All of the rumors seemed to indicate that July 31st would be the day we finally heard solid details about the new Kindle Fire release. Obviously that didn’t happen. That’s not necessarily a bad sign though. While things might be taking slightly longer than fans, speculators, and analysts had expected, there are plenty of signs that Amazon has something big planned right around the corner.
The update to Amazon’s music management is a strong indication that something is going on. Amazon’s emphasis on media service integration with their devices is well known. They might not have the most powerful hardware on the market but Kindle Fires are the easiest way to get at any of the digital content the company sells that can be reasonably run on a small, modestly powered tablet. The existing model isn’t exactly at its best with music playback thanks to the speaker configuration, but the interface makes use simple enough.
Now that you can import existing music selections rather than uploading them individually, including files downloaded through other services, the appeal of that option should be increased for any interested user. As far as Kindle Fire specifics, though, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon has been working on docking stations for their next tablet, which reports indicate will have a very distinct form compared to its predecessor.
The recent release of the Amazon Instant Video app for iPads is also, paradoxically, a fair indication that the Kindle Fire 2 is nearly ready. Even if a larger model of Amazon’s tablet is ready right away, there is no way that they want to be entering into head to head competition with Apple at this stage. Plenty of rumors say that Apple ‘s already taking things in that direction with an impending iPad Mini, but that rumor has been cropping up repeatedly for two years now and the reasoning doesn’t seem to have improved much in the meantime.
By creating a convenient way for Apple’s customers to access their Amazon video purchases, the need for confrontation is somewhat negated. It’s important to remember that Amazon gains very little by way of income for selling the Kindle Fire. They’d be just as happy to have an iPad user locked into using Amazon services thanks to the closed ecosystem being developed, since content is where the money is anyway. The app release here might look like a lack of confidence in the Kindle Fire, but it’s really just paving the way for a deliberately niche product.
Most importantly, and most obviously, Amazon has started selling off refurbished Kindles at ridiculously low prices. This has happened before. People who use an Amazon.com Rewards Visa can pick up a basic Kindle eReader for just $47 now through August 15th using the coupon code KINDLE40. It’s pretty obvious that something is on the way to replace that Kindle.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re looking at an August 15th release date. In fact, people have largely stopped trying to guess at when Amazon will be ready. It will be here when it’s ready, but it’s safe to say that time is not far off.
I am unable to really express how often over the last year or two I have heard from people the idea that the Kindle will never hit it big until they get their pricing under the hundred dollar mark. This has not stopped the Kindle from becoming overwhelmingly popular, but it makes a great talking point for people who want to argue for discounts or claim Tablet PC superiority in eReading. Finally, however, we can have an end to the idea’s repetition. There is now a Refurbished Kindle available for just $99. There are other factors involved that might make this a deal worth waiting on, though.
The $99 pricing seems appealing and probably will sway a few people. I seem to recall that discounted refurbs toward the end of the Kindle 2′s life cycle did the same. Still, before you jump on it, it is important to keep in mind what this move is likely to imply. Rumors abound, both substantial and completely speculative, about the upcoming next generation of Kindle products. We can be almost 100% sure that they will be showing up in the next three months, but beyond that there is little total certainty due to the expected overlapping release of the first Kindle Tablet and the difficulties inherent in trying to pick through the bits of information we have to determine which bit goes to which device. Given competition in the eReader marketplace alongside some business moves that Amazon has made lately, though, we can make some pretty solid assumptions.
Amazon will, it can be assumed, be releasing a new touchscreen Kindle. It is very, very likely that it will run Android in some form. There are certain to be several incarnations of it to allow for choice between WiFi, 3G, ad support, and the combinations thereof that we have become accustomed to. It is very unlikely that the new Kindle baseline model will cost more than the $114 currently being asked for the cheapest brand new Kindle on sale right this minute.
The question potential customers have to ask, then, is what factors matter in their choice. If this is meant to show Amazon that you will not support Kindles over $100, then it is a good way to put your money into making your point while still getting a great product. If you are in a hurry and don’t feel like waiting to get the new Kindle, then it makes sense to pick up one of these. Never any harm in grabbing a refurbished product from a company that is known to have excellent customer service. If you don’t have a point to make and aren’t in a rush, however, I can’t see that holding back to see how well the Kindle 4/Kindle Touch/Kindle Whatevertheycallit stacks up compared to the competition. There’s no reason to believe that there won’t still be Kindle 3 refurbs and back stock sitting around by then anyway, probably discounted even further or sold through Woot.com. While there are rumors going around that many customers will be getting brand new Kindles labeled as refurbished in order to be sneaky about their official new product announcement, it is hard to see Amazon running out completely in the next couple weeks.
This morning provided us with a neat deal for anybody interested in a slightly more expansive screen than that available on the usual Kindle. Today, April 15th, anybody who’s interested can snag themselves a Kindle DX for $80 less than the usual asking price of $379. Size isn’t everything, as the saying goes, but it’s a decent consideration for this purchase if you’re in a position to take advantage of it.
The advantages are fairly obvious and stem mainly from the larger screen. It gives you a lot more real estate to work with. This means the potential for better PDF presentation, which I find essential for any serious academic or technical reading. It also makes for more convenient reading of books on larger font sizes, since even if the screen refresh rate has gotten to the point of not being an issue it’s still obnoxious to have to flip after every hundred words or so.
The sacrifices that are required for the improved screen are minimal. Some people will find the weight a little bit much for single handed reading. It does weight slightly more than twice as much as my Kindle 3, it’s true. This emphasizes what I consider to be the only major flaw of the device: No buttons on the left side. You are required to handle all the controls on the right. Combine those two issues and you get a fair amount of inconvenience. From personal experience I would say that it goes largely unnoticed pretty fast in the face of the expanded screen, though I notice that some reviews on the site are a bit more vehement about the issue.
Keep in mind when you consider buying this that the current model of the Kindle DX came out slightly before the Kindle 3. As holdovers from an earlier generation of the product line, it still has a 5 direction navigation stick instead of the pad and it lacks WiFi capabilities. This last is especially a concern if you or the person you are buying for happens to live outside of the US, as the coverage internationally is less than ideal, by all accounts.
Overall, however, it’s a great product for reading. I’ve been using mine since a few weeks after it was released and have absolutely no complaints. Due to the size, it tends to get brought out mainly when reading a brand new book, for that fresh hardcover feeling, or when I need to look at something larger like a textbook or diagram. The DX handles pretty much everything I’ve thrown at it without a problem. The overall 4-star review status would tend to confirm my personal assessment, with the majority of negative reviews seemingly concentrating on problems with Amazon’s customer service or a now-resolved hardware problem when using the leather case being sold as an accessory.
As always, let me emphasize: This is not a tablet PC. I know it’s the same size as one, and it has a big screen, but this is a device for reading. It may be significantly more expensive than the Kindle 3, but it’s still a Kindle. Do not buy the Kindle DX expecting anything but a great way to read your books.
Today it appears that Amazon has decided that we need even more reasons to waste time in a given way. I would be upset, but I’ve been too busy playing games to find the time. Between now and March 27th, there’s a sale going on wherein twelve of the most popular Kindle games to date are available for a mere $0.99. This is a pretty good list and I’m finding the games quite well thought out and fun to play across the board so far. Included in this sale are: Scrabble, Solitaire, Mahjong, Chess, Hangman 4 Kids, Triple Town, Texas Hold ‘em Poker, Sudoku Unbound, and four New York Times Crossword Puzzle Packs (2 Challenging, 2 Easy).
For those willing to give it a chance, and you can’t really go wrong at the price, chances are good that you’ll find the implementations far cleaner than anticipated. Mahjong, Sudoku, and Triple Town in partcular, in my opinion, stand out as making the best possible use of the display and demonstrate a fair awareness of the capabilities of the Kindle. There’s no denying that this is a simplistic collection of games that, for the most part, everybody will be familiar with, but that’s not a bad thing. If you’re like me and carry your Kindle around with you almost all the time anyway, it never hurts to have a few more things to pick up when you’ve got nothing better to do but not enough time to really get into a book. Can’t always get on the internet, right?
Now, Kindle games are obviously a different animal than you expect to find on most other portable devices. The emphasis is, of necessity, on games that play with word concepts, number puzzles, and other graphically low-impact implementations. While this is a shortcoming, as obviously this was not a device for which gaming was considered a necessary concern, it has had a couple interesting effects that I think add interesting options.
The obvious benefit for me is the revival of the text-based adventure game. This is manifested in both a re-emergence of the old Choose Your Own Adventure type of concept and in interactive adventures like the browser based Zork implementation that made a big splash a while back. Surprisingly, these have been the least common things to find as well implemented offerings in the Kindle store. There are definitely quite a few of the former posted that, while fun, are a bit short-lived and seem to not quite meet expectations at the price point. The latter are, as yet, seemingly non-existent unless you want to go to the effort of either compiling your own Interactive Fiction games and inserting them into your Kindle via a jailbreak or run one of the very rare instances available through a browser.
This seems to me like an opportunity to resurrect some old classic game design principles from the days when graphics were rarely able to provide much more than a vague approximation of what they were meant to represent. Maybe I’m just pointlessly nostalgic, but I hope we see more of that before eInk style screens catch up to modern AV standards.
Well, the $89 Kindle Lightning Deal has come and gone, unsurprisingly leaving behind it a cloud of shocked customers, angry shoppers, and confusion as to what exactly was going on in the first place. Some people are happy, having gotten themselves a new and extremely giftable Kindle for a great price, while most of us who showed up at 9am were at least mildly disappointed. As always on days like this, there is some inclination to cry “Scam!” and express our displeasure in other equally vocal ways. Let’s take a moment first to look at the larger scheme of things and see if we can get a clear picture.
To begin with, it is useful to note that this was perhaps the most highly publicized Amazon sale of the year. Not only was it clearly noted on the site itself, but they spread word via both Facebook and Twitter. That means that the(as of writing this) 123,292 people following Amazon’s sale page on twitter and 373,006 people who have hit the “Like” button on their Facebook page were all notified in advance. Even setting aside the blogging community’s spreading of this information(and there was certainly plenty of that), there’s the potential right there for just under half a million people to know about this deal over a day before it happened. The numbers should help put things into perspective a bit. I’m not saying everybody who heard about the cheap Kindle through these sources was getting in line to try for one, but word of mouth and information spread further down the news chain almost certainly shored up the numbers significantly too. There are a lot of people talking now about the Kindle vs Nook comparison(refurbished Nooks were on sale for $99 and didn’t sell out nearly as fast), but let’s face it, there wasn’t nearly as much of an advertising push behind anything B&N was doing.
This doesn’t mean that there was universal disappointment for aspiring Kindle customers, however! Yes, people are upset and venting their frustrations as in the case of Amazon customer Grebewatcher, who was of the opinion that:
“Amazon knew it would be flooded with people wanting this product across the country. To have it NOT available from the SECOND it goes on sale is FRAUD. New laws are needed to govern this sort of sale situation. (And yes, I have done many auctions and understand that sometimes you can’t get what you want. But to not even have enough for 5 minutes?! Two minutes?? ONE minute?!!!!! Bulls—.)
There are quite a few more carefully considered opinions being expressed, though, such as that of Emerald Coast:
From the information I can dig up, Amazon is the worlds largest online retailer in the world. I know many people in England, Ireland, Brazil and Iceland shop on this site. Two that I know of that live in England got the Kindles yesterday. If Amazon had 2000 units for sale, it is a no brainer to figure out how fast they would sell out….about 2 seconds.
People are being totally unrealistic. On the other hand, the odds truly were astonishing for some.
Think of it as purchasing a lottery ticket…….the odds of winning are slim to none, but there are winners.
Some people have even come forward to point out that they did, in fact, get lucky enough to get in on the deal and can therefore confirm that it was not a hoax. Mostly these comments seem to be little more than confirmations that come people did indeed get what they wanted, like Chris Hillman:
I got one without too much problem. Was waiting like everybody else and it worked for me. Sooo at least they did have a few for sale…
While it is completely understandable for some people to be annoyed, these sales are intended to be analogous to the standard Black Friday Doorbusters sales that you might expect to see at any physical outlet. The Black Friday FAQ in the upper-left corner of the deals page indicates for people that, as with your average retail outlet, quantities are limited and deals are short-lived. Everything is first-come, first-served. Even more limited are the Lightning Deals, such as the one the Kindle was involved in, where things are expected to sell out so quickly that they actually instituted a short-term wait list that lasts until every one of the product being sold has made it through checkout.
What it comes down to is that we can’t claim the information wasn’t out there. It was clear from the start that this was meant to be a moment when demand would overwhelm supply by a fair amount. I do believe that many, perhaps even Amazon themselves, were shocked by exactly how great the discrepancy between the number of Kindles and the number of Kindle buyers was, but that’s often the case at sales like these. The local Best Buy might have twenty of the amazingly priced computers they advertise, but you know there are going to be a couple hundred people lined up in the morning hoping to get those wristbands that will guarantee them a slot. It’s all about the luck of the draw. In the meantime, you can still get the newest Kindle for only $50 more than the sale. If you were in it for yourself, or even if you really like the person you were planning on giving the gift to, the Kindle 3 is a step up anyway.
Earlier today on their Facebook page, later to be confirmed via the Twitter, Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) made the announcement that they will be adding Second Generation Kindles to their Black Friday Lightning Deals page at 9am(PT) on Friday the 26th. Within minutes this announcement had been “liked” and commented upon by dozens of people in spite of the fact(or possibly even because of the fact!) that the link provided misdirected people to the current generation Kindle.
While this is the previous generation, that isn’t saying much against it. The Kindle 2 is a great, really reliable piece of hardware that I would still stand up as competition against pretty much anything on the market. It uses the same screen as the Nook eReader that was its ongoing competition, is nearly as compact as the current generation, and has access to all of the books, games, and applications(i.e. Facebook integration, web browsing, etc) that you would expect. When it comes right down to it, you really can’t beat $89 for a Kindle of any sort given that the equivalent competition is going for $149.
Now, of course there won’t be enough to go around. Heck, at this price I’d be surprised if they have enough second generation Kindles left in stock to satisfy the demand that this offer would be likely to generate if it weren’t a “Lightning Deal” and therefore intentionally limited. So set your alarms, keep a laptop close to your bed, make the kids do it…whatever it takes to keep from missing out. It’s always unpleasant waking up on the day after Thanksgiving, but this time there’s a worthwhile reason that won’t even make you stand in line freezing your butt off!
P.S. For those of you who have some holiday shopping left to do, check out this page that lists all of the upcoming Black Friday Deals from the Amazon movie collection. Sure, Kindles make great gifts, but you can’t like everybody that much, right?