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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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August 2014
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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.

iPad Mini Details Provide Amazon With Kindle Fire Sales Boost

As the rumors grew more intense and details began to leak from production line sources about the reality of Apple’s new device, it became fairly common to see “hold off on any purchases until the iPad Mini is ready” posted as advice.  There is even reason to believe that many people took that advice, it turns out.  Amazon put out a statement recently indicating that the 24rd of October (One day after Apple’s iPad Mini launch event) was “the $199 Kindle Fire HD‘s biggest day of sales since launch”.

Some of the lack of interest in the iPad Mini has to come from its shockingly high price.  At $329 for the basic unit it is hard to compete with the $199 Kindle Fire HD in a market oriented toward people wanting to spend less for their tablet.  That extra $130 is a huge step above the prices of 7” tablets that Apple has openly shown they intend to compete with.

More importantly, the Kindle Fire HD has a superior display.  Now display isn’t everything, but it’s a lot.  Apple has largely maintained their advantage in tablets by offering some of the best visual performance money can buy.  A tablet, like a smartphone, is basically a handheld screen; nothing could be more apparent as a selling point.  Amazon and Google have had to price their tablets at cost in order to compete with the iPad up until now, but with better prices AND better visuals the competition is more than weighted against Apple for once.

The spec comparisons largely go in this direction.  Apple cut so much out of their device that just about all it has going for it is the slightly larger screen size (7.9” vs 7”) and the name “iPad”.

It’s possible that the iOS ecosystem will overcome these deficits.  It certainly will be the biggest factor in driving sales.  As more and more developers optimize their apps for the iPad 3’s A5X processor and the iPad 4’s A6X processor, however, people using the iPad Mini’s A5 processor might find their experience increasingly lacking.  Anecdotes of iPhone 4 owners unhappy with the problems created by iOS 6 performance are common enough to make this particularly important.  We’re talking about a device using roughly the same technology as the iPad 2 at a time when the iPad 4 is headlining.

There is still every reason for Amazon to be concerned about their chances in the larger tablet market.  The 4th Generation iPad was updated to compete with the sort of powerful Windows 8 tablets beginning to hit the market and it is hard to imagine that even the $200 price difference in favor of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” will be enough to drive sales in the face of those competitors unless Amazon does some serious expansion of their content ecosystem before the November 20th release date.

In terms of smaller tablets, it’s fair to say that the big names to watch right now are Google, Amazon, and maybe Barnes & Noble.  Apple has priced their option right out of the running, given what it’s made of.  As much as I like the Kindle Fire, it would have been great to get some even more intense competition to push things forward.  It’s a disappointment that Apple didn’t come through here.

iPad Mini Not a Myth! Surprisingly, Also Not Competition For Kindle Fire HD?

Well, I’ve been proven wrong before and it’s happened again.  Contrary to my previous expectations, Apple has finally come out with an iPad Mini to exploit the market for 7” tablets currently occupied almost entirely by the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7.  Apparently they were willing to swallow their pride and cut costs and profits to the point where it’s hard not to consider an iPad instead for all your budget tablet needs!  Ok…not so much.

Apple made the dubious decision to price the iPad Mini starting at $329.  This means that the basic model will be $170 more than the Kindle Fire and $130 more than the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7.  When we’re talking about devices that are popular at least in part due to their affordability, it’s insane to think that the iPad Mini can compete with comparably performing products running from 48-60% its price.

This is, of course, an iPad we’re talking about.  It will do well.  Part of that is due to the overwhelming weight that Apple’s reputation with consumers carries.  An Apple product will meet with a disproportionately high number of people willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  More importantly, it is an iPad and therefore connected to the established iOS ecosystem.

Even if the hardware is inferior (and it is, which we’ll get to in a moment), having the ability to pull from the 250,000+ iPad apps currently in circulation is a big advantage.  Realistically Android has comparable selections available, and nobody is ever going to find themselves wondering “would be life be complete if there were only 1,200 more tablet-optimized apps I could buy today”, but the side by side comparison of app ecosystems is still unequivocally in Apple’s favor.

Courtesy of CNET

We have to wonder if this will be enough to push the product this time around.  Consider the specs to the right, courtesy of CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt.  The practically iconic point of superiority for iPads, the high quality display, is missing.  In this case we get a larger 7.9” screen at a lower resolution than either of its two main competitors.  The lower weight is nice, though not a huge difference.  The A5 processor is quite outdated by comparison at this point.  Even the onboard storage presents a problem since Apple is charging a $100 fee for each level of upgrade compared to Google and Amazon’s $50 (Google is rumored to be refreshing the Nexus 7 shortly to use 16GB as the baseline for their $199 model as well).

I’m going to have to call this a failed effort on Apple’s part.  They will get their piece of the 7” tablet market, I’m sure, but they won’t be able to dominate it like the larger playing field.  The only really appealing aspect of the iPad Mini is the cellular connectivity and even that adds another 30+% to the base price.  The Kindle Fire HD is in no danger here, at least until the 8.9” model is released and we can start drawing comparisons with the real iPad.

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.

Barnes & Noble’s Response to Kindle HD Keeps Them in the Tablet Market

Obviously the Nook Tablet hasn’t done quite as well as Barnes & Noble hoped it would.  While the hardware was a definite step up from the Kindle Fire from the start, their inability to bundle the same quantity and quality of non-eBook content had an effect on adoption rates.  Now, with the Kindle Fire HD poised to bring Amazon back into the front of the Android tablet market for the first time since Google announced the Nexus 7, Barnes & Noble has come up with some much stronger competition.

The Nook HD is priced at $199, just like the Kindle Fire HD.  It has a higher resolution (1440 x 900) and a smaller hard drive (though a 16GB model can bring that spec even with the Kindle Fire’s basic model for only $30 more).  The processor on the new Nook is 1.3GHz, which gives it a slight edge in power as well.  It even has a microSD slot, which is one of the features Amazon seems to be making a conscious effort to avoid.  Overall we’re looking at a nearly identical device with small points of superiority here and there.

There are a few points where the Kindle Fire HD still stands alone, however, and they may be particularly important.  Since the major purpose of this variety of tablet is media consumption, we have to assume that there is some video viewing planned for the average user.

The Kindle Fire HD’s Dolby sound system and stereo speakers are widely considered to be the best tablet sound system on the market today regardless of the device size or price.  That’s a big step away from the old Kindle Fire’s lackluster audio performance and will be attractive.

The Kindle’s superior wireless capabilities and larger hard drive only serve to push it further ahead.  If the goal is to enjoy the best possible viewing experience, the ability to stay connected, download quickly, and store more will obviously come in handy.

The deciding factor as far as overall success, however, is going to still be the content ecosystem.  A media tablet that has nothing in the way of media to serve up is clearly unappealing.  Amazon has the lead on this, having both a head start and a huge presence in practically every aspect of digital media distribution.  Barnes & Noble is stepping up to at least stay competitive until they can develop a more robust selection, though.  Nook Cloud and Nook Video are good examples, even if they are still a bit unfinished-feeling.

While I don’t think that the Nook HD can necessarily compete on even terms with the Kindle Fire HD for the price, the Nook HD+ might be able to pull it off.  The 9” Nook HD+ offers comparable hardware to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” for $30 less than Amazon’s $299 asking price.  It’s easier to overlook a couple shortcomings for a discount.

Whether or not they can pull ahead with an offering like this remains to be seem.  Nothing about the new Nook tablets stands out as a major downside except perhaps the limited Barnes & Noble ecosystem.  This launch demonstrates a commitment to stay in the market for a while, so maybe even that will see rapid improvements as time goes on.  It’s good to see a situation like this where nobody can pull ahead as the clearly superior option.

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.

Barnes & Noble Slashes Nook Tablet Price Preparing For Kindle Fire 2 Launch

The Nook Tablet, while a fine device and superior to the Kindle Fire in several subtle ways, has not really managed to achieve the kind of popularity that the Kindle Fire enjoys.  It definitely does well, but compared to the lively Kindle vs Nook competition in US eReader markets something is lacking.  Seeing as Barnes & Noble is reliant on the success of the Nook line to keep their business going at this point, though, they can’t really afford to let the Kindle competition to get too far ahead in either price or power.

I’ve mentioned here previously that there are hints cropping up that point to a new Nook Tablet in the works.  That would be expected even if Amazon were not on the verge of releasing the Kindle Fire 2, thanks to Google’s Nexus 7 tablet.  The Nexus 7 has gotten huge responses since its unveiling and proves difficult for the software giant to keep in stock.  Many view its release as the end of the existing Kindle Fire’s dominance over Android.  Since the Nook Tablet’s main claim to fame was that it provided superior technical power for about the same price as the competition, a popular device put out by Google that includes both superior hardware specs and a clean version of the most up to date Android OS is a major threat.

Still, even with that taken into consideration we have to wonder how much of what is going on over at Barnes & Noble is preparation for the Kindle Fire 2.  They have recently slashed the price of the 16GB Nook Tablet by 20% to $200, finally matching the Kindle Fire’s pricing, and lowered the Nook Color’s price to just $149.  The Nook Color may be more than a little bit obsolete at this point, but it is also still a good deal at that price and might be among the most easily rooted devices on the market.  Keeping it around at a lower price makes sense in the same way that Amazon’s offering a highly limited Kindle eReader for only $79 does.

While I can’t necessarily speak too highly of the overall Nook Tablet experience provided by Barnes & Noble compared to that of the Kindle Fire, this is an excellent way to take advantage of low pricing to grab a 7” tablet with a bit of extra power and storage space if you don’t feel like waiting on a Google delivery.  My recommendation would be to wait at least a week while we see what Amazon has in store for their next tablet, which is likely to be priced to match, especially since the Kindle Fire 2 is likely to be officially announced any day now.  If you can’t wait, there are far worse options to choose from than the Nooks.

Google Wallet Update Could Put Pressure on Kindle Fire App Sellers

One of the reasons that mobile app developers make more by selling through Amazon than they do in Google Play’s app store, and they make significantly more, is the comparative ease of purpose.  Since the Kindle Fire and the Amazon Appstore for Android in general are linked to a user’s Amazon.com account and therefore their stored payment options, anything the user desires is just a click away.  Impulse purchases are almost dangerously simple and the whole ecosystem is set up to encourage frequent indulgence.

By comparison, Google Wallet has largely been a failure.  It was always just a bit too clunky to use easily and customers are far less likely to offhandedly make $0.99 purchases here and there when they have to put work into making it happen.  For a number of reasons, mostly having little to do with app sales, Google has finally addressed the problem and made everything simpler.

The new and improved Google Wallet might be compared to Google Voice.  You have an account number for your wallet and it simply links through to your preferred stored payment option.  Their new approach allows users to make use of any credit or debit card without going to the trouble of repeatedly entering its information.  For the app side of things, this ends up working much like Amazon’s one-click purchasing.

The main motivation for this change is actually point of purchase transactions.  Much like PayPal’s current experiments with Home Depot, which allow customers to pay using their PayPal defaults, Google Wallet can theoretically be used to turn a smartphone into a valid option for retail purchasing.  Since that option requires the user to have an NFC-enabled phone and the store in question to be equipped to accept such transactions, this is still of limited use for many people.  Adoption of such options is increasing rapidly, though, so the push makes sense.

The big issue that may now finally be settled is that of whether Amazon’s Appstore provides better compensation because of its content and implementation or just because of the convenience.  The curated selection offered by Amazon does tend to lend itself to higher quality apps with little of the deliberately exploitative content that remains common on Google Play, but it results in a somewhat weaker selection.  This might be Google’s chance to catch up.

Realistically it’s going to be a long while before the developer compensation rate matches between the two stores, if it happens at all.  The Kindle Fire is still the largest Android Tablet presence at the moment regardless of the superior performance and popular reception of Google’s Nexus 7.  If the Kindle Fire 2 is not a complete failure then it’s hard to imagine things being completely turned around.  Narrowing the gap is a good step, though.  I’ve mentioned here before that close competition is good for the consumer and that remains as true in the Amazon vs Google sales comparison as it has been in the Kindle vs Nook contest.

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.

Mini iPad Rumors are Back; Kindle Fire Under Attack?

This is not the first time we’ve heard talk of a miniature iPad.  In fact, I’ve detailed here on the site exactly how little sense it makes for Apple to release such a device on more than one occasion.  Despite the ongoing lack of such a device from Apple, people keep declaring that it is right around the corner waiting to wipe out the Kindle Fire on a moment’s notice.  For once, they might be half right.

The cost analysis I did in the past is still relatively accurate.  Apple has a reputation for putting comparatively large markups on their devices.  An iPad Mini that offered them minimal profits would definitely not be attractive in most cases, especially since it would inevitably eat into existing iPad sales to some extent.

Let’s assume, however, that they have found a way to cut costs significantly.  The latest rumors are pointing to a seven inch tablet that lacks the Retina display Apple devices are becoming known for.  It would also have comparatively little on-board storage space and other such corner cutting measures to being margins up to acceptable levels.  The big question is why they would bother?

Let’s face it, there has not been a good substitute to the iPad thus far.  No matter how much I love the Kindle Fire, it is a very limited device.  That’s all it was ever intended to be.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab is the closest anybody has come and even there, it’s hard to decide.  The situation has changed recently though.

Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, and the anticipated Nexus 10 follow-up, makes a compelling argument in favor of Android as a viable tablet OS.  No other Android device has managed to create such a positive general use experience for such a lot price.  Apple might feel the need to respond to that somewhat.

More likely, however, would be the rise of the Windows 8 tablet.  The recently previewed Surface tablet developed in-house by Microsoft is powerful, easy to use, and fairly obviously aimed at besting the iPad feature for feature.  If they price it to match as well, Apple might finally be in a bit of trouble despite the large existing user base locked into their ecosystem.

The new Kindle Fire 2 might play into the equation as well, but that’s a long shot.  Amazon did take the Android world by storm last year when they priced their device well below anything comparable.  It is likely that this low pricing will continue and that customers will get a great value out of the next Kindle Fire as well.  Even a ten inch tablet from Amazon is hardly going to trouble Apple at this point given the more serious competition that is showing up lately, though.

An iPad Mini could bite into Kindle Fire sales if it is ever released.  Price and name recognition go a long way.  Nothing has better name recognition than the iPad so a model priced at or below $300 would likely be a huge hit.  It wouldn’t make much sense for Amazon’s device to be the reason for that sort of release, though.  The Kindle Fire has never been direct competition as a general purpose tablet.  It’s just a good way to get your Amazon content conveniently delivered.

Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire: Should Amazon Really Be Concerned?

 Hardware specs aren’t everything when it comes to tablet performance.  If they were, the Kindle Fire never would have gotten off the ground.  Still, the Nexus 7 from Google is far enough ahead in that respect that if you are buying a $199 tablet right this second the choice is clear.  People invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, or interested in choosing what is quickly becoming the leading provider of digital media, will still grab the Kindle Fire.  Everybody else would want the Nexus 7.  It is just better at being a general purpose tablet.

This doesn’t mean that Google has won, though.  They are in the lead for the moment, but we have months before sales spike again and in the meantime Amazon will be releasing their new hardware.  Even if it doesn’t stand out as completely superior to Google’s device, the next Kindle Fire will draw a crowd for any number of reasons.  Nothing else in the Android market has managed to compete on the same level so far and it isn’t just because Amazon dropped prices.

There was a time when I would have predicted that Google of all companies would be quick to adapt to the competition.  The delays surrounding the Nexus 7’s release tend to indicate that this is not the case.  The company had trouble getting the power they needed to make this an ideal showcase for Android 4.1 while also keeping the price down at $199.  With Amazon clearly being willing to subsidize their hardware to bring in media customers, that price will almost certainly not be rising.  The Kindle Fire’s hardware will be improved nonetheless, though.

Right now, as I said, it is a clear choice.  If you truly want a tablet right now and can’t afford to wait, the Nexus 7 is the best thing on the market and you will not be disappointed.  Nobody else is going to release such an affordable yet functional general purpose Android tablet right now.  By the end of the year things will be more chaotic.  Customers will be facing holiday choices involving not only Kindle Fire vs Nexus 7 or Android vs iOS, but Everybody vs Windows 8.

All of the hardware looks like it is going to be impressive and tablet sales numbers are expected to be higher than ever.  Google will have had their tablet in peoples’ hands for longer than any of the major players besides Apple by that point.  It allows a lot of time for interest to have cooled in the meantime.  They are rumored to be trying to offset that by scheduling a later release of the Nexus 10, but the same rumors mention setbacks due to manufacturing difficulties so that may be off the table for a while.

Realistically, I think it is fair to say that Amazon will continue to be a major player (possibly THE major player) in Android tablets for the indefinite future.  The only thing they really have to worry about is the downfall of Android if Windows 8 tablets take off.  Google’s devices are going to be better at running stock Android builds, but Amazon has never tried to pass the Kindle Fire off as the most powerful device on the market.  As long as they can keep the comparisons from going too far in favor of the competition, the integrated media services will carry the sales.

Nexus 7 Thoughts

I have to hand it to Google.  They, along with Asus have put together a tablet that should do well in the market.  Based on my experience with an Asus laptop, it is a great company.  According to reviewers who have had a chance to get their hands on the Nexus 7 claim it is solid and easy to use.  It is going for a competitive $199 price, the same price as the Kindle Fire.

Good news for Android lovers.  The Nexus 7 will run on the latest Android operating system, Jelly Bean.

Here’s the catch. Google has a tendency to release a lot of projects that show promise, then they fizzle.  Note Google Wave, and Google Buzz.  Even Google Plus hasn’t found a strong footing.  They’re very innovative with their ideas, but they don’t quite follow through from start to finish.  If the tablet went in the same direction, technical support would be mediocre at best.

An advantage that Amazon has over Google as far as tablets are concerned, is seniority. Over the past year, Amazon has built up a robust app collection for the Kindle Fire.  It is also the front runner on books, which is the way it should be considering that books are what Amazon is most known for.

The 2nd generation of the Kindle Fire is expected to release on July 31 with a camera and other much needed tune ups.  So, if you can wait a month,  see what this new version has to offer, and then weigh it with the Nexus 7. Chances are that Amazon will include a lot of the features that the Nexus 7 currently offers that the first generation Kindle Fire doesn’t, such as a camera.

When it comes to buying technology, I try to wait til the 2nd generation or later.  I did this with my Kindle, iPad, and phone.  The price goes down and the device gets a tune up.

Google’s biggest asset is search engine technology.  Different companies excel at different things.  I think they have what it takes to make a good 7 inch tablet that can be competitive.  The question is, will they go the extra mile and make it better than good?

As consumers we have options that can fit different preferences as opposed to being locked into one device, which is awesome. I’ll be watching closely to see what happens with the new Google tablet, and how it will fare in the tablet market.

 

Google Unveils Nexus 7 Anti-Kindle

Amazon made a pretty huge impression on the Android tablet market when they announced the Kindle Fire.  Competitors had to either drop their prices or drop out of the competition.  Barely functional budget tablets were rushed out to compete unsuccessfully against the biggest thing Android had seen.  Worst of all, Google was completely cut out of the fun by a carefully customized OS fork that locked Kindle Fire users into the Amazon ecosystem and out of Google’s Android Marketplace.

Rumors started to surface almost immediately that Google had a tablet of their own on the way that would blow the Kindle Fire away.  Unfortunately, the complications resulting from the need to keep the price at $199 or below meant that the project was delayed for a while.  Finally, after months of waiting and hearing leaked details about the worst kept secret in Google’s arsenal, we have the big reveal.

Here’s the break-down on the Nexus 7 as per Google’s I/O Conference reveal:

  • Android 4.1 – Jelly Bean
  • 7” 1280 x 800 HD Display
  • Backlit IPS Display
  • Scratch-resistant Corning Glass
  • 1.2MP front-facing Camera
  • Microphone
  • 8GB internal storage
  • 1GB RAM
  • Quad-core Tegra 3 processor
  • Up to 8 Hours of battery life
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth
  • NFC (Android Beam)
  • GPS
  • Accelerometer
  • Magnetometer
  • Gyroscope
  • Weighs 340g
  • Measures 198.5 x 120 x 10.45mm

Basically we’re looking at a tablet that is more than a match for the Kindle Fire in terms of hardware.  It is faster, has more memory, can do things like video chat, has an HD display, and so on.  For the same price as the Kindle Fire, you get a huge upgrade.  Not only that, it looks great too.  While the base model will have 8GB of storage and cost $199, there is even a 16GB edition available for $249. Amazon couldn’t have asked for a worse comparison, in other words.

Normally this would be where I once again talk about Amazon having the advantage thanks to their integration with their internal Appstore for Android and other assorted forms of digital media.  In this case, Google knows what they are doing and seems to have developed a similar level of access to their various media options through the Google Play store.  Not many companies could compete near Amazon’s level in this respect, but Google is definitely one of them.

The big hope that Amazon has to turn this around will obviously be the upcoming Kindle Fire 2.  This tablet, expected to be announced as early as the end of July, will bring additional power and improved resolution to the Fire.  We don’t know much more than that, but some people are even predicting similar camera and mic options.  The existing Kindle Fire will then supposedly drop to $149.  While it would remain less useful than the Nexus 7 in that case, reducing the price by another 25% would almost certainly be enough to keep things competitive.

For now, Google’s Nexus 7 is on top.  It will be shipping in 2-3 weeks, according to the preorder page, and at the moment comes with $25 in store credit on Google Play.  Whether it can gain enough of a following to offset the likely surge of interest in the new Kindle Fire 2 following only a month or so behind will be interesting to discover.

Kindle Fire vs Windows 8 Tablets: Another Pointless Comparison

There is essentially no competition to be found between the Kindle Fire and any imaginable Windows 8 Tablet at this time.  I’ve touched on this a bit here already immediately following the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it’s come up in emails and various other places often enough since then to be worth revisiting.  They are catering to completely different needs, price ranges, and purposes.  I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to anybody, but let’s hit the high points again.

The comparison ends up being very similar to that of the iPad vs the Kindle Fire.  It is inevitable that people will compare them.  After all, they are both tablets.  Add to that the fact that they are both extremely popular and that each is backed by one of the biggest companies in the world right now and the parallels are too clear to ignore.  Stepping past the most superficial aspects gives us a much more meaningful understanding.

In the case of Windows 8, we’re looking at a tablet OS that is deliberately formed into something that could replace a laptop.  The Surface is the ideal example, as you would expect when Microsoft designed both hardware and software sides of things.  Users get productivity apps along the lines of a full Office suite, a well-integrated social media sharing system, and more.  If you could possibly want to do it on a tablet, or on a portable computing device in general, Windows 8 is probably somehow equipped for that.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, doesn’t even come with full Android functionality.  It is an Amazon device meant for consuming Amazon media services.  You don’t get much in the way of access to third party programs.  Even media coming in from a non-Amazon source isn’t always supported as well as one might like.  I can recall a few occasions when the lack of a decent codec pack was problematic.  If a particular user’s situation demands it then they can certainly install some approximation of office apps and such, but the experience will be less than ideal and there is no way to significantly improve it.

There is a reason that the Kindle Fire is priced so far below things like the iPad and, presumably, the Surface.  You wouldn’t be wrong to guess that part of it is simply an inability to compete at that price point, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either.  Amazon is using the tablet in a different way and not even really trying to compete.

There will always be implicit comparisons.  Not only will they come up with the big names in the tablet market, but the Kindle Fire will forever be lumped in with the Android Market as people try to figure out who is doing well.  In reality, it doesn’t even belong there.  Their device is being sold cheaply, maybe even at cost even now, specifically because it doesn’t matter how much they make on the hardware.

Anybody who uses a Kindle Fire, however briefly, is a win for the company simply because they are then tied into the media network where Amazon is really interested in making their money.  They don’t want to make a tablet that can be everything for everybody, just to add a bit of incentive to choose them for any digital media needs one might have.

Kindle Fire Passed By Nook Tablet in Web Traffic

Right now it is safe to say that the iPad is on top when it comes to tablets.  I’m assuming nobody genuinely thinks anymore that the Kindle Fire was ever about trying to bring down Apple’s device.  It is no surprise then that in a recent analysis of their web traffic impressions, the Chitika Ad Network found that 91% of tablet traffic on the web comes from iPads.

What was somewhat surprising was that for the first time we see the Nook Tablet beating the Kindle Fire in terms of use.  Since May, the Nook has jumped from making up 0.53% of all tablet traffic to accounting for 0.85%.  For just a month, that’s an impressive increase in presence.  The Kindle Fire saw no such increase and even seems to have fallen off slightly in the same period.

What does this mean for the two devices?  Unfortunately this data is hard to draw any real conclusions from.  Lacking any sort of information about data collection, we don’t even know as much about what devices we are talking about.  How much of the Nook’s internet presence comes from people running rooted tablets thanks to simple tools making use of the SD slot, for example?  That matters, since it is essentially a lost customer for B&N when they are selling their hardware at near-cost in order to lock people into their ecosystem.

Even if we assume that those users are completely removed, we are still left with a study that examines only web use.  Anybody who has spent time browsing the internet on either of these devices already knows that while pleasant enough for what it is, the browsing experience a 7” tablet offers will generally fail to impress.

I would be more excited to see information about impressions and click-throughs on advertising in popular apps across multiple platforms.  That would be likely to give us a better understanding of the comparison since just about everybody loads up some Angry Birds or Words With Friends from time to time.

With the iPad still providing about fifty times the traffic of its closest competition this is all really a minor point.  You just can’t expect a small device designed for media consumption to do the same job or generate the same interest as Apple’s more powerful and popular product.  They have nothing to fear from Android tablets in general right now, let alone the budget side of the market.

Clearly this data will be helpful for anybody who is interested in trying to target tablet users specifically when designing a web-based advertising campaign.  For the rest of us, however, there is not enough detail to be worth thinking too much about it.  It would be nice if the Nook Tablet suddenly experienced a huge boost in popularity since Amazon couldn’t help but push back by adding new products or software features, but that isn’t necessarily the case here.

Maybe the next generation of tablets, with Windows 8 competing against the iPad and a Microsoft-backed Nook line providing intense competition for the Kindle Fire, but for now things are pretty much on hold.

Microsoft Surface Tablet Isn’t Kindle Competition Exactly, But…

Ok, so as much as the Microsoft tablet announcement seemed potentially poised to do something even more unsettling to the small tablet market than Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire pricing could accomplish, the danger has mostly passed.  There is no way that either of the versions of Microsoft’s new Surface tablet are going to be priced comparably to consumption-specific tablets any time soon.

They do bring a few things to the table that might make people think twice about bringing anything else into an academic situation, though.  That could be bad news for the Kindle given Amazon’s emphasis on academic applications for their devices.  While many students couldn’t afford something like an iPad in addition to their computer, a tablet like the Surface has the potential to let students do without a computer while still retaining much of the functionality of a Kindle Fire type of device.

Looking specifically at the ARM-driven Windows RT model, which will be the first to become available, there are really interesting things going on.  No, it will not have anything approximating an E Ink display, but it will come with a 10.6” HD screen.  That’s going to make a big difference for everything from movie viewing to game playing.

On top of that, the device integrates two digitizers.  One of those handles normal touch behavior while the other is specific to stylus contact.  In the event you are writing with a stylus, the Surface knows to ignore your fingers so that you can write naturally.  This will be huge for everything from in-text annotation to general note taking.  Comfortable one-handed scribbling on the go might finally be possible on a tablet.

For media, the Microsoft tablet will have outputs so that you can put your video on an HDTV or monitor as desired.  This was an important enough feature that they practically opened the reveal by talking about how there would be a Netflix app available at launch.  It is also something that the Kindle Fire has definitely been missing.

It will, as always, come down to price.  Right now we know nothing besides that the Surface for Windows RT will be priced close to comparable ARM tablet alternatives.  That probably means that it will run at least $400.  In that case, Amazon has little to worry about among their primary customers.

The biggest concern is going to be when Amazon reveals their new Kindle Fire later this year.  A 10.1” Kindle Fire would be nice, but if it doesn’t significantly undercut both the iPad 2 and the Surface then there will be trouble.  I love the tight integration that Amazon has given their tablet, but when you have something that is literally intended to be a complete PC you don’t need that.

The best we can hope for is that Amazon will stick to their undercutting strategy and market the newer, larger model of the Kindle Fire for something like $250 to maintain its position as a valid alternative for the consumer on a budget.

Is Microsoft About to Reveal their Kindle Fire Killer?

A few days ago word went out that Microsoft is holding a June 18th gathering that will involve a major announcement of some sort.  Shortly after that there was a leak of inside information that indicates this will be Microsoft’s first computer hardware offering.  As early as tomorrow we may have some details about an upcoming Windows 8 tablet developed and manufactured by Microsoft itself.  The big question now is what market they are shooting for.  It might make sense for this to be a big push against the Kindle Fire.

Consider the situation that Microsoft has gotten itself into.  They are trying to take over the tablet market from Apple while still maintaining dominance in the PC market.  They are doing this by supporting everything in an attempt to create consistent experience.  Tablets, PCs, video game consoles, phones, everything will have Metro on it sooner of later.  Unfortunately this includes supporting multiple architectures, which has made the company split their project.

Windows RT is what they are calling the branch of Windows 8 that runs on ARM devices and it might be in trouble.  While Microsoft is trying to create consistency, none of the applications that run on Windows RT will run on the rest of Windows 8, nor will the reverse be possible.  This means that they can’t necessarily count on the hordes of existing Windows software developers to jump on board.

The reason this matters to Kindle Fire fans is mostly that this would be a great time for Microsoft to demonstrate how a well designed product running their software can perform.  They’re already going to be pulling in a lot of people with touch interface experience for their app store.

The segment that is willing to concentrate specifically on tablet customers to the exclusion of desktops will likely be Android and iOS developers.  As a result we might see something that can do everything the Kindle Fire can, with a similar integration into a large existing media ecosystem, running an admittedly better tuned OS.  Amazon might end up with problems.

Pretty much only one thing makes this somewhat questionable.  Microsoft has not shown any particular interest in going into the budget tablet market.  They actually seem to want to disregard Android devices entirely and head straight for the top to knock down the iPad.  Reports indicate that OEMs working on ARM tablets will be charged $85 per device just for the operating system.  You can’t do that and compete with the Kindle Fire on price.

We will know more tomorrow afternoon.  This could be big news, and explain a lot about Microsoft’s interest in the Nook line, or it could turn out to have no effect at all on Kindle customers.  If not, it seems that there is nobody else on the verge of taking off until the anticipated Google Nexus tablet is finally finished.  To be totally honest, a Kindle Fire vs Windows 8 tablet competition would be a much bigger thing to worry about.

Will Nvidia’s Kai Platform Hurt the Kindle Fire?

The most recent development in tablet technology seems to be coming from Nvidia this time around.  Rob Csonger, a VP from the company, explained that the new line of tablets they are developing will be able to keep costs down in the $199 range, allowing them to compete directly with the Kindle Fire on price.

The Nvideo Kai platform, which incidentally is unlikely to be the final name of the new product when it is released, is meant to take advantage of a lot of the Tegra 3 design.  Low power consumption, inexpensive components, and a lot of power for the money are characteristic of the chipset.  While this could bring around a fair amount of interest, given that the Kindle Fire has driven prices down on 7″ tablets to a point where other products are having trouble competing, it remains to be seen who will take advantage of the new technology and when.

Many are speculating that the first major offering to make use of Kai will be the Google / Asus project that we have heard a great deal of speculation about.  Google’s I/O conference is coming up and would make a perfect occasion to present such a device.  They already had to set back its release when they were unable to make a decent tablet around the $200 price range to compete with the Kindle Fire.  That would make a Kai tablet ideal for both Google and Nvidia to show off what they can do and perhaps pull some of the Android market away from Amazon’s control.

There isn’t anything to say that Amazon would be unable or unwilling to make use of the same technology, naturally.  They are going to be facing stiff competition when introducing a larger Kindle Fire tablet that will undoubtedly draw comparisons with the market-leading iPad and having the extra power that a quad-core design offers might well be important.  Toward the end of the year, when the first Windows 8 tablets are released, this will be even more important.  Android is nice, but it doesn’t quite measure up in terms of performance right now so every advantage is welcome.

No matter how much some people might want it to be, this will not spell the end of the Kindle Fire.  At best, it will help keep all-purpose Android tablets relevant as we move forward into a world of far more intense competition.  The option to buy larger, cheaper, more powerful tablets is likely to be appealing to many people.  These won’t replace tablets designed for pure consumption like the Kindle Fire unless they can severely undercut on price, which they can’t, but it would be even worse for the Kindle Fire to kill off the rest of the Android tablet market than it would be for the Android tablet market to shut out the Kindle Fire.  Competition is good for the consumer.

Apple Still Not Threatened Enough by Kindle Fire to Invest in iPad Mini

The latest in an unending series of rumors about Apple’s supposedly devious plans to take everybody else out of the tablet market no matter the cost has recently popped up via iMore.  Apparently the Kindle Fire is doing far too well and it will be necessary for Apple to step in and eliminate the competition before the holiday sales numbers have a chance to solidify into a real presence in the tablet market.  This report indicates that the new iPad Mini will be available in October of 2012 if all goes well, along with yet another iteration of the iPhone.

Naturally, the speculation makes a number of rather impressive claims.  The iPad Mini will sport a 7.85” Retina Display, for example.  It will also be priced between $200 and $250.  Basically it is a scaled down version of the iPad 3 that just happens to be half the price of the cheapest version of that tablet.  The price drop can apparently be accounted for at least in part by the reduction of on-board storage space to 8GB.

Once again, despite how seriously this rumor is being taken at the moment by various sources, there is a major flaw in it.  None of the details make sense.

The most obvious point is the pricing.  In previous iPad offerings, Apple has never once accepted less than a 50% profit margin on every sale.  The newest version, the iPad 3, is estimated to cost about $310 to manufacture (16GB, 4G Model).  This makes it the least profitable iPad for Apple so far at an estimated 51%.  Even if we assume there to be a relatively large decrease in production costs as they move from a 10” display to a 7”, there is no real way that the company could hope to get even a 25% margin out of a $200 iPad Mini.  The Kindle Fire is only viable at that price because of Amazon’s heavy emphasis on media sales after the purchase.

There is also the issue of OS fragmentation.  Regardless of whether the proposed device would be able to maintain the iPad’s 2048 x 1536 resolution, the decreased size would change the way that users interact with their device and therefore the way designers create their interfaces.  It would introduce a new tier of apps that would have to be directly targeting the Mini.  Coming into what will likely be a major competition with Microsoft’s Windows 8, Apple will not want to be dealing with a complete refresh of their store this fall.

There are plenty of other reasons that we can expect no iPad Mini.  It would cannibalize iPod Touch sales.  It would indicate that Apple was far more concerned about the Kindle Fire than the numbers come close to justifying.  The list goes on.  Basically, the chances of such a product hitting shelves is slim at best.  Even if it happens, the final specs are certain to look nothing like what sites like iMore indicate unless the price is totally different from what they are expecting.  The Kindle Fire will continue to be the dominant $200 tablet for a while longer and Apple will continue to be disinterested.

Kindle Sales Experience Q1 Slump…But Not Really?

We are well aware that Amazon has come to completely dominate the Android tablet market with their Kindle Fire and that this has been accomplished in an amazingly short amount of time.  Unfortunately for Amazon, market research firm IDC has released a report of the Android tablet market shrinking at a noticeably higher rate than the tablet market in general.  This could prove problematic as a trend, but the situation may be even more complicated than that.

IDC’s report indicates a bit of a slump as we come into 2012.  Total shipments for tablets are coming in below expectations, especially compared to the previous quarter’s record breaking sales numbers.  Apple’s new shipments are up to 68% of tablet sales compared to just 54% at the end of 2011, indicating that Android has lost a bit of traction despite the lack of reason to get excited about the iPad 3.  Much of this, according to IDC, may be attributed to Apple’s keeping the iPad 2 around as a cheaper alternative to their newest offerings.

Where many are taking this as a death sentence for the Kindle Fire and Amazon’s tablet prospects more generally, there have also been issues raised with IDC’s research methods.  Namely, they are making their determinations based off of total shipments from factories to warehouses and stores.  This is itself a problematic point to raise since it calls into question IDC’s analysis of Q4 2011, but does make sense.  There were obviously going to be plenty of retailers that still has stock left over from the holiday season, so maybe it would be smart to account for that.  Even so, sales almost certainly dipped compared to the iPad.

Looking forward to the year ahead, this doesn’t start Amazon off on a high note.  The Kindle Fire was just their first generation product, however, and we are expecting the next generation in a matter of months.  It will likely be larger, or at least have the option of being larger, and will definitely be more powerful.  Pricing can be expected to remain highly competitive.  This is certain to lead to a resurgent interest in the Android segment of the market even leaving aside such strong offerings as the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and Google’s anticipated budget tablet.

Larger screen or not, it is hard to say in advance if Amazon has a Kindle Fire 2 vs iPad 3 comparison in mind.  It is even harder to tell if this would be a smart move at this time.  Both Android and iOS sales may be hit hard toward the end of this year with the introduction of Windows 8 tablets to the competition.  Since these will certainly be all-purpose tablets along the lines of the iPad, it might be more effective for Amazon to continue building the Kindle Fire’s niche as a consumption device that serves specific needs at a lower price than the alternatives.

The bottom line is that right this minute it is doubtful Amazon has anything to be worried about with regard to the Kindle Fire.  Things are going well even if there’s a bit of a slump right now.  The big challenge will come later this year when Android is hit from both sides by iOS and Windows 8 and consumers are left to decide which will be their long-term choice.

Nook Simple Touch and Color go on sale for Mother’s Day

The ranks are closing in on Amazon and the Kindle.  Barnes & Noble is currently holding a Mother”s Day Sale on the Nook Simple Touch basic model, and the Nook Color.  This is apparently a push on its the less popular models.  The sale ends May 12.

Most e-reader fans are more intrigued by the new Nook GlowLight and the Nook Tablet.  The GlowLight includes a cool, more readable light that enables readers to still read at night comfortably.  It doesn’t cause eye strain or suck up battery life like the LCD tablets do.

So the sale brings the Nook Simple Touch down to $79, and the Nook Color down to $149.  Both $20 less than they are normally.

I don’t really see these models as a huge threat to their Kindle counterparts, however, I do think that the Nook Simple Touch at $79 is a better deal than the $79 Kindle, which is not touch screen.

The Kindle Fire is also in more direct competition with the Nook Tablet than the Nook Color.  Refurbished Kindle Fires go for $139 occasionally.  These offers go quickly, so you have to watch closely, or you’ll miss them.

So, in short, if you’re looking for a bargain and a good gift idea for Mother’s Day, this is a good option to consider.

Barnes & Noble has really ramped up the competition with a backing from Microsoft and with the introduction of a Nook with a built in light.  So, it will be interesting to see how Amazon responds.

The leapfrogging between Amazon and its competitors is likely to happen again this year.  Usually the Kindle competitors start the new trend of the year, and Amazon picks up on it, and makes an even better product with it.  Amazon will come up with its own GlowLight Kindle, and I’m sure this year’s refresh of the whole Kindle line up will go at the price to beat.

 

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 Fire vs Samsung Galaxy Tab 2: Which Should You Buy?

There are loads of new 7” tablets coming out lately that have their eyes on the Kindle Fire’s success.  The common theme seems to be having either slightly higher specs and a few of the features that people complain the Kindle Fire lacks, or a lower price point that doesn’t preclude basically functioning in the ways that matter.  As I’ve mentioned numerous times here, companies who are looking at just the hardware or just the price and picking these out as roads to success are missing the point.

Samsung’s first attempt at a 7” tablet was not precisely groundbreaking.  For a smaller device, the Galaxy Tab was impressive and did practically anything you might want a tablet to do.  It packed more power and features into that small package than any other Android tablet I can think of to come out in 2010.  Still, as a device intended to compete with the iPad, it didn’t take off.  Later, with the Kindle Fire announced, it became practically irrelevant.  Nobody is going to want to consider a tablet running twice the price of the most popular thing around unless it is truly amazing.

Now Samsung is coming out with the more realistically competitive 7” Galaxy Tab 2 and there’s reason to give it serious thought as a choice.  It isn’t amazing, but at $250 it also isn’t overpriced and the value is impressively high for what you pay.

The new Galaxy Tab 2 is slightly thinner and lighter than the Kindle Fire.  We’re not talking about the most powerful tablet on the market, with a 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, but it should do the job.  It comes with 8GB internal storage as well as an expandable memory slot that can allow for an extra 32GB.  As a perk, new users will get a free year of 50GB Dropbox storage. There are dual cameras, though the front-facing is mediocre at best and even the rear-facing isn’t anything to get excited about.  The Galaxy Tab 2 does run Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3) and is the first Samsung offering to do so, which may be a draw for some.

Overall, we’re talking about something that beats the Kindle Fire point for point across the board in hardware specs.  That isn’t exactly exciting on its own, given that the Kindle Fire was never intended to impress in terms of raw power, but the fact that there aren’t really any missing features besides perhaps an HDMI slot is worth keeping in mind.  The screen is actually somewhat less clear than the Kindle’s, but not enough to get upset about.  The consideration is going to come down to hardware versus software and media.

If we’re going to talk about a Kindle Fire vs Galaxy Tab 2 comparison, we have to consider the overall experience.  The Kindle Fire, in addition to featuring a $200 price tag, a heavily streamlined UI, and integration with Amazon’s digital services, can take advantage of the Amazon.com movie library and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library in a way that the Samsung tablet can’t.  Amazon has also proven more reliable about their firmware updates than Samsung, whose older customers still have not been able to upgrade to Android 4.0.  If these conveniences don’t weigh you toward the Kindle Fire then a 7” Galaxy Tab 2 might be exactly what you’re looking for.