retailer their industry faces, one book shop is going about the competition a little differently, namely by offering the titles that consumers currently can’t buy from Amazon.
According to the article by James B. Stewart, Third Place Books’ Robert Sindelar decided to take the high ground and offer certain Hachette titles at a significant discount, and even went so far as to hand deliver an eagerly anticipated bestseller’s follow-up to customers who pre-ordered it, something those same customers cannot currently do on Amazon. This extra effort may have seemed like it was more trouble than it was worth, but Stewart stated sales of the title were around twelve times higher than they would have been without these steps.
While Amazon and Hachette battle it out over the terms of their contract, retailers like Sindelar stand to gain by turning consumers’ attention to the benefits of shopping locally for their books. The extra effort might have only resulted in a small pay out right now, but these are the kinds of customer service steps that booksellers and publishers are going to have to envision if they want to get serious about the rising power of Amazon.
Unfortunately, one comment in Stewart’s article is as misguided as it is explanatory of the reason that nothing has been done about Amazon’s stronghold yet. Sindelar remarked that Amazon’s withholding of Hachette titles and refusal to allow pre-orders “violates our ethics as retailers.” There’s a code of ethics that business people are supposed to follow? Did someone forget to tell Amazon? For that matter, did someone forget to tell the publishers, who needed the Department of Justice to remind them of their so-called ethics?
A lot of the anger directed at Amazon in this instance comes from the notion that somehow books are more sacred than other objects that are for sale. And in many ways, books are more special than oil filters or diapers, not that Amazon doesn’t sell those objects as well. Possibly the fact that Amazon does sell those objects is what has made the bookselling side of their business into just another commodity, but it is the public who’s in the wrong for thinking that Amazon has some noble duty to be better than that, to rise above the sheer desire to make a profit. When the rest of the industry understands that Amazon is first and foremost a for-profit business, then perhaps they will start to interact with the retailer as though they are a business. The downfall right now is in pretending that Amazon has any goal in mind other than profit, and once publishers finally treat the retailer like its profit margin is its ultimate goal, then they can start to see new ways of doing business–with or without Amazon.
We’ve been hearing the question for some time now: What do we have to do to bring down Amazon?
Some companies have even tried it, which led to a pretty ugly Department of Justice investigation and resulting lawsuit, one whose damages are reportedly going to be well into the one billion dollar mark before it’s over. Of course, even within the bounds of the law publishers have been trying to find ways to cut their dependence on Amazon by launching direct-to-consumer initiatives and consumer campaigns like the “I Didn’t Buy It on Amazon” stickers that readers can proudly affix to the front of their books.
But all of that may be unnecessary, as the perfect foil for Amazon is happening as we speak. George Will, outspokenly moronic columnist for The Washington Post, may have finally published one piece too far, this time claiming that women basically like to be raped because it gives them certain privileges. Yes, he called sexual assault survivorship a “coveted status” that comes with little perks in a scathing piece that blames women on college campuses for their own harm. In an interesting aside, the paper has already published an arguing viewpoint that (of course) doesn’t finger point at George Will, but attempts to sooth the hurt feelings of women across the country.
We could argue the merits or the baseless jerkhood of Will’s article at length, and believe me, the social media sphere is doing just that. What I’d really like to know is where Will’s new employer stands on the issue.
Jeff Bezos, recent owner of The Washington Post, doesn’t mind making a little money off the women who write and publish what is arguably one of the most profitable genres out there, romance. So, apparently sex is a good thing when it’s selling books, but it’s pretty much a non-issue when it’s being forced on women?
Of course, Amazon did take a stand against erotica that was marketed to children in its Kindle store, so the company obviously does have some kind of conscience towards inappropriate or suggestive material when it’s aimed at the wrong audience. And while it’s unlikely that Bezos sat down with Will and crafted this ridiculous opinion piece over a couple of drinks, rubbing their hands maniacally and laughing their evil villain laughs, Bezos does have a corporate responsibility for what gets printed in his company’s newspaper.
Which is it, Amazon? Are we little sluts who deserve what we get, or are we a major source of income for your company? Perhaps you’d do well to avoid a boycott from the authors who helped put you where you are. You can argue that Amazon can withstand a lot of things, but you won’t survive a walkout of the most prolific and fan-centric writers you sell on a daily basis. It’s time to ditch the dead weight before George Will brings down an empire, because there are a lot of people rooting for your demise.
As a long time software entrepreneur and executive, my first “lesson” in how the publishing industry works occurred over a decade ago. As a founder of CreateSpace (now an Amazon.com company), we had developed a print-on-demand (POD) infrastructure that provided global inventory-free fulfillment of low velocity books. It had been adopted by tens of thousands independent authors and small publishers. Early on, we proposed our POD solution to a major publisher, with a clear value proposition: give us your out-of-print backlist, and for no effort earn incremental sales. The sales pitch could not have gone better. Lots of smiles, nods, agreement. But when we went for the close, the response from the large publisher was essentially, “it all sounds fantastic … but we are never the first to do anything.” We solved a major publisher problem, yet the status quo prevailed.
In our latest BiblioBoard venture, we identified a problem that seems even larger in scope and threatens the long-term role and viability of libraries in the digital age. The problem revolves around existing library eBook lending platforms and can be summed up as follows:
- Patron usage of eBooks remains very low (6% or less), particularly compared to popular consumer products from Amazon and Apple (back in 2011, Amazon announced that eBook adoption had passed 50%).
- Libraries are operating in fear of success, as higher patron usage (under the existing eBook circulation business rules) leads to increased wait lists, budget crises, or both. If they succeed, they create more problems.
So we find ourselves again up against the wall of the status quo.
If one were to look at the demand curve for a typical publisher catalog, we would find a large head (the “front list”) and a very long tail. Intuitively we understand that most consumer book sales occur in the first year or two after publication. Publishers require that libraries use these artificially constrained eBook circulation rules to protect the value of their front list, perhaps 5% of the overall catalog. But they also applied the same business rules to the other 95%. This has resulted in an amazingly clunky user experience (long wait lists, cumbersome check out processes, limited reading periods, etc.) and, not surprisingly, low patron usage. And these circulation rules address a largely a made up problem, as usage stats illustrate that these rules are simply not necessary for most long-tail (lower demand) books. Ironically, this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, as usage drives library priorities, budgets and funding. The result is a chasm has now been torn between the publishing and library worlds, an unnecessarily adversarial relationship with an incredibly influential industry.
The reality is that publishers are also afraid. And not without justification, as their traditional business models have been materially impacted by market forces. They fear the negotiating power of Amazon, who has now moved into publishing. They fear the democratization of book distribution brought on by the success of self-publishing, which thanks to companies such as our CreateSpace alma mater, have demonstrated that independent authors have a legitimate place in the world of media bestseller lists. They fear cannibalization from library distribution. They fear the unknown, and they fear change. Or rather, as Ronald Heifetz once said “What people resist is not change per se, but loss.”
There is another way to bridge the divide. Let me paint a metaphor. Netflix has millions of users and is incredibly intuitive and engaging. Notably, users have no expectation when they subscribe to Netflix that they will get the latest content. Indeed, it is only after movies and shows have exhausted their prime consumer business potential (theaters, DVD, on-demand, etc.) does it become available to subscribers. This does not, in any way, imply that the service is not of high value. Moreover, the service has had little cannibalistic impact on sales, and it actually has many marketing benefits. After Netflix offered the Breaking Bad series, it drove millions of consumers to buy the latest season (myself included :). It also exposed new content and artists to millions of consumers who might not otherwise have discovered their resonance. Best-selling author Hugh Howey gets this, and uses his back list to drive sales of his front list. Library Journal recently found that over 50% of library users go on to purchase books by an author they discovered in the library. So the library has become an effective vehicle for independent authors to get discovered and build a marketing presence. Library Journal’s SELF-e program addresses the fundamental challenge libraries face in this navigating self-published content.
Libraries also have an important role in bridging this divide, where there is an interesting philosophical debate that surrounds the central question of whether it is the role or responsibility of libraries to provide patrons with access to best sellers at the same time as paying consumers. Many view it as a social responsibility to not “restrict access” to books that patrons might not be able to afford. One library received much attention for spending $23,400 for patron access to a single eBook title, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Putting aside the literary merit of this particular book, the question is really whether this is a good use of finite resources, when that money could be used to expose patrons to far larger pools of great literary content. Is the central role of the library to level the economic playing field between the content haves and have nots, or is it broadly promote literacy and education?
Both libraries and publishers have a role to play in this drama. But an important first step is to understand the other’s position and find a better model, because the current one just isn’t working. Libraries can become the biggest advocate for publishers but they can’t as long as they are understandably reluctant to recommend or promote content that their patrons can’t actually easily access, and thus causes them more pain. Our BiblioBoard Library platform also plays a role in addressing these challenges, helping libraries and publishers find common ground. An upcoming Publishers Weekly executive roundtable is focused on bridging this divide. The focus of BiblioBoard is exclusively on enabling an amazing patron experience (the three E’s of software design that I outlined in my recent TEDx Talk: Easy, Elegant and Engaging), providing a shared software service that handles all the technical challenges of our mobile world, and an open platform with the freedom to deliver ANY content they want. And, of course, we continue to work with publishers around our PatronsFirst business model, and today have hundreds of publishers (and over 100,000 books) ready for the brave new world. Status quos are meant to be broken.
When it comes to self-publishing an eBook there are only a few companies out there that are worth an authors time. Amazon has Kindle Direct Publishing which dominates the marketplace and accounts for 75% of all digital book sales in North America. Barnes and Noble and Kobo are two other companies that offer indies the ability to market their books domestically and internationally. Wattpad is one of the largest to publish in the serialized format and has some authors with over 190 million reads. Needless to say, all of these companies are tremendously profitable and are the only avenues that have a widespread appeal.
Major publishers have all missed the boat on self-publishing when they should have innovated. Companies like Hachette, Penguin/Random House, HarperCollins should have been the ones that developed Wattpad or their own version of Nook Press or Kobo Writing Life. They could have capitalized on rising talent and signed the best ones to book deals. Another tremendous benefit is customer sales data, buying behaviors and other valuable metrics that companies like Amazon and Apple don’t share.
Some publishers got into the self-publishing game by acquiring other companies and not developing their own in-house solution. In 2012 Penguin purchased Author Solutions, which is much akin to a Vanity Press. Author Solutions mainly solicits manuscripts from authors, provides editing and marketing services, and publishes the books in print or digital format. The company generally requires writers to pay, though it does offer free services through its Booktango product. Over 150,000 people have published with the company since they unveiled their services back in 2007. In order to do well with this platform, customers are encouraged to pay thousands for top tier packages. Most of Author Solutions employees are marketers who always try and upsell services.
Harlequin invested in digital quite early with their Carina press imprint. Carina Press pays 40% of net digital receipts to books sold on 3rd party retail sites and 50% of net digital receipts to books sold directly on the Carina Press website. The companies contract also lays out royalties for the other rights, such as audio, print and foreign translation. It is a free service and geared mainly towards romance and erotica.
Publishers were in a perfect position five years ago to provide a viable self-publishing program. They missed the boat and Amazon become the unstoppable juggernaut that pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars piggybacking on the indies. The Seattle based company is vilified by everyone in the publishing industry because they developed and executed an idea that the traditional publishers were unable to do.
The Digital Landscape
Seven years after the launch of the iPod touch and the opportunities for interactivity it brought to digital publishers, what have magazine publishers learned? We know that app consumption is continuing to rise and that time spent with mobile apps now exceeds desktop web access. According to Gartner, 800 million tablets will be sold in 2015. It’s not unlikely that emerging countries will go directly to tablets, bypassing desktop computers and even laptops entirely.
Making content available on tablets has become as important as having a website. That need is increasing worldwide. Tablets’ and smartphones’ market share is not the only important factor: technology adoption is a key point, too. Some countries show a widespread use of smartphones but not a lot of app downloads. When choosing the platform they want to distribute on, publishers have to determine where consumers are the most active and if they buy content or only access what is available for free. That’s why Apple represents an important platform: iTunes is one of the first places to distribute digital content. If it’s not necessarily the distribution platform with the most important or largest volume, it is the most profitable one. And for media publishers, this is a key point – but not the only one to take into consideration.
Digital is a fast-changing market, and publishers have to accelerate their process. New versions of tablets and smartphones appear every six months, so publishers need to be up-to-date and ready to evolve to the next important platform. The adoption rate of digital reading is growing so as the benefits from additional platforms such as Android, Kobo and Amazon. That’s why it’s necessary for publishers to go multi-platform. But how can you go digital and multi-platform amongst the challenges many magazine publishers now face, and without increasing costs?
Lessons From Successful Publishers
As a technology provider for digital publishing since the beginning, we, at Aquafadas, have seen successful magazine publishers that are leading the way. They start by analyzing their market as well as the general public. They want to know who their target audience is, when they are connected, what kind of information they are looking for, what level of enrichments they enjoy. Based on that information, they plan a digital strategy, taking into account not only year one, but also year two. That means that they don’t publish one single amazing and super-expensive app – they develop a plan to publish on an industrial scale.
These publishers keep cost recovery in mind; they want to build a wealthy digital market for themselves. Because digital publishing is less expensive than print, this part is not as tricky as it may sound. Some publishers were able to recover their costs simply by offering the digital version for one more dollar to their current print subscribers or by sourcing one single sponsor. Because those publishers want to sell their digital content and therefore benefit from it, they are attentive to the reading experience and to how they can add enrichments and further enhance the app in the future.
The marketing of the app is the other important part of many publishers’ success. Communication around the launch of the app is key. Building a digital community is also a factor of longevity. The most successful publishers make community development a big part of their digital publishing strategy. They leverage digital publishing technology to interact with the community on a regular basis and in a clever way. Features like account creation, push notifications, profiling and more allow them to understand digital readers’habits and form better relationships by delivering the right content when and where they want it.
As technology progresses, we can see boundaries between the various media blur even further; it’s vital that we are ready for these changes. TV, radio, mobile and web will eventually converge, and asset-centric tools will leverage associated metadata (content, video, audio, still image) to create incredible user experiences with no limits. At Aquafadas, we are witnessing an exciting change in our market, and it’s thrilling to be part of it.
There are many books we all intend on reading someday and even go out of our way to buy, in the hopes we might read them. Sometimes they are a classic like Catch 22, War and Peace or The Republic.In other cases its published recently and we hear about it in the media, such as 50 Shades of Grey, The Casual Vacancy or the Goldfinch. What makes us abandon books after a few pages or never quite get into it?
Social Media website GoodReads recently published a piece on the psychology of abandonment. Their research found that Catch-22, Lord of the Rings, Ulysses, Moby-Dick, and Atlas Shrugged were the top abandoned books.
The top five most abandoned contemporary books included J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Eat Pray Love. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Wicked” were also frequently discarded.
Why do we abandon books after a few pages or get back to them years later? Does the average person really read everything a specific author writes, or just stay locked into their favorite genres? A number of people weighed in on the subject.
“I adore the Harry Potter books, but I’m not the kind who would read everything written by a favourite author and in the case of Rowling, I refuse to read her other novels (excluding the three Harry Potter companion books), The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling.”
Another user weighed in and mentioned “I read for pleasure and to escape the real world, and not to better myself. I’d become a better person by reading those serious tomes, I know, but since I haven’t read them, I’m not a better person, and thus won’t read them.”
Xanthe contributed his thoughts “There are a lot of books that I can’t finish, mainly books with heroines who are too stupid to live (or too annoying to be around) or heroes who are totally scarred by the deaths of their partners for which they blame themselves. Or books about middle-aged women whose husbands have divorced them unexpectedly and now find love with a younger man. Or poor Irish maidservants at the turn of the 20th century who become matriarchs of a dysfunctional clan. Or mysteries in which whodunit is telegraphed by easy process of elimination. Or books in which a whole chapter is devoted to a sex scene for no plot-driven purpose (I’m looking at you, Laurell K. Hamilton). Or “important” books that are supposed to make me reflect upon the human condition by portraying lives of people that I wouldn’t like if I knew them in real life. Or books that are so excessively footnoted to the point that the author has managed to destroy any interest that I might have had in the topic because the rhythm of the books is constantly broken up by them.”
We live in a world of tremendous political upheaval and lobbying groups consistently push their own agenda. When it comes to digital books, they are less immune to being edited or certain passages, words or phrases being replaced and substituted with something else. How do we know our eBooks are not being altered when we buy them from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo or iBooks?
Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in 1884. There are over 200 racial slurs spread throughout the book and it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the USA, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright. Alabama-based publisher, NewSouth books published in 2011 a new edition of the book that replaced certain words with more politically correct ones. The publisher went on a PR speaking tour of libraries and schools to hype the fact this particular version of the book is acceptable to be sold.
One of the big proponents that contribute to the overall problem is open sourced books that are royalty free and not have a copyright. Many publishers such as Penguin resell them as Penguin Classics, and other companies like Project Gutenberg give them away for free. Public domain books can be edited or changed without reason and then resold and distributed through other self-publishing platforms. There are no gatekeepers, no one to make the judgement call if this is best practice.
Many European countries actively erect barriers to combat the problem of changing words in a book. They have what’s known as a moral rights that has no time limit. So you are not allowed to significantly change work and publish it even if the commercial copyright has expired. Moral rights have had a less robust tradition in the United States. Copyright law in the United States emphasizes protection of financial reward over protection of creative attribution.
In a recent thread at the e-reading website MobileRead one user explained their reasons of changing the fabric of a book “I recently uploaded The Queen of Hearts (a collection of novels written in the 1850s) by Wilkie Collins to the MR library. As well as changing ‘gayety’ to ‘gaiety’ and ‘gayly’ to ‘gaily’ I also changed ‘gay’ to ‘light-hearted’. I did this because the English language has changed in the last 150 odd years. In our day ‘a gay man’ would almost certainly be read as ‘a homosexual man,’ and this is simply not what Collins meant – he would have used a different term if he had dared to mention a character’s sexual orientation at all. I did add a note to the posting that I had updated spelling and hyphenation – I also changed ‘to-day’ to ‘today’ for example.”
We are experiencing turbulent times when books are banned and publishers want to push out their own sanitized versions. Others merely clean up old English with modern day English to make books more accessible. Many people believe making any edits is a horrible violation of the author’s work and a disservice to readers. I lean towards that mentality primarily due to respecting literary history.
Authors are battling the economics of words in the modern era of traditional and self-publishing. Many book deals encourage authors to release a set number of books a year and indies need to engineer their own ebooks, do their own layouts and generate the books to ePub and Kindle friendly formats. Trade authors need to pump out as many books as possible and indies shoulder a tremendous amount of burden to not only write a book, but market it stronger to get sales. All of these factors are contributing to the overall decline of quality and the death of the great American novel.
Author Tracy Hickman was responsible for the success of TCR publishing with his Dragonlance chronicles. Dragons of Autumn Twilight captured the imaginations of many youth in 1984. After his run with the publisher he engaged in self-publishing six years ago. He now works 12-14 hours a day writing four times the books he’s comfortable writing because he makes a fourth of what he used to. During a recent interview at AnomalyCon in Denver Tracy said “My audience of 6 million no longer find me because the book store is dying. A book signing in older days would have fans lining around blocks just to have my signature, but a booksigning now might only get six people. I have a 6 million following and they don’t remember me.”
Tracys comments of self-publishing eliminating success on the physical retail level are quite telling. Borders, B. Daltons and Waldens are all bankrupt and out of business, the process of book discovery has been severely diminished. Self-publishers normally just do it digitally and it limits the reach of the books, but does allow them to make more money.
Authors like Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steele, Maya Banks and many others pump out more than five titles a year. They have big publishing deals that mandate X amount of books being sent out. Authors who do not have a well known names are often forced to either not write at all or change their genres. Many big New York publishing companies are not really accepting submissions for vampire paranormal or erotica books because the market is too saturated. Unless you are a EL James, Silva Day or Anne Rice you will have to write about something else.
Lee Siegel wrote a piece for the New York Observer back in 2010 declaring that the American public no longer talk about novels and that this creative form, once so full of fire, has lost its spark for ever. “For about a million reasons,” Siegel claimed, “fiction has now become a museum-piece genre most of whose practitioners are more like cripplingly self-conscious curators or theoreticians than writers. For better or for worse, the greatest storytellers of our time are the non-fiction writers.”
There has been no notable great American novels since self-publishing became popular in 2007. Authors who switch from trade to self-pub like having more flexibility and a greater revenue stream. The stark truth is that they are under the gun to write serialized fiction, short fiction and Kindle Singles in order to make mortgage payments and to sustain their lifestyle. There is no time to write that epic novel because they need to be making money pronto. Authors who sign with a publishing label are often stifled by their chosen literary genre and are discouraged by editors and agents to not branch out. All authors have to sell themselves by visiting libraries, doing book signings, visiting literary events, writing on a blog and engaging in social media. It is a full time job to promote yourself and write at the same time, all of these factors combine degrade the quality of literature.
We live in a world where each major operating system has a digital assistant. Apple is the most well known with Siri, followed by Google Now and the recently announced Microsoft Cortana. The priority seems to be on mobile phones and to a lesser degree tablets. e-Readers have never had this sort of software, but maybe its high-time they start to incorporate it.
During the last few years most e-readers have ditched onboard audio of any kind. A few years ago Amazon, B&N and Kobo all had speakers and a 3.5 mm headphone jack to allow readers to listen to music or audiobooks. When they all decided to offer the most cost effective devices possible and compete heavily against each other, audio had to go. This prompted a massive backlash from the National Federation of the Blind which had numerous protests outside Amazon headquarters. The lack of audio has also been a major factor on why schools never embraced them.
e-Readers overall are fairly refined and affordable. I think its time that they start to incorporate audio functionality once more, or at least have a higher priced option for consumers. One of the direct benefits would be for a digital assistant that would be able to aid visually impaired people by being able to launch tasks by voice. You could say “Michael, open the Hunger Games – Catching Fire” and it would open the book for you. Alternatively, after reading the book you could prompt the reader to buy the next one in the series. In addition you could do common tasks like access your Dropbox account or open an audiobook.
If a digital assistant were to be done right, it would suddenly make e-readers more accessible for the elderly and disabled. It would make purchasing and opening content much easier and give a reason for companies like Kobo to develop an audiobook catalog.
The idea for this news item came to me after reading about Microsoft Cortana. This is a new beta feature that will come out with the release of Microsoft Mobile 8.1. It has integration with Skype that will allow you to call people by merely using your voice. It has compatibility with Bing to search the web and is voiced by the same voice actor that did Cortana in the Halo Series.
Do you think this idea makes sense? Programming one on Linux would be the most viable solution, as most companies use it for their OS. Sony and Nook buckle the trend with Android, but are minor players in the arena.