There’s been a fair amount of interest lately in Apple’s recently announced iCloud service that brings greater attention to the cloud based storage options available to consumers today. So far so good. It doesn’t really seem much like innovation when Amazon has effectively been doing it with the Kindle on a small scale for a few years now though. What new and exciting thing are they bringing to the table for their portable devices that isn’t available anywhere else?
The vision that we are given for the Apple iCloud is a service that just works. It knows what you own, makes sure it is available on every device you own at all times, and generally makes your life better. The focus is on music, of course. On these points, I think a comparison with the Whispernet situation is relevant. Your Amazon account will keep track of all your books, make sure that every registered device can access them (and thanks to the many Kindle apps, that means almost anything you own with a screen on it regardless of who makes it), and keep everything nice and consistent during transitions. It’s the same concept in a lot of ways.
The one point where we have to give Apple loads of credit is on their iTunes Matching idea. They actually found a way to make people want to pay money to listen to things they already either own or have pirated. It’s impressive. Your whole library is available whenever you want it so long as you keep up with your annual fee. In spite of this, I don’t think they quite thought it through enough. Sure, people will be willing to sync their music, but to really set themselves apart a streaming solution would have worked a lot better. As it is, you end up having to download every song you own to every device you might want to listen to it on. You might as well be just plugging in your iOS devices and syncing to a computer at that point. It isn’t that the iCloud is a bad idea, just that it doesn’t really do anything all that exciting for the money they are asking.
Amazon offers a similar cloud-based media service that also fails to offer streaming for now. It doesn’t have the matching ability that Apple offers, but it does have a smaller sized free account option and pretty much everything else that the iCloud brings to the table. If I had to guess, I would say that between the Amazon Cloud Drive and their Android App Store Amazon is getting into a position to do for their upcoming Kindle Tablet line, which will likely eventually compete with Apple in most slots including an iPod Touch equivalent, what the iCloud does for iOS. The only differences would seem to be that Amazon doesn’t have Apple’s history of multiple failed efforts to push cloud storage and they do have at least one market specific experience with how to do it right, thanks to the Kindle.
Open Library is an amazing non-profit project (partially funded by California State Library). It is trying to catalog book (and e-book) titles and their locations, thus creating a gigantic library. As Open Library owners describe, “One web page for every book ever published”. The idea is to be able to find any book’s location – be it in a store, library, or in electronic version. Open Library is an open project. Anyone can (and is encouraged to) participate: adding book titles, editing the existing catalogue, fixing typos. Also, their software and documentation are also open. There is no registration required for downloading free e-books. However, you need to register on Open Library if you want to participate in the project.
I have to warn you: finding where to download a free e-book is not really intuitive in Open Library. To find a free e-book, you need to type the book title/author’s name in the search bar (there is also an advanced search option, where you can also look for a book by ISBN, subject, place, person, or publisher); check “Only show e-books”. On the results’ page the list of books will have one of three icons – borrow, DAISY, or read. All the available e-books have the “read” icon beside the book title. Press “read”. It should open the book in read-online mode. Press the icon “i” on the top right corner, next to the “play” option. It will open a menu with available e-book formats: PDF, Plain Text, DAISY, ePub, and finally, my favorite, “Send to Kindle” option. Ta-da!
As you might have noticed, other than “read”, there are two more icons appearing in the Open Library search results: “borrow” and “DAISY”. “Borrow” finds the book in the closest to your current location library (it searches by zip-code); and DAISY is a format for vision-impaired readers. According to Open Library, DAISY offers “the benefits of regular audiobooks, with navigation within the book, to chapters or specific pages.” You can find out more about DAISY on their official website. As far as I understand, DAISY format is not that easily accessible. One needs to get a key issued by the Library of Congress NLS program.
Quite frankly, I think I’m very impressed with Open Library’s book catalogue idea and its execution.
Mashable is a leading social network news blog that was founded in 2005. You can get it on the Kindle and Kindle DX for 99 cents a month. By downloading the site to your Kindle, you can read it anytime with or without the wireless capability. Just keep in mind that the wireless needs to be on in order for the content to be refreshed.
Peter Cashmore founded the site from a small town in Scotland. The site includes up to date news on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and Web 2.0 trends. This is a great resources for libraries because libraries are constantly striving to stay on top of the technology curve. In addition to libraries, this site is popular with entrepreneurs, social media enthusiasts and pretty much anyone who is interested in Web 2.0 trends.
Some recent news topics include the newest iPhone apps. There is an article about an interesting looking case that makes the iPhone kid friendly. Another article discusses the ease of using the iPhone to swipe a credit card. If you are an Android user, there is news for you too. Of course, you can also find news on the Kindle, Nook and other e-book readers.
Social Media Marketing is a big deal right now, and Mashable is an excellent resource for finding suggestions on how to market yourself on Facebook and Twitter. Marketing your business on these sites helps get your brand out there and is also a good way to network with people in similar fields of expertise.
Looking beyond social media, another good technology blog to consider is TechCrunch. TechCrunch was founded in 2005 and profiles start ups, shares the latest technology news and reviews new internet products. Some of the latest articles include education and e-learning, an interview with the popular movie company, Netflix and thoughts on AT&T’s reaction to the rumored Verizon iPhone. There is also a section on environmentally friendly technology.
Both Mashable and TechCrunch are rated as top technology blogs. The reviews for the Kindle edition are great overall. Reading them on the Kindle makes them much more portable.
Personally I’m used to updating software. Pretty much every week one or another piece of software on my PC updates – be it Windows itself, the antivirus, iTunes or whatever. I’ve subconsciously come to expect the same from Kindle. And at first Kindle firmware did update quite frequently:
As you can see it seems that Kindle 2 got several updates soon after release and then there was silence.
Early update rush was caused by bugs in the new software. One or two updates were caused by law suit (Text-to-speech, and Orwell book deletion). However, note that none of the updates introduced new features. I guess Amazon sticks to the policy – don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.
Kindle DX and Kindle international share most of the software with original Kindle so there is little room for new critical bugs.
But most importantly, the number of Kindles in operation has exploded since the beginning of 2009. And this is probably the most important reason why we will not see many Kindle updates in the future and probably none of them will be feature driven. Amazon pays Sprint 12 cents per megabyte transferred. It would be safe to assume that Amazon gets similar pricing from AT&T for domestic traffic and a much higher price for data roaming. Average Kindle update is 2 megabytes in size. Because of the way Amazon structures the update packages, this accumulates as each subsequent update includes all previous updates as well. So first update was 2 megs, second one was 4, third – 6, etc.
6 megabytes times 12 cents is $0.72 per device updated. By some estimates there may be 2..3 million Kindle devices in operation. Let’s assume that 80% of devices are within wireless coverage (although in reality this number can be much higher). This adds up to $1,440,000 to $2,160,000 per software update deployment and increasing with every update version. And this is just to update domestic Kindles. I wouldn’t even want to think about the pricing to worldwide distribution. Also I wouldn’t want to be the software developer who makes a critical bug that causes an update or that software developer’s boss for that matter…
Given these numbers I don’t believe that Amazon would release update unless they have a very strong reason to do so. Strong reason being a court order or something else of this sort. This more or less addresses they questions of where Amazon will add folders, PDF support for Kindle 2 or official Unicode fonts for that matter via an update. The answer is a definite NO.
On the issue of fonts I’m most sure since Unicode fonts in the updates that I use (that add only partial support without all of the font styles) are 1.5..3 megabytes. Proper Unicode support can easily add up to 10 megabytes. So this would mean millions of dollars spent with potential to spend more millions in the future and near zero return of investment since although many people would like to have this feature, for most of them it’s not a deal-breaker (especially since on Kindle DX you can have any kind of fonts via PDF files). The few books that have non-Latin characters that Amazon sells use Topaz format to embed the extra glyphs that they need. So adding Unicode fonts would help customers read books that Amazon doesn’t sell. In this light the question about Unicode fonts via an update for existing devices is a no-brainer.
It is possible that this support would be included in Kindle 3 or whatever else the next generation Kindle will be called since in this case the cost for Amazon is just licencing fee for the fonts.
My post about international release of Kindle received more attention than any other post on this blog so far. A lot of readers are asking questions so I’m going to answer these in this FAQ to the best of my ability. Some of the answers are going to be guestimates since I haven’t received my World-ready version of Kindle 2 yet. I’ll keep adding and changing content here as I learn together with you.
What countries is Kindle available to?
As of October 6th, 2009 Amazon has revealed international version of Kindle 2 eBook reader that officially ships to 169 countries. However you should be aware that some features like wireless, experimental web-browser, blog subscriptions (including this one) are not available everywhere. Number of books that you can buy is also different for every country. Complete list of countries, book counts and other details can be found here.
Why isn’t Kindle available in my country? When it will become available?
Although I can’t know for sure since I don’t work for Amazon and never had, from my experience with eBook industry I can guess that it may be related to one of the following:
- Amazon didn’t rally enough publishers in a particular country so book selection would have been too small.
- Some provision of copyright law prevents Amazon from offering Kindle in a particular country.
I’m sure that there are no political/religious/etc reasons behind these limitations. Amazon is in the business of making money. And you can’t make money by turning down paying customers. That’s why I’m sure that they are making efforts to overcome these limitations and ship Kindle worldwide.
But I really want to buy a Kindle now. What should I do?
There is a way to buy Kindle when you are outside US. It has been known and used long before Kindle became internationally available. As of recently you will also need to use proxy server, VPN or similar solution to overcome geographical restrictions.
I have already used gift-cards to purchase Kindle and use it outside of the US. Can I re-register it to my “non-US” account now?
I absolutely see no reason why you can’t. You can de-register your Kindle from your “fake US” account, and then register it with your local account. The downside is that you will loose the ability to download books that you’ve purchased from your “fake US” account. So before de-registering you should download these books to your computer make a secure backup copy. It may be a good idea to use one of the secure online backup services. You can then copy these books to your re-registered Kindle and you should still be able to read them.
Why does the coverage map show that Whispernet will work in my country but I still can’t buy Kindle?
Wireless coverage merely indicates where Kindle wireless will work. This only depends on roaming agreements AT&T has with wireless operators around the globe. However more is needed for Amazon to sell Kindles in particular country as was stated above.
Kindle International Coverage Map
Where can I find Whilspernet coverage map?
You can view the large map by clicking on the small map image to the right. Or you can access the interactive map here.
Is international Kindle DX available for purchase?
Currently only international version of Kindle 2 was released. However there are some rumors and speculations that international Kindle DX will be released next year.
What network does international Kindle use for wireless connectivity?
International version of Kindle 2 uses AT&T 3G GSM network in the USA. Outside of US it uses 3G GSM wireless networks of AT&T roaming partners.
Can I use WiFi with Kindle?
No. Not directly at least. You can download books and magazines to your PC via. Amazon.com website using WiFi Internet connection and then transfer them to Kindle using USB connection.
Does international version of Kindle support non-Latin Unicode characters?
Although I can’t tell for sure until my international Kindle 2 arrives, there is nothing on Amazon website that indicates any changes compared to the US version of Kindle. You can still use Kindle Unicode Font Hack to expand the character range Kindle can display.
Is it possible to upgrade my US Kindle to international version? Will firmware update solve the problem?
No. GSM and CDMA networks require different hardware. This hardware is not easy to replace and doing so will surely void your Kindle warranty. Even if you were able to replace the hardware, you would still need to make lots of software changes to make it work. Nobody was able to do this as far as I know.
What is the story with international book download surcharge of $1.99? Who will pay it? Where? When?
International data roaming is expensive. When I visit Canada with my US iPhone, I’m offered a rate of $15.35 per megabyte for data roaming. Average book is at least 300 kilobytes. This would translate to around $5.00 additional cost per book. So Amazon’s surcharge of $1.99 actually looks like a bargain compared to that.
There seems to be a lot of confusion around who is going to be charged this amount and when. My understanding is that only customers with US shipping address would be charged extra $1.99 per book when travelling abroad. Customers from all other countries are never charged anything above the actual list price of the book no matter where they download it. However this is reflected in the book price which is $2.00 higher than for US customers.
Why Australian Kindle is sold without AC power adapter for charging when customers in all other countries get one?
No idea. My guess is that it has something to do with safety regulations in Australia.
Why blog subscription and experimental web-browser are turned off for my country?
Wireless data costs. You can easily use 1 megabyte of traffic just by viewing several Wikipedia pages. In fact homepage of this blog would amount to roughly one megabyte of data if you factor in all of the images. Since Amazon doesn’t own wireless networks it has to pay for all this data. It would be too expensive for them as profits from book sales would not cover it.
My guess is that Amazon was able to strike some kind of special deal with wireless operators in Hong Kong, Mexico and Japan to make this work.
Why do newspapers and magazines come without pictures outside of US?
Same reason – wireless data costs. Images would increase the amount of data that needs to be transferred causing Amazon to loose money on subscriptions. Hopefully in the future when international wireless data becomes cheaper this should no longer be an issue.
Other questions or corrections.
Let me know if there are other questions that you believe should be covered in this FAQ. If you believe that some data became outdated or inaccurate – drop me a comment and I’ll what I can do.
iReaderReview reports interesting piece of news. Someone has started a project to hack the Kindle for use with European wireless networks. It looks like they’ve already managed to switch the modem and add a SIM card, but haven’t yet figured out the software end of the mod.
If you want to make your Kindle’s hardware compatible with European networks, the process seems fairly straightforward. Just take the device apart, add the above mentioned pieces to the puzzle, and zip it back up. But be warned: you won’t actually be able to use wireless until someone releases the requisite software hack.
A fun fact from the project: the hardware is designed in a way that adding your own SIM card is ridiculously easy. Some would even argue that the Kindle was actually meant to be modded for Europe. I find it unlikely that Amazon had hackers in mind, but they probably did design the device with Europe somewhat in mind. Once the Kindle does hit Europe, the hardware will be more or less ready to go without any real changes in the manufacturing process.
Plastic Logic has revealed that their device will use AT&T’s 3G network to download content. This move places the Plastic Logic Reader in even more direct competition with the Kindle, which uses Sprint’s 3G network instead.
If the battle between Barnes & Noble’s store and Amazon’s comes down to the eReaders themselves, this is a significant step in Plastic Logic catching up. They’ve even one up’ed Amazon by adding WiFi to the device (although WiFi might not be too far off for the Kindle).
The catch is that no details have been revealed as to what kind of pricing plan will be in place to use the network. Unlike Whispernet, which is free excluding the upfront device costs, Plastic Logic could decide to go in a different direction. Whispernet doesn’t cost anything because Amazon pays every time you download something. If Plastic Logic didn’t want to make that kind of commitment, they could defer payments to the customer.
Either way, the plot has thickened with Barnes and Noble and Plastic Logic. It seems like the best way to compete with Amazon is to find a way to copy their model.
Amazon will soon have a UK launch date finalized for the Kindle, according to British mobile phone trade publication, Mobile Today. Although its not currently clear when this date will be, the launch should occur in time for the holiday season.
Of course, just because Kindle has been slow to leave the US doesn’t mean that Amazon’s competitors haven’t already cracked the European market. Part of Amazon’s strategy will now have to be winning away users who already have experience with other eReaders.
What may be the Kindle’s largest selling point is also the reason for the delay: Whispernet. The reason Kindle isn’t yet sold in the UK is because problems arose in finding a wireless carrier (Orange and Vodafone, 2 major cellular companies in Great Britain, are working on their own wireless-enabled eReaders with Vodaphone planning to release as soon as this fall). Qualcomm has taken over negotiations for Amazon, and has apparently found a solution to the wireless problem.
One question on my mind is how the UK Kindle’s will work in the US and vice versa. Most likely it will not be possible to use wireless connectivity outside your own country. In order to make this a reality Amazon will need ot install universal wireless chipset that would support both CDMA (Sprint) and GSM (european operators). This will incurr extra cost while not making a great difference for 99% of the users. I may be wrong though. We’ll see…
Business intelligence software vendor, MicroStrategy, has decided to make its reports available to the Kindle DX. Now, any company that is a client of MicroStrategy’s services has the option to download Kindle DX friendly pdfs directly over Whispernet.
While this announcement only applies to those who already buy services from MicroStategy, I think it’s worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. This is an example of a company targeting the Kindle specifically for use in a business environment. This is markedly different from the current, consumer-centric marketing Amazon has done. Thus far, eReaders have been essentially thought of as a toy (not that that is a bad thing) that people use for their own enjoyment. Using the Kindle for work is a somewhat novel idea, if only for the moment.
But while the Kindle’s use by MicroStrategy is fairly rudimentary, it demonstrates the potential of eReaders. They have turned the Kindle DX into an office on the go. The wireless capabilities allow employees to download needed documents from anywhere, and the large eInk display provides and easy to view and easy to share alternative to office paper.
Right now the only downsides are lack of color and the general spottiness of the Kindle DX’s PDF support. These are temporary issues, however, as eReaders will continue to develop. At some point in the future, it’s likely that more and more businesses will move towards some sort of eReader standard. The idea of a paperless office, which has long seemed unlikely, may not be too far off.
According to nielsen wire, average Kindle user earns Sprint $2/month. Given 12 cents/MB price this yeilds 16.6MB on average downloaded by Kindle user per month. This includes book purchases, periodicals, blogs and web-browsing. It’s hard to speculate as to how much each of these activities contributes to the total number… My guess would be that web-browsing and blogs are negligeble at this point. As to books vs. periodicals, I’d guess that average Kindle user subscribes to 1 periodical and the rest are book purchases.
Another thing to consider are software updates. In little over 3 months since Kindle 2 was released there were 3 software updates totaling 12 megabytes in size. Cost to Amazon – $1.44. This is 24% of $6 wireless charges for this time period. Each update contains several packages – one for each previous version of the software. This makes it possible for users to skip updates and jump from version 2.0 to 2.0.3 directly, but it also bloats future updates. If these numbers are right updates will become a serious problem for Amazon in the future. We’ll see…
Recently MediaShift blog mentioned some interesting numbers related to Kindle wireless data pricing:
> Avg. file size = 1.2MB
> Bandwidth cost = 12 cents MB
> Selling price = $13.99 month
> Monthly bandwidth cost = $4.32
I tried really hard to track down the source of this information but all I could find was indirect hearsay statement confirming it:
According to a reliable source in the know, The New Yorker’s Kindle split is divided 33% New Yorker, 33% Amazon, and 33% wireless carrier.
At first 12 cents / MB may seem a little steep given that most mobile companies nowadays offer 5GB wireless broadband plans for $60/month (1.2 cent / MB). However bandwidth economics are a bit more complex. Sprint already has a 3G network and costs of operating it are fixed whether it’s utilized as 1% or 100% capacity. Therefore it’s in the best interest of the carrier to sell all of the bandwidth even if some of it is sold at a huge discount. Most individual users would use only a fraction of these 5GB and will subsidize users who use it all. With wholesale customers as Amazon there is no subsidies and Sprint would charge highest price Amazon would be willing to pay.
Assuming 12 cents/MB is correct here’s what we get:
- Average Kindle book is 0.7..2MB – Sprint gets paid 10..25 cents per download. Download doesn’t mean sale as customers can buy once and download multiple times.
- Average Kindle book sample – 0.2..0.6MB – it costs Amazon 2..7 pennies every time you download a book sample. This is comparable to click price in pay-per-click advertising and given that customers “target” themselves, conversion rate should be very high
- WSJ subscription – numbers are very similar to ones in MediaShift example – Amazon pays 4…5 USD per month for delivering the content.
- Personal document conversion – you pay Amazon 15 cents per megabyte, Amazon pays Sprint 12 cents. Consider that resulting document same size or smaller than then original because of data compression and you get a sustainable revenue model for Amazon even in the unlikely case of bandwidth price going up.
- Web browsing – free for users, same 12 cents per MB to Amazon. But how many customers really use it? I don’t. Whenever I need to browse the web on the go I turn to either iPhone or netbook if WiFi hotspot is nearby.
In 2002 1 megabyte of wireless data used to cost more than a dollar. If this trend continues, wireless data costs will stop being a significant factor in Kindle economics 3-4 years down the road.
However with current prices it’s quite possible that Amazon may get unhappy about Savory hack that allows users to download large PDF files and convert them on the fly directly on Kindle.