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

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September 2016
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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Nvidia’s Kai Platform Hurt the Kindle Fire?

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Sales Experience Q1 Slump…But Not Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Adds In-App Purchasing to the Kindle Fire, App Development Expansion Predicted

Amazon’s Appstore for Android is not exclusively available for the Kindle Fire, but at this point that is the device that matters.  The relatively new media tablet already holds the majority share of the Android tablet market and has proven more or less untouchable by comparably priced hardware competition so far.  The secret, if it can really be said to be one, is in the content.  Amazon has just about anything one might want to consume through the Fire ready to go at a moment’s notice with the push of a button.  Nobody else can come close for the price.

When some major shortcoming is addressed in the design of their ecosystem, it is therefore worth taking note of.  Like the recent announcement that developers now having access to the option of in-app purchasing, completely changing the potential for ongoing revenue from Kindle Fire owners.  This is a long-time staple of iOS app market that is well overdue here.

Until this point, Amazon affiliated app creators have earned a reported $0.89 for every $1.00 they earn selling the same offering through the iTunes App Store.  That is despite the lack of ongoing microtransactions supported by Amazon.  For comparison, the same app being sold through Google Play will earn an average of $0.23 for every dollar its creator catches via iTunes.

Opening up more possibilities for developers to make money through Android will put Amazon in a better position to build the best app selection available.  Currently, in sheer numbers, they are lagging behind both Apple and Google significantly.  By allowing options that don’t involve advertisements or unpopular third party tools, Amazon is making the Kindle Fire an even more attractive option.

This does open up some potential drama for Kindle Fire owners, of course.  The biggest draw of Amazon’s 1-Click purchasing system is that it is so easy you almost don’t notice you’re spending money.  Combine this with apps that are designed to offer quick and easy purchases and you may well have a recipe for personal financial disaster.

Many will recall an incident in the earlier days of the iPad when an eight year old girl made news buying Smurfberries to speed up her in-app play.  The bad publicity from this and similar events is what brought about the iPad’s detailed array of Parental Controls.

Amazon hopes to avoid similar efforts by having fewer loopholes in their existing restrictions.  Kindle Fire users have the ability to block in-app purchasing entirely, password protect the process using their Amazon account password, or create a PIN to unlock purchasing.  Between these choices, there should be little room for complaint about accidental shopping unless users simply don’t know how to access the controls.

For reference, you can manipulate Kindle Fire In-App Purchasing settings by going to the Apps tab from the Home screen, clicking on the Store, and opening the Settings menu.  Since all purchasing appears to be routed through this store app, it makes sense to find these settings here.

Google’s Kindle Fire Killer Now Looking More Expensive, Less Timely

Let’s face it, Amazon’s implementation of Android has to be a sore point for Google.  The most popular Android tablet ever, the Kindle Fire, is completely cut off from everything Google has developed to try to integrate and monetize the OS.  Is it any surprise that they would want to come out with something in the same size and price range that would blow the Kindle tablet option out of the water?  Unfortunately for them, this first attempt at entering the tablet market is going somewhat less smoothly than Amazon’s.

Sources originally reported that a 7” Google tablet costing as little as $150 would be available sometime this May.  Running Android 4.0 and powered by NVidea’s Tegra 3 quad-core processor, it was clearly an attempt to show off what a “pure” Android tablet was capable of in this price range.  Sadly, we now have news indicating that the design being collaborated on by Google and Asus is running $249 per unit.  The inability to keep costs down has brought along a delay until June and may force the elimination of some of the advantages the device was supposed to offer.

Prices on tablets are falling across the board.  The iPad remains prohibitively expensive for many, but with an option like the $199 Kindle Fire there is still hope.  Amazon did an impressive job of putting out dirt cheap hardware with the hope of making money on the resulting media sales and sales tracking indicates that they have been successful.  Anybody hoping to compete with Amazon in the 7” tablet market will have to at least match the price they are offering and even then bring something impressive to the table.

While the obvious way to bring down costs would be to step down from the expensive Tegra 3 processer, Google is apparently trying to avoid that.  This makes sense if they are trying to bring something out that really demonstrates the potential of the Android iteration (5.0 Jelly Bean) due out this June.  They have to be forward-thinking and prepare to compete against anticipated Windows 8 tablets as well as the Kindle Fire, so cutting corners on performance would not work well.

Does Google have a chance of beating out Amazon?  I would say no.  The strength of the Kindle Fire isn’t in its power or in its benchmark ratings.  Google Play is a step in the right direction, but aside from the App selection (which remains insufficiently moderated at the moment despite recent improvements and any other advantages it may offer) it can’t compare to what Amazon’s store integration brings to the table.

We can hope that this delay turns out to be more of a shift in focus than a fumbling attempt to get back on track with the original plan.  An Android 5.0 tablet meant to compete against Windows 8 tablets by offering a superior price and experience would make sense and do a lot to secure the future of the OS if implemented well.  An overpriced Kindle Fire competitor aimed at a noticeably different segment of the tablet customer pool than the Kindle would just be disappointing.

How I Dropped the Kindle Fire Launcher Without Rooting and Why I Went Back

The Kindle Fire is a powerful device for the price and as a result many people are eager to get the greatest possible return on their investment.  It can definitely do more than what the default UI brings to the user’s attention, given the de-emphasis on apps in favor of media consumption.  This has led to an ongoing complaint that the Kindle Fire’s custom launcher is a bar to purchasing because of its break from the general Android experience.

People generally understand, from a financial perspective at least, why Amazon felt the need to cut their tablet off from the Google Marketplace (now Google Play) in favor of the Amazon Appstore for Android.  The building a visually distinct user experience tends to be more troubling.

Having had more experience with Android smartphones than tablets, I have generally been inclined to favor the Kindle Fire UI on a personal level.  It handles everything I feel the tablet is good for and doesn’t bother me with anything else unless I put it on the Favorites bar.  When I got an email from a reader here recently about an app called Go Launcher EX that would change everything around to a more general Android tablet experience without all the trouble of rooting, though, I felt I had to give it a try.

The program is available in the Amazon Appstore, but it is listed as incompatible with the Kindle Fire.  This is not entirely the case.  If you download the .apk from the developer’s website (making sure to enable side-loading in your Kindle’s settings), it will install with no trouble.  The app is freely available.

What you get for the effort is a great deal of customization.  Multiple pages of customizable screen space are opened up by default.  Widgets are included that will keep you up to date on everything from the weather to your device’s battery life and more are available with little trouble through a built-in store.  Technically the backgrounds for the desktop screens are configurable, though that isn’t entirely functional alongside the Kindle Fire’s password screen for some reason.  In general, while far more complicated than the default launcher, Go Launcher EX did bring a great deal of the tablet versatility that might be what people want.

Unfortunately, while using the new launcher I found the Kindle to be noticeably slower to react.  Even when making use of the included utilities to completely free up active memory in every safe way possible, the experience included stuttering from time to time that reminded me of the Kindle Fire’s state before the first major firmware patch.

On top of this, the shift in emphasis to favor apps over Amazon’s integrated services seems to open up new possibilities at the expense of clarity and intuitive design.  For a good half hour I was near to believing it might be impossible to gain access to cloud-stored apps and documents, for example.  Overall I can’t really recommend for or against changing your launcher.  I think the Kindle Fire shipped with a UI that is fast, intuitive, and plays to the hardware’s strengths.  That doesn’t mean it is perfect or that you won’t find things you wish it would do better.

I will probably want to try something like Go Launcher again on a larger tablet, but for now I’m still finding the best uses of such a small device are exactly where they have always been.  Apps can help with the consumption focus, but I’ll never need to have half a dozen screens full of them on the Kindle Fire like I do on my phone.

Amazon is Getting Kindle Fire In-App Purchasing Ready

If you’re going to develop an application around the idea of ongoing micro-transactions, and many people have chosen to do exactly that, then the most important consideration is likely going to be smooth integration of payment options.  Amazon used the essence of this in the creation of the Kindle Fire itself.  The whole tablet is basically a way for customers to get the content they want without thinking too hard about where or how to get it, all while keeping the actual act of purchase as unobtrusive as possible.  Until now, however, app developers wanting to cater to Kindle Fire users have been unable to turn this to their own advantage.

We know they have been looking into making this happen for quite some time, but apparently now we have some confirmation of active testing being done in preparation for a more large-scale roll-out.  One of the founders of Skimble Inc, the maker of some physical fitness programs that have been involved with the pilot, revealed some of the details.

There will be both individual purchase options and the ability to set up a subscription.  This will be handy for newspapers following Amazon’s recent recommendation that potential newspaper submissions set up their own apps rather than getting into the Kindle Store’s selection.  Amazon’s cut on every sale will be the same 30% they take on eBooks and app sales in general.

This opens up whole new avenues of income both for Amazon and for app developers participating in their Android app store.  Currently anybody looking for regular income from their users is forced to either sell ad space in free apps or arrange some sort of non-integrated system for content purchases.  It is a smart move that puts the company in a much better position to capitalize on the Kindle Fire and Android app sales in general.

This is not a trivial thing to get going.  Amazon absolutely needs to get things right.  There have already been complaints about their parental controls thanks to poorly functioning and completely missing options in the initial release of the Kindle Fire.  Users need the assurance that this will not be an issue in the future.

Many will remember the iPad in-app spending horror stories resulting from unrestricted purchasing options.  Children were able to charge thousands of dollars buying virtual goods with no notice or warning screen until Apple came up with more refined controls.  Such have not been nearly as necessary for the Kindle Fire before now, but adding this feature to the system will require some changes.

While Amazon has the best selling Android tablet on the market today, they have the smallest of the three major tablet app stores.  Part of that is the heavy oversight they keep in place to ensure quality control among their offerings, but a lot is also lack of developer interest.  While developers are likely to make significantly more on their app sales through Amazon than through Google Play, the initial sale is not the only source of income for many companies.  If Amazon gets this working, and working well, it could lead to a huge boom in Kindle Fire app-building.

Kindle Fire vs iPad 3 Is Easy, But Will Kindle Fire 2 Change Things?

I’ve gone over the fact that choosing a Kindle Fire or iPad isn’t really a tough decision before.  They are completely different devices that offer drastically different capabilities to their users.  A Kindle Fire could no more replace everything an iPad does than it could a traditional Desktop PC, but buying an iPad to do nothing more than what the Kindle Fire is capable of is wasteful at best.  There is some speculation that this will be changing in the fairly near future, however, and we have to wonder how well Amazon can hope to pull off a direct confrontation.

Their strength has been the ability to present a device that does exactly what it sets out to do, does it well, and doesn’t claim to be able to do anything more.  The Kindle eReader can be adapted to type on if a user feels like it, but Amazon never advertises it as a tool for that.  The Kindle Fire was provided with just enough power to handle movie watching and most common apps.  To be able to compete with an iPad on Apple’s terms, Amazon would have to be prepared for just about anything a user would want to do.

Some of these things are easy.  Cameras, which most people are either convinced or at least hopeful that the Kindle Fire 2 will have, would go a long way toward making it a better communications device.  A mic, which obviously would be needed in almost any situation where a camera would be useful, would also allow for voice controls and speech-to-text.  The larger screen would offer users greater real estate for customizing their experience and developers more leeway to add in features or information in ways that couldn’t fit on a smaller device.  To really match the iPad 3 side by side though, they would need more.

It is pretty safe to say that the Kindle Fire 2 will not have a Retina Display.  It will also not have multi-touch capabilities able to handle significantly more than two contact points at a time.  The screen will be larger, which is useful, but the impact of that can’t be assumed to cover everything.  In terms of processing power, graphics capabilities, and any number of other factors, there is little reason to believe that Amazon has a chance at taking the lead in general use situations.

Does this mean that a larger Kindle Fire will flop?  I don’t believe so.  If Amazon can keep the price down, it will still stand out.  Apple’s keeping the iPad 2 available at $400 is ingenious in that it makes the comparison with a 9-10” competitor at $300-350 closer than it would be otherwise, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to move in.  Really the only question will be how much they advertise what the new Kindle Fire is meant to do.  If they can make it clear that despite being larger it is still a purely consumption drive design, that will work as an advantage.  If they seem to be actively trying to create and sell a full featured tablet, it will take something big.

To Match Kindle Fire, B&N Releases Cheaper $200 Nook Tablet

There has been some question about the importance of pricing in the Kindle Fire’s dominance over the seemingly superior Nook Tablet.  On paper the Barnes & Noble tablet is definitely the slightly better device with more storage, expandable memory, twice the RAM, and otherwise similar hardware, which means it makes sense to pick out the one aspect of the comparison (in this case the price) that goes against it when determining why the Nook Tablet hasn’t done better.  Barnes & Noble obviously thought so, and has decided to start offering a version of the Nook Tablet at $200 that sacrifices nothing but its superior onboard storage.  Surely they are hoping this will be enough to at least start to draw even with the Kindle Fire.

The big question we have to ask now is whether or not this is a reasonable expectation from such a small change.  Have people really been choosing the Kindle Fire just to get 20% off the competition’s price?  This is definitely a possibility for some buyers, but overall there are other factors that we have to consider.  What you buy when you get one of these tablets is more than just the physical device at this point; it’s an entire content ecosystem.

Many, myself included, are of the opinion that the real strength of the Kindle Fire stems from its deep integration with Amazon’s systems.  It is undoubtedly a mixed blessing thanks to the associated lack of access to the main Google App Marketplace among other things, but this integration does allow for some impressive features.  The on-device storage is practically irrelevant when a decent WiFi network is in range, for example, thanks to the streaming media options Amazon has made available.  There is also more than enough space at any given time for several dozen apps, a couple hundred eBooks, and assorted music and video files.  Will you be carrying around entire seasons of your favorite television show?  Probably not.  You can expect to have several hours worth of viewing on hand for when wireless connectivity is unavailable, though.

Barnes & Noble simply isn’t offering the same amount of service, which is why it makes sense for them to be trying to make up the difference with somewhat superior hardware at the same price as the Kindle Fire.  The new Nook Tablet is, if anything, an even better option than the 16GB model for those looking into the possibility of rooting their new tablet, but if you’re keeping the stock firmware then it is a decision that should be carefully considered.  Nothing has changed or improved here, when it comes right down to it, besides dropping the price.

If you are a fan of the Nook, or dislike the idea of Amazon’s having a hold on your tablet, this is a great deal.  If you really want a color LCD device for reading on, the Nook Tablet is also still your best option.  If these situations don’t apply to you, however, the $200 Kindle Fire vs $200 Nook Tablet competition is still pretty heavily weighted in favor of Amazon.

Kindle Fire 6.2.2 Details Released

While we knew that the 6.2.2 update to the Kindle Fire tablet was mainly going to be a matter of performance upgrades and behind the scenes stuff, a few things were noticed as the roll-out quietly began that were worth drawing attention to immediately.  As noted, the upgrade to this newest firmware did break root access for user who went that route.  This was addressed quite quickly, however, and initial doubts about whether or not BurritoRoot 2 would do the job seem to have been based on people failing to follow instructions correctly.  Aside from that, all we could see was the admittedly convenient full screen option for the Silk browser.

Things have settled in a little bit better now and Amazon was kind enough to let us in on what the entirety of the patch was meant to accomplish.  There are a couple perks:

Kindle Fire Silk Browser Customization

Users are now able to set their browser to disable Flash.  This was possible previously, but through the setting for “Enable Plugins”, which some users found confusing and overly broad.  By default, Flash will be disabled.  Check Silk’s Settings menu under the Behavior heading to turn it back on.

It is also now possible to disable the constant encrypted data shuffle through Amazon’s servers.  While you are still able to turn it on in settings by clicking on “Enable Optional Encryption”, users should find significantly improved performance now that it is non-mandatory.  This will not have any effect on encrypted connections to web pages.

Also, to access the previously mentioned full screen browsing, simply click on the square of four outward facing arrows in the lower-right corner of the Silk browser’s menu bar, next to the bookmark button.

Performance Improvements

There has been some small but noticable improvement made to the speed and smoothness of rendering on the Kindle Fire.  Scrolling, panning, and pinch to zoom all seem to work more fluidly and without the occasional stutter than previously occurred during fast movements.  Hard to say how impressive this is for most things at the moment, but there’s never anything wrong with optimization.

Email Control

It is now simpler, and in some cases possible where it was not before, to get email addresses set up manually.  Doesn’t fix all gmail complaints, but for the most part that has to do with the gmail end of things being updated so often (for the record, my own gmail account works fine with IMAP enabled, but other experiences may vary).

Many users have been somewhat disappointed to note that this update did not include the addition of finer control over the carousel or Kindle library collection management.  Presumably, however, a project this large has more than one feature being worked on at any given time and so we can probably assume that something is being done to address the vocal complaints of the user base even if it is not quite ready for release yet.  Personally I found it beyond tedious to manually delete my entire Kindle library from the carousel when the feature was introduced and would love a Mass-Remove type of option as soon as possible.

Kindle Fire January Re-Review

Over the past several weeks several people have informed me that the most up to date reviews they were able to find regarding the Kindle Fire were a bit outdated, to say the least.  Looking over the links I was provided, it definitely seems like there is still some misinformation floating around.  This is mostly a result of failure to update after the performance patch, which did a great job of addressing complaints and ensures that new users won’t have nearly as many annoyances as they might have on launch day.  In the interest of clarifying, here’s what I would say is worth knowing if trying to decide on a Kindle Fire purchase today:

Pros:

  • Highly portable (noticeably lighter than any hardcover book I own)
  • Durable (Check out Andrei’s scratch/drop test)
  • Powerful for the $200 price
  • ~8 Hour battery life (I average 7 hours with WiFi on and brightness at a comfortable level)
  • Amazing video quality through Amazon Instant Video
  • Seamless integration with Amazon Cloud Storage for Amazon Purchases
  • Large, well-moderated App Store
  • Access to Amazon’s Customer Service
  • Easy WiFi Setup

Cons

  • Only 8GB onboard storage (6GB or so available, with just over 1GB reserved for Apps)
  • 2 Finger Touch screen not perfect for extended typing (not a netbook replacement)
  • Back-lit screen not great for reading
  • Some Kindle eReader functionality missing (collections, real page numbers, X-Ray)
  • No Text to Speech (in Kindle Edition eBooks, though some apps may make up for this)
  • No access to Android Marketplace by default
  • Netflix video currently only allows SD streaming
  • Limited Codec selection

Common Kindle Fire Software Complaints (Including Those Addressed)

  • Choppy navigation
  • WiFi connectivity limited
  • Overly fast browsing/scrolling
  • Unresponsive page turning
  • No Parental Controls
  • No way to choose favoring of mobile sites
  • Unintuitive cloud integration for personal documents
  • Caroussel Logs Every Activity
  • Purchased Apps always present in Cloud view
  • Silk Browser doesn’t live up to the hype

At this point, if you are interested in getting a Kindle Fire, I strongly recommend it.  This isn’t exactly a surprise coming from me given earlier similar declarations even before the big patch that dealt with so many complaints, but it remains true.

This is not an iPad killer.  It might have an effect on Apple, and will almost certainly spur Amazon to more direct competition, but they’re devices intended for different purposes.  If you want to watch movies, play Android games, access a wide variety of streaming content, and just generally consume media of various sorts, the Kindle Fire is the way to go.  I certainly wouldn’t replace my Kindle eReader with one, nor would it work as even a basic netbook substitute in the way that an iPad could once you get used to it, but what it does do is well done.

This is just a short overview, of course, and I would be happy to elaborate on any and all of these points should you be interested.  Let me know here or by email and I will either comment here or throw up an in-depth explanation as the situation demands. 

Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet: Amazon Winning, Sales Looking Great All Around

It’s undeniable that the release of the Kindle Fire, and along with it the competing Nook Tablet, has shaken up the Tablet PC market.  Since launch Amazon has already firmly taken second place next to the Apple iPad, selling as many as 5 million units in the 4th quarter of 2011 alone.  Barnes & Noble is also doing pretty well, having moved more than a million of their own tablet in the same time period.  The way things are going with these two, there has even been some speculation that there is no room for dedicated hardware manufacturers with this kind of competition.

Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling their tablets at near, or possibly even below, the cost of production.  The goal is to get people hooked into the platform and make ongoing profits based on media sales.  Effectively, the hardware has become secondary now that it can be treated as a conduit for consumption rather than an end in and of itself. Amazon is doing a better job on this side of things than Barnes & Noble so far.

The Nook Tablet has the technically superior hardware, with double the RAM and double the storage space among other things, but doesn’t make very good use of it.  The storage is restricted and the interface doesn’t seem to run significantly smoother than the Kindle Fire‘s.  There is an SD slot to expand the available memory of the device, but to get a sufficiently large one to make a difference you can expect to add a significant percentage onto the already comparatively more expensive price.  None of this means that it is a bad tablet, it’s actually quite excellent and highly recommended, but it is worth noting that B&N has a way to go before they are really making the best use out of their device’s potential.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, lacks some of the power of the Nook.  What it does have is a deeper integration with Amazon.com’s storefront and content.  Unlike B&N, Amazon has their own source of video and music for customers to take advantage of, as well as a robust cloud storage service that makes up for a lot of the seeming shortcomings of the hardware.  The lower price certainly doesn’t hurt sales numbers either, especially given the inevitable comparison of both products to each other and the iPad.

We can expect sales for both tablets to be improving even more through the next year.  The Kindle line, and the Kindle Fire in particular, is one of Amazon’s biggest marketing priorities, while the Nook line is pretty much the only thing B&N has going for it right now in terms of profitability.  What remains to be seen is what effect the next iteration of the Kindle tablet line brings.  A larger tablet could cement Amazon’s place on top of tablets for the foreseeable future, second only to Apple, but it could also severely damage the company’s reputation if something goes wrong and open the door to a big push by Barnes & Noble.

Either way we have good products to work with, but both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are built for content consumption and that means active ongoing support.  The more popular each one becomes, the more incentive the associated company has to expand the platform, and the more valuable the tablet in question becomes for owners.  It will be interesting to see the back and forth as the competition heats up in months to come.

Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet: Intentions To Root Change The Equation

Despite the relative technical differences between the new Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and the Amazon Kindle Fire, I think that it is fair to say that Amazon’s product offers more right out of the box.  For the layman user, somebody with no stake in a particular platform and no desire to have to jump through hoops to pull the greatest possible performance out of their electronics, the available content and overall experience of the Fire is immediately superior.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are not that user.  Even more, let’s assume that you are considering buying one of the new $200 Tablet PCs being released by these eReading giants with the sole intention of rooting it and making it into an all purpose generic Android Tablet.  It doesn’t take huge amounts of work under most circumstances.  Andrei already posted instructions to this Blog on how to root the Kindle Fire and there is a great deal of headway being made on the Nook Tablet.  Custom Android ROMs are sure to follow in the near future.  In the end, chances are good that the only prerequisite will be a willingness to spend the time and effort to go through a list of instructions.

Under these circumstances, the most important factor is the hardware.  Here, the Nook Tablet is the way to go.  It has twice the RAM of the Kindle Fire, as well as twice the internal storage space.  The expandable memory slot is a big incentive as well, of course.  Other than those bits, the processors, screens, size, and weight are all either exactly equivalent or so close that it won’t factor in much.  Probably the only other relevant difference is the fact that the Nook has some external volume controls that come in handy from time to time.  Before making any real decisions on this matter, however, I recommend taking both devices for a test drive.

While the Nook Tablet‘s initial setup has some major flaws, from locking up the majority of the storage space to simply lacking a halfway decent app store, it is still pretty smooth and comes equipped to take on most third-party video purchases.  You also get the added advantage of easily accessible support at every Barnes & Noble location nationwide.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, offers deep Amazon integration.  At a glance this is troublesome and a blatant attempt to lock customers in, but they have gone out of their way to keep the platform pretty open.  Competitor apps are in their Appstore (itself less well populated than the Google Marketplace but far better policed) and it isn’t hard to install things acquired elsewhere.  Even the Nook reader app has no trouble.  The interface is smooth, looks good, and performs better than most people would expect.  Really the only complaint here is the lack of video format compatibility, which is why it was worth mentioning for the Nook.

Either way you’re getting a good device, but keep in mind what is being bought.  These are not really intended to be all purpose tablets the way the iPad is and to treat them as such will likely disappoint.  If you do decide to break away from the cultivated experiences provided then the minimal hardware might be more apparent than it otherwise would be.  Personally, I had intended to ditch the Amazon firmware on the Kindle Fire after testing it out just enough to write about it knowledgeably.  It was good enough to change my mind and might do the same for you.

No, The Kindle Fire Line Will Not Get Its Own Siri

Several weeks back, speculation rose about the possibility for Amazon’s following in the footsteps of Apple with a Siri-like product of their own for the Kindle Fire.  Siri, for those who aren’t aware, is a virtual digital assistant for the iPhone.  It allows users to conversationally ask questions and make requests that the software will try to accommodate.  For the most part it does an impressive job and when Siri can’t cope it will come up with a variety of witty or whimsical responses tailored to the user input.

The cause for speculation with regard to Amazon stems from their acquisition of Yap, a voice to text company whose specialty is transcribing voicemail.  While Amazon wasn’t mentioned by name in the acquisition, the company that Yap merged with lists its headquarters at an Amazon building.  There are a few reasons to make a move like this, of course, but it is fairly clear that the idea of copying Apple’s efforts was not one of them.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that Yap is absolutely nothing like Siri.  Yes they both involve accurately pulling information out of the spoken word, but that is as far as it goes.  Siri is an attempt at artificial intelligence that will try to understand user intent by pulling key words and phrases out of what it hears.  Yap’s specialty is simply putting words on “paper”, so to speak, in a cheap and fast manner.  Cloud computing is Amazon’s new big thing, of course, so the fact that Yap does its work mechanically on the cloud servers also fits in well with their philosophy.

What this could be a precursor to is an Kindle Fire type of smartphone.  While Amazon has not yet announced any official plans to add such a device to their growing selection of hardware, it’s a possibility.  The Yap software would be helpful for both its original voicemail applications as well as for voice commands, in this case.  The voice command idea in general would likely go over well on future Kindle Tablets, but since the only mic we’ve seen in a Kindle has been the disabled one inside every Kindle 3 it might actually be a bit surprising.   There is also the chance that this was simply a matter of acquiring Intellectual Property to guard against lawsuits and license to other companies.

Quite possibly my favorite potential use for this would be on demand transcription of audio files.  This would come in handy for practically anybody who regularly needs to deal with presentations or meetings, especially in business environments that require fast turnaround on their reference material.  That might be a long shot, though.

Regardless of how Amazon decides to actually make use of the Yap acquisition, there’s just no chance it will be as a Siri clone.  The Kindle Fire is great at what it does, but it lacks the hardware to make a Siri possible.  Even if that hardware were present, the speech to text component of such a feature would be only a small part of a huge endeavor.  It would be great to have that kind of capability, but it’s overoptimistic for the foreseeable future.

Kindle Fire vs Kindle Touch Hands-On: Is The Dedicated eReader Obsolete?

In the past several weeks, especially as the Kindle Fire’s release date drew near, many people have been touting the new media tablet as a higher end, more advanced Kindle.  While it is definitely true that it opens up new doors for Amazon in terms of content distribution, I don’t necessarily think that it is fair to assume that the Fire is a direct evolution of the line it takes its name from.  As such, I figured I might as well do a small comparison on the relative virtues of Amazon’s two newest Kindles.

Kindle Fire

This is the clear winner in terms of general usefulness.  We don’t need a breakdown to prove that, it simply is.  The dedicated eReader didn’t rise to popularity because of its exclusive access to the text contained inside eBook files, though.  The question is how this device stacks up specifically as an eReader.

Pros:

  • More Responsive Interface
  • Larger Storage Capacity
  • More Intuitive Sorting/Storage Library Interface

Cons:

  • LCD Display
  • Short battery Life

It really is a good system in general besides the back-lit LCD, offering the full functionality of any Kindle or Kindle App prior to the Touch model.  When you swap to the white on black color scheme it isn’t even terribly uncomfortable to read for hours at a time, though the fact that you are reading on a screen is never forgotten.

Kindle Touch

Pros:

  • E Ink Screen
  • X-Ray
  • Long Battery Life

Cons:

  • Slightly slower than Fire
  • More Basic Menu System
  • Limited PDF Functionality

The biggest things that the new Kindle Touch eReader has going for it revolve around the strengths that the Kindle line has always played to: a reading experience analogous to that of a paper book.  This includes no eye strain, page turns faster than physically possible with paper, seemingly endless battery life, and the best selection of books on the market.  That last is obviously not restricted to this model, but it helps.

On the downside, the responsiveness of the Kindle Fire when doing things besides plain old reading is far superior.  Both the color display and the simple ability to rotate your document also make it the superior device for PDF viewing.  While the zooming and scrolling on the Kindle Touch is superior to any previous Kindle due to the touchscreen implementation, for some reason this resulted in the loss of landscape mode.  That can be a pain when you’re unable to reflow your document.

Conclusions

When in comes to extended reading, the Kindle eReader is still king.  The E Ink screen isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for everybody, but the loss of battery life that comes along with the move to LCD is likely to be.  X-Ray is a nice feature and will add some great tools for students and reading groups, but I have yet to find it more than a perk.

On the other hand, for active reference and note taking I would definitely recommend the Kindle Fire.  The reading experience shows no lag for me in about 15 hours of use so far, the page turns, highlighting, and note taking are nice and quick, and it can be useful to have the full web browser handy.

The experiences are indeed distinct, and probably will remain so until some form of Color E Ink or an equivalent comes along.

Kindle Fire Tear Down Details: It’s Less Expensive Than We Thought

One of the more obvious inevitabilities when a product like the Kindle Fire is released is a detailed tear down of the components.  It’s always interesting to find out what goes into making useful new electronics so functional, after all.  Recently iFixit was on the ball and ripped apart a new Kindle for our benefit.  Here’s what they found inside, along with some price estimates I was able to dredge up:

Part Estimated Price
Processor 1GHz TI OMAP 4430 $18
Display 7″ 1024 x 600 w/ IPS $35
Touchscreen Controller ILITEK
2107QS001K
A95B8F416
A2130B002
$25
Flash Memory 8GB Samsung KLM8GFEJA $8
RAM 512 MB Hynix H9TKNNN4K $5
Battery LI-ION Polymer 4400mAh/16.28Wh 3.7V $12
WLAN Jorjin WG7310 WLAN/BT/FM Combo Module $3
Misc Parts TI 603B107 Fully Integrated Power Management
TI LVDS83B FlatLink 10-135 MHz Transmitter
TI AIC3110 Low-Power Audio Codec w/ 1.3W Stereo Class-D Speaker Amplifier
TI WS245 4-Bit Dual-Supply Bus Transceiver
TI WL1270B 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi Solution Total ~$25
Other Materials Case, Assembly, Etc $7
Manufacturing Costs ~$5
Total: ~$143

All of this seems to indicate that earlier assumptions about the lack of profit to be found in such a device as this were blown out of proportion.  The Kindle Fire seems to be not only a versatile device, but surprisingly simple and efficient at the hardware level.  While my estimates for pricing are, as always, pulled from several sources and estimated when necessary, there seems to be a great deal of confirmation about the majority of it.  I feel fairly confident that that comes within +-$15 of the actual cost.

Much of the focus of the tear down I am pulling from was also on potential serviceability of the device.  The Kindle 4 non-Touch, as we outlined our previous in-house tear down, was practically unserviceable due to the extreme use of adhesive throughout.  While some of that remains in this model, apparently the only real difficulties will come in when trying to replace cracked glass (which won’t be much of an issue as our earlier posted drop/scratch test demonstrated) and during the initial removal of the battery.  Unlike the Kindle 4, it was possible to work past this without destroying the entire device.

They were also able to refute those who assumed that, due to the connection with Quanta Computer and the similar external appearance, the Kindle Fire would be nothing but a clone of the Playbook.  Internally, the two are only very vaguely similar.

Basically, not only is Amazon making at least some profit off of each device, they are doing so by presenting customers with an experience that rivals some of their more technically powerful competition at a price that people are having no small amount of trouble competing with.  It’s durable, seems to have a long lifespan ahead of it, and generally serves its purpose well.  As expected this carries nowhere near the punch of something like the iPad on a technical level, but in the end that shouldn’t come as any surprise given the asking price.  All in all the Kindle Fire definitely carried a couple surprises.  It will be interesting to see what the next generation brings aside from a slightly larger screen.

Kindle Fire Rooting Likely To Come Quickly

So, Amazon knows that some of you will be rooting the Kindle Fire by now.  It’s hard to imagine otherwise at this point, given the state of the competition and the community of Android enthusiasts who love to unlock the full functionality of the OS.  What’s fairly unusual about Amazon’s approach to this, though, is that they don’t really seem to care and won’t be making any major moves to prevent it.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “rooting” a device means gaining unrestricted access to the device’s software in order to, among other things, install a fresh or custom version of the operating system that is more in line with what you are personally interested in.  The Nook Color, for example, was widely regarded to be an impressive budget tablet after rooting despite its less than impressive default feature set at release.  Rooting is common practice on Android devices, especially when by default these devices prevent users from accessing the Android Marketplace or when manufacturers stop supporting software updates for older devices.  This is essentially the same process as Jailbreaking your iOS devices and the results are comparable.

Amazon representative Jon Jenkins, director of the Silk browser project for the Kindle Fire, admitted “It’s going to get rooted, and what you do after you root it is up to you.”  In the same interview he admitted to not even being sure if the bootloader was locked, which is just one of the many ways that Android is closed off to potential hackers.  This doesn’t mean that Amazon will offer any special support for such endeavors, and indeed it will still most likely result in a breach of warranty for anybody who chooses to go this route, but they don’t seem to see much profit in staying on top of any potential exploits and holes in the security.

It’s a novel approach for a major developer.  For the most part companies tend to overreact to what they view as a threat, often to the point of forcing normal users into less enjoyable experiences as a result.  It also implies a certain level of confidence in the experience being delivered.

Amazon is essentially gambling on the idea that the Kindle Fire’s unique interface and distinctness from the generic Android experience will be enough to keep users locked in.  They have spent a great deal of time and effort, by most accounts, in creating something distinct that customers will feel worth investing in.  Of course it will probably help that without the Kindle Fire‘s OS it will likely be difficult to make use of Amazon’s cloud services.  If the Silk Browser is genuinely faster than the competition as it claims to be then that alone would be enough to make you hesitate to switch.

Basically, if all you want is the hardware then you’re in luck.  Grab it, root it, play with normal Android all you want.  It provides a decent amount of power for the $199 price.  What many of us are hoping for though, and what I think Amazon is banking on, is that they have done a good enough job to make it not even worth the effort.

Next Generation of Kindle Fire Now Expected To Be 8.9″ Tablet

Originally, the plan for the Kindle Fire‘s release was supposed to have involved two Tablet PCs.  That was the story being told during the speculation period, at least, and it seemed pretty believable.  Supposedly, as Amazon grew concerned about the time it was taking to get both products ready, they became afraid of missing out on the 2011 holiday season and put all resources into the 7″ Kindle Fire instead.  There is yet every reason to believe that further Kindle Tablet devices are planned for the future, though.

Up until now we have been assuming that the next one to come would be the previously rumored device known by the code name “Hollywood”.  This was to be the 10.1″ version of the Kindle Fire that would run a quad core processor and have an increase in both storage and memory.  Many analysts have been expecting to see this device released as early as the first quarter of next year, but new information from DigiTimes seems to point to a slightly different course for the immediate future.

They have heard from sources associated with Amazon’s current 7″ display suppliers that Amazon has set things in motion for the production of 8.9″ screens.  While it is always important to remain somewhat skeptical of supposed inside sources for a variety of reasons, if true this could mean that entirely new things are in the works for Amazon’s next Tablet PC.

While it would not necessarily be true that an 8.9″ display would have to be less powerful than the Kindle Hollywood rumors were indicating, there has to be a reason for such a shift.  The obvious answer would be cost management.  While the Kindle Fire is currently selling ridiculously well in pre-orders, it is only able to do that by virtue of its low price and comparatively high level of content.  Should Amazon have jumped into the tablet market with something trying to take on Apple’s iPad on equal terms, it is likely that things would be going somewhat less well.

By using a screen that is somewhere between the iPad and the Kindle Fire, Amazon not only keeps costs down below what Apple has been able to manage, but also continues to remain distinct in customers’ minds.  Yes they are both tablets, but by virtue of form alone they will fill different needs and desires just as the Kindle eReader line was able to do.

This doesn’t rule out the possibility of a 10″ Kindle somewhere down the line, but should the rumor prove true then it would be far less likely.  The Kindle DX‘s lack of success should be enough to steer Amazon clear of the “bigger is better” mindset, if nothing else.  In addition, while there are currently a wide number of Kindle eReaders to choose from, there is every reason to believe that Amazon will be eliminating the Kindle Keyboard as a major part of the product line within the next few months.  Just as it makes little sense to try to keep providing five or more different eReader options at a time, trying to market 3-4 different sizes of tablet seems unlikely to significantly increase sales.

Kindle vs Nook: DC Debacle Spurs B&N To Dumb Move

It’s no real secret that Barnes & Noble has quickly come to depend on their Nook eReader line, which by extension means it isn’t really too surprising that they might overreact when that is threatened.  A recent spat with DC Comics over a limited term of Kindle Fire eComic distribution exclusivity for a segment of the publisher’s current titles has resulted in just such an overreaction, though, and their failure to see the mistake may well provide difficulties going forward.

The underlying complaint on the part of Barnes & Noble is that DC has had the audacity to offer eReader exclusivity on 100 or so titles to Amazon as a temporary means for Amazon to promote the Kindle Fire.  While there is no information yet, to the best of my knowledge, as to how long this deal will remain in place, both DC and Amazon have acknowledged that it is not intended to necessarily be a long term arrangement.

As a result, Barnes & Noble has pulled all DC titles from their stores.  This includes every physical copy of the Amazon digital exclusives from DC Comics.  No notice was given to customers initially, simply a blanket email to all stores requiring them to remove the books.  To pull the gist of the eventual published statement from the Brick & Mortar book giant: “Regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format.[...]To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms, and not have the eBook available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime.”

On the surface, one has to applaud the effort.  Maybe this was an instance of Amazon throwing their weight around that required a significant response from a major retailer to help publishers see that such behavior is unacceptable.  That sentiment lasts right up until the realization that at this time Barnes & Noble does not in any way offer electronic comic publications.

The chain has decided that they are so dedicated to the principal on this issue that they are willing to turn away customers at the door rather than allow Amazon’s Kindle Fire access to something the Nook Color has not even tried to exploit after a year on the market.  Now not only with B&N customers not be able to download their comics, they can’t get physical copies except through the B&N website.  Stores have even been instructed to turn away special orders.  No copy will be allowed to enter the store, no matter how much you want to give your money to Barnes & Noble.

In the end, I see this hurting nobody but B&N, their customers, and the creators of the works in question.  Nobody wins but Amazon and customers have one more reason to avoid dealing with anybody else.  While this could have been quickly remedied with a quiet apology for initial overreaction, there is no excuse for letting it continue and treating customers this poorly, especially at a time when they are faced with a superior competing product.

Kindle Fire Demand Exceeds Expectations

So, clearly the Kindle Fire was destined to be a big thing from the moment it was announced.  In addition to being a part of the bestselling Kindle line, the pricing alone would have been sufficient to make people sit up and take notice.  Not many people expected anything less than $250 before the press conference, especially not a full 20% less.  It seems that even Amazon wasn’t expecting how much attention their new tablet would get them, though.

Recent analyst estimates have indicated that since pre-orders began on the Kindle Fire, currently scheduled to begin shipping by November 15th, as many as 50,000 units per day have been sold.  On the first day alone, as many as 95,000 pre-sales are believed to have occured.  In light of this, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has announced that he has dramatically increased the number of units ordered for this year’s production. Even he apparently wasn’t quite ready for the splash being made.

In addition to the fact that the Kindle Fire is priced so impressively competitively, seeming to have single-handedly caused a drastic drop in Android tablet prices over the past few weeks, the company has brought a lot to bear on the new product to make it appealing for customers, new and old alike.  While the obvious connection to the other Kindles exists, this is not primarily intended to serve as an eReading device.  The Kindle App still works well, and the color screen will allow for a large variety of content that has as yet been unable to join in on the eReader fun, but there is a lot more going on.

Amazon Instant Video, for example, will probably serve as the greatest draw for most people.  While the new tablet will only have 8GB of storage space onboard, the Android operating system included has been highly customized to allow the greatest possible integration with Amazon’s web services.  This means that if you have a wireless network handy, Amazon will be able to bring you any video content you have access to at a moment’s notice.  They’ll even save your stopping point for later if you set something down for whatever reason.  This service has been undergoing fairly constant expansion in recent months with tens of thousands of new titles being added as deals come together with new providers.  A fair percentage of this video content is even freely available with Amazon Prime subscription, a free month of which will accompany every device.

Given how appealing the media consumption angle is likely to be for customers, it is not at all surprising to see how hard Amazon is pushing the Kindle Fire.  While some analysts are convinced that they are losing as much as $10 on every tablet sold, creating the sort of long lasting customer relationship that this has the potential to form can only be good in the long term.  It might not be poised to overthrow the iPad any time soon, but the justifiable excitement over the newest Kindle is hard to ignore.

Amazon Prime: Pros, Cons, & Kindle Implications

For some time now Amazon has been pushing their Amazon Prime service.  For just $79 a year (less if you’re an active college student with a valid .edu email address) you can take advantage of unlimited free two day shipping on eligible items as well as enjoy the perk of a selection of streaming video titles free on demand to any supported device.  While the former has been the major selling point for many so far, the latter is going to be an increasingly big deal with the coming of the Kindle Fire.

There is a reason that the Kindle Fire will be coming with a month worth of Amazon Prime membership.  The device is designed to work as an ideal portable video streamer.  The Amazon Instant Video library has been growing regularly since right around the time the first Kindle Tablet rumors started popping up, and it hasn’t stopped yet.  A significant portion of that is free to Prime members.

Of course, as with any such program, there are issues.  Most significantly is the fact that much of the benefit is restricted to the United States.  Amazon’s other sites mostly have their own versions of Amazon Prime with similar benefits (such as Amazon.co.uk offering free 1 day shipping and evening or weekend delivery discounts in select areas) but as yet none of them seem to involve the video service.  While there are obvious reasons for this, including the complications of international media rights acquisition and local content distribution laws, that doesn’t mean that the problem isn’t there.  It is slightly strange that Amazon would choose to call their program basically the same thing in multiple countries while offering different benefits depending on location.

This is, incidentally, widely believed to relate directly to the Kindle Fire‘s lack of international presence.  Before Amazon can hope to make any money off of such a device, they need to have the media services in place for it to tie into.  No video streaming, no Kindle Fire.

Will this be changing in the future?  I think it is safe to say that most people expect Amazon to be making a move to expand their digital media services internationally in the near future.  The recent expansion of the Kindle eReaders into new markets could even be seen as a way of testing the waters, so to speak.  I don’t think that this will happen soon enough to please most people, though.  Given the time required for Amazon to build a significant library of video content, Prime members are likely to be left on the back burner as far as this goes for some months yet.  More in countries whose Amazon presence is still quite new.

Still, watching for changes in how the Amazon Prime services are handled may be a good way to predict Amazon’s next moves in a given country.  As closely tied into it as the Kindle Fire seems to be, a beefing up of related content seems to be a likely predictor of a local tablet release.  As popular as their new tablet is, I can’t see Amazon stopping at just the US.

Larger Kindle Fire Coming Soon, Kindle Phone Distant But Possible

Let’s assume for a moment that the Kindle Fire proves to be a successful endeavor.  I don’t just mean that it sells well, since we know that it is already doing that, I mean that users love it as much as the existing Kindle line and product loyalty can be assumed to a certain extent.  Where do they go next with things at that point?

Well, there are already indications of a 10″ Kindle Tablet.  Personally, I’m guessing we’ll be calling it the Kindle Air by early 2012.  This is based on rumors from people in the know about what is going on at Foxconn Electronics, who Amazon is said to have tapped for the production of their next device.  While it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, the fact that Foxconn is also the producer of Apple’s iPad 2 hints at a more head-on confrontation over the high end tablet market.  This will likely end up being what was originally known as the Kindle ‘Hollywood’ Tablet rather than anything directly upgrading the brand new Kindle Fire

A larger Kindle Tablet was always a given in most ways, though.  The majority of “leaked” information leading up to the reveal of the Kindle Fire indicated that there was always meant to be a larger, more powerful option that Amazon just ran out of time to have ready to ship in time for the 2011 holiday season.  We can hope that by taking more time with it we will get a device that while still affordable brings a larger display and significantly more power.

Looking to the longer term, though, Amazon has to be hoping to bring their end to end service to all areas of the portable electronics market.  After all, being based on Android should make it relatively easy to port their Kindle Fire OS to anything with a screen on it.  My guess, and I’m hardly alone in this, is that there is a Kindle Phone coming up down the line.

There were predictions about a possible 4″ Kindle Tablet type of device in a Wall Street Journal article some months ago featuring supposedly leaked information about the Kindle Fire.  It was interesting then and it remains that way.  While it would be easy to see that resulting in something along the lines of an iPod Touch competitor, though, I don’t see how that would make the kind of impression that launching a new type of Kindle should aspire to.

More likely would be a Kindle Phone.  In 2010, Lab 126 representatives stated in an interview that Amazon was interested in entering into the mobile phone arena in the past, but at the time considered it out of reach for a variety of reasons.  That was before the Kindle Fire and its Android fork, though, so things have changed.  At this point they have the OS, the App Store, plenty of media to serve, and even an existing relationship with a major cellular provider.  A phone just seems like a logical extension of putting all of these things together.