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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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October 2014
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Amazon Joins With HTC to Enter Smartphone Market

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Picks Up Goodreads For Kindle Social and More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Acquires Ivona Software

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Paperwhite Update Improves Overall User Experience and Comic Reading Specifically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paperwhite As Christmas Gift? Better Hurry!

The Kindle Paperwhite is a big step forward for its whole product line.  It provides a way for the user to read a book in a dark room without providing their own external light or straining their eyes.  That’s something people have been hoping for out of eReaders since the day they started hitting shelves.  It’s probably to be expected that the response has been enthusiastic.  Even Amazon appears to be surprised by how enthusiastic people are getting, though.

While it’s only the beginning of November, we have already seen Kindle Paperwhite shipping dates slip back twice.  First they were pushed back to the beginning of December and now as I’m writing this they are set for the week of December 17th.

The most popular reading device on the market experienced such a surge of consumer interest that Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer and producer of the previous millions of Kindles sold, was taken by surprise and left unable to ship promptly.  That’s good news for fans of the Kindle and great news for eReaders in general, somewhat putting to rest the recurring speculation that it’s a market on the way out due to competition from tablets.

Unfortunately, it also calls into question Amazon’s ability to meet holiday sales demands.  While their track record indicates that there’s a good chance many of those orders will ship well before the 17th of December, that date wouldn’t be on display if they could guarantee things sooner.  If we’re already pushing orders back until a week before Christmas with seven weeks to go before the holiday, Amazon will have to be producing to exceed current high demand levels.  Nobody really believes that demand will drop abruptly before the end of the year at this point.

A month is a long time to get production sped up.  Maybe it’s premature to be talking about this.  The fact that the orders put in today are being set back so far is strange, though.  If you’re hoping to make the new Kindle a big stocking stuffer for your family and friends, it might be best to get a jump on shopping.  At this point I think the best we can hope for is last minute deliveries and nobody likes gambling on FedEx and UPS being prompt at that time of year.

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.

First Japanese-Language Kindles Coming Next Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Whispercast Makes Organized Kindle Management Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire HD Sold At Cost – Jeff Bezos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Paperwhite Getting Great Reviews So Far

The Kindle Paperwhite is reclaiming the top of the e-ink reader market with positive early reviews.

The Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon’s newest generation Kindle that includes front-lit lighting designed to enable readers to read at night, or in darker settings without eyestrain.

Notable improvements over predecessors

The e-ink quality is better, leading to sharper text and images.

The screen is designed to create a reading experience closer to that of reading print books.  This was the original goal when Amazon first developed the Kindle.  The touch screen isn’t as  sensitive.  The Kindle Touch would skip chapters or pages sometimes if I so much as breathed on it.

The device itself is smaller, more streamlined, and includes a grip back cover similar to the Kindle Fire.

Then, last but not least, there is the built in light, designed to spread evenly across the screen and give off a cool ambiance that does not hurt the eyes.

The Audio Controversy

Not including audio is mostly an author or publisher issue.  It knocks out consumers who rely on audio to read.  For example, readers who are blind, or others who just prefer audiobooks over text-based books.

While it isn’t an issue with the majority of readers, including audio is a good feature to work on for future software updates or Kindle generations if Amazon really wants to reach out to the broadest audience possible.

Here’s what reviewers are saying about the Kindle Paperwhite

C.E. McConnell

“I’ve been very impressed with my new Kindle. The screen and light are absolutely gorgeous and the page turns are much faster than my old Kindle Touch. Although I know that it isn’t heavier than the last version it someone feels more substantial and solid than the older version. I am a little disappointed1111111111111 that they took away audio capabilities, but I rarely used that anyway. Overall a fantastic upgrade that I know will keep me reading!”

 Vivek Chaudhary

“Its amazing. It actually looks like a real white paper with black ink text. I have used Sony eBook reader, nook touch and older kindles in the past, but the dull gray screen was something which always made eBooks inferior to a real paper book. No more. In my opinion, this is a quantum leap!”

 

 

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.

New Kindle Lineup to Debut September 6?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the lineup should look like this:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Amazon Caps Kindle 3G Use at 50MB/Month

The Kindle Keyboard has been the overall recommendation of this site, and myself in particular, since it was first introduced.  It stands out from the current generation for a couple reasons, but mostly due to its unrestricted internet access.  The Kindle Touch 3G has its cellular connectivity restricted.  Apparently that sort of freedom was costing Amazon a bit more than they liked.  Users will now find their internet usage capped to a mere 50mb each month.

For the most part this will prove little problem.  The Kindle’s screen, while amazing for reading, is not well suited for most of the bandwidth-intensive tasks that people generally put their portable devices to.  You’re not going to have the option of watching a movie on your Kindle eReader, which is part of the reason the Kindle Fire was made.  Even music downloads, which make sense knowing that the Kindle has the ability to play MP3s, are largely difficult to manage except through storefronts and social media pages that the Kindle’s Experimental Browser is less than suited for.

The most likely explanation for this change to the service agreement is that too many people have caught on to the possibility of using the Kindle’s 3G access on another mobile device.  This hack was widely publicized when a reliable method developed and seemed likely to end up little more than a bit of trivia in the days that followed.  Yes it is possible to enable wireless tethering of a sort, but it is obviously against the terms of service and the practice is far from anonymous.

Apparently people have been doing it anyway.  Amazon has been cracking down on these Kindle abusers individually, limiting their device’s access to the Kindle Store and Amazon.com, but that takes manpower and there is almost certainly a waiting list as each abuser is warned.  Adding the 50mb per month cap prevents outright abuse in the meantime.

Given what we know about software changes from model to model, this may be the start of something more significant for the Kindle line in general.  By limiting the usefulness of the Kindle Keyboard, Amazon is setting things up to remove the device entirely.  This allows them to save on everything from firmware updates to 3G charges as customers move into the hardware we’re expecting to see in the next few months.  They clearly want to make some of the new features like X-Ray into Kindle brand selling points, but that’s not going to happen while so many users are still happy with their older model.

If you like to have your laptop hooked to a Kindle Keyboard for free 3G access, you’re probably going to be very unhappy in the days and weeks to come.  Amazon hasn’t commented, but this crackdown is likely to get bigger and stick around.  If you’re a normal user who just grabs the occasional eBook or website then you’ll likely never run into this new limitation.  Either way, keep an eye out for the hardware upgrade that’s around the corner.  Amazon is likely to be pushing upgrader incentives to build interest.

New Kindle Fire Models Any Time Now, But Not Six of Them

A recent report based on information coming from a Staples executive has had the internet abuzz with rumors about there being as many as six Kindle Fire tablets on the way any time now.  Demos Parneros, president of US Retail for Staples Inc, indicated that they have six SKUs ready for the upcoming release.  Naturally Amazon has declined to comment on any of these rumors, but the chances of there actually being six new tablets on the way are incredibly low.

This is not to say there will be nothing new.  Chances are very good that both a 7” Kindle Fire and a larger 10” Kindle Fire will be released at the same time.  We also have information from previous such stories that tells us the existing Kindle Fire will be re-released at a lower price with a slightly improved screen to help Amazon once again corner the Android tablet market.  It’s reasonable to expect that will be as far as the expansion of the line goes, however.

New SKUs do not mean entirely distinct new products.  If we assume that at least one of the tablets will have 4G connectivity available as an option, that option would be its own distinct SKU.  The same would be true for each variation in storage space.  An 8GB Kindle Fire and a 16GB Kindle Fire would be separated even if they were otherwise identical.

Six SKUs could be as simple as Amazon offering either extra storage space or optional 4G connectivity for each of the three models we are expecting.  Alternatively, we may still see only 7” releases at this time and find a “Kindle Fire Original” along with Kindle Fire 2 models featuring varying combinations of storage space and such.  It isn’t hard to come up with minor variations that account for the Staples information.

All of the speculation about there being completely unexpected products, such as a Kindle Phone, is jumping the gun.  That sort of thing may happen, and some people consider it to be almost inevitable, but it will not be coming in the next could weeks.  After all, what sense would it make for Amazon to release so many options that no particular Kindle Fire successor was able to capture public interest?  This is clearly a company that knows better than to do something that reckless, however sure they may be of their position in the market right this minute.

Security Flaw Makes Browsing Risky For Kindle Touch Users

The Kindle isn’t ever considered the most secure of devices.  Even here on this site you’ll find many hacks for Kindles from the first generation forward.  Still, this might be the first time I can think of that there has been a hole in the device’s security that poses a genuine problem for both users and Amazon.

heise Security has recently released some proof of concept code that demonstrates the potential for remotely exploiting Kindle Touch devices.  This is a problem occurring in the most recent Kindle Touch 5.1.0 firmware.  The vulnerability allows commands to be injected into the eReader through the WebKit browser.  These commands are then executed at the root level, essentially giving malicious code total control over your Kindle.

Amazon is aware of the problem and working on a patch.  Considering the first indications that there might be a problem to fix came up as early as April, according to the MobileRead forums, they are clearly taking their time about it.  Various reports indicate that there may be some difficulty getting the patch pushed to Kindle Touch users, but until we know more about Amazon’s response that may be speculation.

There are no indications at this time that anybody has managed to create malicious code directed at Kindle Touch users.  While some speculation has revolved around turning Kindles into nodes in massive botnet attacks, that is just potential at this stage.  There are, of course, measures you can take to protect yourself.

The most obvious solution to keeping safe until this is fixed would be to avoid the internet.  Turning off your wireless connection, whether WiFi or 3G, will save you battery life and put your mind at ease.  If you don’t find that appealing, sticking to Amazon’s services and trusted sites will also go a long way toward security.

If that is not enough and something more drastic is desired, there is a way to patch the hole yourself.  For complete instructions, head over to MobileRead and learn about jailbreaking your device.  Ironically, it seems that the most common jailbreaking method right now also uses the exploit in question.  Once you have gained root privileges for your Kindle Touch, however, a tool has been uploaded in this thread that should disable browser-based exploitation from remote sites.

This is probably not a big deal for most users.  It has the potential to turn into something major for Amazon.  A properly made piece of malware could theoretically turn their Kindle Touch line into an internet attack network.  This would be a PR nightmare and cost an unbelievable amount thanks to the free 3G these devices enjoy, but the limitations of the exploit as it is currently understood make it unlikely that any personal information could be stolen or that users could in other ways be easily harmed.

Exercise safe browsing habits and wait for Amazon to issue a firmware update.  New Kindle Touch units are already shipping with 5.1.1 firmware and that will likely be making its way to existing customers soon enough.  Some reports indicate that this update will patch the security hole, though that is not yet confirmed.

Say Goodbye to OpenFeint, Amazon Introduces GameCircle for Kindle Fire

One of the biggest problems with making games for Android devices like the Kindle Fire is that it can be very difficult to create a framework around them.  Yes, there are plenty of stand-alone titles to choose from, but if you’re talking about anything competitive or social then that means potentially huge investments in technology beyond the app itself.

Many app developers have found shortcuts around this problem.  Among the more popular is a service called OpenFeint.  The service provides a relatively easily integrated social gaming platform with a fairly large established user base ready to draw on, but it also runs into issues.  The company running the service has been accused of privacy violations, sharing user personal information with advertisers, and monitoring user activity outside of games.

The lawsuits regarding those complaints and more are still pending.  Whether you believe that the company is a problem or not, though, clearly the adoption of the platform can cause problems for a developer.  You need only look at some of Amazon’s previous “Free App of the Day” selections to see how it affects reviews, especially among Kindle Fire users.

Many have felt the need to incorporate that platform, or something similar to it, in order to provide features like competitive scoreboards and other social features without the need to create an independent support structure for them.  Amazon, fortunately, has provided a better option.

On July 11th, they announced the new GameCircle service.  A series of APIs are now available to developers that allow them to build in achievements, leaderboards, and cloud saving.  It has already been included in a number of popular games, including Temple Run and Triple Town, thanks to a successful beta run involving those developers.

Achievements are a natural way to increase time spent in a given game.  They have become common enough that just about any user will recognize them and they provide arbitrary goals within games that can both guide and reward players in a variety of situations.  The potential for increased engagement that they provide is well known and far more effective when made into a socially shared experience rather than an in-game checklist.

Leaderboards are excellent for any potentially competitive title.  Timed games, anything point-based, and progress competition are all possible.  The implications are obvious.

The most important part of this update, however, is the sync feature.  By allowing a user to sync their progress in a given game without requiring that files be left behind even after the deletion of a title from the device, GameCircle extends the lifespan of games.  Even if you don’t finish a given selection on your phone tonight, you can always pull it up on your Kindle Fire tomorrow and pick up where you left off.  You can even forget about a game and not have to start unlocking levels again from the beginning when you think about it a year down the line.  It’s highly appealing.

Overall, GameCircle meets a need.  It eliminates the need for potentially shady alternatives and further incentivizes development specifically for Amazon’s Appstore.  That will be essential for the continued popularity of the Kindle Fire, but anybody with an Android device stands to benefit.

Glow in the Dark Kindle May Be Delayed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Kindle Smartphone Rumor Spreads

According to people with knowledge of the situation, Amazon is planning to bring out their own smartphone to compete with Apple’s iPhone line.  A Bloomberg revelation provided that information recently.  The idea of a Kindle phone is something that has been touched on here before, particularly during the days leading up to the formal announcement of the Kindle Fire when anything seemed possible.  It is increasingly likely that this is going to be the next stage of Kindle growth now that a tablet presence has been established.

The Kindle Fire gives the retail giant a foothold in portable electronics in a way that even the Kindle eReader couldn’t accomplish.  The Kindle built its own market and basically kicked off the previously minimal eBook industry.  The Kindle Fire proved that Amazon was both willing and able to enter into an existing device market and hold their own.  In addition to building up consumer trust, it helps get things ready to enter into an even more competitive market.

Selling a smartphone is not likely to be a simple task, even for Amazon.  This is not a company known for passing any large amount of control to their partners.  While it is standard practice for carriers to demand custom devices, it is hard to imagine a Kindle phone going that way.  The whole point of Amazon’s hardware development is to lock people into a fairly closed loop of media services provided by Amazon and nobody else.  Allowing carrier customization would seem likely to dilute their own branding somewhat.

This move would also open the company up to any number of patent disputes.  It doesn’t matter whether they manage to acquire a large patent portfolio to defend against infringements, though sources indicate that this is exactly what is happening already, lawsuits over mobile devices are the norm rather than the exception right now.

On the plus side, the fact that Amazon already has a well-received fork of the popular Android OS will help them get off the ground.  Despite running on Google’s software, the experience provided by the Kindle Fire is sufficiently unique to make it stand out.  A similar effort released in a smartphone would provide an attractive alternative to the competition.

It would also greatly expand the potential user base for Amazon’s Appstore for Android, which many users find preferable to Google Play’s less carefully policed app store already.  More users would naturally add additional pressure for app developers who might be on the fence about signing up with Amazon so far.

Since we have no more solid information aside from comments by “people who should know”, this can’t be taken too seriously.  It would definitely be a smart move in some ways, but the added expenses from carriers, legal defenses, and assorted other problems particular to the mobile communications industry would make it difficult for Amazon to continue maintaining their policy of providing ridiculously low prices on all their hardware.

Would a Kindle phone sell well?  Probably.  Would it sell well enough for it to be worth the investment?  It’s too early to tell, though Amazon seems to be considering the possibility.

Did the Kindle Start a Trend Toward Paperless Living?

A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live.  One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper.  This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.

They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case.  The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper.  Who would have thought?

It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions.  We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful.  It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public.  It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.

Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle.  What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store.  Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books.  They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself.  With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store.  It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.

Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen.  The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now.  Convenience has reached an extreme.

Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to.  Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times.  Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.

None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear.  We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference).  What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up.  Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools.  Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from.  Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.

Kindle Replaces Bible in English Hotel

It’s hard to guess how many people actually get any use out of the bibles that are typically left in hotel rooms by the Gideons.  Chances are good that the percentage of hotel guests who so much as touch theirs is astoundingly low.  Somehow, I think that we can count on the fact that the Kindles that are replacing these bibles in the Hotel Indigo’s 148 rooms will prove more generally useful.

This Newcastle, England establishment has come up with a fairly ingenious arrangement.  Every room has its own Kindle.  Any guest who wants to use it can either browse the books it already has loaded or can purchase other religious content worth up to $7.80 (5 ppunds).  Anything non-religious is still available but will be added to the customer’s bill on the way out.  Naturally the first book to be loaded onto each Kindle will be the bible, just in case somebody really needs to have access to it, but there are many other titles to choose from now.

This is only a trial run of a potential change for the whole chain.  After July 16th, things will be evaluated to see if it was a success and whether or not to keep the Kindles around.  Best case scenario, the Kindle will be replacing the bible in 44 hotels around the world.

The biggest question this raises is that of security.  We don’t know how the hotel intends to make sure things stay as they should.  Naturally you would need to charge the cost of the Kindle to the guest if they walked off with it, making the proposition far more expensive than taking a Gideon Bible.  How they protect guest privacy, and their own investment, will be more complicated.

Assume you have a Kindle with the bible loaded onto it.  Anybody who can purchase on the device, as we know is the case for these, can also delete from the downloaded titles.  It would still be available for re-download, of course.  Given that anybody can add books to the associated account, though, even that might be a problem.

I would imagine that some guests might object to having to find their bible in the middle of a long list of other peoples’ favorite romance books and assorted other content.  If the hotel chooses to delete all content aside from the bible from every Kindle account after each guest leaves, they are just throwing away material that is potentially interesting to their customers.  That seems unlikely.  All of that completely ignores potential privacy concerns associated with keeping a long list of all the reading habits of people staying in these rooms.

The easier solution might have been to go with an eReader that accepted a removable memory card, but when you’re thinking of eReaders and their associated book stores the Kindle is the obvious choice.  It would be nice to see this take off despite the complications.  A Kindle in every hotel room would be quite a bit more useful than most things you’re likely to find there.

10″ Kindle Fire 2 Specs and Release Date

Some of the likely details regarding Amazon’s upcoming Kindle Fire successor have been available for a bit now.  As we get closer to what most sources consider a highly probably launch event in July, these are naturally becoming more detailed.  Most recently, tech news site BGR has expanded on a few of the more interesting details that make the upcoming Kindle Fire an improvement on the original.

The biggest news here is that, assuming BGR has once again found a reliable source, the highly sought 10 inch Kindle Fire will be released in July at the same time as the improved 7 inch model.  While the plan when Amazon’s first tablet was still in its earlier stages there were plans for the release of both 10 inch and 7 inch options.  In the interest of releasing in time to take advantage of holiday sales, they chose to concentrate on the less expensive of the two devices.  Now that some time has passed and interest has remained relatively high we will finally get to see the line filled out a bit.

The new 10 inch Kindle Fire 2 will be running a quad-core processor to offer a bit more power.  Obviously the larger screen is an improvement, but it will also be higher resolution.  Whether this means 1280 x 800 as with the 7 inch model is unknown, but it is likely that the emphasis here will be on true HD content delivery and that will influence things.

The overall build quality of the new Kindle Fire models has also apparently been improved.  While they will be thinner than the existing Kindle Fire, and slightly thinner than the original iPad, they will feature a metal case rather than the soft plastic that the older model makes use of.  A new chrome finish will be used to add highlights against the black matte we are used to, and a ribbed texture on the back will make it more comfortable to hold.  Having a more distinct appearance will definitely help with sales regardless of any other reasons for switching to a metal case.

The positioning of the speakers has been altered to some degree in order to improve the sound quality.  The 10 inch Kindle Fire 2 will also finally offer users a front-facing camera.  While not exactly the most useful of features for most people, it is one that has frequently been requested.  Both models will include a microUSB port and what is suspected to be an HDMI port.

Amazon has been aware of impending competition from Google and Microsoft on the tablet front throughout their development.  While the Kindle Fire took off immediately and conquered the Android tablet market, everybody else is catching up quickly.  That includes some like Google who can actually offer comparable media integration.  The new Kindle Fire 2 will have to be impressive to compete with not just the new competition but also the thoroughly entrenched iPad.  They can’t avoid the comparison to any degree once a larger model is available for sale and it should be interesting to find out exactly how much of an improvement has been made in order to meet these challenges.

The current expected release date is July 31st.  There is no word yet on 10 inch Kindle Fire 2 pricing.  The 7 inch Kindle Fire 2 is expected to sell for $199.