Why there will be fewer Kindle firmware updates in the future
Personally I’m used to updating software. Pretty much every week one or another piece of software on my PC updates – be it Windows itself, the antivirus, iTunes or whatever. I’ve subconsciously come to expect the same from Kindle. And at first Kindle firmware did update quite frequently:
- February 23 (day zero) – Kindle 2 is released
- March 7 (12 days later) – Kindle software 2.0.1 is released
- March 19 (12 days later) – Kindle software 2.0.2 is released
- April 20 (32 days later) – Kindle software 2.0.3 is released
- September 3 (136 days later) – Kindle software 2.0.4 is released but it takes a while for this update to find it’s way to all users. Kindle DX 2.1.1 is also out but I’m yet to get mine…
As you can see it seems that Kindle 2 got several updates soon after release and then there was silence.
Early update rush was caused by bugs in the new software. One or two updates were caused by law suit (Text-to-speech, and Orwell book deletion). However, note that none of the updates introduced new features. I guess Amazon sticks to the policy – don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.
Kindle DX and Kindle international share most of the software with original Kindle so there is little room for new critical bugs.
But most importantly, the number of Kindles in operation has exploded since the beginning of 2009. And this is probably the most important reason why we will not see many Kindle updates in the future and probably none of them will be feature driven. Amazon pays Sprint 12 cents per megabyte transferred. It would be safe to assume that Amazon gets similar pricing from AT&T for domestic traffic and a much higher price for data roaming. Average Kindle update is 2 megabytes in size. Because of the way Amazon structures the update packages, this accumulates as each subsequent update includes all previous updates as well. So first update was 2 megs, second one was 4, third – 6, etc.
6 megabytes times 12 cents is $0.72 per device updated. By some estimates there may be 2..3 million Kindle devices in operation. Let’s assume that 80% of devices are within wireless coverage (although in reality this number can be much higher). This adds up to $1,440,000 to $2,160,000 per software update deployment and increasing with every update version. And this is just to update domestic Kindles. I wouldn’t even want to think about the pricing to worldwide distribution. Also I wouldn’t want to be the software developer who makes a critical bug that causes an update or that software developer’s boss for that matter…
Given these numbers I don’t believe that Amazon would release update unless they have a very strong reason to do so. Strong reason being a court order or something else of this sort. This more or less addresses they questions of where Amazon will add folders, PDF support for Kindle 2 or official Unicode fonts for that matter via an update. The answer is a definite NO.
On the issue of fonts I’m most sure since Unicode fonts in the updates that I use (that add only partial support without all of the font styles) are 1.5..3 megabytes. Proper Unicode support can easily add up to 10 megabytes. So this would mean millions of dollars spent with potential to spend more millions in the future and near zero return of investment since although many people would like to have this feature, for most of them it’s not a deal-breaker (especially since on Kindle DX you can have any kind of fonts via PDF files). The few books that have non-Latin characters that Amazon sells use Topaz format to embed the extra glyphs that they need. So adding Unicode fonts would help customers read books that Amazon doesn’t sell. In this light the question about Unicode fonts via an update for existing devices is a no-brainer.
It is possible that this support would be included in Kindle 3 or whatever else the next generation Kindle will be called since in this case the cost for Amazon is just licencing fee for the fonts.