It appears that the long-rumored Amazon smartphone will become a reality at some point in 2014. We have heard talk and speculation about it since as early as 2011, but now it seems that HTC has been tapped to help Amazon put together a real contender to stand up to Apple and Google.
People familiar with the project recently mentioned to FT that at least one device is in an advanced stage of development and that if things don’t change in the meantime there is every reason to expect a launch sometime next year. Amazon, of course, declines to confirm these rumors.
If Amazon were to release a device using the same sales philosophy as it employs with the existing Kindle line – sell near cost and make your profits through use – then there is little doubt that adoption would be strong.
This would put HTC in a bit of a bind with Google, who has proven to be proficient at protecting their brand over the past couple years. Given the release of HTC’s less than successful Facebook Phone, though, they probably have the details about that already under consideration.
Watch for more news toward the end of this year. Amazon might not be willing to confirm, but a Kindle smartphone is going to have leaks along the production line and it should be particularly interesting to see what these reveal along the way.
A few weeks ago, Amazon announced that they were going to acquire Goodreads, one of the most popular social sites on the internet for book lovers. Goodreads has become a great place to go for sharing reviews, recommendations, ideas, and more since its debut in 2007. While this is certain to be mutually beneficial in many ways, we have to assume that the goal here is to develop the Kindle Social experience into a real selling point for the eReader line.
The Kindle has an interesting position with regard to social interaction.
By its very nature it allows greater privacy than most paper books would. No matter what situation you happen to be in, nobody can tell what you are reading without looking directly over your shoulder or asking you. This cuts out the opportunity for people to randomly discover shared literary interests.
At the same time, because it offers access to practically any book in print at a moment’s notice there is a lot of opportunity for sharing and recommendations. Users just need a way to willingly share their activity now that book covers can’t do the job. The current integration with Twitter and Facebook are alright in this regard, but really a dedicated space for that sort of posting would go over better. Hence the Goodreads acquisition.
There are a few things that both organizations stand to gain beyond that, of course.
One of the main services that Goodreads provides its users is book recommendations. Regardless of what your opinions are of their other business strengths, nobody is going to deny that Amazon is the best there is at accurately targeting recommendations based on previous purchases. Taking that technology and applying it to these book lists will improve the performance immensely.
That helps to drive up business at Amazon, since the Kindle Store remains the best place to buy eBooks. In addition to the sales, there’s a wealth of data to work with on the Goodreads site. Tying the review system there into the main Amazon site could provide much more accurate information for potential shoppers. The associations and trends found between various readers will probably do some good in refining recommendations further as well.
It’s going to be a while yet before anything changes. The acquisition that was just announced won’t actually take place for a couple months. Even after that there will need to be a fair amount of work before anything is ready for release.
Millions of readers are about to get a much more robust social experience out of their reading.
Amazon announced today that they will acquire Ivona Software. Ivona is the company that currently supplies the Kindle Fire line of tablets with its speech recognition capabilities. Although there is little in the way of details regarding the terms of purchase, we can be certain that this signals an increased emphasis on audio input in the future for these products.
The immediate assumption that has to be made after this acquisition is that Amazon has its eye on a Siri imitation or something with similar capabilities. Now naturally there has been some disappointment over how poorly Siri has lived up to the hype for iPhone users, but that doesn’t change anything about the appeal of the concept or the possibility that this could be a big thing for the future.
That’s especially true if Amazon ever comes through with their frequently-rumored Kindle Phone. While we haven’t exactly seen any details emerging so far, indicating that this is a long way off yet even if it will probably be a future focus for the company, building this sort of capability to establish feature parity with Apple and Google products only makes sense. There wouldn’t be much room to undercut prices the way the Kindle Fire made its big first impression on the tablet scene, so being able to line up with other popular smartphones feature for feature could be particularly important.
On the tablet side of things, there are other ways that Ivona could help things improve. Since the Kindle Fire HD is a consumption-based media tablet, it’s only natural to assume that something along the line of the Microsoft Kinect’s voice controls could be in the works as well. Hooking up a tablet to stream Amazon Instant Video to your HDTV and being able to control it with a word from across the room would be quite nice if they can pull it off properly.
The potential for improving accessibility is also worth noting. Ivona already works in various ways to improve support for the blind and visually impaired. That would probably be more useful on the eReader side of things. Amazon’s initial attempts to get their eReading line made into a standard educational tool were hindered by its inability to accommodate the visually impaired. They have come a long way since then in various products, but this could offer new directions for them to approach the problem from.
Perhaps most important, though less impressive in terms of new feature selections, is the possibility that this will lead to more expansive localization options. The press release makes a point of noting that Ivona offers voice and language products in 44 voices across 17 languages with a number more still in development. Given the international growth of the Kindle line as a whole, that’s not a bad resource to be able to draw on.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is basically the company that controls how things are named on the internet. They decide whether a country has its own unique extension or not. They spent years working out the details for the controversial “.xxx” extension. Now, in a move that has a lot of people shocked, they are opening up quite a bit. Adding to the fewer than two dozen generic top-level domains to choose from (.com, .net, etc.), new top level domains are being made available for purchase. The big names in internet media are obviously excited about this and Amazon is no exception.
Amazon has filed for 76 different domains. Considering these are selling for $185,000 up front and another $25,000 per year to maintain possession, this is no small investment. Some of the choices are obvious, such as “.AMAZON”. Others are clearly defensive. They can’t afford to let the competition control “.BOOK” uncontested while running the world’s largest eBook store. The ones that are the most interesting are the unexpected choices that hint at future developments.
For Kindle lovers, my favorite choice here is “.AUTHOR”. It would seem to hint at new features for the Kindle Store. Most likely, this would allow for greater self-promotion opportunities among KDP authors. Unlike the “.BOOK” extension, it is not currently contested. This means there is a good shot that Amazon will get to run with it, assuming they actually have plans and aren’t just preemptively acquiring it for later possibilities.
Since this sort of opening up of web naming hasn’t happened before, it is hard to say what it will mean for future applications. Obviously it would be helpful to have access to this sort of domain naming, but there is no precedent to draw on. If we have Amazon controlling “.KINDLE” then what will they do with it? There is no point in controlling your own registry if all you do with it is host a single page, but nobody really expects Amazon, Google, or most of the other applicants for these names to change their minds about maintaining closed registries.
Obviously we’re looking at the introduction of new organization scheme for the Kindle Store and Amazon in general. If they win even half of the names they are trying to get their hands on, things are going to get really interesting. Innovation is likely, and may come in unexpected ways. Some people are expecting little more than shortened product names that redirect to existing Amazon.com pages but that would hardly be an intuitive choice for browsers for a lot of these choices. ICANN has indicated that they have plans to deal with companies who purchase and don’t make any use of a top level domain in order to limit squatting, so even defensive acquisitions can’t be left idle.
If nothing else, it is easy to imagine this drastically changing the future web interface for Kindle devices.
It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked. There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services. Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway. Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?
We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent. Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application. This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.
Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis. This is one part of why they are able to get away with it. They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed. It is something that people know when they buy into the line. Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.
There is more to it than that, though. Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page. The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation. At least there is a visible tradeoff here.
I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it. Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company. More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise. They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices. Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first. That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here. We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch. If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up. I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here. Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?
It hasn’t been all that long since we first saw the release of the Send-to-Kindle program for the PC, but it has already proven to be a huge improvement to the Kindle’s functionality for many users. Not only does it make things like exporting DRM-free eBooks from Calibre that much easier (nobody likes having to find their USB cable, assuming they even have one), the ability to print from practically any window directly into a Kindle document makes life a lot easier. Now Mac users will get to experience the same benefits, thanks to Amazon’s newest software release.
If you are a Mac user and have an interest in taking advantage of this new feature, head over to this page on the Amazon.com site and download the application. The installation is simple and will result in having a “Send to Kindle” icon sitting in your dock. Any time you want to send something to your Kindle, you can simply drag and drop the document into the dock icon. Multiple simultaneous documents are acceptable as well, of course.
If you want to send something active to the Kindle, perhaps a web page or working document from Word, the Send to Kindle application also includes the same sort of “printer drivers” that the PC version makes available. Simply print as you normally would, choosing “Send to Kindle” as your device of choice. The same window will appear that you see when dragging document icons into the dock.
This window offers a few useful options. Most importantly, you get to tag your document with both Title and Author metadata. This means that it is not important to worry about file naming prior to transfer. One less hassle. You also get to decide on delivery options. You can choose to have your documents sent via Wi-Fi or Whispernet. If you choose Whispernet, the usual charges will apply and as such it is usually preferable to avoid it. You also get to decide which Kindle or Kindles get access to the document being sent. This can be everything on your account, just your smartphone’s Kindle for iOS app, or any combination in between.
You also get the option of archiving your document in your account’s Kindle Library. This is particularly handy and may get used more often than you expect. While each account only gets 5GB of free storage space, this does not generally fill up quickly when it is used primarily for document storage. This means that anything you think might be handy to have available can be stored in the cloud even when it is not worth the trouble of keeping on your Kindle itself at any given time. I find myself frequently using this function even when I have no reason to need an immediate transfer to the Kindle.
So far we lack any information about a possible “Send to Kindle for Linux” option. That would seem to be the next big step if another were to be take. Given Amazon’s enthusiasm for Linux as a platform, it might be a fairly long wait. It is definitely nice to see Kindle eReader and Kindle Fire functionality continuing to be expanded and made available to the largest possible audiences, however, and we can only anticipate the trend continuing as Kindle eBook prices drop in the near future.
After months of speculation and rumor about Amazon and Apple going head to head in an all-out Kindle Fire vs iPad 3 (or Mini, or HD) confrontation, we finally have all of the information we’ve been waiting for and it turns out that Apple isn’t addressing their “competition” in any significant way. This should really surprise nobody given the different user bases being served, but it is worth taking a look at what the new iPad can do and how well it does for the price.
The big distinguishing feature of the iPad is that, unlike the Kindle Fire, it is in many ways a computer alternative. There is little that you can’t do on one, aside from truly hardware intensive tasks, if you are motivated enough to use the touch screen. The newest iteration of the hardware line is no exception and does a fair amount to improve the overall experience even further. New features include the move to a Retina Display like that of the iPhone 4, a new A5X Dual Core Processor, one 5 Megapixel camera situated on the rear of the device, Full 1080p HD video recording, 4G LTE connectivity through both AT&T and Verizon, and dictation capabilities. A fair list that expands on what the iPad 2 already did well.
What does this mean for the Kindle Fire’s future? Honestly, practically nothing. This was not, contrary to rumors, a release that intended to kill the Kindle. As any side by side comparison has long since proved, the iPad already had a larger screen, cameras, a microphone, cellular connectivity, and more processing power. If no other factors were considered besides simple hardware performance then Apple wins the iPad vs Kindle Fire matchup every time. The fact that Apple couldn’t help but be aware of this only serves to illustrate that their widening the gap in hardware performance was directed elsewhere; most likely at heading off Microsoft by increasing momentum before the first Windows 8 Tablets start hitting stores later this year.
The biggest factor is still going to be the price for most consumers. For all its impressive power, the iPad 3 still runs at least $499 for the cheapest model with no 4G connection. Even the iPad 2, the cheapest version of which has been kept on at least temporarily at a discount to consumers, is twice the price of the Kindle Fire at $399. None of the major advantages that the Kindle offers in terms of size, weight, or affordability have been addressed. While you can’t say that any of those is universally acknowledged as the most important factor in tablet purchasing (the iPad is not suffering a bit by most accounts, nor does anything from Amazon seem to indicate that they were expected to be by now), they are the things that people take into account when deciding on a new device purchase. For the moment, these remain two completely different types of tablet. The iPad works as a functional PC alternative while the Kindle Fire is all about the consumption. The next big chance to change the equation won’t be until the details are announced for the upcoming Kindle Fire 2.
By now Kindle users have become familiar with the idea of sponsored screen savers on their eReaders when the devices are on standby. They are generally unobtrusive, don’t get in the way of the reading experience, and can even offer some decent deals from time to time when you get lucky. Not many people argue against them anymore, especially since Amazon now allows users to pay the price difference between a Kindle with ads and a Kindle without ads to have the whole mechanism disabled entirely. Unfortunately, the idle screen’s ads have opened Amazon up to a claim of patent infringement from one of the biggest “Patent Trolls” in operation.
The company making the accusation, Network Presentations Solutions, is a shell company operated by Acacia Research Group. Acacia Research Group, as some might remember from last October, has taken on Amazon before with regard to Kindle devices. Last time it was a variety of issues regarding the Kindle Fire. This time around, they have acquired the rights to a patent for any personal computing device that shows ads on a screen after a certain designated period of idling. Naturally this would include all recent Kindle offerings, in addition to other companies such as Kobo that have followed in Amazon’s footsteps, one would think.
What are they hoping to accomplish with this suit? The requested ruling would require Amazon to pay a substantial penalty, recall and destroy every Kindle device ever sold with the Special Offers screen savers, issue a copy of the court ruling along with an admission of wrongdoing to everybody who has ever owned a Kindle, and generally appear contrite and humbled. More realistically, Acacia is hoping for a substantial payday when Amazon settles to avoid the potentially huge ramifications of losing. Patent Trolls are not held in particularly high regard at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they always lose in court. Amazon isn’t exactly the most beloved company around at the moment either, after all.
While there seems to have been no word as to what, if any, progress has been made on the last Acacia vs Amazon lawsuit, it is a fair assumption that Amazon is not in the habit of quietly accepting this sort of thing. They have placed a great deal of faith in the Kindle line, both eReader and Tablet offerings, and such vaguely applicable patents have questionable standing when held up to scrutiny. Remember that a software patent holder needs to be able to prove that its patent involves a non-obvious solution to a problem. It is hard to say whether or not advertisements in place of screen savers would really qualify in the eyes of the court.
Chances are good that this is not the last time we’ll be seeing Amazon hit with patent litigation. Patent Trolling is huge money and there is a lot of profit to be made in anything somebody can make stick to the Kindle. With the next generation of Kindle Fire just around the corner and the possibility of a Kindle Phone being whispered about in vague rumors about the distant future, Amazon is just going to be even more open to these things. Hopefully the added expense of an occasional settlement or legal dispute won’t be enough to scare them off of ongoing hardware development.
Users of both the Amazon Kindle and PCs in general may be pleased to note that Amazon has released a new software tool for the PC that will make it a great deal simpler to transfer personal documents to a Kindle device. Simply called Send to Kindle for PC, this program will both insert an option to “Send to Kindle” in the context menu for any compatible file and add a printer option to print directly to your Kindle Library in a PDF format. It isn’t a groundbreaking development that will revolutionize the way we think of eReaders, Tablets, Kindles, or computers, but Amazon has actually addressed one of the most common hassles of using their devices in a simple yet thoroughly useful way.
The workings are simple enough. Install the package and log into your account at the prompt and you are ready to go. In the case of files you already have laying around on your computer, simply right-click and click “Send to Kindle”. You will be prompted to edit the title and author of the work and given the option to deliver to any registered Kindle device attached to your account. There is a check box present for anything that you desire to have added to your Kindle Library archive. To the best of my knowledge, working mostly from trial and error, leaving this box unchecked will prevent a copy from being saved in cloud storage.
Printing via Send to Kindle is equally simple. Just open whatever it is that you wish to have sent and choose the Print option as if you were looking for a paper copy. Send to Kindle will be listed among your computer’s printers. From there you will get exactly the same prompts mentioned above, with a note at the bottom of the window that the resulting document will be in PDF format.
This pretty much eliminates the need for USB transfer cables on Kindle eReaders in any situation where reliable WiFi access is available. It seems to take less than a minute for things to upload, process, and arrive at the destination device(s), with some delay to be expected for much larger files (max 50mb). This will not take the place of your cable for music or video files, which means that it is obviously more targeted toward eReaders, but documents and photos can be sent directly to the Kindle Fire if desired just like any other Kindle.
It’s nice to see that despite the overwhelming fascination with the Kindle Fire these past few months, Amazon has not forgotten its eReading customers. This is extremely useful, and gets around the annoyances of physical connection and emailed documents. While at present it does not include any sort of document conversion, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that at some point Amazon simply tells users to start sending EPUBs this way and removes the need for even something as simple as Calibre. Give it a try and see what you think. The Send to Kindle download is only 5mb or so and makes the Kindle even more useful.
Amazon’s audiobook subsidiary, Audible, has a long standing promotion for new subscribers that could make your next Kindle upgrade significantly more affordable than expected. It is not a new thing, in fact I am pretty sure that I’ve mentioned it here before from time to time, but since Amazon hasn’t been spending a lot of time advertising it recently I thought it would be worth another mention. The way it works is simple enough to summarize here.
We’re making the assumption here that you enjoy the occasional audiobook. Many people do, for a wide variety of reasons. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the quality and usefulness of Audible’s selection, but you would like to consider making use of this promotional credit, do not succumb to the instinct to try out the service with a 30-Day Free Trial. Yes, this is available, but you are only able to make use of one promo every 2 years according to the present terms & conditions and doing so would make you ineligible. your best bet is to ask around for somebody who is already a member and try out something they have picked up. It shouldn’t be hard to find someone, in my experience.
That addressed, it’s a simple enough arrangement. By making the commitment of a 12 month membership plan at $14.95 per month, you get one book each month and $100 any qualifying product. This includes any number of electronics from MP3 players and headphones to GPS devices. There are even some tablets and laptops in the selection. Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is that every Kindle product currently available is included in the promo. This means that your Kindle Fire could be picked up for just $99, assuming you wouldn’t rather just have a free Kindle Touch.
To take advantage, head over to this Amazon promo page. Under the heading “How to get your $100 promotional code” there is a link to sign up. Your new audible membership will be tied directly into your Amazon.com account as soon as the transaction is complete. This offer should be good until at least January 31, 2012. It may be extended beyond that point, and has been in the past with no notice or fanfare, but you never know for sure.
There’s little risk in this if you are an audiobook fan. Signing up for 12 books at $15 each isn’t exactly a ripoff on Amazon’s part, and they do not insist that you remain an active member to listen to them. These days you can download your Audible selection to practically anything, up to 3 devices at a time, and take it to go. The readings are above average, for the most part, and the service has been around long enough that reviews are plentiful and often highly informative.
Should you find yourself regretting the decision shortly after signing up, have no worries. The program can be cancelled at any point in the first 30 days. In that case you would be given the option to either pay the difference on your Kindle Fire (or whatever device you purchased with the $100 discount) or send it back unopened.
Kindle owners found themselves targeted recently in a fairly unpleasant way. Penguin USA, one of the largest publishers in the world, decided that it would be a smart business move to pull their entire collection of publications from libraries across the country for Kindle owners. Everybody else, including owners of competing eReaders like the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch, could still get these books. Now, while things have been temporarily dealt with since then – Penguin has temporarily stopped singling out the Kindle users entirely – new Penguin books will not be made available anymore and there is reason to believe that the event will recur unless Penguin and OverDrive (the service providing eBook lending services for most libraries these days) are able to work out a deal by the end of the year.
Neither Penguin nor OverDrive has said anything about the exact details of Penguin’s problems. OverDrive was simply sent word to disable the “Get for Kindle” functionality for all Penguin eBooks immediately. There was not even a warning sent to the affected libraries before the change took effect, which led to a great deal of ill will. These libraries purchase each copy of the eBooks they rent out and as such were left sitting on the results of essentially wasted money that could not be lent out despite Kindle-owning customer demand. The expected outcry for massive refunds, which would certainly have garnered a great deal of public sympathy, might well explain Penguin’s temporary capitulation.
Many have believably argued that this is a direct response to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library that Amazon launched recently for their Prime members. The timing certainly fits. Amazon got around the fact that major publishers have refused to buy into this new program by focusing on their KDP titles, smaller publishers, and by outright purchase of each rented eBook that they could get their hands on through wholesale arrangements. This last move is what causes the ill will since many publishers and authors feel that this exceeds the scope of their current relationships with Amazon.
While nobody involved in the Prime lending library is directly losing money, a major worry in the industry is that eBooks will lose perceived value. If customers start thinking of eBooks as somehow inherently cheaper that printed books, then printed Book sales will suffer and publishers would be forced to rely on sales of the eBooks, which means being subject to Amazon and Barnes & Noble even more than they are now. This is the same sort of reasoning that brought on the behind-the-scenes deal with Apple to fix prices of eBooks around the time the iBooks store opened up.
I would say that this is going to go poorly for Penguin. While their need to react is understandable given that they feel wronged, the targeting was off a bit. Instead of attacking Amazon directly, they have gone after their own readers. Yes, the Amazon deal with OverDrive increases the incentive to purchase a Kindle, but going after libraries doesn’t do a lot to make you look better to a customer base that loves to read. The Kindle is unlikely to be pushed out of the #1 slot in eBook Readers any time soon, even if all the major publishers pulled out of the library system in the same way. It’s difficult to understand what Penguin is still hoping to accomplish here.
In the eyes of many, the Kindle Fire didn’t have much of a chance of competing with Apple’s technically superior iPad tablet. That remains to be seen in the longer term, of course, but for now it’s all just speculation. Regardless, this shifts the focus of people watching for active competition to the Kindle vs Nook battle. They have been ongoing rivals in the eReader world, of course, and now they both offer budget priced tablets that will do a lot more than help you read.
On paper the Nook Tablet is quite possibly the better device. It has the same processing power, more RAM, and most importantly twice the local storage of the Kindle Fire. This last alone was enough to get many people to declare it a clear winner before either device hit shelves. Now that we can use them both side by side, the situation has drastically changed.
The Nook Tablet, despite having 16GB of storage space (~12GB available to users), severely restricts what users are able to do with that space. To such a degree that the idea of purchasing the device as a video player without the intention of rooting it is fairly laughable. Users will find that Barnes & Noble has chosen to allow a mere 1GB of storage for the loading of outside content. While the remainder can be filled by anything B&N sells, the fact of the matter is that right now they don’t offer nearly enough content to justify the choice.
There is not, for example, a video store for the Nook Tablet. Neither is there an MP3 service. You can, of course, access services like Netflix or Pandora for all your media consumption needs, but should you desire to watch or listen to things that you yourself own already then chances are good there is a problem. Basically the only thing available in any quantity besides apps, and the scarcity of Nook apps is another complaint to address at another time, is reading material. It simply does not justify this.
While I think that anybody would agree that the Kindle Fire‘s 8GB on-board storage is one of its weak points, Amazon at least manages to expand your options. Sure you might have trouble loading everything that you want onto the device at once, but you can always stream it or store in their provided cloud storage until it is needed. This is in addition to also offering equally functional access to Netflix, Pandora, and basically everything else that the Nook Tablet is using to make up for its lack of media store integration.
What probably should have been a clear win for B&N has turned their device into a joke for many prospective buyers. We can hope that as time goes on this will be changed via a software update of some sort since the Nook Tablet is honestly a decent piece of hardware for just $250. It is ridiculous that to get any decent amount of storage space a new user should feel compelled to purchase a memory card when the drive is just sitting there more than half empty.
Clearly the Kindle Fire is creating some buzz in the tablet community, and among people who just generally like these sort of gadgets in general. With the announcement of the new Nook Tablet, though, some people had started looking more closely into potential shortcomings for the Amazon offering and quite possibly the biggest one was the external services tie ins.
While the Nook Tablet is completely giving up on offering its own unique video service in favor of letting customers find their own way among companies like Hulu, Netflix, Rhapsody, etc., Amazon kept touting their own library selection and the advantages inherent in the integration with this library. Surely, the thinking goes, Amazon would be pointing out that they were allowing seemingly competing companies a place on their new device if such were the case. I’ve often seen this cited as a reason for the Nook Tablet’s superiority since that device was announced, in fact.
Naturally this relies on incomplete information. As I have mentioned previously, companies like Netflix and Pandora were among the few to have preview copies of the new Kindle Fire before it was officially announced and blocking access to the services these companies offer was never indicated in any way. To head off these rumors, Amazon issued a press release this week emphasizing the large selection of media based apps that we can expect to see ready for their new tablet.
In the week to come, Hulu Plus and ESPN ScoreCenter apps can be expected to appear in the marketplace. A Netflix app is confirmed as well. There will be games from popular developers like PopCap, Zynga, and EA. A number of music streaming apps from companies like Pandora will be around as well. Across the board every effort has been made to draw in app developers who might bring customers what they want on the new device regardless of how that might cause increased competition for Amazon’s own products in the long term. Pretty much the only apps you are unlikely to see on the Kindle Fire are those from more direct competitors like Apple and Barnes & Noble.
It also demonstrates Amazon’s fairly impressive confidence in their own offerings, when taken with everything together. As a digital retailer, Amazon serves up games, movies, music, and eBooks to Kindle Fire users. The fact that they still anticipate making money off of the device, which they are selling at or near the cost of manufacture, indicates faith that customers will find value in what is being offered. I would say that this has to be based on more than simply the convenience of one-click buying integration throughout the interface.
Amazon will continue to inspect all of their App Store submissions before releasing them for the Kindle Fire, but clearly this will not be to weed out the competition. Users will enjoy the full benefits that a tablet like this has to offer, which should reassure some people who have been hesitant to join up with a platform that may have seemed at first glance to be considering emulating the Apple model. No more reason to hesitate over this matter.
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.
Kindle Cloud Reader
While Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader app might have been a response to Apple’s restrictive app store purchasing rules, it manages to be one of the best examples of the potential inherent in HTML5 applications. Users are able to enjoy all of the benefits of a local Kindle reading app without going through those pesky app stores and their associated complications.
Normally those complications are minimal, of course, but after Apple almost put an end to the Kindle app for iOS users it’s probably a good thing to break away. The one major complaint for users is that up until now only Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers were supported. Now even more customers will get to join in.
Users of Mozilla Firefox can now access the Reader so long as they are running version 6 or later. This significantly expands the user base for the app by bringing in the most popular web browser worldwide. By most estimates Firefox is more popular than Chrome and Safari put together by a fair margin yet, even with Google making their presence increasingly known.
As has been the case previously, users of the Kindle Cloud Reader app will enjoy pretty much every basic feature they are used to from the Kindle platform both online and off. This includes the ability to read in a variety of font sizes and styles, a couple different color schemes, and the ability to bookmark. You can choose which of your Kindle books to keep locally for times when web access is questionable or simply not desired.
The only real downside, assuming that you aren’t a big fan of Internet Explorer who is therefore still left out of the fun, is the inability to annotate and highlight. Supposedly this feature is expected to be implemented in the future, but as yet nothing is there. You are, of course, able to read and access any and all annotations and such that you might have entered via another device or app.As always, I can’t say there’s any substitute for an actual Kindle eReader, if for no other reason than the major advantage they have in the E INK displays, but this brings a significant level of functionality to virtually any personal device.
The Kindle Cloud Reader, along with Amazon’s other cloud services, will be especially important in the near future as the Kindle Fire finally begins to ship. The company’s dedication to cloud computing and digital media delivery is a large part of the motivation behind the release of the tablet in the first place. While Firefox is obviously not a factor with the device itself, this move indicates an obvious continuing interest in updating and expanding the feature set of the app.
Users interested in checking out the Kindle Cloud Reader can access the device in any major non-IE browser at http://read.amazon.com or http://www.amazon.com/cloudreader or through the direct link in the Kindle Store.
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.
Up until now, Amazon has done a fairly good job of avoiding patent lawsuits. Sure, they’ve run into a few over search technology and such, but overall they’ve been small and unsuccessful. With the release of the Kindle Fire, though, they may have entered into the murky world of mobile computing litigation. What this means for the future of the company’s hardware development line remains to be seen, but there are a few things that we can be quite sure of over the next several months. One of these is that Amazon will rise to the challenge.
In 2011 alone already Amazon has been hit with 11 lawsuits over 30 alleged patent infringements, two of which have been dismissed completely. The majority of them have been in relation to the technology being put in place to pave the way for the launch of the Kindle Fire. This includes cloud computing (admittedly even more useful in other areas, but vital for things like the Kindle Fire’s Silk web browser), streaming services, site personalization, and a number of things that relate to other Kindles as well. Last year, they didn’t face a third so much attention over patents.
As the 15th of Nov. rolls around, whole new areas of vulnerability open up. Android has thus far been a highly disputed OS. Apple has been particularly active in using legal tactics to beat down any potentially successful competing tablets, both in the US and abroad, but they are not the only ones. Microsoft has managed to convince Samsung to pay royalties over supposed Android related patents, for example, though MS has not as yet brought any major action against the source. It’s possible that Google is too big to attack at the moment? That says nothing of the increasingly common “patent troll” crowd that exists for no reason other than to acquire intellectual property and make money suing people over it. The mobile device market is their favorite playground.
While there is a great deal of criticism of the patent system floating about at the moment, chances are good that any reform of that system is a long way off. For the time being this is the environment we are stuck with no matter how much it would seem doomed to stifle any form of innovation in technology.
We’ll see where things go in the next year. Some have predicted Amazon acquiring HP’s WebOS and the associated intellectual properties as a way to bolster their position in the event of extended legal battles. Google made a similar move in acquiring Motorola’s mobile division, so there’s certainly precedent for such a move. Whether or not that happens, though, Amazon has expressed an intent to defend themselves against all comers. This could be enough to scare off potential complaints. Nobody interested in repeating lawsuits for income wants such a high profile case setting precedent against them. The Kindle Fire isn’t likely to be blocked as easily as some other tablets and cell phones have been before now.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire does a few things that surprised people when it was announced a couple weeks ago, but probably nothing shocked people more than the inclusion of the new Amazon Silk internet browser. The idea behind it is sound, allowing most of the work for web browsing to be done in the cloud so that the user experiences vastly reduced loading times and a generally superior browsing experience. Obviously, however, the fact that the processing is being done by external computers raises some concerns in terms of privacy that need to be addressed.
Some have worried that Amazon would use customers’ browsing habits to customize sales pitches. Others are concerned that once acquired this user data becomes a commodity that Amazon can hope to turn into profit. Enterprise IT is definitely concerned with the presence of the Kindle Fire in the workplace this November for a variety of reasons. Even Congress has gotten involved, making the assumption that Amazon would be collecting as much data as humanly possible about everything going through their servers. In response to these concerns, Amazon has released some information to the Electronic Frontier Foundation regarding what data will be collected and how it will be used by the company.
The biggest concern for many people, especially those focused on their online privacy, is being forced to use the Amazon Cloud acceleration. Worry no more: You CAN turn it off at any time. In addition to opting-out by the user, anything encrypted will be routed from your Kindle Fire directly to the origin server. This means that anything going on over HTTPS will remain totally off limits for Amazon by design.
In terms of what data is being stored, each session will be logged individually for 30 days. This log will contain nothing more than requested URLs and timestamps. In no way will names or user accounts be connected to these logs, nor can they be according to Amazon representatives. Data may in some instances be even more secure than it would otherwise be since the connection to Amazon’s servers is always going to be encrypted regardless of what you are doing.
Is there still some reason to be concerned? Of course. Mostly, however, it requires far fetched scenarios. Since each session is logged individually, it is unlikely that search history could be used to identify the user from logs. That doesn’t mean impossible. Amazon will also suddenly have access to a vast amount of information about browsing habits in general which could be used to inform future business moves. There is even the chance that law enforcement will find ways to coerce the company to provide cached information for one reason or another. In terms of individual user safety, however, it seems that things are looking pretty good. Being singled out is all but impossible.
If you are still concerned, just remember that you can tell your Kindle Fire not to use this feature. Even without it on, the Silk browser is reported to deliver a speedy experience. It’s always better to be aware of what information you are letting out about your habits on the internet, however mundane those may be. Overall, though, Amazon seems to have gone out of their way to avoid intruding on your privacy.
For as long as eReaders have been around, it seems at times, people have complained that they aren’t available for under $100. They’re finally getting there, with the Kindle available for as little as $114 new. We might even see a $99 Kindle by the end of the year. An important question to ask the people who came up with this number might soon be “Is that before or after tax?”
There is obvious competition between online retailers and the brick & mortar set over taxes. While it is technically true that somebody buying a Kindle on Amazon.com should be paying the same taxes as somebody grabbing the same product from the local Best Buy, it isn’t surprising that most customers somehow forget to file the forms to pay those taxes at the end of the year. These stores aren’t the only ones affected, of course.
Most states have begun to take notice of the problem, with some targeting Amazon directly due to its prominent status and high sales figures. It’s a matter of hundreds of millions of dollars per year in revenue that the state governments rightly feel they should have access to. Amazon’s response, which is either due to the inconvenience of keeping up with unendingly complex local sales tax interactions and iterations or due to the fact that it makes their store more appealing to customers to be able to avoid sales tax (depending on your current level of cynicism and trust of a major corporation’s word on the matter), has been to withdraw their physical presence from nearly any state that has tried to enforce collection requirements on them.
Now, in an arrangement with the California government, not only will Amazon not be pulling their presence from the state, they will be working openly to resolve the issue of sales tax on inter-state commerce due to the rise of the internet. There’s a bit of back story to the arrangement, with both the state government and Amazon making threats over the issue, but essentially it seems that a compromise was reached. Amazon, and online companies in general, will be given until July of 2012 to persuade Congress to adopt some form of nationwide measure for the collection of internet sales tax. Should this not come to pass, there are fallbacks to allow for California to collect beginning in 2013.
While it would seem at first glance to be not in the company’s best interest to cooperate, they have simply gotten too large to avoid notice at this point. Increasingly, Amazon will be singled out as iconic of the problem with online retailers. The only safe path for them will be to seek a system that can catch their competition on all levels in the same net, to keep anybody from getting a major advantage.
The knowledge that this was coming could be one pressure that has pushed Amazon to focus on digital media distribution recently, giving them products that cannot be conveniently purchased locally. Whether or not that is the case, however, it seems a safe bet that Amazon won’t be driven out of business by the inconvenience of it all or the price bump that customers should be paying for already anyway.
So, the big news has finally broken and we now know all there is to know about the new Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet. If anything, it exceeds much of the high expectation surrounding the initial hype. Everything from the drastic undercutting of competition pricing to the well thought out theme of the interface seem calculated to dominate a currently scattered industry. With something like this available, even the iPad might have more to worry about than previously expected. That said, there are some other things going on here that aren’t entirely apparent at first glance.
A couple things go a long way to guaranteeing that Kindle Fire customers will remain Amazon customers as long as they own their device, for example. For one, while nothing says that you definitely cannot import content from other sources, and indeed it seems almost inevitable that you will be able to do so, the integrated storage is fairly limited and only Amazon content will be given unlimited storage space on their cloud servers. Will it be possible to stream content, especially video, over your home network to the tablet? That remains to be seen.
We also have to assume that a great deal of the functionality, as far as content access and even web browsing go, would be lost with the rooting of the device for whatever reason. Amazon has been concerned enough with piracy in the past to make this something they will have taken into consideration, even if it means that some legitimate users will be inconveniences by it.
For your average user, still not really a bad deal. You have access to movies, music, magazines, and even books, all at a reasonable price. The Amazon Prime functionality becomes almost mandatory to get the most out of things, but it provides value far beyond its cost. Kindle Fire’s even light enough for one-handed use and can multi-task enough to play you music while you read or browse the web.
What would have made it even better? In the future people are definitely hoping for a larger viewing area, expandable storage, optional 3G capabilities, and longer battery life. Some of that fell to the side in order to allow the Kindle Fire to be priced so low. Some of it, like the battery life, just isn’t reasonable yet. Of course if we’re speculating about hardware that does not exist yet then I suppose full color, low power, non-backlit displays would be nice. These things will happen when the tech is available, I would assume. Better to do it right with what is mature right this minute than jump in too soon.
Should this take off, and I think we can all be pretty sure that it will after today’s reveal, expect to be seeing a larger, more powerful Kindle Tablet on the horizon. Amazon supposedly spent time and manpower getting a 10″ tablet designed already, and they’ll need it to top this offering. The competition will need some time to adjust, in the meantime. It’s unlikely we’ll see such an affordable yet functional tablet from anybody else in the near future.
All year we have been getting bits of data, speculation, and supposedly leaked information about the upcoming Kindle Tablet. This past month has seen huge dumps of information about the upcoming product, and today we’ve got even more thanks to TechCrunch. In a press conference being held this Wednesday, we should get confirmation and all of the other information we’ve been waiting for.
Probably the first big revelation is the name. In order to differentiate it from the Kindle eReader line, the new Tablet has apparently been dubbed the “Kindle Fire”. This was actually hinted at several months back when people stumbled on Amazon’s acquisition of several Kindle related domains, including kindlefire.com.
We now know that the Kindle Fire will be feature a 7″ backlit screen that may look quite similar to the BlackBerry Playbook due to shared manufacturers and a lack of time to get the product out for this holiday season. It will be using a custom fork of Android (probably built on the 2.1 base), but altered to the point of complete uniqueness. This will be running on a TI dual-core OMAP chip, probably in the 1.2GHz range, putting the hardware in line with other newer Android devices. Overall a strong offering.
Now, the existing Kindle line has effectively dominated the eBook market in the United States by bringing customers an impressive reading experience that improves value despite the inability to price their eBooks as competitively as the company might desire (Hooray for the Agency Model, right?). If a similar relationship with customers can be achieved with the Kindle Fire, Amazon can completely turn the current hardware-based Tablet sales model on its head (Some reports indicate that as much as 90% of iPad based profit for Apple comes from hardware sales).
To pull this off, Amazon has been pulling together a great support base. Major app developers have apparently been approached to get them ready for the launch, for one. Also, quite importantly given the media-centric nature of this device, Amazon has been putting together deals with the likes of CBS and Fox to secure access to extensive video content for the Amazon Instant Video service.
There is currently some question as to the exact nature of what will be offered as incentives to new users. Some sources are saying that this will be a $250 Tablet PC with Amazon Prime bundled free for the first year, while others are claiming that there will be two packages available that will differ mainly in their inclusion of the Amazon Prime membership.
What we anticipate at this time is an announcement by Amazon that the Kindle Fire will be available either late October or early November. This seems like a large delay between the press conference and first shipments, but Amazon is clearly under pressure from competition in both tablets and eReaders at the moment and needs to get ahead.
Check back on Wednesday for confirmation, revisions, and any other Kindle Fire news that we are able to bring you.
Amazon has just announced a large increase in the number of titles available through their Instant Video service, giving customers access to over 100,000 Movies and TV Shows. Amazon Prime members can access over 9,000 of those selections at no extra cost beyond their existing membership fees. While this is of course a good move in general, it works even better with the knowledge of a video-focused Kindle Tablet right around the corner.
There is some fairly good evidence to support the theory that Amazon is getting ready to try to do with video what they already accomplished in eBooks with the Kindle. Even if you leave aside the rumors of the Kindle ‘Hollywood’ Tablet, supposedly being produced for late 2011/early 2012 with lots of processing power and a larger screen than most tablets, the support structure is getting pretty large. Already you can access Amazon Instant Video via many HDTVs, set-top boxes, BluRay players, TiVos, and more, even if you don’t like to watch video on your PC. Like with the Kindle, once you purchase something you can access it through any device registered to your account. For the most part this is even true of the Amazon Prime selections.
Up until now, the video library has been rather thin. It was clear that Amazon was simply testing the waters and no real threat to any of the more established names in the field. Now, however, things are getting more impressive. You have a fairly good movie selection, admittedly heavily weighted to older titles (though not so much as was the case previously), and access to many TV shows within a day of airing.
Does this mean that Amazon is poised to shove Netflix out of the way and step into a well-deserved spot on top? Not really. By all accounts Netflix hasn’t even really noticed them enough to consider it real competition yet. Who knows what might change in the future, though, with Netflix customers quite vocally unhappy about the handling of recent price hikes due to a jump in operational costs. It seems like just about everybody is trying to jump on the video streaming bandwagon right now, which means lots of competition but also lots of potential for a well-planned and well-supported endeavor.
With the upcoming Kindle Tablets, Amazon is in a highly advantageous position. Not only can they advertise hardware optimized for video streaming and integrated directly into existing Amazon.com services of all sorts, but a simultaneous release of an Instant Video for Android App would earn them sales space on the vast majority of competing Tablet PCs.
Such an app would have to be something of an inevitability both because of the choice of OS for the Kindle Tablets and the fact that Amazon’s main goal seems to be harnessing media distribution rather than sales. No need to completely close off the competing hardware if you are making your money elsewhere anyway. The Kindle platform has given them a solid grip on the eReading market by being device-independent. I think we can count on Amazon to have learned from their own success.
For those who have been paying attention, it doesn’t come as much of a shock to hear that people are unhappy about the rise in price of Kindle eBooks caused by the Agency Model pricing forced on Amazon by the largest publishing houses in the business. Apple came out with iBooks as a means of adding value to the iPad’s initial launch, and in doing so arranged things to prevent Amazon from having an advantage. They went to the publishers, worked out an industry-wide deal, and ended the era of the affordably priced eBook. Now, finally, somebody is calling them on it.
The basis for the suit is a number of early indications that Apple knew ahead of time that all of the major publishers would be turning on Amazon at the same time. A much publicized Wall Street Journal article from early 2010 had Steve Jobs clearly aware of the impending changes and certain not only of his company’s ability to price match but of the publishers’ willingness to boycott Amazon in order to change the state of the market. While Amazon did make every attempt to keep the Kindle Store free of such manipulation and price hiking, in the end each publisher is the controller of its own works and they were forced to concede defeat in order to keep the content available to Kindle readers.
The suit charges Apple and the five largest publishing companies with antitrust violations, among other things, and would seek to represent anybody who has purchased an eBook since the prices jumped over 30% practically overnight last year. If successful, the Agency Model would be completely overturned, as would the arrangements currently in place preventing price discrepancies between retailers.
There is every reason to believe that this has at least a chance of success. It is not even the first legal obstacle that publishers have faced since they turned on the Kindle. In 2010 both Amazon and Apple were brought to talks with the Attorney General of Connecticut, who had concerns that the abrupt change would lead to a situation where competition between companies would be impossible. Such anti-competitive behavior would of course be a dangerous thing to be involved in, but the companies being looked at at the time were clearly not colluding. This time, looking at Apple and the publishers, it might not pass quite so easily.
Though it will be months, at best, before there is even an indication of which way this is likely to turn out, it is possible that there will be some change in the meantime. eBooks are the only area where the publishing industry seems to be growing lately, and the Kindle platform is the driving force behind eBook sales in the US. Anything that publishers can do to improve sales will be to their advantage, and they have shown at least some small interest in the potential from reduced pricing. Will it be enough to change the face of eBook publishing without legal intervention? Time will tell. It seems inevitable that publishers will come to their senses eventually and drive their numbers up any way that works, though, and the success of the lawsuit is still just speculation.
Buying a Kindle in California might very well be costing slightly more than we’re used to, soon, despite the best efforts of Amazon.com. Lawmakers, frustrated by a combination of factors associated with sales tax collection, or lack thereof, have decided to mount a direct and possibly damaging attack on online businesses in order to increase revenue. The effect that this move has will take a while to become clear, but it might well end up being nothing but trouble for anybody, especially Californians.
There’s some background to the story. Up until this point anybody buying something through Amazon, whether it was a Kindle, a cabinet, or something more extravagant, would be personally responsible for reporting and paying their own local sales taxes. Amazon, except in states where they have a physical presence, doesn’t have any obligation to collect it and has been given pretty much no incentive to try to tackle the logistical nightmare of keeping track of every tax variation in the country. The obvious problem is that most customers prefer to simply forget to report these out of state purchases when it comes time to pay their taxes. Naturally, the state and local governments find this inconvenient, but so far it has been hard to get around the legalities of it. Nobody wants to try to start auditing a significant portion of consumers simply for shopping online, so the easiest option is to make the online retailers responsible for it all. Efforts along these lines have had limited success overall so far. Affiliates don’t count, generally, and any state government that decided to revise their definitions to include affiliates has seen Amazon and many others pull their local ties rather than deal with the additional overhead.
In the most recent news, California has not only made the affiliate connection just described, but has also attempted to make provisions in case Amazon pulled out. They are saying that Amazon will be legally required to begin collecting tax because their subsidiaries, A9.com and Lab 126, have offices in the state in spite of these companies being their own unique entities. Basically, unless Amazon decides to uproot the entire group that created the Kindle and is now rumored to be working on the Kindle tablet, they’re in trouble. Assuming that California can get away with it, of course.
According to some analysts, they’re overreaching more than a bit. This is certain to be settled in court at some point, but either way it doesn’t seem like it will do California much good in the long run. If they lose, it means a bunch of wasted time and effort in court. If they win, it provides the right precedent to make putting money into Californian companies a bad idea for out of state investors. Even the slightest connection would trigger tax collection requirements. While it is certainly understandable in times of deficit to want this extra tax income, the overall effect on the state economy over the longer term could be quite negative. Californian Amazon Affiliates have already been let go, from what I’m told, and only time will tell how things will pan out with regard to the Amazon Kindle‘s Lab 126 and its ties to this scheme.
Starting this week it will be possible to buy yourself a new Kindle 3G or Kindle With Special Offers right at the local Walmart. Believe it or not, this is a really big deal. Up until now it was definitely possible to grab a Kindle to try before you buy, but the Walmart deal will expand availability immensely. As in similar situations up until now in stores including Staples, Target, and Best Buy, this isn’t anything fancy, just a chance to get the Kindle out there in a way that sales through Amazon.com cannot in spite of its overwhelming presence on the web.
One of the more interesting aspects of the deal’s announcement is the exclusion of the option to buy a Kindle WiFi. There have been a number of vocal complaints about the fact that Amazon has allowed advertising to become a part of their product line at any cost. It in indicative of a certain level of confidence on their part that they have decided to push in such a way. Having the least expensive option in the Kindle line available in over 3,200 stores nationwide will definitely get the word out. You can’t exactly consider it to be detrimental to be able to demonstrate to the public how trivial and unobtrusive the current ad implementation is, either. It will be nice to see the newer release circulating and interesting to find out if they plan to start replacing the Kindle WiFi model in other stores at the same time.
Speaking of releasing the Kindle hardware into wider circulation, it seems entirely possible that this is an early step to get distribution channels in place before another entry into the device market. Being able to release the next new thing, for example a tablet PC, with simultaneous sales both online and in thousands of stores nationwide would make for a truly impressive initial launch, if nothing else. Many people have made a point of observing the advantage that the Apple stores have given the iPad so far. If the tablet race becomes a matter of Kindle vs iPad, since we can assume fairly well at this point that the new Amazon tablet will be considered part of the Kindle line, then it would appear that Amazon has found a fairly good way to preemptively deal with this advantage.
Regardless of the complexities of the underlying motives, it’s good news for potential Kindle customers. If you or somebody you know has been on the fence regarding a Kindle purchase, for whatever reason, chances are quite good that there’s going to be a nearby Walmart that can help with providing a bit of first hand experience. Whether you personally like Walmart or not, you can’t deny their presence and convenience. If nothing else, stop in, try out an eReader or two, then decide what you want and hit up Amazon.com for the actual buying. Not endorsing the store, their politics, or their methods, just considering the potential advantage to the consumer.