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

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December 2014
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Amazon’s Updated Kindle Line Adds HDX For an Even Better Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing Amazon Coins: A Digital Currency for Kindle Fire Owners

Amazon’s most recent Kindle Fire marketing effort is the introduction of Amazon Coins.  They’ve released their own digital currency that can be used to purchase apps and games from the Amazon Appstore.  On the surface it’s a confusing move, given the larger trend of companies moving away from internally controlled currencies, but there’s a lot to be said for the idea if it is handled correctly.

Most users should already have received the email informing them that 500 Amazon Coins have been added to their account.  That will hopefully give people a chance to get interested in the idea.  This will not be blocking off real currency-based purchases, of course.  That’s going to be an important consideration, since systems that completely replace all other forms of money with their own tend to enjoy little enthusiasm.  One mistake easily avoided.  Even Microsoft has been forced to begin removing their digital currency thanks to that approach despite a large and dedicated user base.

Most likely, the goal here is twofold: Encourage more frequent spending and allow for more options where children are concerned.  The addition of an alternate currency model that can be used for these tasks makes perfect sense so long as they are not forced on the customer without their input.

Consider the potential for the Amazon Coin as a micro-transaction currency.  Rather than needing to enter a password for every payment, a customer can purchase 100 coins for a dollar and spend them at their leisure with no hassle.  Abuse is limited since there is a hard limit to how much of the currency is present at any given time.  Annoying lists including dozens of $0.05-0.10 transactions are removed from statements.  Customers even feel more free to make the occasional transaction they might otherwise have avoided, since the Coins are already sitting there.

When it comes to children, this has the additional benefit of security.  Nobody wants a repeat of the early iPad problems that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of purchases being made by those too young to grasp what they were doing, but at the same time parents often want to be able to allow free use of the devices.  By setting up a separate wallet for this sort of thing, Amazon could allow these parents to offer an allowance of sorts that doesn’t require regular input of a password or PIN.

Amazon is known for offering frequent promotions with purchases.  This will certainly continue to be the case.  While the occasional free MP3 or video credit might be beneficial for some and overlooked for others, it’s going to be easier to encourage people to make use of these freebies if they have a wallet to fill up with Amazon Coins.  This will encourage app purchasing and use while giving developers even more incentive to join the platform.  Considering the fact that Amazon’s Appstore for Android already shows superior returns when compared to the Google Play app store, it’s only going to get harder for anybody to justify staying away.

Kindle Black Friday Specials for 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC Comes to Kindle Store & More, Ending Comixology Exclusivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Japanese-Language Kindles Coming Next Month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ABC News App Now Available for Kindle Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Brought To the Kindle Fire

As many people expected, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is a product developed specifically to knock Amazon off of the top of the Android charts.  Hardware-wise, it is certainly more powerful.  Whether this is enough to actually sway users is still in question, however, since the popularity of the Kindle Fire has never been based on its performance alone.  The software is another story.

By releasing the Nexus 7 with the newest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean) Google packed in some major advantages that Amazon never even had the option of putting in the Kindle Fire in the first place.  It was a smart decision, given reviews, and things are looking up for Google at the moment.  Kindle Fire owners might still feel a bit left out, however.

That is where XDA comes in.  It is the good people over on the XDA Developers forums who we have to thank for any number of Android hacks, including the ability to gain root access on the Kindle Fire.  Their most recent Kindle-related development is a custom ROM for installing Jelly Bean on the Kindle Fire.

Now, Amazon has not exactly set any records for taking security on their device seriously.  The last time an update went so far as to disable the security hole by which people were rooting their tablets, another option was available immediately.  If I recall correctly, the new rooting method might have been released before the update was ever rolled out thanks to somebody getting their hands on it a couple days early.  As such, it seems unlikely that Amazon will be terribly worried about the impact of customer device customizations on their bottom line.

The existing Android 4.1 ROM for the Kindle Fire is still being worked on.  It is fairly simple to install using the instructions provided over at XDA, but not everything is enabled just yet.  There is a bit of a problem with the wifi connectivity, though that is more an inconvenience than anything and fixes can be found scattered around, and various minor complaints have come up with certain apps in cases where this ROM is installed on top of an existing custom ROM.

Should you decide that you want to try all the newest features from Google, look this option up.  Keep in mind, however, that doing so will void your warranty.  It is also possible that you can render your device unusable if you botch the installation.  These are standard cautions that anybody attempting this process should be aware of.

Amazon has done a great job with developing a fork of Android 2.3 specifically for the Kindle Fire.  Users seem to really like it and the integration with Amazon services is impressively smooth.  Chances are good that the new Kindle Fire 2 will ship with an even more advanced build that offers far more features.  None of that means that the desire to try the unlocked, open version of Android is unusual or problematic.  If you do it right, follow all the instructions, and exercise caution then a completely different experience is available to try.

Say Goodbye to OpenFeint, Amazon Introduces GameCircle for Kindle Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Kindle Smartphone Rumor Spreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire vs Windows 8 Tablets: Another Pointless Comparison

There is essentially no competition to be found between the Kindle Fire and any imaginable Windows 8 Tablet at this time.  I’ve touched on this a bit here already immediately following the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it’s come up in emails and various other places often enough since then to be worth revisiting.  They are catering to completely different needs, price ranges, and purposes.  I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to anybody, but let’s hit the high points again.

The comparison ends up being very similar to that of the iPad vs the Kindle Fire.  It is inevitable that people will compare them.  After all, they are both tablets.  Add to that the fact that they are both extremely popular and that each is backed by one of the biggest companies in the world right now and the parallels are too clear to ignore.  Stepping past the most superficial aspects gives us a much more meaningful understanding.

In the case of Windows 8, we’re looking at a tablet OS that is deliberately formed into something that could replace a laptop.  The Surface is the ideal example, as you would expect when Microsoft designed both hardware and software sides of things.  Users get productivity apps along the lines of a full Office suite, a well-integrated social media sharing system, and more.  If you could possibly want to do it on a tablet, or on a portable computing device in general, Windows 8 is probably somehow equipped for that.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, doesn’t even come with full Android functionality.  It is an Amazon device meant for consuming Amazon media services.  You don’t get much in the way of access to third party programs.  Even media coming in from a non-Amazon source isn’t always supported as well as one might like.  I can recall a few occasions when the lack of a decent codec pack was problematic.  If a particular user’s situation demands it then they can certainly install some approximation of office apps and such, but the experience will be less than ideal and there is no way to significantly improve it.

There is a reason that the Kindle Fire is priced so far below things like the iPad and, presumably, the Surface.  You wouldn’t be wrong to guess that part of it is simply an inability to compete at that price point, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either.  Amazon is using the tablet in a different way and not even really trying to compete.

There will always be implicit comparisons.  Not only will they come up with the big names in the tablet market, but the Kindle Fire will forever be lumped in with the Android Market as people try to figure out who is doing well.  In reality, it doesn’t even belong there.  Their device is being sold cheaply, maybe even at cost even now, specifically because it doesn’t matter how much they make on the hardware.

Anybody who uses a Kindle Fire, however briefly, is a win for the company simply because they are then tied into the media network where Amazon is really interested in making their money.  They don’t want to make a tablet that can be everything for everybody, just to add a bit of incentive to choose them for any digital media needs one might have.

Amazon Appstore Expansion Indicates Kindle Fire is Nearly Ready For International Release

Amazon recently announced that they are now interested in developer submissions of Android apps for the international expansion of the Amazon Appstore for Android.  Those who are interested can now submit via the Amazon Mobile App Distribution Portal in order to be ready for the expansion.  This summer the Appstore is expanding to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.  Beyond that there are apparently plans for more, but even a handful of new markets should generate a big surge in popularity for the Appstore in general and the Kindle Fire in particular.

The Kindle Fire has to be what this is all about, of course.  We are expecting the next iterations of the Kindle line, both tablet and eReader, before the summer is out.  Although their first Android tablet has started to lose some of its initial popularity, it is clear that Amazon has a great deal invested in the idea of mobile devices integrated into their media distribution system.

Because of its integration, however, selling the Kindle Fire outside the US has seemed problematic at best.  Amazon has a lot going for them, but media rights need to be established in any country the company chooses to support.  That means not just books as with the Kindle eReaders but also movies, television, music, and apps.

Getting the apps will probably be the easiest part for this effort.  By setting up a portal by which Android developers can submit their applications, they are actually setting up an interesting alternative to Google Play.  Google has had a few incidents with regard to paying their international developers (mostly failing to pay them, actually) that makes an alternate major app store with a proven record huge news.

There are no estimates yet on exactly when the Kindle Fire will be offered outside the United States.  It even makes some sense to question whether Amazon will bother marketing the existing model at all.  With a newer high resolution model supposedly on the way, as well as a larger version set to follow soon after, waiting an extra month or two to make sure to put the best product forward might be the smart move.

The Appstore for Android has already proven itself able to provide better returns for developers than its Google counterpart.  It’s true that many find the extra oversight and extended review process to be painful, occasionally to the point of refusal, but that has not stopped the store from growing rapidly over the past year.  Customers seem to value the higher submission standards, if nothing else.

Will this be enough to revive interest in the Kindle Fire?  That’s hard to say.  With Windows 8 right around the corner and Apple surely waiting to one-up any competition as soon as they are able to justify it financially, it’s an unsettling time to be selling Android tablets.  Because of Amazon’s break with Google’s standard interface and store, as well as the ecosystem integration, they stand somewhat apart from the Android crowd and might be able to survive even if interest in Android falls abruptly.  The next Kindle Fire is going to have to be impressive to regain the kind of market share that it had at the end of 2011, though.

Kindle Fire Passed By Nook Tablet in Web Traffic

Right now it is safe to say that the iPad is on top when it comes to tablets.  I’m assuming nobody genuinely thinks anymore that the Kindle Fire was ever about trying to bring down Apple’s device.  It is no surprise then that in a recent analysis of their web traffic impressions, the Chitika Ad Network found that 91% of tablet traffic on the web comes from iPads.

What was somewhat surprising was that for the first time we see the Nook Tablet beating the Kindle Fire in terms of use.  Since May, the Nook has jumped from making up 0.53% of all tablet traffic to accounting for 0.85%.  For just a month, that’s an impressive increase in presence.  The Kindle Fire saw no such increase and even seems to have fallen off slightly in the same period.

What does this mean for the two devices?  Unfortunately this data is hard to draw any real conclusions from.  Lacking any sort of information about data collection, we don’t even know as much about what devices we are talking about.  How much of the Nook’s internet presence comes from people running rooted tablets thanks to simple tools making use of the SD slot, for example?  That matters, since it is essentially a lost customer for B&N when they are selling their hardware at near-cost in order to lock people into their ecosystem.

Even if we assume that those users are completely removed, we are still left with a study that examines only web use.  Anybody who has spent time browsing the internet on either of these devices already knows that while pleasant enough for what it is, the browsing experience a 7” tablet offers will generally fail to impress.

I would be more excited to see information about impressions and click-throughs on advertising in popular apps across multiple platforms.  That would be likely to give us a better understanding of the comparison since just about everybody loads up some Angry Birds or Words With Friends from time to time.

With the iPad still providing about fifty times the traffic of its closest competition this is all really a minor point.  You just can’t expect a small device designed for media consumption to do the same job or generate the same interest as Apple’s more powerful and popular product.  They have nothing to fear from Android tablets in general right now, let alone the budget side of the market.

Clearly this data will be helpful for anybody who is interested in trying to target tablet users specifically when designing a web-based advertising campaign.  For the rest of us, however, there is not enough detail to be worth thinking too much about it.  It would be nice if the Nook Tablet suddenly experienced a huge boost in popularity since Amazon couldn’t help but push back by adding new products or software features, but that isn’t necessarily the case here.

Maybe the next generation of tablets, with Windows 8 competing against the iPad and a Microsoft-backed Nook line providing intense competition for the Kindle Fire, but for now things are pretty much on hold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Brings HBO GO to Kindle Fire

Beginning immediately, Kindle Fire owners are able to take advantage of the new HBO GO app.  This app, downloadable from the Amazon Appstore for Android, lets HBO subscribers watch their favorite content on demand right from their Kindle.  This means immediate access to, among other things, over 1,400 episodes of HBO’s original content.

You’ll find a lot of that content already available through Amazon’s Instant Video store, but how likely is anybody to pay the $2.99 per episode they’re asking for Game of Thrones at the moment even if DVDs aren’t available?  Chances are good that if you’re really excited about these shows then you already have an HBO subscription and as such will incur no extra charges when bringing your Kindle Fire out as a viewing option.

Amazon has invested a lot of time into making their video selection competitive.  The Instant Video service has gone from somewhat helpful at best to being a genuinely persuasive reason to consider Amazon Prime.  The fact that the Kindle Fire offers convenient direct access to these videos is a large part of why the device was so important to Amazon’s efforts.  After the Kindle eReader took off so strongly they were naturally after a way to turn that model around for other forms of media.

Some people were genuinely worried that Amazon’s emphasis on selling video content and Amazon Prime subscriptions would lead them to exclude other providers to varying degrees.  This is even more of a concern now that they keep expanding.  One of these days there might even be real competition with services like Netflix.  It’s good to see that Amazon’s interest in being a part of the digital video business isn’t so important to them that they would make it difficult for apps like this one to get to customers.

Subscribers will be able to create their own Watchlists to keep track of things.  You also get to mark your favorite shows so that your Watchlist is immediately updated with new episodes as they become available.  From what I can tell, this content is out for streaming almost immediately upon airing, so it makes a lot of sense for those of us unlikely to schedule around weekly TV viewing rituals.

There will also be access to bonus content.  Viewers will be able to pull up behind the scenes extras, interviews with cast and crew, recaps of prior episodes to keep you up to date, and the usual DVR-style interface that we have come to expect.  As in most cases like this, if you are viewing a video on one device and have to stop for whatever reason you can pick up where you left off later regardless of whether you are still on that same device.

HBO still carries a subscription outside of anything related to the Kindle Fire.  This is a great deal if you already have that subscription.  If not, chances are good that this will not be quite enough to push you over the edge into buying.  It’s a neat app and HBO shows are some of the best in production right now by any measure.  That should be your deciding factor.  The Kindle Fire access is just a hugely convenient bonus.

Kindle Fire Sales Decline is Worth Noting, but Only Part of the Story

Recent data out of ChangeWave Research indicates that the Kindle Fire is still idling at a much lower level of consumer interest than was the case in the fourth quarter of last year.  Obviously nobody expected the rate to jump back up to as high as it was immediately after the holiday release of a much anticipated product, but the fact that there has been no noticeable change since the beginning of this year is being taken to mean that the Kindle Fire is essentially dead in the water.

ChangeWave Data (as seen on the right) puts the interest in Kindle Fire purchases among potential customers at about 8%.  This compares less than favorably to the iPad’s 73%.  I don’t think it is fair to say that this comparison should be made given that they serve completely different customer needs, but let’s take this for what it is.

The Kindle Fire is still running ahead of all other Android devices by a fair margin.  Even in the limited information we get from this ChangeWave survey, interest appears to be at least 30% higher for the Amazon product compared to its closest non-iPad competition.  In that respect, it is doing quite well.  This doesn’t mean that there are great times in store for the future of the product, however.

The biggest issue right now seems to be the fact that Android is failing to match up with the competition.  The best sellers are the Kindle Fire, which goes a long way to distance itself from Android, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which appears to be considered as one unit in the publicly available information of this report despite actually being a line of four separate products.  Nobody else stands out.

I would predict that tablet customers get even more cautious in the months to come.  We’re still waiting on an official announcement about the Kindle Fire 2.  The release of Windows 8 tablets into the market is going to upset things in a way that nobody can quite predict yet.  Even Apple might do something unexpected if the incredibly far-fetched iPad Mini ever actually appears.  About the only company that customers can be completely sure of ongoing support from right now is Apple and even there it is hard to be certain that you’ll be making the best use of your money.

In the short term, I expect the Kindle Fire to become more of a niche product.  It is a media consumption tablet rather than a fully functional computing device.  You can’t reasonable replace even a small computer with it like you can an iPad.  This doesn’t make it any less useful, but customers are now realizing that there are specific reasons to get a Kindle Fire and that you can’t expect it to function as an iPad competitor.  It was never really meant to.

In the long term we have to wait and see where Amazon goes with the next Kindle Fire.  If the reports of a larger, more powerful device are true then perhaps they will be trying for a serious PC replacement.  It might not be the best time to be marketing something like that against all the new Windows 8 PCs, given how well Windows 8 is said to perform on a touchscreen device, but there is the chance that Amazon’s forking of Android will be sufficient to generate their own unique category in customer perception.

Even if they had no prayer of ever taking majority control of the tablet market, and realistically I don’t think anybody believes they have a prayer of doing so, Amazon isn’t about to drop the product line.  It is still gaining popularity, however slowly.  Media is still selling through it more steadily than through any other Android device.  However much Kindle Fire sales numbers might not match up to holiday interest, that’s only part of what matters when it comes to success.

Draw Something for the Kindle Fire Now Available

Have you been wanting to engage in a social experience with friends using your Kindle Fire despite its lack of camera or microphone?  If so, it’s a good time to head to the App Store and check out the new releases.  OMGPOP’s hit game “Draw Something” is now in stock.  With both Free and Ad-Free flavors ready for your download, everybody has a way to play.

Much like the ever-popular Words With Friends, a game which came packaged with the Kindle Fire, users are matched up with friends in a turn-based back and forth game.  There are no time limits, and you can have a number of simultaneous games going if that suits your mood.  Don’t have friends who play?  No problem.  Draw Something will match you up with complete strangers at random just so you have something to do with your time.

The core game mechanic in Draw Something is…ok, you can probably figure that one out on your own.  Anyway, each player takes turns either drawing one of three word options presented at random or trying to guess what word the other player was trying to represent with their drawing.  It’s a pretty straightforward kind of game.  Scoring is done using in-game currency, which can then be used to purchase things like extra colors for your use when doing more drawing.  Naturally there is also a micro-transaction option, but it is unobtrusive and easily ignored.

This new release still has a couple problems with it compared to more established incarnations.  There have been issues reported when logging into your account from multiple devices.  There have been similar, yet seemingly unrelated problems for people who own multiple Kindle Fire devices on the same account.  Perhaps the biggest problem that people are running into is the lack of an option to take a screenshot.  Since achieving popularity, Draw Something screenshots have been shared all over the internet and the inability to save a particularly good one due to limitations in the Kindle Fire’s software may be frustrating.

As with many other popular social games, Draw Something is a cross-platform program.  Players can connect with their friends over Facebook or via usernames chosen within the app itself.  If you want to do without a Facebook account then you will need an email address, but there have been no reports of these addresses being abused or spammed in any way.

What it all comes down to is that Kindle Fire users have access to perhaps the most popular time-waster type of game on the market for the moment, which by extension more than doubles the potential Android Tablet user pool.  Better late than never, of course, and there will most likely be months yet before something else comes along to capture popular attention.  Have fun with it and exercise your creative side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon is Getting Kindle Fire In-App Purchasing Ready

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Google Learns From Kindle Fire Success, Separates Work And Play

Google has announced an immediate change of their marketing for the Android Marketplace.  It shall henceforth be known as “Google Play”.  Now, possibly I’m reading too much into this but it sounds a  lot like they saw what Amazon had pulled off with the Kindle Fire and realized that it was possible to break consumption away from production in the area of mobile devices.  After all, you are clearly not targeting enterprise users by sending them to Play, right?

Google Play is more than just a rebranding of the Marketplace, of course.  It is an effort to bring together Google’s apps, movies, eBooks, and music in a single package for easy consumption.  Anybody familiar with the Kindle Fire or the philosophy it embraces will probably be noticing some interesting similarities right away from the description, honestly.  All Google Play services will be entirely cloud-based much like what Amazon has been doing, so that all of your content is available at once regardless of storage space available on any particular device.

For those who are already using the Google Marketplace options, there should be a smooth roll-out.  Most people are reporting that the apps have already updated, much of the time without users so much as noticing the change at first.  All content that you own through Google is immediately available in the new apps, so the transition should be quite smooth.  It will encompass all geographic areas, with what Play content is available being determined by the individual market.  Canada and the UK have Movies, eBooks, and Apps; Australia has eBooks and Apps; most areas have at least the App store.  No real functional change, in many ways.

What makes this significant is what it means going forward.  Clearly Google is going to be aiming directly as consumer markets with Play, following the example set by the Kindle Fire (in preparation for their rumored 7” tablet?).  This was where most of these integrated services were generally heading toward anyway, though, however much the Android Marketplace offered options for all activities.  By making it explicit, Google has the opportunity to specifically target business users with a more direct approach.  It is not hard to imagine an expansion of Google’s production based products in the very near future.

Sadly, this new set of apps will not make it any easier for Kindle Fire users to access Google’s services without roundabout methods or rooting of the device.  While this likely would have been a good opportunity for the company to slip in a way to let Amazon’s customers choose between the stores, it is probable that Amazon locked that down fairly tightly before things even started to ship.  At this point side-loaded apps from the new service will either fail to install in the first place or never load properly once installed.  Competition between the two over who gets the most popular closed ecosystem will have to take place as scheduled when Google’s own hardware sees the light of day.

Is Google Taking On the Kindle Fire With a New 7” Tablet?

Until we see Windows 8 hitting shelves, the only real contenders in the tablet market are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS.  As much as the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 does some great things, most of its newfound strength comes from being able to import Android content.  Given the importance of Google’s place as the developer of Android, which while lagging behind iOS is still making rapid gains, it has struck many people as troubling that Amazon would take their software and cut them out of the loop entirely with the release of the Kindle Fire.  Despite the fact that it’s not really against any rules, the breaking of that the most popular Android tablet ever from the Android Marketplace and other Google services comes up frequently in Kindle Fire reviews.  Now we have reason to believe that Google has taken notice and may be willing to respond.

According to recent reports, Google will be releasing their own 7” $200 Kindle Fire competitor as early as early as 2nd Quarter this year.  Information is still mostly speculation with regard to the specifics of this new tablet, but supposedly it will run Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, have a 7” 1280 x 800 display, and be introduced in an initial production run of 1.5 – 2 million units.  For a new launch early in the year, that indicates fairly strong confidence in their product.

For once this may actually be a sufficiently strong product to beat out the competition.  Google is in a position to control the entire ecosystem surrounding their device, much like Amazon with the Kindle Fire, but can draw on a much more significant pool of content when providing apps and such.  This may be what it takes to approach the iPad in a meaningful way right off the bat.  While the most obvious conflict being sought when releasing a 7” tablet will be the Google vs Kindle Fire matchup, Apple’s anticipated iPad 3 will be joining the fray as well with a smaller design that intrigues many potential customers.

All of Google’s more recent actions with regard to Android, from the tablet optimization to the automated policing of the Android Marketplace to remove malware and other malicious programs, come together to make this a far more appealing prospect than it could have been a year ago.  The Kindle Fire has proven more than anything previously that there is room for more than one big name in the marketplace by overtaking even the most established competing Android devices in a matter of months and setting the new standard for tablet pricing.

At worst this rumored tablet would be something that other Android device developers could model their design on with confidence, knowing that Google is already designing with such a configuration in mind.  At best, maybe even the Kindle Fire and iPad have something to look out for in the months to come.  Until we see concrete details it’s hard to guess which competitor will be targeted directly, but it’s even harder to imagine that Google would settle for anything less than one of the big names in tablets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon on Netflix: No Monthly Instant Video Service Planned For Immediate Future

Since just before the official announcement of the Kindle Fire, and clearly in preparation for the anticipated release, Amazon has been making efforts to beef up their Amazon Instant Video selection.  Many of these new acquisitions have even been made part of the Prime Instant Videos library, which allows customers subscribing annually to the Amazon Prime service to stream available content to any compatible device whenever they want with no additional purchase necessary.  More than anything, this is the reason that new Kindle Fire owners find themselves enjoying a month of free Amazon Prime membership.  It works well to get potential subscribers hooked.  More and more, however, people have been viewing the ever-expanding collection of titles as a direct assault on Netflix.

As the most popular video streaming service on the internet today, Netflix caters to over 24 million subscribers and accounted for about a third of all internet bandwidth being used as of last fall.  They have had some issues recently after mishandling the publicizing of rate hikes necessitated by expiring streaming rights deals as well as a poorly thought out attempt to split the company into two separate entities specializing in only one aspect of the physical media and digital video combination that customers have come to expect, but subscriptions have since rebounded and there is little sign that they are in immediate danger.

When Netflix CEO Reed Hastings mentioned in a letter to shareholders that he is expecting Amazon to start breaking the Instant Video service away from Amazon Prime in favor of a monthly model more analogous to what Netflix is known for, it was finally enough to elicit comment from Amazon.  Brad Beale, the Head of Video Acquisition for Amazon, made clear in a recent interview that it is not the intent of the company to change the way they’re handling things in the near future.  He seems to have avoided implying that this was something that would never happen, but at least for the moment Netflix is safe.

The logic behind the decision is sound.  Amazon Prime is already less expensive than even the cheapest Netflix subscription.  The video content you get with it is not nearly as extensive at this point as what Netflix offers, but nobody claims that it is.  By subscribing to Amazon’s service though, even if your goal is just to take advantage of the Kindle Fire’s integration with Amazon services, customers also get free 2-day shipping on anything Amazon sells.  The video streaming might not be the biggest money maker in the world, but the associated shipping benefit has a tendency to make impulse purchasing far more appealing.  This translates into more regular profits as well as customer loyalty.

Compared to that, it is hard to imagine a huge desire on Amazon’s part to start attacking Netflix on their own terms.  For the moment, at least, video distribution appears to remain a relatively small part of the company.  The Kindle Fire is obviously meant to change that and it does a good job of showing off the content, but the day when physical goods are less important to the company than digital sales has yet to arrive.

Will Kindle Fire Stay Relevant If Google Cleans Up Android Marketplace?

The strength of the Kindle Fire as a tablet tends to be its close integration into Amazon’s web services.  Everything from video to eBooks is right there at the touch of a button, integrated seamlessly into your browsing and available practically the second you have an interest in it.  In terms of wider functionality, however, it does fall short.  There is minimal support built in for alternative file formats, no official access to competing distributers in many cases, and a closely controlled Android Appstore that keep the situation closely within the company’s control.

This all makes sense from Amazon’s point of view since they are attempting to offer end to end support and persuade customers to stick around entirely inside the provided ecosystem.  In fact that last point about the Appstore, despite being inconvenient in a lot of ways, has been a selling point for the Kindle Fire for a lot of people.  While the selection is not yet on par with Google’s Android Marketplace, it is also much safer and tends to provide a better working environment.  Users might not get the latest patch on a given app until it makes its way through the lengthy screening process, but typically this is only extremely upsetting for highly active developers with rapid release schedules or people who run into issues with a current version who are kept waiting.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that this is a tradeoff that many are more than willing to make.

Google has recently announced that they have put in place controls on the Android Marketplace that should do a lot to address this situation, however.  Their new service, dubbed “Bouncer”, screens apps for malware automatically prior to their release to customers.  It simulates an android phone, runs the app in a sandbox, and tracks behavior against known examples of malware found up to this point.  While we are only just now learning of this, Google claims that it has been in effect for some time now and is responsible for a 40% decrease in the number of potentially harmful apps being released.

While this is not at all comprehensive, it is a step in the right direction.  Should Google get as proficient at automated screening as they hope to be able to announce in time, it could put a big dent in a majorly favorable aspect of the Kindle Fire.  While the general Android experience is likely to remain fragmented, which will always tend to favor consistent experiences like those offered by Amazon and Apple (Apple is much more thorough on this point of course), safety and security are big concerns when using devices that in many cases serve almost exclusively as ways to purchase media in a convenient manner.

It is unlikely that this is a direct response to the Kindle Fire on the part of Google.  They have plenty going on right now in general and despite Amazon’s managing to snag the top slot in terms of most used “Android” tablet, things are clearly doing well for the company in general.  With Windows 8 right around the corner though, it is increasingly important to bring everything to bear to secure customer loyalty.  The Kindle Fire is a step in that direction that would be too extreme for the vast majority of Android device developers, but some of its strengths may serve well as examples.

New Kindle Fire 7” & 9” Models Reportedly On The Way

Remember when we were predicting a Kindle Fire launch with multiple tablet sizes to choose from?  Well, better late than never.  Chad Bartley, a Senior Research Analyst over at Pacific Crest, has predicted that we will be seeing a 9” Kindle Fire before the end of 2012, possibly as early as this summer.  Along with this, an update to the already incredibly popular 7” model is expected.  While previous estimates for upcoming Kindle tablet sales had been falling in light of a rumored iPad 3 launch that may include a 7” iPad meant to compete directly with Amazon, the same analyst has upgraded his estimates to account for anticipated demand.

We first heard rumors of an 8.9” Kindle tablet on the way in 2012 via a Digitimes report back in November that indicated a May launch was planned.  While Digitimes is often less than perfectly reliable, they have managed to come up with some good information before on many occasions.  In this case, they also reported that the choice of screen size was meant to simultaneously take advantage of pushes by LG and Samsung to promote the smaller screen size and to avoid competing directly with more established tablets like Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.

What this will mean to Kindle fans is hard to say at this stage.  The immediate concern for owners of the original Kindle Fire will be continuing support.  As many owners of the 1st Generation Kindle can attest, Amazon has a tendency to quickly move forward without worrying about ongoing backward compatibility for their newest efforts.  At the same time, however, there has obviously been an increased awareness of the importance of consistent branding.  While the second generation of Kindle eReader was a fairly noticeable break from the original, subsequent offerings have all remained fairly obviously related.  Add to that the fact that the Kindle Fire is already capable of running more recent versions of Android (as demonstrated by recent videos involving ICS installs) which would be the most obvious thing for the company to change on the software side of things, and there is reason to believe that there will be at least a few years of supported life for the current Kindle Fire.

More interesting will be seeing how they handle the upgrade.  Will the new model or models bow to customer demand for a camera, for example?  There have also been indications for some time that NVidea is interested in getting involved with Amazon’s tablet efforts, which could mean a jump into the Tegra 2 or even Tegra 3 for the larger new Kindle Fire.  Either of these would make sense given the emphasis on video and app use that Amazon has made apparent.

Unlike previous rumors, this one is adding up from a number of different sources and seems to be confirmed by the most recent Kindle ad uploaded to Youtube.  In this, the iPad’s flaws as a reading device are still emphasized in a familiar message, but they also make a dig at the high price tag relative to the $200 Kindle Fire and imply that there is little the iPad can do that the Kindle line can’t accomplish collectively for less money.  To many, this seems to be setting the stage for more direct Kindle vs iPad conflict.