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

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Amazon’s Updated Kindle Line Adds HDX For an Even Better Selection

Kindle Fire HDX comes with Mayday button supportAt this time Amazon has expanded their hardware offerings to include three types of Kindle. The Kindle eReader is still going strong, while the Kindle Fire HD and new Kindle Fire HDX justifiably occupy their space atop the Android tablet market. The release of the HDX also beings in a lot of great features that users have been requesting since Amazon’s first foray into tablets.

Improvements added to the Kindle Fire HDX over the Kindle Fire HD go beyond the incremental changes that we would take as a matter of course. There is the expected power increase, bumping it up to a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU, as well as slightly improved battery life, but that is only the start of things. The HDX is also lighter, has more cameras (Front-facing added to the 7” model, Front- and Rear-facing now included on the 8.9”), and features a higher resolution screen with greater pixel density than the iPad 3.

The biggest benefits aren’t available from hardware specs, though. Fire OS brings a lot to the table. The most-hyped addition is the Mayday button. This will connect you instantly with tech support and allow they to walk you through any problem you might have, giving them access to your screen and the ability to highlight various portions of it to point out important functions.

Perhaps most important to device adoption is the expanded enterprise support that Amazon has put in place. A lot of people have been using the Kindle Fire at work and Amazon has taken steps to make it more useful for that purpose. There is now VPN support and MDM available through companies like Citrix. It makes for a much friendlier BYOD offering.

The existing Kindle Fire HD remains an excellent tablet in its own right, despite not measuring up on paper to its successor. The fact that the HD remains only $139 (8.9” – $229) compared to the HDX’s $229 (8.9” – $379) helps to assume that it isn’t going to be abandoned right away. Still, if you have the money and the inclination then the HDX is definitely the superior product.

New Kindle Paperwhite has greatly improved lighting and contrastThe eReader side of Amazon’s Kindle line has been fading away in the last year or two. It doesn’t get much spotlight now that there isn’t much room to grow. Still, they did recently update the Kindle Paperwhite to a new version and find a few ways to make it even better.

The improvements in the new Paperwhite are small, but noticeable. It is a bit faster, somewhat more responsive, and contains a better light than the original version. Most importantly they have evened out the lighting a bit around the edges. There are unlikely to be any complaints about the way things look now. While they may not be betting everything on eReaders anymore, Amazon hasn’t left Kindle readers behind.

Kindle Fire Father’s Day Sale Going On Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Acquires Ivona Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire HD 8.9” First Impressions

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

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

Display

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

Sound

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

General User Experience

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Black Friday Specials for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC Comes to Kindle Store & More, Ending Comixology Exclusivity

While DC Entertainment is insisting that the move is not necessarily a switch away from Comixology, the publisher has now made the transition to offering its weekly content directly through the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks stores.  There is now very little reason to expect anybody to continue using the Comixology apps given that their main selling point was exclusive access to DC content.

This change in distribution model comes at a time when digital distribution is up nearly 200% over 2011’s numbers.  For comparison, DC has stated that their physical volume sales are up just 12%.  Given the already comparatively strong sales of the weekly comics in question it is a lot simpler to increase the audience for digital content by an impressive percentage, but this also comes at a time when many publishers are seeing digital distribution begin to overwhelm their traditional sales market.

The plan for rollout is essentially what you would expect.  The new titles, especially those that are part of DC’s “New 52” franchise reboot, will be available immediately as they are released.  Over an as-yet undetermined period of time they will begin issuing the back catalogue.  A DC spokesperson claimed that the only real reason that it would take some time to get to content that wasn’t brand new was the limitation of bandwidth.  The more interest digital content generates, the faster they will get the whole library converted and available through the various stores.

While there is not yet any way to get the DC catalogue in a readable format for a black and white eReader like the Kindle Paperwhite it is possible that this situation may change in the not too distant future.  Representatives of the company are interested in the idea of making their content available to eReader owners and see little reason for that to be prevented if a positive experience with black and white reading can be confirmed.  Senior VP of Digital for DC Hank Kanalz went so far as to explain his position:

“We’re taking a look at whether we like how it looks in the black-and-white space. My attitude is that if you’re stuck on a train, and you only have your Paperwhite or other black-and-white device, you can read it then and see it in color later”

This should go a long way toward both increasing interest in digital comic distribution and proving that an online distribution model will work for such a large publisher of graphic storytelling.  Seventy titles are already present in the Kindle Store and more will be around soon.  Perhaps it’s a matter of personal opinion, but I doubt there will be much concern over the end of Comixology’s reign when it comes to comic content being served to Kindle Fire owners.  It’s only a matter of time now before everybody else catches on.

Kindle Fire HD Teardown Shows Small Profits Compared to Competition

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

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

Exploded Kindle Fire HD – Image Credit to AllThingsD

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Prime Monthly Option Silently Added in US

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD Ad Highlights iPad Mini Deficiencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can the iPad Mini Give the Kindle Fire a Run for its Money?

In Steve Jobs’ biography, he repeatedly stressed the importance of creating fewer, top of the line products, rather than a slew of mediocre ones.  Apple has always thrived on branding and staying ahead of the game.

It surprised me that the iPad Mini is not only real, but it is named exactly what rumors called it.  Is Apple getting too predictable?  Now we have a big variety of sizes for tablets and smartphones in the Apple lineup.  Most people can reconcile having both an iPad and an iPhone, but can you do that for the iPad Mini and the iPhone?

I don’t see it taking the hold of the 7″ tablet market like the original 10″ iPad currently has on the larger tablet market.  Obviously, price is one factor.  The iPad mini is $329, whereas the Kindle Fire HD, Nook Tablet, and Nexus 7 are all $199.  So, they will attract different types of consumers.

For thee moment, I don’t think the Kindle Fire HD has too much to worry about from that end.  The Nexus 7 is proving to be a solid competitor, but competition is good because it make the devices strive to get better and better with each generation.

It used to be that the major tech giants excelled in different areas.  Google held the monopoly on search engines, Amazon was the pioneer for ebooks, Microsoft reigned over the PC market, and Apple took control over computers, and later music.

Now, they’re all trying to one up each other by creating competing products.  This can be quite overwhelming for the consumer!  Maybe it is best to just let them duul it out, and see what the winners are.

As far as choices go, longevity is a good thing to consider.  The Kindle Fire is in its second generation, and has ironed out some issues that the first generation had. The new Kindle Fire family includes better display, better designed hardware, and a camera.  Amazon also has a good sized marketplace with a free app every day.

For the 10″ inch tablets, the iPad still dominates that market, and has had a couple of years to improve.  Apple of course has a huge appstore, and includes a number of business apps.

Only time will tell what the winners will be in the tablet market.  It is sure to be a wild ride.

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.

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.

Kindle Fire HD Software Improvements

The most obvious improvements coming in with the Kindle Fire HD are in the hardware.  It’s hard to get more attention-catching than the increased screen size provided by the 8.9” model.  Most of the really interesting stuff seems to be coming through the software side, though.  It’s somewhat harder to lay out in simple graph form, but it’s a lot more interesting.

Android 4.0

Where the original Kindle Fire ran a modified version of Android 2.3, the new Kindle Fire HD will be using version 4.0.  This is the first version of Android made specifically with tablets in mind as well as smartphones, so the inclusion on a larger device is probably an obvious move on Amazon’s part.  Between performance improvements and general compatibility issues, however, this is a big improvement.

Parental Controls

Maybe the parental controls weren’t the biggest issue that the Kindle Fire had in its software design, but the people who needed them were among the loudest of Amazon’s critics.  Over time there were various controls added in that more or less meet most needs, but this new version takes things a bit further.  FreeTime, as the new service is being called, will allow parents to set specific time restrictions on their devices.  This means finely grained control over all sorts of things.  Want your kids to be able to read on the tablet and watch the TV shows you’ve downloaded but not run games except from 6pm to 8pm?  You can do that now.

X-RAY

The X-Ray feature included with the Kindle Touch at its release was an interesting way to access details about your books at a glance.  It pulls up things like character names and bios, important locations in the plot, and an assortment of other information.  Useful for anybody who needs a refresher after putting down their reading for a bit, even if you don’t factor in the links to Shelfari and Wikipedia.

Now the Kindle Fire HD will have that feature for both books and movies.  Amazon is touting the ability of their X-Ray for Movies service to tell you who’s on the screen at any given time, link you to their other films, see anything related to the film or actor from IMDB, and more.  It’s a fun concept that might win you a Trivial Pursuit game some time.

Skype

One of the most anticipated hardware improvements in the Kindle Fire HD has been the camera.  To make use of this, every device will include a copy of Skype pre-installed.  This means instant access to that complete network.  Naturally this won’t be the only service you can take advantage of the hardware through, but it is almost certain to be the biggest.

Read-To-Me

Test to Speech software is back thanks to the Kindle Fire HD.  It was confusingly missing in the first Kindle Fire and there seems to be no way to get it out of any of the new Kindle eReaders either.  Fortunately now it will be present through the tablets, wherever agreements with publishers allow.

Kindle Fire Ad Debacle Resolved!

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

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

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

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

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

$299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9” Details

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

Display 8.9” IPS LCD1920x1200 Resolution

254ppi

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FCC Filings

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

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

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

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

State Dept Contract Cancellation Reinforces Front-Lighting Rumors?

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

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

Firedock Trademark

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

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

Nexus 7 and Nook Competition

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

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

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

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

iPad Mini Competition

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

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

Wrap-up

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

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

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

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.

Kindle Fire 2 Expected This Week

At long last, it seems we might get to see what Amazon has really accomplished in their efforts to update the Kindle Fire to be competitive with other big name tablets like the Nexus 7.  Signs point to a hardware upgrade coming in the next few days, which would be good news given that the previously speculated initial release date was two weeks ago now.  This week may just give us a good idea of exactly how much of a chance the Kindle Fire has of retaining its now-dominant position in the Android tablet market.

It seems safe to say that Amazon intends to at least announce their new products in a batch.  This would include a new Kindle Fire, possibly a larger scale variation on the Kindle Fire, and at least one new Kindle eReader.  This is based on a combination of intersecting timetables and the previous Kindle eReader release that brought us the Kindle Touch.  Since Amazon is basically required to put out a front-lit Kindle at this point if they want to stay competitive in terms of hardware, it would make little sense to miss an opportunity to join that side of the business with the more versatile tablet side.

To make room for the expected new release, Amazon has quietly discontinued a large part of their eReader selection.  The Kindle Keyboard WiFi is simply gone.  The Kindle Touch 3G appears to be gone as well.  Even the WiFi version of the Kindle Touch is currently listed as having delays from 3-5 days for the Special Offers option and no stock at all for the ad-free model.  We also noticed that earlier this week Amazon used the Kindle DX as one of their Daily Deals selections, discounting it by $110 for a day.  The basic $79 Kindle is still available, but it would be surprising if anything else is shipping out right now at all, regardless of rough delivery estimates made by the Amazon.com site.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, is still listed as in stock and shipping immediately.  Whether this is true or not is open to speculation, but it would fit with some of the rumors we have reported here previously.  Amazon may be planning to continue offering the existing Kindle Fire at a discounted rate for a while in order to increase the rate at which users attach themselves to the Amazon digital services ecosystem.

A lot has been done lately to prepare for this release.  Amazon has updated their music, video, and Android gaming capabilities significantly since a year ago when the first Kindle Fire was announced.  While nobody really expects that the Kindle Fire 2, or whatever Amazon decides it will be called in the end, will be able to claim superiority over the Nexus 7 on paper, that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily have trouble competing.  A decent facelift, improved software, and more integrated services than ever before are a guarantee.  Somehow it doesn’t seem like they’re likely to stop at that, though.

The new Kindle Fire didn’t make July 31st, but signs point to an impending release

All of the rumors seemed to indicate that July 31st would be the day we finally heard solid details about the new Kindle Fire release.  Obviously that didn’t happen.  That’s not necessarily a bad sign though.  While things might be taking slightly longer than fans, speculators, and analysts had expected, there are plenty of signs that Amazon has something big planned right around the corner.

The update to Amazon’s music management is a strong indication that something is going on.  Amazon’s emphasis on media service integration with their devices is well known.  They might not have the most powerful hardware on the market but Kindle Fires are the easiest way to get at any of the digital content the company sells that can be reasonably run on a small, modestly powered tablet.  The existing model isn’t exactly at its best with music playback thanks to the speaker configuration, but the interface makes use simple enough.

Now that you can import existing music selections rather than uploading them individually, including files downloaded through other services, the appeal of that option should be increased for any interested user.  As far as Kindle Fire specifics, though, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon has been working on docking stations for their next tablet, which reports indicate will have a very distinct form compared to its predecessor.

The recent release of the Amazon Instant Video app for iPads is also, paradoxically, a fair indication that the Kindle Fire 2 is nearly ready.  Even if a larger model of Amazon’s tablet is ready right away, there is no way that they want to be entering into head to head competition with Apple at this stage.  Plenty of rumors say that Apple ‘s already taking things in that direction with an impending iPad Mini, but that rumor has been cropping up repeatedly for two years now and the reasoning doesn’t seem to have improved much in the meantime.

By creating a convenient way for Apple’s customers to access their Amazon video purchases, the need for confrontation is somewhat negated.  It’s important to remember that Amazon gains very little by way of income for selling the Kindle Fire.  They’d be just as happy to have an iPad user locked into using Amazon services thanks to the closed ecosystem being developed, since content is where the money is anyway.  The app release here might look like a lack of confidence in the Kindle Fire, but it’s really just paving the way for a deliberately niche product.

Most importantly, and most obviously, Amazon has started selling off refurbished Kindles at ridiculously low prices.  This has happened before.  People who use an Amazon.com Rewards Visa can pick up a basic Kindle eReader for just $47 now through August 15th using the coupon code KINDLE40.  It’s pretty obvious that something is on the way to replace that Kindle.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re looking at an August 15th release date.  In fact, people have largely stopped trying to guess at when Amazon will be ready.  It will be here when it’s ready, but it’s safe to say that time is not far off.

ABC News App Now Available for Kindle Fire

Fans of ABC News can now get their content directly from the source using their Kindle Fire without the hassle of using the website.  ABC decided it was time to optimize their Android application for the Kindle Fire in order to cater directly to owners of the most popular Android tablet to date.

What this means for users is that they can now get anything they want from ABC’s recent content in a format optimized for the Kindle Fire’s 7” screen.  The wider reaching implication is the vote of confidence this represents.  It might not be much of a stretch for ABC to decide that it’s worth their time to work with the most widely owned budget tablet on the market, but it does count for something that they did so at a time when many are declaring the end of the Kindle Fire thanks to Google’s Nexus 7 competitor.

The app itself is fairly nice.  Users get browse their news under a number of headings.  Each story is presented with both title and basic summary.  There are even images on the selection screen in cases where the story includes either photos or video.  It’s quite intuitive.  These headings are presented on a looping ribbon at the top of the home screen.  By sliding the ribbon, more options become available.

These headings do include local content, show-specific content, and video selections.  That should make it easier for regular viewers to find what they need.  The shows highlighted include Good Morning America, World News, Nightline, and 20/20, among others.  Local news is available from Chicago, Fresno, Houston, LA, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco, and Sarasota.  General video content appears to be drawn directly from the website.

While this is a very usable app, there are some small issues.  The most significant is the lack of orientation control.  All text and image-based news content is displayed in portrait mode, as are all menus.  Video content, on the other hand, is displayed only in landscape mode.  This can be jarring and really has no business being the case, given that the Kindle Fire’s screen is more than capable of displaying both types of content in either mode with no loss of quality or usability.

Some might also be put off by the advertising.  While this is a free app, most videos and seemingly all photo slideshows include ads.  Since most of these ads lack the user interface elements that are shown while browsing the content they appear amidst, it can be confusing to determine what exactly needs to be done to dismiss them.

Overall ABC News has released a strong app that caters to existing fans.  If you don’t already follow the network, there is little here that will persuade you to start.  On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing to complain about when comparing the app to other similar offerings.  We can hope that when the next generation of Kindle Fire is released, the ensuing popularity will encourage ABC to put some effort into making their program even better.

Funamo! Parental Controls for Kindle Fire May Cover For Lack of Built-in Options

The lack of intricate parental control options has been a popular complaint about the Kindle Fire since about the time it was released.  Amazon has made some moves to address the most pressing issues.  We haven’t heard any horror stories about people going into debt over Smurfberry purchases, for example.  Still, until Amazon comes up with more options that allow parents to manage how these devices are used, there is going to be a steady stream of complaints.  Funamo has stepped up to handle that need in the meantime, for a small fee.

At $20, this is not a cheap application.  Not only that, Funamo is not yet available in the Amazon Appstore for Android.  This means that it needs to be purchased through the developer’s website.  The hassle and expense may be worth it considering what can be accomplished by having it around.

The default settings are fairly straightforward.  You install Funamo and log in, after which the device settings will be completely locked out.  It comes with its own web browser, which has all the usual things one would expect parents to want to keep blocked already cut off, and encourages users to put the Silk browser onto the “Protected Apps” list.  Besides that, everything else is up to the user.

This isn’t just a matter of locking out certain content, either.  Yes, it is likely that many parents would approve of the ability to block porn viewing from their child’s tablet.  Using Funamo, it is also possible to say that the same child’s favorite games will only be available between 9am and 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Parents can set limits on everything from media viewing time to reading.  Many will even be quite encouraged to note that it is possible to block the Kindle Fire’s access to the Appstore entirely when desired.

Any of these settings can, of course, be overridden with a password.  You never know when exceptions to the normal rules might be in order.  They can also be changed on short notice as well, and not only from the Kindle Fire itself.  Nightly syncing allows parents to maintain control through any internet-connected browser.

Through this web interface, it is possible to add, change, or remove access restrictions.  It is also possible to view a detailed history of everything that has been done on the tablet recently.  If a child does something unexpected that the parent never thought would come up, it is a simple matter to adapt the rules to cover the new situation.  While the Kindle Fire does not support Push updates, Funamo is set to sync up nightly by default.

At a glance, this seems to be slightly overprotective.  Users are encouraged to take control of literally every aspect of their kid’s tablet experience.  That sort of control is precisely what many parents are looking for, however, and if this allows the child to enjoy ownership of their own Kindle Fire where it would otherwise not be allowed, it is probably worth the hassle for everybody involved.