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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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September 2014
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Kindle Paperwhite Update Improves Overall User Experience and Comic Reading Specifically

We already know that Amazon intends for the Kindle Paperwhite to set the new standard for eReader hardware in every way they could manage.  Some people might still wish for physical page turn buttons (I certainly do) but other than that it is a clear step ahead of all of the competition right now.  That’s referring entirely to the US markets, of course, which may be a good reason that they have decided to update the Paperwhite firmware with some specific comic-related improvements in mind.

On a November 8th release, the new software improvements were made available for download.  If you have a Paperwhite and haven’t gotten everything automatically delivered to your device at this point, check out the side-loading instructions located here.

Foremost in the advertised improvements is the list of optimized fonts.  Palatino, Baskerville, and Futura have all been made sharper and smoother.  It’s a small thing in many ways, but the change will stand out for anybody who prefers to use these fonts regularly.

The ability to remove Recommended Content from your Paperwhite’s home screen is now also included.  This has become a point of annoyance for many users, but the ability to remove this particular advertising stream was added not long ago to new Kindle Fire models and was inevitable here as well.  A more interesting update would have been producing the same stream for older models on demand, honestly.

The settings menu has been brought to the front of things a bit more as well.  You can now jump straight into this menu directly from the menu while reading a book with no need to return to the home screen.

Perhaps most importantly, given the recent push into Japan, is the improved manga/comic display capability.  A new Fit-to-Screen option will stretch images to fill the entire screen, addressing many situations where small panels were practically unreadable previously.

The Paperwhite is also now able to retain a manga/comic specific setting for page refresh preferences that is completely separate from the same options for book reading.  This makes it easier to choose the proper setting to maximize both battery life and reading quality in two areas with distinctly different visual representation needs.

In preparation for a move beyond Japan into China, Simplified Chinese is now included as a font option.  It’s a small note now, but could be vital in the long run.

The only other really notable change is in book samples.  When picking up the full version of a given book after reading the sample you will now start off at the last position accessed in the sample.  The sample itself will be removed from the library.  Organization will be greatly improved as a result for anybody who regularly samples their books.

Many of these updates are small things, but added together they make for a great update.  There is more than can and likely will be done to improve things, especially with regard to comic-reading.  Now that we’re seeing a much bigger effort to get graphic storytelling into the Kindle marketplace, however, it’s safe to assume that a wider audience will demand attention and genre-specific features that will quickly optimize the eReaders as best a black and white display can be optimized.

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.

What Happened To The Kindle DX?

With the emphasis on portable electronics always tending toward smaller and/or thinner it isn’t surprising that the Kindle DX was never quite as popular as its smaller counterparts.  The extent of its failure is a little strange, though.  The 9.7” version of Amazon’s Kindle eReader now seems to have been quietly pulled from the virtual shelves and left without a successor.  Why did it fail to catch on and is there even a market for a device like this?

As has been demonstrated in both tablets and eReaders, bigger doesn’t always mean better.  There have been many eReaders attempted with larger screens and the variety of Android tablets is quite a bit more impressive.  The iPad is still going to be the bestselling tablet in the world for years to come, however, and it is quite a bit larger than many options.  One would think that screen size would be a valuable enough asset in the reading experience to make something similar possible for the Kindle DX.

There are plenty of reasons why that comparison is lacking.  Mostly it comes down to the fact that Apple put out a well-designed product and Amazon screwed up a bit.  What did they need to do better to keep the DX a viable option for customers?

Price

When it was released, the Kindle DX cost just about 30% more than the Kindle 2.  That made it $489.  While I remember spending $300+ on an eReader and being satisfied with each one, whether it was the Sony PRS-500, the Nook, or the Kindle 2, that wasn’t a sustainable sales strategy.  The Kindle is now under $70 per unit.  The Kindle DX at its lowest never got below $299 new.

Function

The fact that the Kindle DX only had navigation buttons on one side was a major shortcoming.  It hampered one-handed reading and landscape-orientation reading in general.  The keyboard, while nice to have, was also less usable than it needed to be.  The larger screen would have benefitted more from a touchscreen than any current Kindle does by far.

Durability

E Ink screens aren’t known for being the most durable things in the world.  The Kindle DX, however, used the only one that I have ever had break on its first fall.  Twice.  I understand that a combination of the larger size and higher device weight make it more likely to have problems, but this is a big issue in light of the tendency for people to read one-handed.

Software

The Kindle DX never really saw much attention in terms of software updates.  It needed to.  Many of the issues that users reported, especially with regard to PDF viewing, could have been addressed.  Amazon gave the impression of having given up on the device within months of its release.

All told, it’s safe to say that this doesn’t really prove anything about the niche.  Yes, the Kindle DX is gone.  That could be because customers just don’t like large eReaders, sure.  It could also be because customers aren’t interested in incredibly expensive eReaders with design flaws and a lack of software updates.

Don’t misunderstand, I love the Kindle DX.  Until giving mine away to a friend, it was used on a regular basis.  It just happened to give the impression of being a product that still needed work.  A larger version of the Kindle Paperwhite priced at $179 would fly off shelves, in my opinion.  As much as I wish that would happen it seems to be time to give up on the idea.  The Kindle DX is no longer relevant.

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.

Basics Info About the Kindle Paperwhite Display & Why It’s Useful

One of the questions I’ve been asked frequently lately is what the point of a Kindle eReader could possibly be now that it’s lit up.  Obviously this has been addressed before, but maybe it’s worth going over again now that the Kindle Paperwhite finally pulls off a positive reading experience that includes a light.

First off, the main attraction of the Paperwhite is that it retains the E Ink display’s advantages while still allowing the user to read in the dark.  Unlike the LCD you’re likely to find on a tablet, including the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, the lighting used in the new eReader is not coming from behind the screen.  Instead it is reflected through a layer on top of the print which spreads illumination evenly from the lights on the bottom of the screen.  Many people, perhaps even most, find that this causes significantly less eye strain during extended periods of reading because the light is not being directed outward at the eyes.

The E Ink screen underlying this lighting layer is not your typical display either.  E Ink has been around for a while, but since I still get some questions it is worth explaining.

The premise is simple enough.  Each pixel on your Kindle’s monochrome screen has two settings.  It can be either dark or light.  This state is only changed when there is reason to change it.  This means that unlike constantly refreshing displays like the monitor you are likely reading this on, the Kindle’s E Ink uses practically no power.  It also reflects light much like paper does, which helps provide a pleasant reading experience.

There are downsides to just about anything, of course.  E Ink eReaders in general are known for showing a flicker each time a page is turned.  This relates to the same behavior that provides these devices with such amazing battery life.

Remember that the screen only refreshed when needed, so it clears the current selection this way before putting up the next page.  The flicker has gone from a 1-2 second annoyance in early eReaders to a barely noticeable flicker that takes a fraction of the time turning a physical page would on the Kindle Paperwhite, but it does still exist.

Specific to the Kindle Paperwhite and Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight is the problem of uneven lighting.  While not nearly as obvious as the Nook’s, the Kindle Paperwhite’s lights are visible at the bottom of the display in some situations.  This is especially easy to spot when holding the Kindle at extreme angles or when reading with the light turned up particularly high in a poorly lit room.  Few people seem to be troubled enough for this to be a major problem, but it is common enough to be worth noting.  In certain situations the lighting will not be 100% evenly distributed.

Overall, the advantages of the Kindle Paperwhite are basically the same as those the Kindle has enjoyed over tablets all along.  It costs less than a tablet, doesn’t use a light source that is hard on the eyes, runs for weeks at a time without charging even when being used regularly, and provides a better overall reading experience.  While it isn’t nearly as bad to read on a tablet as it used to be, the Kindle Paperwhite is highly recommended for anybody who reads frequently or for extended periods of time.

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.

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.

Can Microsoft Surface Inspire Kindle Interface Enhancement?

The introduction of eReaders into the portable electronics world immediately led to prophetic statements declaring them irrelevant in a world that already had access to tablets.  The Kindle vs iPad debate was long and monotonous, but over time people have generally come to accept that there is a distinction between the two types of device.  While most tablet functions would be more or less ridiculous to add to a dedicated reading device like the Kindle, however, Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablet has introduced a useful concept that may have important implications for the future of electronic reading devices.

The Surface will incorporate technology that separates general touch recognition from stylus recognition, making it possible to take notes conveniently on the screen of the tablet without having to worry about where your fingers are positioned.  As anybody who tries to write naturally on a tablet for the first time will likely be immediately aware, it can be quite difficult to manage without either setting the device down or letting a thumb wrap around onto the screen.

Amazon has already done something great for Kindle users with Whispernet.  Having all of your annotations saved, along with bookmarks, page position, and so on, regardless of where you are loading your content from allows the Kindle platform to be device independent and convenient for just about anybody.  Unfortunately, taking notes on an actual Kindle eReader is a huge inconvenience.  Even with the keyboard provided by the Kindle Keyboard (or the virtual one on the Kindle Touch), it’s a slow and annoying process that will usually result in there being few such notes taken.

While it would definitely mean a slightly higher production cost, and would probably require a greater expense as far as data transfer and storage in concerned due to the increase in use, Amazon would be wise to adopt a similar option in their next Kindle upgrade.

The last remaining hurdle for eReaders at this point is their inability to match the convenience of paper books when it comes to direct interaction.  Annotation is part of that.  This would not make it any easier to flip rapidly from place to place in your favorite book, but that is not a sensation that can be replicated on a screen.  The pleasure of making one’s own contribution to a personal copy of a book is far simpler to bring to the new medium.

There is no indication that Amazon is going to make this sort of change.  This is merely speculation about what could eventually become a major selling point.  Until color E Ink style screens advance to the point where they are worth integrating, there isn’t a lot that can be done to make the Kindle a better reading tool.  The screen is already offering basically the same reading experience that you get from paper.  It’s not easy to find ways to make paper replication an exciting new thing once you reach this level of sophistication.  Improved writing inputs could be just what the Kindle needs in that respect.

New Nook Tablet Planned To Match Updated Kindle Fire

A recent report through CNET indicates that Barnes & Noble is preparing to combat the anticipated Kindle Fire 2 release with a new and improved model of their Nook Tablet.  Very little is known so far when it comes to details about the device, but it seems that the new Nook will still be focused on being an eReader first and a tablet second.  There are a couple different ways that this becomes important.

The biggest selling point, according to this admittedly preliminary report, will be a new sort of screen technology never before seen in the tablet market.  This could mean any number of things, but seeing as Barnes & Noble is more concerned with the implementation of high quality reading applications there is a good chance that it will be battery efficient, easy on the eyes, and otherwise well suited to extended user focus.

Given their failure to seize a significant portion of the Android tablet market thus far, it would be unrealistic to speculate about a high resolution, high pixel density screen along the lines of what is used in the latest iPads and iPhones.  That isn’t the sort of direct competition that would go well for the company no matter how invested they are in the future of the Nook line.

Despite their inability to make much of a dent in Android, however, the new Nook Tablet will definitely be remaining with the OS.  There has been some speculation among analysts that the recent Microsoft investment in the product line would lead to a Windows 8 powered Nook, but that will not be happening just yet.

Microsoft’s announcement of the Surface tablet line was enough of an upset to their OEM partners that it seems unlikely they will enter the budget tablet market any time soon.  Without their direct involvement, and the waiver of licensing fees that would have to come with it, the price of running Windows 8 remains too high for any 7” tablet priced to compete.

Obviously the hardware specifications will be closely equated to the Kindle Fire 2.  Even if the Kindle Fire sold better by quite a lot, the Nook Tablet was practically a point by point demonstration of one-upmanship on that side of things and there is not likely to be much of a change despite the intrusion of Google’s Nexus 7 into the marketplace.

Where they really have to work is in media services.  Both the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 do far better at getting users the content they want when they want it.  There isn’t much point in offering nice hardware if it is hard to find something to use it for.  A Microsoft tie-in here would make a lot of sense, especially given the software giant’s recent interest in expanding their Xbox Live media services.  Streaming to Nook Tablets would help things along and save Barnes & Noble money on infrastructure development.

The Nook Tablet vs Kindle Fire decision will likely come down to an evaluation of this “revolutionary” new screen.  If it is truly amazing and half as unique as claimed then Barnes & Noble will have a major advantage.  If not, the Kindle Fire will still offer more content, better integration, and a smoother custom Android interface.  They are both said to be coming out for just $200, but the Kindle Fire has far less to prove.

The new Nook Tablet is expected to be released in late September or October of 2012.

Nook Services Follow Kindle to Browser-Based eReading App

As was bound to happen eventually, Barnes & Noble has joined Amazon in offering a browser-based reading solution for their Nook customers.  Since last August, the Kindle Cloud Reader has been offering the same capabilities to users of the competing platform.  The current promotion set to launch Nook for Web, as the new application has been dubbed, offers users six free best sellers for giving it a try.  Both the promo and the features make this worth taking a look at.

To try it out for yourself, simply head over to the Nook for Web site.  Currently supported browsers include Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.  In the preview, you can choose from any of the six selections available in this promotion.  You get the first portion of the book immediately with no need to establish a Barnes & Noble account.  This allows you to check out the features of the web app and see for yourself if it meets a need.  Should you like what you see, these books are available for download through a link at the end of their sample portion.

In terms of features, Nook for Web is definitely competitive with the Kindle Cloud Reader.  You can choose from eight font sizes, eight font styles, and a set of different page layouts.  The default layout will take into account the width of your browser window and decide whether or not you need two columns for an optimal reading experience.  If you don’t like the choice it makes, you can also choose to go with the publisher’s default layout preference or restrict things to a single page no matter the width of the window.  At this time you can’t force a two column view.

Pull-down menus let you access the table of contents on the fly, as well as use the Nook platform’s social networking features and access information about the title you have open.  The whole package fits well in Barnes & Noble’s established eBook platform and you can see where they have made efforts to keep the experience consistent for existing users.  Obviously any books you already own for your Nook will be available to you as soon as you log in.

In some ways B&N has done a great job of meeting the needs of their community here.  The features are sound and compatibility is extensive.  They have even made Nook for Web work in Internet Explorer, which the Kindle Cloud Reader still does not do.  On the other hand, they are missing compatibility with non-desktop browsers and I think that is going to hurt adoption.

The motivation behind the Kindle Cloud Reader was Amazon’s need to get around Apple’s restrictive terms and conditions for in-app sales.  As such, iPad and iPhone owners were the priority in its development.  Launching without letting those users take part in the new service immediately costs Barnes & Noble the chance to pull in some potential converts from the Kindle Platform.  No matter how many people use Internet Explorer, and that isn’t a small number, the percentage of people who read on their mobile device is far higher.

It doesn’t hurt to take advantage of this promo (available through 7/26) even if you’re otherwise a Kindle customer.  A free book is a free book.  To gain access to the complete text of each title, you will need to create an account.  Other than that, there’s no hoop to jump through.  Having tried both, I definitely prefer the Kindle Cloud Reader.  This is a good first step in what could eventually be a really impressive web app, though.

Dozens of Slovoed Dictionaries Come to the Kindle Store

Paragon Software Group, possibly best known for their work in mobile dictionary and reference software, has brought a new set of translation dictionaries to the Kindle Store in an effort to improve the multi-lingual reading experience.  The Slovoed dictionaries, now available, allow users to enjoy a number of interesting features that should come in handy.

The most appealing application is simply a new default dictionary for your Kindle.  By replacing your current dictionary with the Slovoed dictionary for your particular language of choice, you can enjoy pop-up translation of almost any word thanks to the Kindle’s built-in dictionary look-up capabilities.  This comes in especially handy with the Kindle Touch, since just tapping a word on the screen is all that is required.

It is also possible to do some manual translation.  As with any dictionary, you can open the Slovoed translation volumes directly through the Kindle.  From here it is just a matter of searching for the word you need.  It is well designed for this sort of searching, including the ability to handle most obvious misspellings by giving users a choice of several possibilities from a list after the search field is filled.

You get three choices when acquiring Slovoed dictionaries:

The Compact series contains the basics.  This series takes up the least amount of space on your device’s storage while still offering concise translations for thousands of commonly used words.  It is primarily aimed at people who are just getting started on learning a new language.

The Classic series is more advances.  It is a comprehensive collection of just about everything you could need.  The target audience is travelers, students, and business professionals, so the breath of coverage is as wide as you might expect.  For many people, this is all you will ever need.

The Deluxe series is intended for advanced students, professional linguists, and translators.  It contains everything that the other series offer, but also has far more detailed information.  Everything from examples of proper use to detailed explanations of unusual cases is covered.  You can’t get much more from a product like this.

Coverage is available in dozens of languages and should be able to fit the majority of needs.  The whole selection appears to be available now.

The only customer complaint that seems to come up regularly is the lack of a reciprocal translation option.  In other words, you can go from Catalan to Spanish with a single dictionary, but to go from Spanish to Catalan you will need to get a separate volume.  This can be a problem for some people, especially students, as comprehension sometimes requires the ability to look things up from either direction.

Overall, this is a solid set of products and a plus for any bilingual Kindle reader who has a need for it.  The price is right and installation is as simple as selecting the new dictionary as your default in the Kindle’s settings menu.  It’s hard to argue with simplicity.

Glow in the Dark Kindle May Be Delayed

The next generation of the Kindle eReader is going to have at least an optional lit display.  We know that for a fact at this point.  Even if previous reports of supply chain requests, patent purchasing, and “leaked” previews of the hardware weren’t enough, the no bid contract that Amazon signed with the US State Department clearly indicated that the devices they delivered would have front-lit E Ink displays.  Unfortunately it might be a bit longer than we expected before we see these new lit Kindles.

According to information from DigiTimes (to which all the standard cautionary disclaimers regarding their notorious unreliability apply), there have been some problems coming up in the production of their new lighting.  While reports of test units have indicated that the technology works, apparently something is going wrong now that they have stepped up to mass production.

This may have the effect of delaying shipments of the new Kindle eReader until late in the third quarter of 2012.  Considering the fact that most people expected to see this new product announced as early as the end of July, the delays mark a major issue for Amazon’s continued investment in eReaders.

At the moment, the Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight is the most functional eReader on the market.  Barnes & Noble, Amazon’s primary competition for eBook customers in the US, came out with their own lighting solution months before Amazon was even rumored to be ready with their own.  This has not stopped the Kindle from remaining the most popular eReader on the market today but even with superior customer loyalty, satisfaction, and brand recognition you can’t think they will be happy about losing any customers over the hardware side of their business.

Even with these delays, there is no reason to expect the front-lit Kindle to be pushed back beyond the holidays or abandoned.  Amazon is already committed to releasing such a device and it is about the only direction they could hope to improve their hardware at this point until color E Ink screens become less problematic.

The biggest problems with this delay will likely be experienced by users already invested in the Kindle platform.  Many are hoping that the update to the Kindle’s hardware will address some of the more common complaints in addition to offering the convenience of lighting.  Touchscreen Kindles from the latest generation have not included physical controls for turning pages, unlike the Nook Simple Touch, which is one of many customer demands that will likely come up here.

The Kindle Keyboard is still available and offers up all of the reading enjoyment that it ever did while not requiring the user to sacrifice screen quality, but it is also not receiving significant upgrades to its software features anymore and as such can’t quite compete with newer models for many users.  Presumably the next installment will combine the advantages of both possible approaches now that Amazon has had a chance to see what worked and what didn’t when they moved the Kindle over to a touchscreen.

Amazon to Launch Kindle Store in Brazil, but No Other Services

The Brazilian market has not seen an entry from Amazon so far, but that looks like it is about to change.  It seems that the Kindle will be launched in Brazil by the holiday season, along with a store that they hope to full with at least 10,000 titles.  Oddly, in what I believe is the only instance of such a thing happening so far, there will be no other Amazon services entering the market at the same time.  That means that for the time being the eBook store will have to stand on its own.

While a full retail store is definitely in plans for Brazil, at the moment there are apparently too many potential dangers in the notoriously complex commercial markets there.  By going entirely digital, many of the shortcomings in infrastructure and tax codes can be somewhat sidestepped.  It’s interesting timing given the fact that Brazil’s consumer growth seems to be trailing off after a decade of impressive growth, but Amazon is far from the only company interested in cashing in on Latin America’s most prosperous economy.

The motivation behind this move is Amazon’s expectation that the Kindle could quickly come to dominate the eBook market.  Apparently some research has indicated that a fairly large number of Brazilian readers already own imported eReaders, including the Kindle, and go out of their way to purchase and download books through stores that are not technically open to the country at this time.  By moving the Kindle Store in, Amazon expects to immediately grab as much as 90% of the country’s eBook sales.  The same source that released this information also mentioned that Amazon is hoping to expand eBook sales from 0.5% of the Brazilian publishing market to 15% within the first year of operations.

We can expect the basic Kindle model to be the first thing released through the new store.  It will likely be selling for approximately 500 reais, equivalent to $239, which is obviously higher than many other markets are seeing but still cheaper than the competition currently available in Brazil.  Naturally prices will drop as competition strengthens, but there has been some indication that even this high price is being subsidized by Amazon thanks to the added expense of doing business in this area.

There are already contracts in place with around 30 publishers as Amazon gets ready for the release.  There is also word that there are still ongoing talks with several that are not included in that list.  One publisher said that the current plan is to offer titles at 70% of their paperback price, allowing for a profit margin of 40-50%.  That would not translate to much revenue for the wholesalers, in this case publishers, but they are still interested in signing up for the platform as a means to expand interest in their books.

This will probably end up being the slowest expansion that Amazon has undertaken to date.  Entering into the Brazilian economy will be rather unpleasant for them and clearly they are aware of that.  By leading with the Kindle not only will they avoid some of the headaches associated with local shipping and distribution of assorted retail products, they will also be putting the best foot forward by providing interested customers with one of the best products in production today for reading.  It seems to be a smart choice.

Kindle Fire 2 To Get July 31st Launch Event With Front-Lit Kindle eReader

Naturally, there is a new Kindle Fire on the way.  We are also expecting there to be a new E Ink Kindle eReader released alongside it.  The Kindle Fire 2, or whatever Amazon decides to label their new device, has aroused a lot of interest over the past few weeks and the release of a Kindle that matches or exceeds the capabilities of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight will be a big thing for the company.  Now, citing reliable sources rather than simply the less than reliable DigiTimes reports, CNET has come up with a July 31st launch event to introduce both of these products to potential customers.

Rumors have indicated that the Kindle Fire 2 will be improved in a number of ways.  It will have a higher resolution 1280 x 800 screen while maintaining the same 7” size, according to most of the rumors today.  This latest report indicates that it will also have a camera and physical volume control buttons.  Both of these features will be welcome additions for many Kindle Fire users.  One can only assume that with the addition of a camera Amazon will also have seen fit to include a mic to make their tablet into a viable communication tool.

The new Kindle eReader will also have minor improvements across the board.  The most important of these will obviously be the ability to light up the screen.  We saw several months ago that Amazon had bought a patent that would allow them to add a refraction layer for front-lighting their eReaders, but Barnes & Noble beat them to the punch.  Given how well B&N has done in making a great lit eReader, we have to hope that Amazon has used the intervening time to improve more than just the lighting.  Expect to at least see physical page turn buttons return to the Kindle Touch version of the next generation.

Amazon is expected to be selling these new devices for the same price as current models.  The new Kindle Fire 2 will be going for $199 while the basic model of the new Kindle eReader will be just $79.  While it is too early to say for sure, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon was including lighting in all their eReaders at no extra charge, thereby undercutting Barnes & Noble’s prices yet again.  The Kindle Fire that we know today will continue to be available in its present form for the indefinite future, but it is believed that the price will drop to just $149 as the new version hits shelves.

None of this tells us anything about a new larger Kindle Fire model.  While reports still indicate that such a tablet is on the way, the rumor mills are surprisingly quiet about the details.  Presumably it will be more powerful and have features comparable to other large tablets, but things like price and release date are completely unknown and barely speculated on.  We’ll try to bring you more on this when the information becomes available.

Kindle Touch Travel Review

While I’m mostly a fan of the Kindle Touch, I’ve largely seen little reason to upgrade from the Kindle Keyboard in day to day use.  The darker frame is nice, the keyboard works well for any shopping I have to do, and it has generally proven reliable for quite some time now.  Since I knew I would be on the road for about a week recently, however, I decided I would give the Kindle Touch a thorough test.  You never know what you might learn by trying, right?

Connectivity

One thing that surprised me was that I was generally able to get a better 3G signal through the Kindle Touch than through my Kindle Keyboard.  The Keyboard model is definitely far more broken in, so I can’t necessarily count this as a side by side comparison of new devices, but I was able to get more reliable, faster connections at nearly every stage of a 3,500 mile trip with the Kindle Touch.

Screen Quality

I expected that the lighter case on the new Kindle Touch would be a pain compared to what I was used to.  This was somewhat accurate.  While reading in the majority of indoor lighting situations was fine with either eReader, I noticed that it was much easier to use my Kindle Keyboard in bright sunlight.  I’m sure this was an optical illusion rather than actual quality differences, but the lighter frame around the screen left the Kindle Touch looking washed out in truly bright light.

Reading Experience

Quite frankly, I love the physical page turn buttons.  I still get annoyed at Amazon for removing them.  That is literally my only complaint about the general reading experience on the Kindle Touch, though.  It is quick, light, easier to hold, and generally everything you want in a reading device.  The preference for physical buttons aside, I will admit that after a few page turns I stopped noticing that I was having to touch the screen and things moved quite naturally.  This could be a matter of my own preconceptions as much as anything.

Navigation

The place where I really appreciated having a touch screen was in PDF navigation.  Things went much more smoothly than I’m used to.  The same is true of in-line annotation in Kindle documents.  While it is slightly faster to type on the physical keyboard, that advantage is negated by the fact that the Kindle Touch allows for quick placement of your cursor rather than a slow movement via 5-way control pad.  The point here has to go to the Kindle Touch on both issues.

Battery Life

You can’t really complain about the battery life on any Kindle product.  I used each of my Kindles for about 4 hours per day across a seven day period.  They both still had just under half their batteries left when my drive was over.  The charger that was packed could have easily been left at home.

Conclusion

My Kindle Touch is going to be seeing a lot more use.  The lighter weight and smaller form made it stand out in a lot of ways and the fact that note taking was so much faster than I expected has persuaded me to make this my daily eReader.  There are still many reasons to prefer the Kindle Keyboard, the keyboard among them, but it is not as clear a choice as I had expected.  I will try to follow up on this in a few weeks to see if extended use is still preferable when both are available.

Penguin Tentatively Returns eBooks to Libraries, but Not Kindles

By launching a pilot program to bring their publications back to libraries through OverDrive competitor 3M, Penguin has taken a step back toward serving its customers. At least so long as those customers don’t like reading on their Kindle. One of the notable shortcomings of the new system, and likely one reason that it is so appealing to Penguin, is that it completely lacks Kindle compatibility at this time.

The ongoing disputes between Amazon and the Big 6 publishers have provided any number of inconveniences for readers over the years now, but the library system has been hit particularly hard. While demand for eBooks, especially those compatible with the Kindle platform, has been rising at an ever increasing rate, publishers have been doing their best to make sure that eBook borrowing is as inconvenient as possible when it is available at all.

If that sounds horribly over the top, it is. Just not in the way you might think. The appeal of the 3M system for publishers, when it last made big news in library lending, was that it would force customers to both be in the library building to load their eBook and to wait in line as kiosks to get their chance. The OverDrive system, which often allows borrowers to download their titles over WiFi, allows for too little friction. Penguin, along with others, is concerned that if they don’t find some way to make using an eReader less simple and hassle-free then it will result in lost sales.

The argument is simple enough to follow, but seems to demonstrate how thoroughly these publishers understand their customers. By this logic, the only reason that book stores are able to stay in business is that libraries took too much of a drive or had longer lines.

To be fair, 3M has gotten better since those planning stages. Users are now able to browse and borrow from wherever they like, it seems, and there is even a fair selection available. The originally mandatory kiosks have been changed into promotional tools within the library itself and the program now includes branded eReaders meant specifically to be lent out to library patrons. It’s possible this explains why Penguin is only tentatively on board with the whole program even now, as well as why they will only be offering titles that are at least six months old.

Supposedly there will eventually be some degree of Kindle compatibility with the 3M lending network. Reportedly Amazon broke off earlier talks with a request that they resume in June, so at least things are still being discussed. It is unlikely that 3M will allow things to go the same way that OverDrive did, however, in shuffling their users through an Amazon store page. Given the customer base that Amazon already has, as well as the internal Kindle Owners’ Lending Library being used as a promotional tool for the Amazon Prime subscription service, this might become something that takes quite a while to come to terms over. Kindle owners probably shouldn’t be holding their breath waiting for Penguin, 3M, or Amazon to come around.

Thoughts on the Future of the Kindle eReader

In most of the ways that matter we can safely say that the eBook war is over.  Owning a Kindle is no longer strange or a sign that one is obsessed with gadgets.  Where does all this lead, though?  In many ways there is nowhere left to go for these devices, or at least nowhere obvious, and while they will certainly persist in at least as advanced a form as they have already achieved there is the question of how much room for growth the eReader market will eventually have.

I bring this up because of reliability issues in eReading devices.  Unlike most electronics that I have owned, my worry here is that they tend to be overly reliable.  I have owned a handful of such devices since my first in 2006.  That one, a Sony Reader PRS-500, still works as well as the day I bought it.  The battery was a little worse for wear after sitting for six months in a closet, but the screen is fine.  The same is true of every other example I have on hand.

Until now, upgrading was a matter of often drastic improvements in screen contrast and refresh rate.  Five minutes on a first generation Kindle will have you tearing your hair out if you’re used to using a Kindle Keyboard.  With E Ink Pearl displays we have hit a point where you are basically looking at paper.  Thanks to the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight, and soon its anticipated Kindle counterpart, we are able to read in the dark without trouble.

Short of introducing color and non-perceivable screen refreshes there is not a lot of room to grow.  If anybody manages to figure out both of those without introducing severe downsides like battery life reduction then chances are good that the displays will be more useful on tablets anyway and the dedicated eReader will remain a niche purchase.

If we have a product that will not likely see much in the way of hardware improvement beyond the next generation or two, especially one that can last as long as a Kindle, it could cause rather lower sales rates than one expects in consumer electronics.  The newest eReader I own has already outlasted the newest laptop I own despite having seen ten times the use.  Looking purely at the hardware side of my purchasing pattern would give the wrong idea about my preferences as a consumer.

Essentially, I’m wondering how long the idea that the hardware and media sides of the Kindle business model can be kept even nominally separate.  There may come a time when stagnant growth for the line is not the sign of problems.

I don’t doubt that eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular will continue to be updated.  If nothing else, there are parts besides the screens that will need to be updated to keep up with new software features as time goes on.  I only wonder how often people will feel the need to upgrade.  It is hard to see huge performance improvement as a necessary factor when you’re talking about a device meant to emulate the experience of flipping over pieces of paper to see what’s on the other side.

How Publishers Can Kill the Kindle by Trusting Customers

There is no avoiding the fact that the Big 6 publishers created their own problem in the Kindle.  Amazon provided them with an easy way to start making a move into digital publishing when it was just getting off the ground and they jumped at it.  That alone wasn’t the problem, though.  The issue was that they were so paranoid about the medium that they managed to lock people into the first platform they purchased any significant number of books through.  Let’s face it, nobody is better at successfully selling, suggesting, and just generally getting people interested in books than Amazon.

I’ve talked here before about how the Kindle deserves its place as the top selling eReader primarily because nobody else has come close to designing a store that gives customers so much of what they want.  The suggestions are often eerily accurate, the categories make sense, and the search options are almost always up to a given task.  Even Barnes & Noble can’t come close because of how used to the store-based practice of sponsored marketing they are.  Given a choice between accurate recommendations based on personal purchase history balanced against similar customer profiles and recommendations based on what publishers decided to pour an advertising budget into, the choice is fairly simple.

We know that Apple’s price fixing scheme was not the answer in the long run.  Not only did it not work particularly well to decrease Amazon’s influence, now the publishers are enjoying legal troubles for their efforts.  They do have plenty of reason to want more diversified distribution, though.  Looking at Amazon’s treatment of the IPG is enough to highlight some of what it means to be completely at the mercy of a single distributor.

The problem these publishers really need to address is that of their DRM.  Amazon has not required publishers to participate in their DRM scheme, to the best of my knowledge.  That was forced by publisher paranoia over piracy.  If done away with, they are afraid that eBook profits will plummet.

Here, it seems like publisher interests are actually well served by the design of the Kindle.  Without losing existing Kindle owners as customers, publishers could easily begin selling their titles without DRM and encourage wider competition.  Best case scenario, this would allow publishers to open their own cooperatively stocked eBook store. It would also make possible the creation of smaller stores taking advantage of the same opportunity.

If somebody got truly ambitious, it wouldn’t even be hard to create a Kindle alternative that allowed for essentially the same experience.  There are any number of Kindle clones on the market already that do the job fairly well and could probably do it better if the provider felt it was worth the investment in development.  There’s no incentive if they can’t attract customers because Kindle Store purchases are locked down to Kindles.

All of this hinges on publishers looking past the possibility of piracy.  How is that really so difficult, though?  The DRM on eBooks is already laughably easy to get around, judging by how common stories of switching platforms through format conversion have become.  If somebody really wants to pirate content, it is going to happen anyway.  If these companies genuinely believe that the only thing keeping most Kindle owners from helping themselves to hundreds of free books is the DRM scheme, they’re fooling themselves and working against their own best interests.

How the Kindle is Contributing to a New Way of Looking at the World

It is occasionally amazing exactly how far we’ve come over the years.  It’s an inane observation but not, I think, an inaccurate one.  This came to me recently while reading Halting State by Charles Stross.  I enjoyed the book immensely and can’t recommend it enough, but it occurred to me about halfway through that much of the “science fiction” being employed was realistic enough to give me pause.  Augmented reality glasses, arguably the major liberty Stross takes with real life, are hardly unlikely if Google is to be believed.  The idea that technology increasingly mediates our interactions with the world around us brought to mind some thoughts about how the Kindle has changed our perceptions.

The trend toward digitization of print media is ongoing and not isolated to anything Amazon has done.  What they made with the Kindle platform, however, was the first real method for instantly accessing any eBook in circulation at a moment’s notice (acknowledging certain exceptions, of course).  If you saw an interesting ad, you could grab the book from your phone and have it with you the next time you wanted to read.  If somebody recommended a book, you could immediately check the reviews and give it a shot.  If a student forgot their book, they could often fix the problem immediately rather than sitting around bewildered.

The effect has been extensive in obvious ways.  Libraries are having to adapt to the eReader presence, for example.  Not only that, they were in a fair amount of trouble while OverDrive adapted to the Kindle since the vast majority of eReader owners prefer the Kindle platform.  Bookstores are feeling the press as well, being forced to compete, choose sides, or go the way of Borders.

The more subtle effects are more interesting, though.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that many book stores are having trouble unloading “classics” these days.  Where a faux leather cover on a book that was probably never going to be read might have been enough to sell a bargain bin title in the past, customers are increasingly aware that they can have those older titles for free and don’t have the incentive to have them on hand purely on principal anymore.

Reading in public is also becoming more common.  It has never been uncommon, of course, but now the ability to read without openly displaying your book preferences makes the Kindle a smart buy for people with guilty pleasures of a literary nature.  We’ve seen something of a romance novel boom reported as a result.

There are all sorts of little ways that this comes into play.  When you take into account the fact that the Kindle platform is available on any smartphone in circulation at the moment, we’re basically talking about the most wide-spread literary revolution since the move to codex-style books.  Maybe I shouldn’t attribute the whole shift to the Kindle, but if you have to put a name to it then Amazon’s product is the one to spring to mind.

Without trying to sound clichéd, any thoughts on how the Kindle platform and eReading in general has changed our lives?  I was expecting more from the instant Wikipedia access anywhere that Kindle devices offered so early on, but it seems in retrospect that this was the least profound impact of the lot.

Amazon Kindle Faces Big Trouble as Microsoft Backs Nook Line

Barnes & Noble has finally begun to spin off their Nook brand into its own subsidiary company and Microsoft has jumped at the opportunity to be a major part of that effort.  According to an announcement released jointly this Monday, the software giant will be investing $300 Million into the Nook business thereby acquiring 17.6% equity stake.  This could be bad news for Amazon’s Kindle line, which is already facing some of its toughest competition to date in the realm of eReading thanks to the new Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight.

Making things even more pleasant for B&N, this arrangement will also involve the settlement of Microsoft’s ongoing patent litigation the bookseller over certain aspects of the Nook’s design.  Microsoft will now be picking up royalties for all Nook products, but in the end this may result in significant savings compared to the cost of legal defense.  Whether or not that is the case, and admittedly I’m not a lawyer so it is purely speculative, this partnership will open up some major new opportunities for advancing the Nook.

In the immediate future we can expect a Nook app for Windows 8.  This will be an important development for both companies as Microsoft is betting big on the potential for tablets using their new OS while Barnes & Noble will need to be ready for the next major push in operating systems.  The nature of the Metro UI that Windows 8 (and its ARM compatible offshoot Windows RT) uses will actually create an even better reading experience than existing Windows reading apps if done right.

More long-term, Microsoft has already alluded to an interest in using Windows 8 to gain a foothold in the eReader market.  While this was mostly an offhanded remark at a recent event, and could therefore have been meant as a subtle emphasis on how adaptable their new operating system is, buying into as big a player in eReading as the Barnes & Noble Nook line is a fair indication that something more serious is going on.

In the face of this, Amazon has to be wondering what to do next with the Kindle line.  While the Kindle Fire is coming out on top of every other Android tablet on the market today, their Android fork might not quite compare to a properly configured Windows 8 installation powering the next Nook Tablet.  Nothing stops Amazon from following suit and licensing the new OS themselves, of course, but this would likely lose them the ability to completely control the user experience enjoyed under the existing system.  Microsoft will certainly allow locked-down version of their software to circulate, but fragmenting the Metro UI is not going to happen.

This might end up being the first step in a major Android vs Windows 8 fight.  The Kindle Fire holds the majority of non-iPad tablet users, but if a new Nook offered superior hardware and an operating system that shines when compared to Android without increasing the price significantly then the tables could turn.  Amazon still has their content distribution and the tight integration that gives them the edge, but the next Kindle Fire might need to be especially impressive to keep consumer interest going.

Review: Barnes & Noble’s GlowLight Nook Leaves Kindle Playing Catch-Up

The biggest complaint about eReaders since Day 1 has been the fact that you can’t read them in the dark.  Now, normally I’m the first to call out such complaints as poorly informed since they tend to involve comparisons between E Ink Kindles and LCD alternatives.  Apparently that will no longer be an important distinction soon.  The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight has begun shipping ahead of schedule and should already be in the hands of many of the earliest preorder customers.

Now that there are actual devices available for review it is possible to make a more informed comparison.  We can start with the Nook Simple Touch that we already know and love.  The differences between the two models are minimal.  The new incarnation has a gray border around the outer edge of the device, but it is otherwise hard to tell them apart.  It apparently has an screen protector to reduce glare laminated to the display, but this does not reduce clarity in any significant way even in side by side comparisons.  There is no essential loss involved in the addition of the new technology.

What you gain by going with the GlowLight version of the Nook Simple Touch is fairly impressive.  Any other additions aside, the lighting feature is the important part.  It is not, as some have claimed, an example of back-lit E Ink.  The new Nook uses a type of LED-lit front-lighting to spread the illumination evenly without causing any significant increase in eye strain.  Unlike the situation for many reading on something like the Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire, there will be no noticeable discomfort due to the light even after hours of extended use.  It also does not drain the battery in a shocking fashion.  While I have not had a chance to map out the exact side by side comparisons in battery life with the original Nook Simple Touch, the drain from the GlowLight feature seems to pale in comparison to the WiFi connectivity that comes standard in every device.

There are downsides, as always, but in this case they are minimal.  The extra forty dollars added to a $99 eReader is a fairly big jump, but the expanded number of potential use environments will likely more than make up for that in the eyes of many.  There is currently no option to get this model with 3G connectivity or integrated audio.

The Kindle has a lot of catching up to do.  While they still have what is arguably the best eBook selection on the net, this development puts Amazon way behind in terms of hardware features.  Nothing that has happened since the release of E Ink Pearl has been more important to the development of the eReader as a product and we can only hope that Amazon gets their front-lit Kindle in production and ready for sale as soon as possible.  In the meantime, the Kindle might honestly not be the best option for new users regardless of how much nicer the integrated store is than the Nook’s.

Kindle Touch International Release Begins Ahead of Schedule

The Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G have begun to make their way to customers outside the US a full week ahead of schedule.  Some may already have them in hand.  The company mentioned on Friday that they had begun sending out the new Kindles for pre-order customers.  Shipments are being mailed in the order those pre-orders were received.

The enthusiasm from customers outside the US has apparently exceeded expectations by quite a bit.  Since there has already been a well observed secondary market for Kindle re-sales emerging in areas that did not have access to the device previously, this could indicate a more active expansion on the international scale than we have seen so far.  Much of that will depend on how much ongoing popularity the Kindle enjoys now that it is past the pre-order stage, but it’s safe to say that Amazon will expand to pretty much any area they see the potential for profit in.

At the moment the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G are, as Amazon claims, the only more or less globally available eReader in the price range to offer such a wide range of features.  While some of them are not fully functional in all circumstances yet, such as the newly introduced translation ability from the last firmware update, the important parts are all still there.  Users will still be able to enjoy the high contrast E Ink screen, two month battery life, and all the other basic eReading functions that we’ve come to expect even in cases where the more creative new abilities have not quite become available.  On top of that, the optional 3G connectivity will work all over the world and remains free of monthly charges no matter where you’re ordering from.

So far we have no word on the possible international release of the Kindle Fire media tablet.  Surely there will be some effort to bring this branch of the Kindle line to a wider audience at some point in the relatively near future, but it could be a complicated enough problem to work through that delays until the next generation of the product would not be surprising.  If nothing else, securing rights to media streaming over a variety of different media forms will tend to involve time-consuming  negotiations of a sort that many publishers don’t want to be in with Amazon given their recent tactics.

Check back here for more information on Kindle Fire international release schedules, tech specs for the Kindle Fire 2, and generally anything Kindle related that I can come up with.  There should be no shortage of such information over the next several months.

Analyst Says Short-Term Kindle Demand Falling, DOJ Settlements May Upset Those Predictions

According to some recent research by Pacific Crest analyst Chad Bartley, the demand for both Kindle E Ink eReaders and Kindle Fire tablets has fallen noticeably from Q4 2011 to Q1 2012.  There is some fairly compelling argument to be made, however, that changing any predictions based on this would be at best premature.  Regardless of the way things stood a month ago, the Kindle world is about to be turned upside down and interest can’t help but rise as a result.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Bartley’s analysis.  Based on the information at hand when he was writing, his report was accurate.  A combination of consumer polls about intended purchasing and inside information about Amazon’s supply chains show a marked decline in interest in Kindles from month to month.  He attributes this to a maturation of the eReader market, an increasingly well covered customer base, and consumer willingness to read on a variety of things besides eReaders.  All good points.

Since we now know that three of the Big 6 publishers have already settled with the US Department of Justice to avoid an ongoing legal defense of their price fixing arrangement, that is all more or less irrelevant.  The beginning of the end of the Agency Model will mean a return to lower prices on popular eBooks and a far more active marketing campaign on Amazon’s part.  There has literally never been a better time to buy a Kindle.

Regardless of where you stand on the state of publishing, it is undeniable that things are about to change in such a way as to allow for lower pricing.  As most of the problem with adopting eReading recently has been the fact that eBooks are commonly priced higher than their paper counterparts, changing the balance of things will open up new markets for the Kindle.  Customers who were previously on the fence about a purchase will now have much more appealing opportunities in front of them and Kindle ownership will be that much simpler to justify as paying for itself in savings over a short period of time for any active reader.

Will there be ongoing and constant increase in interest in the Kindle?  It is probable that sales will plateau at some point.  It is also probable that Amazon’s luck from the DOJ has pushed that point off into the future a bit. Estimates may be down for the moment, but they will be revised soon enough.  If anybody knows how to exploit a major opportunity like this, it is Amazon.

This is a great time to have a Kindle.  If you don’t have one of your own yet, it might be useful to check out the Kindle Keyboard.  Still in many ways the best iteration of the product line to date, it will serve you well in any reading situation. Might as well take advantage of the situation, since the customer benefits more than anybody in all of this.

Kindle Use Up and Still Rising, Pew Study Finds

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has recently published a study about the current trend in electronic reading.  Their findings signal impressive gains for the Kindle and eReading in general over the past year.  It can now be said with some degree of reliability that at least one in five Americans have read a book on a device designed for reading in the past year and nearly 30% of American adults now own an electronic reading device.

There is reason to be excited about this if you’re a fan of the Kindle, but the results should also be taken with a bit of caution.  For example, the definition of “device designed for reading” includes tablets like the iPad.  If all we’re concerned about is eBooks getting read, then that makes no difference whatsoever.  When we look at ownership levels, however, including the iPad or Kindle Fire will necessarily boost the numbers by including people who have no interest in reading on their multi-function tablet.

If we do look at eBook consumption alone, regardless of the device, the numbers are even better.  Pew indicates that 43% of Americans 16 and older have read an either an eBook or some other long-form publication in the past year.  This includes consumption via PC, Tablet, eReader, Cell phone, and anything else with a screen that might have been handy.

Kindle users are also more likely to purchase their books than those sticking to paper.  The report indicates that readers of electronic books are far more likely to buy than borrow, even when libraries are now available, and are generally more likely to say that they prefer book ownership as a rule.

These readers are more likely than their paper-loving counterparts to have read extensively over the past year as well.  Readers who take advantage of options like the Kindle report an average of 24 books read per year compared to the 15 of those who don’t engage with electronic texts.  This may be specific to eReaders like the Kindle, since the report also indicates that a similar disparity did not show up when comparing tablet user reading habits to non-eReader reading.

This is not the end of the printed word, of course.  Print books still account for the overwhelming majority of reading material being consumed.  There have been large enough spikes in Kindle use lately to indicate the comparison might be more equal soon, but print still has its place.  While most people who use eReaders reported that they prefer eBooks for a variety of reasons, print was still the desired format when talking about children’s books and book lending.  The latter point is especially obvious since publishers have forced lending restrictions onto eBooks, but it is a factor nonetheless.

The thing that best sums this up is probably the demographics.  While not specific to the Kindle, eReading was measured as fairly even across the board.  Men and women are roughly equally likely to have read something electronically.  All income groups show at least 20% to the same question.  The only real areas lagging behind in adoption are among those with a high school level education or below and readers over age 65.  Even in those groups the numbers are higher than ever before, which Pew attributes to the low price of the now <$80 Kindle.

Coming Soon: An E-Ink Kindle You Can Read In The Dark

When it comes to reading devices like the Kindle, E Ink displays are both the primary draw and the biggest marketing problem.  On the one hand they allow for insanely long battery life and a reading experience as easy on the eyes as any paperback.  On the other, they offer little advantage besides that ease of reading since the opaque nature of E Ink means that even optional lighting has not been possible before now.

Recent reports coming out of Seattle indicate that the next generation of Kindles will finally have built in lighting.  While we have not had a chance to actually play with any, the technology reportedly being employed will involve front-lighting of some sort that can be controlled through the system’s menus.  This both gets around the problematic opaqueness of the E Ink material and avoids doing so in such a way as to produce eye strain like that found when reading on an LCD.

This will be the first big step forward for either the Kindle or eReaders in general in quite some time.  For the most part, the only think that differentiates the Kindle from its competition at this point is the integration with Amazon’s Kindle Store.  Other than that the Nook Simple Touch is the slightly superior device and even the less well known competition is close enough to be comparable.  E Ink Pearl has just been around for long enough that everybody who is interested has managed to adopt it.

Now it is definitely cool that we will be able to do our Kindle reading in dark or poorly lit rooms after all this time.  It is even cooler to discover that it won’t have tradeoffs that negate the point of owning a Kindle instead of or in addition to a tablet.  Most exciting for me, though, is what this means for the generation beyond what we’ll see this year.

The major shortcoming of color eReaders using displays like E Ink Triton are that, unless the lighting is close to ideal, the colors are washed out and dull.  Once Amazon has some experience with including front lighting and has the implementation of a lighting layer down, there is no reason to think that they would have trouble adjusting to meet the needs of color displays.  This would probably result in having a color/monochrome toggle that insisted on turning the lighting on any time you wanted your Kindle to pull up a magazine, but it would still completely change the color eReading marketplace and eliminate the need for LCD reading tablets.

All reports indicate that the newest Kindle generation is still in development phases while the company works on things like weight, battery life, and light quality.  Even so, it is safe to assume that the Kindle 5 will show up before the end of the year.  Should the Agency Model be eliminated as soon as as we now suspect it might be, Amazon will almost certainly celebrate that fact with a huge push in the product line.  The coinciding release of a glow-in-the-dark Kindle would round that out nicely.