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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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Amazon Joins With HTC to Enter Smartphone Market

It appears that the long-rumored Amazon smartphone will become a reality at some point in 2014. We have heard talk and speculation about it since as early as 2011, but now it seems that HTC has been tapped to help Amazon put together a real contender to stand up to Apple and Google.

People familiar with the project recently mentioned to FT that at least one device is in an advanced stage of development and that if things don’t change in the meantime there is every reason to expect a launch sometime next year. Amazon, of course, declines to confirm these rumors.

If Amazon were to release a device using the same sales philosophy as it employs with the existing Kindle line – sell near cost and make your profits through use – then there is little doubt that adoption would be strong.

This would put HTC in a bit of a bind with Google, who has proven to be proficient at protecting their brand over the past couple years. Given the release of HTC’s less than successful Facebook Phone, though, they probably have the details about that already under consideration.

Watch for more news toward the end of this year. Amazon might not be willing to confirm, but a Kindle smartphone is going to have leaks along the production line and it should be particularly interesting to see what these reveal along the way.

Kindle Fire Father’s Day Sale Going On Now

Going on now through the end of June 8th, Amazon is offering a $20 discount on any Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, or Kindle Fire HD 8.9” 4G if you remember to use the promo code “DADSFIRE” when you check out.  Supplies will probably hold out through the end, but you might want to get in early if you’re interested.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you take advantage of this offer.

Kindle Fire HDThe most important is probably that each of these models includes Special Offers from Amazon and its affiliates.  These can be removed, but it requires a $15 fee to be paid in addition to the purchase price.

Not a huge problem, but it’s worth being aware of since this is a sale centered on a gift giving holiday.  To be fair, the only time you’re likely to notice the ads is when you’re first turning on your tablet.  They mainly take up the lock screen.

It’s also important to note that none of the Kindle Fire HD options involved in this sale come with their own wall charger.  They will instead have a Micro USB cord to connect to any convenient computer.  If you have a phone charger with a removable USB cord, chances are good that you can simply plug your Kindle into that using the included cord.  Amazon doesn’t recommend that, but they’re selling independent wall plugs for $20 apiece so they might be biased.

The hardest part of this deal is really just deciding which model is the right one.  They are all fine devices, but they excel in different ways.

The Kindle Fire HD is the obvious choice in terms of price.  $179 for the 16GB model is a great deal.  You get a highly portable tablet with a great screen and some of the best sound available for the best price anywhere.

Of course, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” is even better in its own ways.  At just $279 you’ll be able to pick up a significantly larger tablet.  Watching video on the larger model is much more pleasant, even if it means that you’re not going to be fitting it into even the largest pockets.  The sound is also much improved here since the speakers are able to sit even further apart.

The Kindle Fire HD 8.9” 4G is basically the same thing.  It’s a lot more expensive at $379, though.  Really this should only be considered if you’re giving it to somebody who travels outside the range of wireless networks on a regular basis.  The extra $100 won’t bring nearly as much benefit as you would think to most people.

While you’re shopping for Father’s Day, keep in mind that the Kindle is only as good as its media.  There are all sorts of books that are free or cheap enough to be easy to include with the tablet itself.  The app selection over at Amazon is also quite a bit more impressive than it used to be.  It’s easy to make a good gift great with just a little effort.

Introducing Amazon Coins: A Digital Currency for Kindle Fire Owners

Amazon’s most recent Kindle Fire marketing effort is the introduction of Amazon Coins.  They’ve released their own digital currency that can be used to purchase apps and games from the Amazon Appstore.  On the surface it’s a confusing move, given the larger trend of companies moving away from internally controlled currencies, but there’s a lot to be said for the idea if it is handled correctly.

Most users should already have received the email informing them that 500 Amazon Coins have been added to their account.  That will hopefully give people a chance to get interested in the idea.  This will not be blocking off real currency-based purchases, of course.  That’s going to be an important consideration, since systems that completely replace all other forms of money with their own tend to enjoy little enthusiasm.  One mistake easily avoided.  Even Microsoft has been forced to begin removing their digital currency thanks to that approach despite a large and dedicated user base.

Most likely, the goal here is twofold: Encourage more frequent spending and allow for more options where children are concerned.  The addition of an alternate currency model that can be used for these tasks makes perfect sense so long as they are not forced on the customer without their input.

Consider the potential for the Amazon Coin as a micro-transaction currency.  Rather than needing to enter a password for every payment, a customer can purchase 100 coins for a dollar and spend them at their leisure with no hassle.  Abuse is limited since there is a hard limit to how much of the currency is present at any given time.  Annoying lists including dozens of $0.05-0.10 transactions are removed from statements.  Customers even feel more free to make the occasional transaction they might otherwise have avoided, since the Coins are already sitting there.

When it comes to children, this has the additional benefit of security.  Nobody wants a repeat of the early iPad problems that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of purchases being made by those too young to grasp what they were doing, but at the same time parents often want to be able to allow free use of the devices.  By setting up a separate wallet for this sort of thing, Amazon could allow these parents to offer an allowance of sorts that doesn’t require regular input of a password or PIN.

Amazon is known for offering frequent promotions with purchases.  This will certainly continue to be the case.  While the occasional free MP3 or video credit might be beneficial for some and overlooked for others, it’s going to be easier to encourage people to make use of these freebies if they have a wallet to fill up with Amazon Coins.  This will encourage app purchasing and use while giving developers even more incentive to join the platform.  Considering the fact that Amazon’s Appstore for Android already shows superior returns when compared to the Google Play app store, it’s only going to get harder for anybody to justify staying away.

Amazon Picks Up Goodreads For Kindle Social and More

GoodreadsA few weeks ago, Amazon announced that they were going to acquire Goodreads, one of the most popular social sites on the internet for book lovers.  Goodreads has become a great place to go for sharing reviews, recommendations, ideas, and more since its debut in 2007.  While this is certain to be mutually beneficial in many ways, we have to assume that the goal here is to develop the Kindle Social experience into a real selling point for the eReader line.

The Kindle has an interesting position with regard to social interaction.

By its very nature it allows greater privacy than most paper books would.  No matter what situation you happen to be in, nobody can tell what you are reading without looking directly over your shoulder or asking you.  This cuts out the opportunity for people to randomly discover shared literary interests.

At the same time, because it offers access to practically any book in print at a moment’s notice there is a lot of opportunity for sharing and recommendations.  Users just need a way to willingly share their activity now that book covers can’t do the job.  The current integration with Twitter and Facebook are alright in this regard, but really a dedicated space for that sort of posting would go over better.  Hence the Goodreads acquisition.

There are a few things that both organizations stand to gain beyond that, of course.

One of the main services that Goodreads provides its users is book recommendations.  Regardless of what your opinions are of their other business strengths, nobody is going to deny that Amazon is the best there is at accurately targeting recommendations based on previous purchases.  Taking that technology and applying it to these book lists will improve the performance immensely.

That helps to drive up business at Amazon, since the Kindle Store remains the best place to buy eBooks.  In addition to the sales, there’s a wealth of data to work with on the Goodreads site.  Tying the review system there into the main Amazon site could provide much more accurate information for potential shoppers.  The associations and trends found between various readers will probably do some good in refining recommendations further as well.

It’s going to be a while yet before anything changes.  The acquisition that was just announced won’t actually take place for a couple months.  Even after that there will need to be a fair amount of work before anything is ready for release.

Millions of readers are about to get a much more robust social experience out of their reading.

Amazon Acquires Ivona Software

Amazon announced today that they will acquire Ivona Software.  Ivona is the company that currently supplies the Kindle Fire line of tablets with its speech recognition capabilities.  Although there is little in the way of details regarding the terms of purchase, we can be certain that this signals an increased emphasis on audio input in the future for these products.

The immediate assumption that has to be made after this acquisition is that Amazon has its eye on a Siri imitation or something with similar capabilities.  Now naturally there has been some disappointment over how poorly Siri has lived up to the hype for iPhone users, but that doesn’t change anything about the appeal of the concept or the possibility that this could be a big thing for the future.

That’s especially true if Amazon ever comes through with their frequently-rumored Kindle Phone.  While we haven’t exactly seen any details emerging so far, indicating that this is a long way off yet even if it will probably be a future focus for the company, building this sort of capability to establish feature parity with Apple and Google products only makes sense.  There wouldn’t be much room to undercut prices the way the Kindle Fire made its big first impression on the tablet scene, so being able to line up with other popular smartphones feature for feature could be particularly important.

On the tablet side of things, there are other ways that Ivona could help things improve. Since the Kindle Fire HD is a consumption-based media tablet, it’s only natural to assume that something along the line of the Microsoft Kinect’s voice controls could be in the works as well.  Hooking up a tablet to stream Amazon Instant Video to your HDTV and being able to control it with a word from across the room would be quite nice if they can pull it off properly.

The potential for improving accessibility is also worth noting.  Ivona already works in various ways to improve support for the blind and visually impaired.  That would probably be more useful on the eReader side of things.  Amazon’s initial attempts to get their eReading line made into a standard educational tool were hindered by its inability to accommodate the visually impaired.  They have come a long way since then in various products, but this could offer new directions for them to approach the problem from.

Perhaps most important, though less impressive in terms of new feature selections, is the possibility that this will lead to more expansive localization options.  The press release makes a point of noting that Ivona offers voice and language products in 44 voices across 17 languages with a number more still in development.  Given the international growth of the Kindle line as a whole, that’s not a bad resource to be able to draw on.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9” First Impressions

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD 8.9” tablet is now shipping out to many of those who got their preorders in early.  While new customers will have to wait until at least December 3rd for their new devices to be mailed, it’s a good time to take a look at what Amazon has done here and what the chances are that they will be able to mark a success in the large tablet section of the market.

Mostly I’m looking at the actual experience of using the new tablet.  Now that it’s possible to play with, we can get a good idea of how it’s going to go over with customers throughout the holiday season.

Display

The visuals are nice.  We’re working with a much higher resolution now and it shows.  The colors are basically the same as you find on the smaller model.  Not much more to say than that there is absolutely nothing to complain about here, even when it comes to watching HD video content.

Sound

Maybe it’s just because of how impressive the last Kindle Fire I had in hand turned out to sound, but I was looking forward to hearing what this one could do. The quality is almost exactly the same.  There might be some small improvement over the 7” model when it comes to the effectiveness of the stereo speakers but if so it’s minimal.  Still, both Kindle Fire HD models stand above every other tablet on the market today when it comes to sound quality.

General User Experience

The 8.9” model is a bit harder to use one-handed but it’s still not bad in that respect.  In every other way I find it superior to the 7”.  The weight is little enough that long use isn’t a problem.  The larger screen makes for better browsing and app usage.  The size is about as large as it can get without becoming as unwieldy as an iPad.  Not bashing the iPad, this is just going to see a lot more regular use than mine by comparison because of the slight decrease in size.

Overall

This would make a good selection for anybody wanting a slightly more powerful consumption tablet.  It’s smaller than either the Nexus 10 or the iPad, but larger than the less expensive budget tablets that Amazon is known for dominating.  The price is right at $299, though I would recommend springing for the extra storage available at $369 if the option is available.

If you want a portable device to watch video on, this is likely to be the best thing on the market for a while.  The Kindle Fire HD 8.9” combines sound, video, and streaming quality to make a truly excellent experience.

If you’re looking for a functional tablet for productivity, it’s still ok?  The iPad (and now Microsoft’s Surface) is the leader in terms of tablet productivity for a reason.  Make no mistake, Amazon isn’t intruding there yet.  This should be viewed purely as a means to tap into their ecosystem and the media sources it can link you to.  What it tries to do, however, the new Kindle Fire does very well indeed.

Kindle Fire HD 8.9” Takes on iPad But May Face Other, Unexpected Competition

We’ve recently talked about the release of the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9”.  It’s a solid device that gives every indication of being worth an investment.  While not quite as versatile as many Android tablets due to Amazon’s proprietary software configuration that prevents access to the Google Play service, there is little else to complain about and a lot to be excited for.  Some reports indicate that between this and the 7” model, Amazon’s tablets will outsell the iPad Mini 2 to 1 over the upcoming holiday season.

All that sounds great for Amazon and it’s definitely a sign that they will remain a major part of the Android tablet scene for some time to come.  They may be in trouble as time goes on, however.  The problem is not what many people have expected.  The iPad is hard to compete against, but the surge in video game consoles with touchscreen accessories may hit Amazon in a major way.

The Wii U just dropped, which is what brings this to mind.  Nintendo’s new console comes with a controller that doubles as a tablet.  It offers a supplementary second display that should come in handy in everything from game play to movie watching.  Sure, it requires a Wii U console to work, but that also allows the user to tap into a wide selection of content associated with that system.

Microsoft is also said to be working on a 7” tablet to supplement the Xbox 360 and the as-yet unannounced Xbox 720.  Their Smartglass software already allows anybody with a portable device (smartphone or tablet), or even a convenient PC, to tap into the console experience.  The Xbox Tablet, as it’s being called, will offer many of the same benefits that the Wii U controller boasts as well as serving the role of standalone portable.

Now, the main use of the Kindle Fire line is in consumption.  Amazon designed them for that purpose and there has been no real effort to make them into anything but a convenient gateway into Amazon’s digital content selection.  This means that in many ways the same customers they are looking at attracting are also likely to be interested in gaming and entertainment consoles, for obvious reasons.  If we’re looking at a class of devices that are exceedingly popular and tie into their own proprietary tablets, as in the case of these consoles, it may cut into Kindle Fire prospects.

While this is all speculation, I can’t help but feel that Amazon is going to have to come up with some special service that distinguishes their hardware offering in the next year or so.  The budget tablet market is still going strong, but there are a lot of big names that seem about as well equipped as Amazon who are set to enter the market.  Since all the digital content sold through the company is meant to be platform-agnostic, there’s going to need to be something special done.  Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before the iPad is just one of many strong competitors for the Kindle Fire HD.

Amazon Offers Unity Plugins to Kindle Fire Developers

Amazon has been making an effort to interest app developers, especially game developers, in their distribution platform lately.  As has been mentioned here in the past, their GameCircle will allow for all sorts of social features to be integrated into just about any game without much trouble.  Before this, many of the more popular Android games were unable to make use of their full feature set because of the Kindle Fire’s disconnection from Google services.

Moving forward along the same lines, Amazon has released plugins for the popular Unity game engine that should make it easier than ever for developers to add some in-app purchasing to their productions and build GameCircle into their games.

There are a number of reasons that this will be attractive.  According to the press release regarding these plugins, in-app purchasing averages more than twice the revenue generation of paid app sales per transaction.  Developers who can interest their users enough to encourage the occasional purchase will benefit from ongoing sales and therefore enjoy a fairly nice stream of income.

The GameCircle features help with this.  GameCircle’s main attractions are Leaderboards, Achievements, and Whispersync for Games.  The first two are easy ways to nudge players into spending more time immersed in the app.  More exposure and more personal time investment means more likelihood of making a casual purchase.  The latter feature, Whispersync for Games, encourages use of multiple devices and allows players to pick up where they left off even if they delete local data.  That means that there is a far lower bar to replay should somebody be interested in running through their favorites a second time.

This will be both good and bad for the players, but mostly good.

By bringing these features to the Kindle Fire, Amazon has finally provided all the tools that developers will need to properly prepare their apps for distribution via the Amazon Appstore for Android.  This will lead to more games, and apps in general, being made available for the Kindle Fire.

Whispersync for Games should go a long way to encourage quality game design as well.  Since there is reason to hope that users will keep coming back now that their progress and achievements can be saved even after deleting an app temporarily, there is more reason to provide ongoing support and updates.

Of course the ease with which in-app purchases can be offered also means a slew of new apps meant to do nothing more than milk microtransactions out of every user.  These types of lazy designs are a big presence on Google Play, but there’s been nothing keeping them away from Amazon aside from the extra effort it would take.  I’m not referring to the genuinely malicious software, of course, but even the merely bad can be obnoxious to watch out for.

Expect to see more games with more features springing up in the months to come thanks to these plugins.

Kindle Black Friday Specials for 2012

Every year Black Friday sales get more hyped and involve more ridiculous deals.  In some cases that’s a bad thing, especially when it involves camping outside stores for silly amounts of time to get a chance at one of the only two units available in a particular sale.  In many others it’s just a great time to save some money.

Since we know that a sale is on the way let’s take a look at what to expect as far as discounts this week.

According to Buyer’s Review, we can expect the following deals in brick & mortal stores this Friday:

  • Best Buy: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159.99 bundled with free $30 Best Buy Gift Card
  • Office Depot: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159.99 bundled with $25 Visa Card
  • Staples: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card
  • Office Max: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159
  • Best Buy: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199.99 free $30 Best Buy Gift Card included
  • Office Max: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199, bundled with $25 Office Max Gift Card
  • Staples: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card
  • Staples: 32GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $249, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card

We do have every reason to believe that Amazon will use this opportunity to further promote the Kindle line directly through their own storefront as well, though.

Sadly, we’re not going to be seeing a sale on the Kindle Paperwhite.  The eReader side of things has proven so popular since the Paperwhite was released that an order today will take over a month to get to its destination, just barely making it in time for Christmas if you spring for 2-day shipping.  In a matter of days it will likely be impossible to order a Kindle Paperwhite and have it before 2013.

We will certainly be seeing this sale day used as an opportunity to promote the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, however.  An effort was clearly made to get the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” out before Black Friday, which indicates that the larger tablet will be a part of the promotion as well.

Looking at the store offers above, nobody is actually discounting the Kindle Fires themselves.  All that is being added is a promo gift card.  Given all the blowback Amazon has been getting from these same retailers about showrooming, I expect that the online deal will go a bit further.  How much further is difficult to predict, but 10-20% off the price would create a huge surge of interest.

Remember that Amazon is using the Kindle Fire as a cheap option for content sales.  They’re not making much on the devices themselves.  As such I don’t think we can expect to see a $99 Kindle Fire, even using refurbished 1st Gen models.  Since recent teardowns point to there being a bit more profit than the earlier generation allowed for in a single unit, however, they have some leeway.

I know that I’ll be watching for a $160 Kindle Fire HD and I would be surprised if I don’t see one by the end of the week.

Amazon Kindle Turns 5

As of November 19th, the Kindle is five years old.  Since its first incarnation we have watched it go from a fairly clunky attempt at introducing something new into the market to an elegant piece of technology that continues to deserve its position at the top of the same market it helped popularize.  We’ve been watching this progression since the beginning (our first post here was less than a month after launch on December 15th 2007) and it’s been a great time.

Looking back at the first generation Kindle is a great way to help understand why it hasn’t been just the hardware keeping the line going.  Amazon made a fairly good eReader, but even at the time there were superior options.  The first Sony Readers to be released in the US were lighter, faster, and generally more pleasant to use.  Still, Amazon pulled off a “good enough” device and supported it with the best digital reading content anywhere.

The Gen 1 Kindle had a resolution of 800 x 600, less than a quarter gigabyte of storage space, was uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time (compared to newer models, though it was great at the time), and would run you around $400 without a case or any books included.  About the only thing it had going for it compared to future products was the SD card slot, which was eliminated in the second generation.

That’s not to say it was a bad device so much as to illustrate how far things have come.  When new, the first Kindle captured the attention of huge numbers of people despite the price and was often held up as a valid alternative to the iPad.  That comparison is nonsense, but it illustrates how interesting people found the idea.

For comparison, you can now get the Kindle Paperwhite (assuming you can find one since they are in short supply at the moment) for $119.  It has a 6”, 212PPI display running with a 758 x 1024 resolution.  Battery life will last you over a month at a time in many cases.  The internal storage us up to two gigabytes and you can download your books on your home WiFi.  There is lighting for the screen without any of the problems that E Ink was solving compared to lighted screens in the first place.  Five years has meant a lot of progress.

Most importantly, the Kindle Store and Amazon’s support for its associated features have expanded even more.  The whole publishing industry has been forced to take digital distribution seriously and nobody does it better.  Kindles now enjoy a presence in millions of homes around the country and we expect to see even more of them in organizational settings like libraries now that central management tools have been released.

What is still to come for the Kindle is open to debate.  Some people expect a move away from eReaders to concentrate on the Kindle Fire tablet line.  Personally, I doubt it.  The Kindle eReader is what put Amazon on the map in terms of computing devices and it will continue to be a major point of interest in the future.  The only real question is how much further they can take it and in what direction.

Send to Kindle Becomes Browser Staple

For the most part Amazon’s “Send to Kindle” program has worked out extremely well for them.  It creates a convenient means to send just about any readable content you have on hand to your Kindle with no hassle.  Anybody with an internet connection can use it and there is absolutely no complexity to the interface.  You simply select your document and send it.

Apparently that wasn’t enough.  Now it is possible to pick up Send to Kindle for Firefox.  This takes a slightly different approach, though it delivers much the same functionality as the desktop integration we’ve had a chance to get used to.

Initial reviews have largely been positive.  There was some concern with compatibility as the browser plugin was not properly updated to account for one of Mozilla’s frequent software updates and that seems to have cost Amazon a large share of its overall rating in the Firefox Extensions rating system.  Since the last software update there have been few written complaints.

Rather than replicating the experience of the desktop app, Send to Kindle for Firefox takes on the likes of Instapaper.  It will allow the preservation of web pages for viewing at the reader’s convenience without the need for perpetually open tabs or being stuck in front of the computer at all.  Content can be read, preserved for reference, or even archived in the user’s Kindle documents.

The only real problem that seems to have come up so far, at least based on my own experience, is the inability of the new extension to push documents to the whole range of Kindle apps.  Kindle for Windows 8 is unable to retrieve these documents as is the Kindle Cloud Reader.  These are two of the most-used options available when a Kindle device is not on hand and neither will even acknowledge anything that isn’t purchased directly through the Kindle Store.

That’s a problem that has been needing attention for a number of reasons for quite some time now.  While it is a problem that these apps can’t access user content, it is hardly fair to let that color a review of an unrelated service beyond the obvious noting of such a problem.  If you need to have access to saved content in places beyond your mobile device or eReader, it might be best to avoid getting too excited about this one.

This will be of the most interest to people who truly despise ads in the web reading.  It allows you to conveniently read anything you want on your Kindle ad-free without recourse to tedious copy/paste options.  There are still some problems, especially in badly coded or complexly formatted sites, where you can end up with jumbles of code.  It isn’t a perfect application and you’re certainly not going to be able to consider it completely finished just yet.  As it stands, however, this is a valuable tool and adds a great new feature to the “Send to Kindle” application toolset.

Kindle Fire HD Teardown Shows Small Profits Compared to Competition

When the original Kindle Fire was introduced, it was a huge shock to see such a powerful device offered for so little money.  It was literally the device that changed the Android tablet market.  A year later it’s no shock to see brand new 7” devices going for around $199.  Are we still getting the same sort of value for that hardware price, though?  An IHS iSuppli teardown team has looked into the components in details to give us an idea about exactly that.

What they have managed to determine is that while Amazon may not be subsidizing the Kindle Fire HD as they are suspected to have done with the first run of the Kindle Fire, it is still not a big money maker at the time of initial sales.  This fits with a previous assertion by Jeff Bezos that the tablet is sold at cost.

Exploded Kindle Fire HD – Image Credit to AllThingsD

Because they were planning to make any real profits off of digital content sales down the line, the Kindle Fire didn’t need to make money right away.  The first teardowns estimated that it cost anywhere from $187-202 in materials alone per device.  Factoring in the development costs and other miscellaneous expenses means that there was little chance of breaking even on a $199 sale.

This newest teardown indicates that the Kindle Fire HD is composed of about $165 worth of material.  The major components come from LG Display, Texas Instruments, and Samsung.  Basically we’re looking at a more advanced device built by a more established name in tablets for less money.

That might explain why the ability to remove the Special Offers on these devices was added so quickly after protests and made so cheap.  If it’s not losing money then there is no good reason to force the ad subsidy.

While it does appear that Amazon might be making at least small profits on the Kindle Fire HD now, they’re not exactly trying to turn it into a major revenue stream.  Consider the competition.  Similar teardowns of the Google Nexus 7 and iPad Mini show material costs of $152 and $188 respectively.  If we’re ignoring after-purchase digital sales entirely, Amazon and Google are making less than $50 per tablet they sell compared to Apple’s $140 with Amazon bringing in the least of the three.

All told, it’s safe to claim that Amazon is still offering great value for the money on the Kindle Fire HD.  You can’t necessarily equate the cost of components to the quality of the hardware, but it’s not a completely worthless indication either.  Amazon’s ability to sell their hardware at cost will continue to make it more difficult for newcomers without their own ecosystems to break into the affordable tablet market, but for the moment it is good for the customer.  The industry is hardly likely to stagnate with Apple, Amazon, and Google all fighting to get the lion’s share of small tablet sales.

Amazon Prime Monthly Option Silently Added in US

While it won’t show up for everybody just yet, some people are beginning to see a new option for Amazon Prime subscriptions.  Instead of the long-running annual fee option, it will now be possible to subscribe to the service for just $7.99 per month.  This might be a premium when you compare the annual total to the more expensive initial investment, but it will be a huge factor in increasing adoption this holiday season.

There has been no official release from Amazon confirming the details about this new subscription plan.  Even seeing the advertisement for it seems to be difficult for some people, though logging out of your Amazon.com account and trying a variety of browsers tends to eventually result in a productive combination.  It is possible that we’re looking at a limited test phase as the company gets ready for a rush of Kindle Fire HD users over the holidays that the company needs to hook on the service as quickly as possible.

Starting…well, whenever this goes more public…the monthly option will put pressure on competing video services like Netflix and Hulu.  While Amazon Prime still lacks the depth of selection that the competing services have available it is still building up a huge library of subscriber-friendly media.  Tie this into the other benefits like the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and the unlimited free two-day shipping to anywhere in the US and it’s a huge bargain that video-only services can’t equal.

So far we haven’t heard from anybody outside the US who has been able to view the ad that gives us the current pricing.  This could mean that it’s going to be a later rollout or it could mean that the offer will start out as exclusive to the US.  The monthly option does seem to be built as an imitation of Netflix’s pricing scheme and as such might not be considered appropriate in markets where the Prime video selection isn’t as robust yet.

Expect to hear about huge increases in subscription sales in the first quarter of next year.  The Kindle Fire HD is the top Android tablet in its size/price bracket and comes with a free month of Amazon Prime membership.  The formerly daunting $79 subscription fee that comes up after that free trial ends was definitely worth it for anybody who shops the site regularly, but the $7.99 monthly fee will be even harder to argue against.  It might be almost $17 more per year than the annual option, but if you buy at least two things per month from Amazon the math becomes quite easy to follow based on shipping savings alone.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD Ad Highlights iPad Mini Deficiencies

Amazon recently chose to run an ad comparing the Kindle Fire HD to its iPad Mini competition.  Specifically, this ad called out the inferior display that Apple has decided to include in its new $329 tablet.  We can’t necessarily expect even-handedness in advertising comparisons, especially in situations like this where the new device is clearly meant to come across as a high-end alternative to an established product.  Even so, it’s startling that Amazon thought they could get away with telling blatant lies about the iPad Mini to improve their business!

The ad in question can be seen on the right.  It has since been pulled from Amazon.com in response to the outpouring of hate over internet injustice.  The points are fairly easy to follow.  The Kindle has a better display, better sound, and better wireless connectivity.  Problems have been found with all of these assertions.

First, there is the issue of the screen.  It’s true that the Kindle has more pixel density than the iPad Mini.  Nobody is disputing that.  It’s also true that it runs at a higher resolution.  Amazon’s claim that the iPad lacks HD movies and TV or that there solution is too low for HD are obviously half-truths, though!

Ok, that complaint is almost half-true at best.  It has been coming up a lot, though.  The iPad Mini will have access to HD content.  It will be able to play that content.  It will NOT be able to display that HD content in a way that properly highlights its quality.  The minimum accepted standard for something to be referred to as “HD” is 720p.  The Mini’s 1024 x 768 resolution meets the 720 vertical requirement, but the 16:9 aspect ratio for HD playback quality is impossible without at least a 1280 x 720 resolution.  In other words, there will be HD content but the only way to view it in HD will be to output to an external display using adapters and devices sold separately.

Lacking that support, many complaints fall back on the sound comparison.  This is troubling for Amazon since Apple has clarified recently that their new tablet has stereo sound.  Before this clarification, which came well after the ad we’re looking at was released, Apple was still listing the iPad Mini as having a “Built in Speaker”.  When that’s the description in the product specs, it’s hard to complain about people believing it.  It’s hardly something Amazon needs to be making things up to support, either.  The Kindle Fire HD has been reviewed across the board as having the best sound playback out of any tablet on the market today including the full size iPad.

All that leaves us with is the WiFi.  Is Amazon overstating the importance of MIMO?  For some customers whose use will regularly involve strong signals and fast transfer rates, maybe.  It’s hard to see that as being the major deciding factor for anybody, though, and it is still something that the Mini lacks.

Did Amazon choose their comparison points selectively to highlight the Kindle Fire HD?  Of course.  It isn’t particularly hard to find points of comparison that could pull that off, though.  The amount of response this ad has received is ridiculous.

First Japanese-Language Kindles Coming Next Month

The move away from physical keyboards gave Amazon an easy route into any number of non-Anglophone markets for the first time.  They’ve made good use of that since the Kindle Touch was first released.  In addition to being able to find a Kindle practically anywhere in the world, localized versions of the popular eReader can now be found for a number of language options.  Now, for the first time, Amazon is pushing their efforts into Asia with the first ever Japanese Kindle.

Amazon.co.jp will now have its own Kindle Store and will be offering the Kindle Paperwhite for sale.  Preordering is now open for both the WiFi and 3G versions of the device.  The prices are currently ¥8,480 and ¥12,980 respectively.  They will begin shipping on November 19th.

Japan has proven a hard market for Amazon to move the Kindle into so far.  Their site has been operating successfully there for twelve years now, but it has been reported that they had trouble getting Japanese publishers interested in doing business with them after all of the conflict between Amazon and the Big 6 publishing houses in US markets.  It seems that terms have now been reached that are considered satisfactory.  The press release for this announcement indicates that over 50,000 Japanese-language titles will be available at launch and that these will include the largest selection of Oricon best sellers anywhere.

Naturally all of these titles will be accessible through Amazon’s various distribution channels.  Kindle Paperwhite owners will be able to make use of the new store, but so will Kindle Fire owners, Kindle app users, and anybody with a web browser.

Introducing the Kindle line to Japan is a particularly important move for Amazon if they want to keep expanding the customer base.  While geographically small, Japan is home to one of the most literate cultures in the world.  It also enjoys the widest newspaper circulation anywhere and may prove a useful place to renew interest in digitally distributed newspapers and magazines.

There is also a large market for graphic literature to be exploited.  This launch will include over 15,000 manga selections.  Kindle Format 8’s Panel View will come in handy for this and the high contrast Kindle Paperwhite display could prove an ideal medium for these books.

The Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are also now available in Japan and should be shipping on December 19th, one month after the Paperwhite goes out.  While this caters to a different market, having options is never a bad idea.  The Kindle Fire HD might not be quite as good for reading as its single-purpose eReader counterpart, but it does provide a greater versatility and convenience for the money.

Amazon Whispercast Makes Organized Kindle Management Possible

Amazon has now introduced the Whispercast service, which allows for organizational management of Kindle devices.  This includes both Kindle eReaders and the Kindle Fire tablet series.  Using this service it is possible to distribute content, manage available functions, and generally maintain control over your organization’s device even when it is in the hands of an authorized user.

One of the main markets that Amazon initially tried to target with the Kindle was education.  The fact that it is difficult to manage these devices is one of the major factors that has held up institutional adoption.  Parents have reason to be uncomfortable with the idea of their children being handed anything with unrestricted internet access, teachers have plenty of reason to wonder if that same internet access would be abused during school hours while also having doubts that it would be possible to ensure uniform content across entire classes, and the issue of potential theft is an ever-present concern in as poorly funded an organization as your average public school.

Business customers, meanwhile, have largely had better options than the Kindle Fire when it comes to device management for employees.  The alternatives on the market today make it possible to run a sophisticated Bring Your Own Device(BYOD) program in a way that Amazon has until now failed to match.  This is a big step forward.

Right now the benefits seem to be restricted to company/school owned Kindles.  There are plans for further features that make Whispercast more versatile for BYOD programs, but that’s still listed as “Coming Soon”.

The available management features are fairly straightforward and fall into two categories: Access and Distribution.

Access controls cover anything having to do with user privileges.  Through Whispercast it is possible to determine whether a device is able to connect to the internet, how much access they have to things like Facebook and Twitter integration, and if they are allowed to make purchases through the Kindle Store.  Blocking the ability to deregister or reset to factory settings is of course part of the package.  All of this is managed from a central control screen and it removes the need to individually configure every Kindle.  It is even possible to send WiFi details directly through the cellular signal of compatible devices so that users are able to connect with no trouble when in range of your home network.

Distribution is fairly obvious.  You can distribute content to all devices on your account or break them down into subgroups in order to get people exactly what they need.  This could mean sending one class or grade level only their own content for the school year or keeping each department of your business supplied with the latest relevant documents.  Eventually apps will be included in this control scheme, though at present they are not.

Basically, if there is any intention of turning the Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire tablet into a regularly used part of your organization, things just got a lot easier.  Schools and libraries will definitely find this handy, but it certainly won’t hurt business management.

Kindle Fire HD Sold At Cost – Jeff Bezos

People have generally assumed that Amazon was subsidizing the Kindle Fire to some degree.  Analysts have estimated that the cost of materials and manufacturing was roughly equal to the asking price and when the first Kindle Fire was launched it was suspected that Amazon could be losing as much as $15 per device to keep the costs down.

When the first Kindle eReader was released, Amazon’s position was that the hardware had to justify its existence by providing profits separate from the digital content sales it encouraged.  With the frequent price drops that have occurred in the past few years, that’s obviously harder to stick to.  The Kindle was first priced at $399 and sold out in a matter of hours.  Now you can get a basic Kindle for just $69, so it’s hard to imagine the money coming in at the same rate.

The new position makes more sense given Amazon’s digital content ecosystem.  Bezos has come out and said, for the first time, “We sell the hardware at our cost, so it is break-even on the hardware.”  It isn’t a surprise and it certainly isn’t going to upset the status quo, but the confirmation of even fairly obvious suppositions breaks the secretive pattern that generally surrounds Amazon’s hardware business.

This is a convenient way to highlight the differences in sales philosophy between major competitors at a time when Android tablets are drawing roughly equivalent in both price and performance while Apple is rumored to be releasing a smaller version of the iPad before the holidays.

Apple, for example, is not known for releasing any hardware they can’t make at least a 40% profit from.  This is the biggest point against the constant rumors of iPad Mini development.  The only reason it’s becoming likely that Apple will release a smaller iPad at this point is the possibility of being shut out of a growing market.  Even then we can expect them to be getting significant return on each sale.  They’re not a company that’s willing to settle for the 30% cut they get from every sale of associated content.

Google, on the other hand, sells their Nexus 7 at cost with the expectation of a different return.  Yes they have a return from their Google Play sales, but the real money is in information acquisition.  Android is available for free to anybody who wants to use it because unless significant effort is made to avoid it, Android ties people into the Google system.  That means more marketing data and more potential for advertising revenue.

Amazon’s course, hoping that cheap devices will result in such a significant increase in sales that it will be worth the initial investment so long as no money is actually being lost on the hardware itself, may be the least obviously profitable of these.  Their experience and expertise when it comes to suggested sales and media serving make it totally believable that the Kindle encourages people to read four times as much as they normally would, but it’s not something that many other companies could hope to pull off.

Nook HD Profile Feature Capitalizes on Common Kindle Fire Privacy Complaints

There were few things about the Kindle Fire’s release that sparked more attention than the Carrousel home screen.  This approach set the Kindle Fire apart from other Android tablets by creating a simpler, more intuitive user experience.  Naturally that, alongside Amazon’s locking users into their ecosystem, drew fire from critics who prefer a more configurable, personalizable interface and a device that can tap into Google’s large app selection.  The real problem it caused, however, was less bound to a particular view of how the Android experience should be presented and more in its complete lack of user controls.

For the most part, this boiled down to privacy.  The Kindle Fire, when it was released, could not reasonably be considered a family-friendly device.  In many cases it couldn’t even be comfortably used as a multi-user device.  The Carrousel displayed everything that was accessed, in the order it was accessed, along with every piece of media attached to the user’s account.  It’s hard enough to overlook the potential for embarrassment in that arrangement among adults, but this made it more or less impossible for parents to use their Kindle Fire while moderating the content that children might be exposed to.

This has since been fixed, of course.  The Carrousel offers deletion, parents are able to control more aspects of their child’s access (with even more coming soon thanks to Kindle FreeTime), and privacy is restored.  Barnes & Noble, possibly in response to precisely this debacle, has come up with what is probably an even better set of user-profile features than the Kindle Fire HD now offers or can be expected to offer with the release of Kindle FreeTime.

The details are understandably vague at this point.  The Nook HD is not out until November 1st and some of the software is clearly still being fine-tuned, making over-promising a real possibility if they aren’t careful.  Still, what we know now is enough to declare this a highly family-friendly feature.

Each Nook HD owner will be able to create up to six Nook Profiles.  These will be theoretically autonomous, including their accessible content.  Each profile will have its own private library, though clearly the owner will have override control to a large extent that should allow simple sharing between these.  In addition to personalized content collections, users will be able to tailor all personalization options independently.  The Nook Tablet doesn’t offer much in the way of visual customization, but it doesn’t offer as little as the Kindle Fire either so this could be quite handy.

This makes the situation for parents a bit better as well.  Barnes & Noble is pushing the children’s eBook market fairly hard still and the Nook HD is no exception.  Using Nook Profiles, parents will be able to separate their kids’ books from the main library so that they won’t have to worry about them while looking through more adult-friendly content.  The parental controls will still apply to a child’s profile, of course, but should be able to be bound specifically to that profile.  If you password protect your personal profile, this means that it’s reasonable to use the Nook HD normally without entering in a PIN constantly.

The Kindle Fire HD now has some great parental control options, soon including a finer level of control than anything offered by the competition right now if the FreeTime claims are to be believed, but this is a case where the Nook HD is noticeably superior.  Barnes & Noble really wants the family-oriented customers and it shows.

Kindle Paperwhite First Impressions

The Kindle Paperwhite has finally shipped out and reactions are coming in quite rapidly.  While there are many customers who will be unable to get their orders until later this month due to the overwhelming demand for the new Kindle, it’s clear that the eReader side of Kindle products is hardly a thing of the past.

Since this was essentially Amazon’s big move to catch up with Barnes & Noble when it comes to front-lit eReading, it was somewhat difficult to see how things would go.  Once you’ve established a way to light up the screen without major problems or backlighting you’re basically set.  It turns out that I wasn’t the only one wondering and some of the reviews that have gone up so far make the comparison explicit:

“I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant the screen is and encourage you to find a display model to look at if you’re on the fence about it. I’ve used the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight and the Paperwhite display blows it out of the water.” – Scott

That isn’t to say that there are no problems.  While the majority of users report a nearly perfect experience with the lighting so far, some of these Kindles appear to be flawed:

“After all the raves about how invisible the LED light sources were, it was disappointing to spot them immediately out of the box at the bottom of screen. And then, as others have noted, the lower screen is also marred by shadowy areas between the LEDs that might be described as smudges or banding. This was definitely NOT the beautifully even glow of light across the screen that Amazon product photos have shown and which I was expecting.” - charlesn

If you have a similar experience, I strongly recommend getting in touch with Amazon’s customer service.  While it is possible that these flaws fall within acceptable ranges as far as the production is concerned, Amazon has spent a lot of time talking up the evenness of their new lighting and is likely to replace as needed should the problem on a particular unit be unusually bad.

In terms of general screen quality, the consensus seems to be that the blacks are blacker, whites are whiter, and everything is both crisper and faster.  Not unexpected to be hearing such things, but it doesn’t hurt to get some confirmation that this is a noticeable improvement for most people over the E Ink Pearl display that has been the standard for some time now.

The lack of speakers has not gone unnoticed (and who really thought it would be?) but it hasn’t come up much so far as a major problem.  Those reviewers who comment on it at all, however, are quite unhappy:

“The Paperwhite has no sound whatsoever. That means no text-to-speech, no blind-accessible menu options, no playing your audiobooks from Audible. I am incredibly disappointed that these features have been gutted” – Joan

It’s likely that Amazon is making an effort to get their accessibility features set up on the Kindle Fire in order to take advantage of the more powerful device’s ability to handle such things.  Does that excuse removing these standard features after once having tried to define the whole eReader line with things like Read-to-Me?  Nope.  The decision might make sense in some ways, but it’s not a good thing for customers.

Fortunately for Kindle fans, since that particular feature removal is unlikely to be reconsidered any time soon, there are enough positive impressions to indicate that an upgrade is worth the money.

Things like the progress bar enhancement seem to be going over really well, for example.  It’s gotten an overall better response, based on these first couple days’ worth of impressions, than X-Ray did when the Kindle Touch was announced:

“My favorite new feature is the “Time Left” calculation at the bottom left of the page. While you are reading, the Kindle calculates how long it will take you to finish the book or the current chapter based on the speed with which you have been turning pages. You just touch the bottom left of the page to toggle the different selections (also shows which location you are on).” – R. Toro “Tech Junkie”

The only real software-based complaints, in fact, seem to center around the inclusion of book recommendations on Kindle Paperwhite models with the Special Offers disabled.  Despite the toggle being off, only paid advertising is removed.  This means that book recommendations are still showing up on the home screen.  For some people that will be a valuable asset while others will find it obnoxious.  Personal preference will be the deciding factor since it’s a relatively unintrusive feature, but excluding that from the advertising opt-out on the Kindle Paperwhite is somehow more obnoxious than the similar recommendation section on the Kindle Fire HD.  Possibly just because the Kindle Fires cover a wider range of content and can genuinely offer you something you might not have thought of while the book recommendations are unlikely to surprise and impress with any regularity.

All told, I have yet to find a review on Amazon or any other site that claims the Kindle Paperwhite is second-best compared to the competing Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight.  That puts Amazon back on top in terms of hardware again.  Since they already had the best content selection, that’s going to be a huge advantage when it comes to holiday sales.

Is this upgrade enough to be worth buying a new Kindle if you already own an eReader?  For once, it just might be.  While E Ink screens have largely offered fairly small changes from generation to generation, the Paperwhite is the most extreme improvement we’ve seen since the first Kindle and the front-lit reading capabilities are amazing.  Assuming that there is an interest, it’s hard to argue against this upgrade.

Barnes & Noble Prepares For Fresh Kindle vs Nook Showdown With Price Cut

It took a while for Amazon to get the Kindle Paperwhite ready for production.  The months since the Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight was released have been problematic for the Kindle line, as customers had to consider the fact that there was no comparable Amazon offering.  A lit screen with none of the shortcomings of the backlit LCD is a huge factor in creating the best possible reading experience and Barnes & Noble managed to get it to their customers first.

According to both the specs released and any number of reviewers, however, the new Kindle Paperwhite is noticeably superior to the Nook Simple Touch in a number of ways including that lighting.  There isn’t much that can be done to recreate features like X-Ray on short notice, or to replace the screen being used on the Nook.  That sort of thing will have to wait until at least the next big product release.  Even the superior lighting capabilities of the Kindle Paperwhite are Amazon exclusives at the moment.  The best that can be done to keep the competition alive is a price drop.

The Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight is now available for $119 both in stores and on the Barnes & Noble website.  This matches the price of the cheaper, ad-supported Kindle Paperwhite.  The timing of the price drop makes it clear that this was a reactionary move, though probably one that was planned in advance and merely waiting on the final price set by Amazon.

That new price will at least keep the superficial comparison about even, especially for customers who don’t care much about getting the absolute best hardware and for those who like having access to the advantages provided to Nook owners in local brick and mortar outlets.  The associated product line, filled out as it is with a new set of low cost tablets, certainly won’t hurt reactions either.

While the Nook Tablet has been looking a bit dated, the new Nook HD tablet is a huge improvement.  They did essentially the same thing that was accomplished with the original Nook Tablet vs Kindle Fire competition.  Amazon has the superior content ecosystem and a decent device, but B&N trumped a number of hardware features while matching the price.  Oddly enough, while the screen on the Nook HD is slightly high resolution it does lack cameras and comes with significantly less storage space then the Kindle Fire HD (when comparing base models).  The lack of ad support and therefore a need to opt-out of on-device advertising is not a small advantage to offset that.

Realistically, a point by point comparison of the products leaves Amazon firmly ahead in the Kindle vs Nook competition again whether we’re talking tablets or eReaders.  It isn’t enough of a lead to make the Nook unable to compete and it certainly won’t end the competitor’s prospects, but this latest price drop does highlight the fact that Barnes & Noble knows they will need to stretch a bit if they want to continue gaining market share this holiday season despite the Paperwhite‘s strong showing.

Kindle Fire Ad Debacle Resolved!

It took all of a day before Amazon realized the extent of their mistake in creating mandatory ad space on every Kindle Fire and changed their tune.  Users will not be able to disable ads on their Kindle Fire tablets in the same way that they can when using the Kindle eReader.  This removes what was by far the most upsetting bit of information related to the launch of these devices.

The use of ads to subsidize a very cheap price on all hardware sales is something that Amazon has been working with for a while now.  The original Kindle Fire has not been covered by any ad revenue so far, but it was inevitable that the next generation would be.  The bad decision to force the ads on everybody would indeed make them far more profitable for Amazon since advertisers have expressed concern about the variability of their audience, but it would also drive away sales.  Clearly the scales were not balanced in the way that Amazon expected given the quickness of their response to consumer pressure.

The new plan is to offer the ability to opt-out of Special Offers on the Kindle Fire HD for just $15.  While Amazon has indicated that very few customers end up going through with the removal of these ads, the fact that the option is available will earn a great deal of goodwill.

The opt-out page will be available when the device begins to ship.  That is currently scheduled for September 14th.

As much as the ads were not a deal breaker if handled properly and implemented on an otherwise impressive piece of hardware, I think many people who wanted a Kindle Fire HD are breathing a sigh of relief right now.

$299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9” Details

We’ve been hearing rumors for months now about a larger Kindle Fire that Amazon was on the verge of releasing.  Now that there is confirmation and information more substantial than supply-line gleanings, it’s probably time to start looking at whether the real thing lives up to the expectations.  Here’s what the new 8.9” Kindle Fire HD looks like on paper:

Display 8.9” IPS LCD1920x1200 Resolution

254ppi

Processor TI OMAP4470
Storage 16GB Onboard (32GB Model Available)
Wireless 802.11 b/g/n dual-band MIMOBluetooth
Camera Front-Facing
Battery Life 11 hours
Sound Dolby Audio optimizationStereo Speakers
Ports USB 2.0HDMI-out

 

Basically, this is a generally superior tablet in every way, compared to their previous offering.  Amazon claims that the processor in this new Kindle Fire will perform significantly better than the Nexus 7’s Tegra 3, for example, which puts them at the top again in terms of balancing price and power.

The improved storage space is a big step up over the often-problematic 8GB that the older Kindle Fire came with.

Wireless issues have been addressed and the speeds that are advertised, while dependent on the networks they are connected to, are ideal for HD video streaming.

Most importantly, the comparatively large HD display and HDMI-out make this a tablet better suited to video consumption than the company’s previous offering by a wide margin.  Both of these features were frequently requested over the past year and that was taken seriously.

The audio improvements may be equally impressive, but given how poor the performance has been in the past it might be better to avoid jumping to conclusions about Kindle Fire speaker quality.

As a communication tool, the front-facing camera should help a lot.  Every Kindle Fire HD will come loaded with Skype by default, tying Amazon customers into probably the most widely used internet calling service available today.

Even the battery life looks good, though that will take some hands-on experimentation to judge accurately.  So much depends on what tasks are being carried out on the device that any claim would be hard to take completely at face value.

Overall this is a strong offering that really demonstrates a commitment to continue creating excellent affordable tablets.  There are some issues on the software side of things, however, such as the advertising situation.

Kindle Fire tablets will now come with Special Offers.  This in itself is not a bad thing.  That’s how the price has dropped so low on Kindle eReaders after all.  Unlike on the eReader, Kindle Fire Special Offers cannot be removed.  This is a major imposition for many customers, at least at the moment of purchase, and has the potential to turn a lot of people away from the product.

While I will follow up more on the ad situation and other quirks in a subsequent post, overall I still believe that the Kindle Fire HD is a good product.  The option to root the device is always there and Amazon has proven in the past that they can display ads in a way that makes them fairly unobtrusive.  It’s an upsetting precedent and everybody is hoping that a change of heart will allow customers to buy out of the ads should they so desire but it isn’t enough to damn the product on its own.

New Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, and Kindle Paperwhite Revealed

Kindle Fire HDAs I write this, Jeff Bezos is on stage in Santa Monica, California presenting the newest developments in the Kindle product line.  It’s been greatly anticipated the last several weeks and this is the time to learn what all the fuss has been about.

The first reveal of the day was the update to the Kindle eReader.  The newest version of this Kindle is known as the “Kindle Paperwhite”.

The biggest appeal of this product is, as might be expected, improved screen technology.  The Paperwhite has sharply improved contrast that everything crisper.  Text will stand out more sharply than has been the case in other models as a result.

It also boasts a greater pixel density than previous models.  The Kindle Paperwhite’s screen has 212 pixels per inch, up from the last generation’s 167ppi.

Rather than the three font options that we’ve had access to before, the new model will have six.  New additions include Palatino, Helvetica, and Futura.

Battery life is still the same, offering up to 8 weeks of uninterrupted use.

Most importantly, the Kindle Paperwhite will have a lit screen, despite rumors about supply line issues.  The light source is placed on the bottom edge of the screen itself and appears to do a great job of spreading illumination evenly across the display area.

As always, this new eReader will be thinner and lighter than previous models.  As Bezos put it, “It’s thinner than a magazine, lighter than a paper”.

The new Kindle Paperwhite will be just $119 ($179 for the unlimited 3G model) and will be available in October, though preorders will begin immediately.  The basic Kindle will also be getting a screen upgrade and a price drop to just $69.

In other Kindle hardware news we get the new updated Kindle Fire.

The replacement for the existing Kindle Fire will be 40% faster than its predecessor.  Battery life has been extended a vague but apparently significant amount.  The price has also dropped to just $159.  It will be available on September 14th, explaining the sudden lack of Kindle Fires in the Amazon store this week.

More importantly, we now know about the Kindle Fire HD.  This will come in two sizes, as many had hoped.  The newer, larger Kindle Fire will be 8.9” and have a 1920 x 1200 resolution.  Not quite as large as the iPad, but definitely moving in on Apple’s territory.

Both versions of the Kindle Fire HD will have stereo speakers to replace the mediocre sound quality of the first device.

They will also have greatly improved wireless connectivity.  Anybody who was following the first Kindle Fire launch will remember that the device ran into trouble on many networks.  This time around it will have two antennas, work on the 5GHz band, and have over 40% faster speed than the iPad’s wireless.

The 7” Kindle Fire HD will be shipping on September 14th for just $199.  The 8.9” Kindle Fire HD will be $299 and ship sometime in November.  Both models will have 16GB of storage space at these prices.

There will also be a $499 Kindle Fire HD that has 4G LTE cellular connectivity.  This model will have 32GB of storage space and the data plan associated with it will run $50 per year.  That meets one of the community’s big demands for the new model, so we will see how widespread adoption is.

Depending on how performance holds up in actual testing, and it seems to be impressive based on presentation alone, the Kindle Fire HD might just have what it takes to build Amazon up well beyond even the 20%+ tablet market share they claim to currently enjoy.

Stay tuned and we will keep you up to date on all the latest news related to this launch.

State of the Kindle Wrap-Up Before Anticipated Sep 6th Hardware Upgrade Announcement

Amazon has arranged for a September 6th press conference that leaves a lot to the imagination.  The text of the invitation apparently reads, in its entirety, “Please join us for an Amazon Press Conference.”  It will take place at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica.  That’s really not much to go on.  Still, it is all but a given that the event will show off the latest generation of Kindle products.

About a year ago Amazon released an entirely new set of Kindles.  The Kindle Fire was the centerpiece, of course, but the then-renamed Kindle Keyboard was joined by a new basic Kindle and the Kindle Touch.  The Kindle Fire shook up the entire Android tablet world and changed the game entirely there.  It’s thanks to Amazon that we’re seeing truly useful tablets in the $200 range.

The newer Kindle eReaders did not enjoy as much success.  The basic Kindle is indeed the cheapest and most widely purchased eReader on the market today, being the first to get under the previously impressive $100 mark.  That is about all that has managed to impress people about it, however.  The Kindle Touch is an interesting device and brought a touch interface to the line, but that’s not been enough to really demand attention for a while now.

The speculation about what September 6th will bring for the Kindle is still rather varied despite the event being close at hand.  Based on the information available, however, we can make some fairly safe predictions.

FCC Filings

Using a front company, Amazon seems to have managed approval for new versions of both the Kindle Fire and the Kindle eReader.  This is not unprecedented and the last update to the product line involved three devices registered through three separate front companies in an effort to keep details under wraps.

On August 15th The Digital Reader reported a tip that led them to the new Kindle Fire.  It is less than informative, and certainly not as detailed as many would prefer, but some useful info can be gathered.  Judging from the dimensions, for example, we’re looking at a 4:3 device as opposed to the 16:9 aspect ratio used by most tablet builders.  It’s an interesting choice that may point to this being a larger tablet meant to compete directly with the iPad, since that is the same aspect ratio Apple uses in their own design.

The new Kindle eReader cleared in much the same way on August 21st.  A different front company run through the same corporate services provider registered an “electronic display device”.  While the testing doesn’t indicate a front-lit screen, which would be in keeping with certain delay rumors that have been floating around, it does point to something with both WiFi and 3G access as well as audio capabilities.

This does not mean that there will be no front-lit Kindle.  The three filings mentioned above from last year were all made the day before their official public announcements.  All that this indicates is that there will definitely be a version of the next generation that doesn’t have front-lighting.  Not really a surprise given that the inclusion of such a feature is sure to bump the price compared to unlit alternatives at least slightly.

State Dept Contract Cancellation Reinforces Front-Lighting Rumors?

There will definitely be a front-lit Kindle at some point, regardless of delays and pricing differences.  We know that Amazon is working on producing them thanks to leaks, property acquisitions, and basic reasoning (the light on the Nook Simple Touch is really useful and Amazon would be silly not to make one).

The fact that they have failed to land a proposed $16.5 million no-bid contract with the US State Dept might point to delayed releases.  The initial proposal required 2,500 Kindles with preloaded content and front-lit displays.  Since the document included the indication that the “Amazon Kindle [is] the only e-Reader on the market that meets the Government’s needs”, something came up in the meantime.  Production delays that would result in an inability to meet deadlines are not at all out of the question.

Firedock Trademark

In what will probably turn out to be another preparation for this event, Amazon has managed to grab the trademark for the word Firedock.  That was originally the name for a fairly impressive Kindle Fire accessory concept from Grade Digital Audio that is now going by the name Matchstick.

The Kindle Fire, despite its emphasis on media, is badly in need of affordable accessories.  An official charging station/speaker dock would sell amazingly well and clearly Amazon is aware of that.  The big question is “why didn’t they put something out sooner”, but with luck the wait will have been worth it.  Combined with a potentially larger display, this could completely change the level of utility for the next generation of Kindle Fire.

Nexus 7 and Nook Competition

With all the talk of a Kindle Fire meant to compete with the iPad, it’s easy to forget that the existing model is already enjoying some fairly stiff competition.  Google’s Nexus 7 is quite possibly the best tablet available for $200 right now; no matter what metric you are using.

Despite some supply issues, Google’s 7” tablet is enjoying a deserved surge in popularity.  Between allowing access to the wider world of Android content (including that offered by Amazon) and the more up to date hardware/software combination it ships with, there is little to recommend the existing Kindle Fire by comparison unless Amazon’s home-grown interface is a deeply desired feature.

On the eReader side of things, the Nook is still going fairly strong as well.  While device sales are down according to their most recent quarterly reports, content sales are up and the Nook Simple Touch is still setting the hardware standard.  Given that Barnes & Noble is about to begin extending sales of the Nook to Britain, opening the door to new and as-yet untapped customers, we can’t discount the potential for a sales boom in the Nook’s future.

Sources seem to indicate that there will also be a refresh of the Nook Tablet in the next month or two.  Given how forgettable the Nook Tablet has been in the current generation, despite its superior hardware specs compared to the Kindle Fire, this would initially seem to be a minor issue.  At the same time, though, there was nothing to really complain about with the existing device.  It just didn’t impress by comparison.  Barnes & Noble has invested the time and money necessary to improve things in the meantime and will almost certainly surprise to some degree.  Right now about all we know is that the intention is to have the new model improve the reading experience and show off a revolutionary new display technology of unknown capabilities.

iPad Mini Competition

The long-rumored iPad Mini seems to finally be on the horizon.  While I’m personally still quite skeptical about the existence of such a device, increasingly reliable sources seem to agree that Apple has finally caved in and decided to join the 7” tablet market.  The Kindle Fire, despite being updated, might have trouble competing in that segment should Apple really put serious effort into things.

At the same time, however, the objections that many have cited in the past remain applicable.  Apple is not known for their ability to sell things cheaply.  The least expensive iPad they have sold to date has made the company around a 50% profit at launch.  They will have to accept much smaller margins or furnish far less modern hardware if they are to get device prices down to the $250-300 range that they would need to achieve.  This doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, but take the rumors with a grain of salt.

Wrap-up

Right now, Kindles are getting hard to come by.  The Kindle Touch is completely out of stock.  You can’t get one in any form, with or without Special Offers and/or 3G access.  The Kindle Keyboard is similarly hard to come by, though the Kindle Keyboard 3G is still around.

Basically anybody buying one of the current generation devices can choose between the $79 Kindle with no real navigation and annotation capabilities and the Kindle Fire.  Unless you think that Amazon is getting people together on the 6th to talk about how they’re cutting back to just two models, it’s fairly obvious where this is going.

We’ll keep you up to date here when solid information as it becomes available.  This is the time when Amazon really has to come up with something big to stay in the tablet market and they aren’t known for disappointing customer expectations.  It’s going to be an interesting announcement.

New Kindle Lineup to Debut September 6?

Amazon has a big media even scheduled for September 6th.  Speculation points to the debut of this year’s Kindle refresh.  The new lineup could include a larger Kindle Fire, and updated version of the current model, and backlit e-ink Kindles.

The Kindle Fire has some serious competition now from Google’s Nexus 7,  the rumored iPad Mini, and the Nook Color and Nook Tablet.  One of the keys to the Kindle Fire’s success last year was price, and the competitors have recognized that.  So, what will be this year’s big idea that will cause the Fire to leapfrog over its competitors?

A larger Kindle Fire can undercut the iPad in price, and Amazon has the means to make a good quality tablet.  We’ve seen a lot of attempts to dethrone the iPad, but no one has really come close, yet.

Amazon has a robust collection of books, apps and videos, plus the Prime perks, Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Prime Instant Video, and a free app a day from the appstore.  Good covers could be key: one with a keyboard built in, or one that can help boost battery life.

Moving on to the e-ink Kindles.  The biggest upgrade this year will be the backlight.  This is pretty much a given because of the release of the backlit Nook earlier this year.  I am really excited about this development because I will be able to read comfortably in all lighting conditions.  No need to worry about carrying around external light attachments.  Preserving the long lasting battery life will pose a challenge, however.

The Kindle Touch is currently available to purchase from Amazon directly.  So, that is a clue that something new is coming.  The Kindle Touch should see an update in touch interface quality.  By that I mean smoother navigation and page turns without previous page remnants.

So, the lineup should look like this:

Kindle Fire: 7 inch and 10 inch models, which older version at reduced price

E-ink Kindles: Lighted version of the Kindle Touch and basic model.

Older models: Selling at a reduced price until inventory runs out.

There will most likely be 3G and wi-fi only options, as well as models with or without special offers. This lineup should appeal to the broadest audience possible, remain competitive across the board price wise, and stay on top of the competition in terms of features and accessories.

Stay tuned.  It will be a wild couple of weeks.