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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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Kindle Fire Rooting Likely To Come Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire Demand Exceeds Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Prime: Pros, Cons, & Kindle Implications

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larger Kindle Fire Coming Soon, Kindle Phone Distant But Possible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire Sets New Tone For Tablet Industry

So, the big news has finally broken and we now know all there is to know about the new Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet.  If anything, it exceeds much of the high expectation surrounding the initial hype.  Everything from the drastic undercutting of competition pricing to the well thought out theme of the interface seem calculated to dominate a currently scattered industry.  With something like this available, even the iPad might have more to worry about than previously expected. That said, there are some other things going on here that aren’t entirely apparent at first glance.

A couple things go a long way to guaranteeing that Kindle Fire customers will remain Amazon customers as long as they own their device, for example.  For one, while nothing says that you definitely cannot import content from other sources, and indeed it seems almost inevitable that you will be able to do so, the integrated storage is fairly limited and only Amazon content will be given unlimited storage space on their cloud servers.  Will it be possible to stream content, especially video, over your home network to the tablet?  That remains to be seen.

We also have to assume that a great deal of the functionality, as far as content access and even web browsing go, would be lost with the rooting of the device for whatever reason.  Amazon has been concerned enough with piracy in the past to make this something they will have taken into consideration, even if it means that some legitimate users will be inconveniences by it.

For your average user, still not really a bad deal.  You have access to movies, music, magazines, and even books, all at a reasonable price.  The Amazon Prime functionality becomes almost mandatory to get the most out of things, but it provides value far beyond its cost. Kindle Fire’s even light enough for one-handed use and can multi-task enough to play you music while you read or browse the web.

What would have made it even better?  In the future people are definitely hoping for a larger viewing area, expandable storage, optional 3G capabilities, and longer battery life.  Some of that fell to the side in order to allow the Kindle Fire to be priced so low.  Some of it, like the battery life, just isn’t reasonable yet.  Of course if we’re speculating about hardware that does not exist yet then I suppose full color, low power, non-backlit displays would be nice.  These things will happen when the tech is available, I would assume.  Better to do it right with what is mature right this minute than jump in too soon.

Should this take off, and I think we can all be pretty sure that it will after today’s reveal, expect to be seeing a larger, more powerful Kindle Tablet on the horizon.  Amazon supposedly spent time and manpower getting a 10″ tablet designed already, and they’ll need it to top this offering.  The competition will need some time to adjust, in the meantime.  It’s unlikely we’ll see such an affordable yet functional tablet from anybody else in the near future.

Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire – New Amazon devices announced…

Today, on September 28th, 2011, during Amazon press conference in New York, Jeff Bezos has announced several new versions of the Kindle Device: Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire and Kindle 4 mini.

Kindle Touch

 

Kindle Touch 3G

Will have a 6″ latest generation eInk. There will be no keyboard, not even page flipping buttons, with all features accessible via “easy reach” system touch interface. Touchscreen uses the same infrared technology as latest generation Sony eReaders. Kindle Touch is made of silver plastic (again similar to latest Sony eReaders). It will be available on November 21st with pre-orders starting today in two flavors – WiFi only for less than a $100.00 (!!!!) -$99 and 3G for $149. Amazon is pretty consistent with charging $50 for “lifetime unlimited 3G access available in over 100 countries”. It seems like the software has gotten an upgrade as well with the new X-Ray feature that lets you do rich text lookups that go beyond looking up single words in the dictionary. It seems to pull Wikipedia description of general concepts mentioned on the page you are currently reading.

Features and specs:

Kindle 4 (mini)

Kindle 4 mini

Same 6″ screen, but no touch, no keyboard, only with page flipping buttons. Because of this the device is both very compact and inexpensive. It is 18 smaller than Kindle 3 and weights under 6 ounces. Priced at only $79 with Special Offers and $109 without and shipping today. The device is actually called just “Kindle”, with Kindle 3 being creatively renamed into “Kindle Keyboard”.

Specs and feature:

  • Latest generation eInk Pearl screen (600×800 16 grayscale) – same as Kindle 3
  • Size: 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.34″
  • Weight: 5.98 oz. This is 2.5 ounces lighter than Kindle 3, and only 0.5 ounce more than Sony PRS-350
  • Storage: 2GB internal flash, with 1 1/4 GB available for user content
  • RAM: 512MB SDRAM memory
  • Battery: 1 month battery life
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g/n WiFi. No 3G option available at this time
  • Wired connectivity: micro-B USB 2.0 connector
  • Audio: headphone jack and built-in stereo speakers
  • Pricing:
  • Available: Can Order Now!

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Tablet

Amazon’s entry into the tablet market, currently dominated by Apple iPad. Kindle Fire features:

  • 7-inch color backlit LCD display based on IPS technology that allows good viewing from wide range of angles
  • LCD is protected with extra-strong Gorilla-glass.
  • Dual core ARM CPU
  • Weighs 14.6 ounces
  • Runs heavily modified version of Android operating system

Kindle Fire will have direct and easy access to a broad range of content:

  • First and foremost – over 1,000,000 (and counting…) of Kindle eBooks
  • Color versions of newspapers and magazines
  • 100,000 movies and TV shows streaming from Amazon. 11,000 of these are available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers
  • 17 million DRM-free MP3 songs
  • Amazon’s own Android app store.

Kindle Fire seems to rely heavily on Amazon Cloud Storage.

Same WhisperSync technology that synchronizes book reading position across multiple devices now works with movies and TV shows – it automatically remembers last watched position. You can resume watching the movie on your TiVo or any other Amazon-connected streaming video device.

Touch UI supports swipe gestures to bring out extra controls, very similar to Windows 8 concept. It looks nothing like vanilla Android. Homescreen features 3D carousel of most recently accessed content regardless of it’s type: in the demo Angry Birds game is shown right next to the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine and Kindle eBooks. OS supports multitasking. So you can listen to music while you are reading a book. You can pin any kind of content (including a website bookmark) to your Home screen bookshelf. Full color magazine display seems to be much smoother than with original version of Nook Color.

Browser user interface has tabs at the top. Kindle Fire features Amazon Silk – “cloud based mobile browser”. The browser automatically off-loads part of the page parsing and rendering to Amazon EC2 servers, helping the mobile device to load desktop oriented websites heavy with dynamic content and javascript quickly.

Price point is $199 as was previously announced. This includes 30-day trial of Amazon Prime service that normally sells as $79/year subscription. Kindle Fire ships on November 15th, 2011 with pre-orders starting today.

Specs and features:

  • Screen: 7″ backlit IPS LCD with multi-touch and gestures. 1024 x 600 resolution with 24 bit color
  • Size: 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″
  • Weight: 14.6 oz. This is 1.2 lighter than Nook Color
  • Storage: 8GB internal flash memory. No expansion slots (SD/MMC/etc) are available. It does however have access to Amazon Cloud Storage which is unlimited for Amazon content
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours on a single charge. Very similar to Nook Color. There is no cheating laws of physics there.
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g/n. No 3G option at this time
  • Wired connectivity: micro-B USB 2.0 connector
  • Audio: headphone jack and built-in stereo speakers
  • Data formats: on top of supporting the usual bunch that Kindle 3 supports, Kindle Fire adds native support for DOCX and a number of DRM-free audio-formats
  • OS: heavily modified Android
  • Sensors: Accelerometer
  • Digital content:
    • 1,000,000+ in-copyright books. 800,000+ of these are priced at $9.99 or below. Millions more – out of copyright
    • 100,000+ movies and TV shows available for streaming
    • 1000s of Android apps. This is only a subset of what’s available for Android. On the other hand, acceptance criteria is much higher so overall app quality is much better than you average Android app. Nook, Kobo app availability… I’m guessing not.
    • 17,000,000+ DRM-free Mp3 songs from Amazon MP3 store
  • Email client that works with major providers like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. Additional email support is available though apps that can be separately purchased.
  • One month trial of Amazon Prime.
  • Pricing: $199
  • Availability: Ships on November 15, 2011. Pre-orders available now.

Amazon Kindle Fire TV ad

Size comparison

I’ve added these new devices to the eReader Size Comparison page. So now you can visually compare how they stack.

  • Kindle Mini is smaller than Sony PRS-350 while featuring same buttons and screen size.
  • Kindle Touch is smaller than Nook Color again while featuring the same screen diagonal.

New “Kindle Fire” Tablet To Be Revealed On Wednesday

All year we have been getting bits of data, speculation, and supposedly leaked information about the upcoming Kindle Tablet.  This past month has seen huge dumps of information about the upcoming product, and today we’ve got even more thanks to TechCrunch.  In a press conference being held this Wednesday, we should get confirmation and all of the other information we’ve been waiting for.

Probably the first big revelation is the name.  In order to differentiate it from the Kindle eReader line, the new Tablet has apparently been dubbed the “Kindle Fire”.  This was actually hinted at several months back when people stumbled on Amazon’s acquisition of several Kindle related domains, including kindlefire.com.

We now know that the Kindle Fire will be feature a 7″ backlit screen that may look quite similar to the BlackBerry Playbook due to shared manufacturers and a lack of time to get the product out for this holiday season.  It will be using a custom fork of Android (probably built on the 2.1 base), but altered to the point of complete uniqueness.  This will be running on a TI dual-core OMAP chip, probably in the 1.2GHz range, putting the hardware in line with other newer Android devices.  Overall a strong offering.

Now, the existing Kindle line has effectively dominated the eBook market in the United States by bringing customers an impressive reading experience that improves value despite the inability to price their eBooks as competitively as the company might desire (Hooray for the Agency Model, right?).  If a similar relationship with customers can be achieved with the Kindle Fire, Amazon can completely turn the current hardware-based Tablet sales model on its head (Some reports indicate that as much as 90% of iPad based profit for Apple comes from hardware sales).

To pull this off, Amazon has been pulling together a great support base.  Major app developers have apparently been approached to get them ready for the launch, for one.  Also, quite importantly given the media-centric nature of this device, Amazon has been putting together deals with the likes of CBS and Fox  to secure access to extensive video content for the Amazon Instant Video service.

There is currently some question as to the exact nature of what will be offered as incentives to new users.  Some sources are saying that this will be a $250 Tablet PC with Amazon Prime bundled free for the first year, while others are claiming that there will be two packages available that will differ mainly in their inclusion of the Amazon Prime membership.

What we anticipate at this time is an announcement by Amazon that the Kindle Fire will be available either late October or early November.  This seems like a large delay between the press conference and first shipments, but Amazon is clearly under pressure from competition in both tablets and eReaders at the moment and needs to get ahead.

Check back on Wednesday for confirmation, revisions, and any other Kindle Fire news that we are able to bring you.

Is Windows 8 Bad News For Kindle Tablet?

There are two major factors favoring the success of the Kindle Tablet right now, aside from being backed by Amazon and all that that entails.  One is that it will be cheaper than pretty much all of the tablet competition, especially the big names like Apple.  Two is that it should be able to provide a consistent, centralized experience practically unheard of in the Android Tablet market today.

Pricing is a key issue, of course.  It will be incredibly hard for most companies to compete with Amazon since their media sales emphasis will allow them to sell hardware at or below cost while confidently expecting to make up the profits in post-sale usage.  The only really usable tablet in the same range is the Nook Color, which is mostly only succeeding by being great compared to other extremely cheap tablets.  If Amazon can manage to provide a genuinely superior experience at the same price, they will stand alone with good reason.

We can’t rely entirely on pricing to determine success, though.  The Pandigital Novel can often be found for $80 or less, but that doesn’t mean it is knocking the Kindle down from their place on top of eReader sales (despite being a color eReader, which many people claim is more important than screen quality or interface).

The act of creating a consistent Android experience, however, might soon be less useful than we might expect, should Windows 8 live up to its promise.  Microsoft’s new tablet-centric operating system seems to have a good chance of focusing tablets around a single unfragmented environment that has no ties to a specific manufacturer.  They’ve got media play capabilities, the full versatility of a Windows OS, an apparently highly streamlined design, and even an App Store.  It can be hard to argue with all that.

The Kindle Tablet will clearly be running lower powered hardware than most Windows tablets can be expected to, and will have a more consumption-focused experience.  The problem they are facing is less direct market competition and more a conflict of perception.  If the idea is to lure in consumers with something that is like an iPad in every way that matters besides the price, it will only work so long as the iPad is what people are using as the basis for comparison.  A $350 Windows tablet with superior hardware and a comparable user experience might be enough to derail the whole effort no matter what kind of incentives Amazon is able to throw in to sweeten the pot.

In the end everything will rest on how the two launches go.  Amazon has earned a great deal of customer loyalty through the Kindle platform, which goes a long way toward jump starting the new product.  Microsoft, on the other hand, has left many potential customers and developers a bit put off with the extremely different direction their newest product has taken things.  A failure to impress on the part of either company will mean a lot for the competition.

Kindle Tablet’s Android Fork A Smart Idea

Admittedly I was one of many people who were initially a bit shocked and disappointed by the news that the Kindle Tablet would run on a forked version of Android from a pre-3.0 base.  Since Android 3.0 was the first version optimized for tablets, and since I want the Kindle Tablet to be as useful a device as the Kindle, there seemed to be an important connection being missed somewhere along the line.  After a bit of further research, though, this could be a great move to establish the new ecosystem.

There were some analyst observations made recently that brought the truth of things out pretty well.  Essentially, since this isn’t just an early release of Android it may not matter quite as much that it isn’t based on the most recent release.  The best way to think of this may be as an alternative to Android.  The Kindle Tablet OS, by all accounts, is built on the Android base code but does not carry over any of the experience.  It seems like something of a slight to Google to take their offering and run in another direction with it, but that’s another matter entirely.

What makes this an observation worth making is the way it increases the Kindle Tablet’s potential for creating a real presence for itself.  On the developer end of things, Android development is forced to exist in such a fragmented environment at this point that there is no simple way to keep up with everything.  Amazon is in a position to immediately take a dominant position among non-iPad tablets.  The combination of a huge user base and a stable environment could be enough to persuade many developers to release software exclusively for the Kindle Tablet, even leaving out the ability to make assumptions about the hardware capabilities of the end user.  A greater selection of apps than competing tablets is a big draw for customers, if the iPad can be taken as an example.

On the customer end of things, Amazon has already proven to be more effective than Google in moderating the content of its own Android App Store.  They’ve also shown a fair degree of insight into meeting user demand, as demonstrated by the Kindle, Kindle Apps, and the Amazon.com websites in general.  Combine the expected $249 price with a unique and positive user experience and it is hard to argue with a purchase, especially compared to more expensive and less impressively backed competing tablets.

Yes, it would have been nice to see Amazon having used a more recent release as their starting point.  The fact that they didn’t does imply that they’ve been at work for quite a while making the best product possible.  The Ars Technica preview that brought so many of these details to our attention in the first place emphasized how fluid and intuitive the tablet was to use, so apparently they have made good use of that time.  While I will continue hoping for certain hardware improvements in the form of a high end Kindle Tablet(Hollywood?), there seems to be no reason to find fault with their software decisions at the moment.

Kindle Tablet Finally Sampled?

Earlier today, a TechCrunch reporter claims to have had a chance to play around with an actual working Kindle Tablet in a closely supervised situation.  Much of the information he came out with isn’t exactly what we were hoping to hear when the real details started to turn up, but everything does fit the current situation pretty well and there are no glaring discrepancies.  As with all unofficial reports it should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but for the time being it is probably safe to say this is our best picture of Amazon’s upcoming entry into the Tablet PC market.

Here’s what we have to work with:

  • 7″ Back-lit touchscreen of some description with no hybrid options(2 finger capacitive multi-touch)
  • Highly customized Android OS, possibly forked as early as Android 2.2
  • No physical controls aside from the power button
  • Possible single-core processor
  • As little as 6GB internal storage
  • WiFi Only at launch
  • Expandable memory slot
  • No camera
  • Bundled Amazon Prime Membership
  • $250 Price Tag
  • Late November 2011 Release Date

Clearly the high expectations of Kindle fans will not be met in their entirety.

There is a sense that Amazon is rushing this to market, even after all this time.  If a guess were required, I would say that it almost seems as if they were hoping to carry the day by using the next best thing in display technology to get the jump on everybody only to have that tech fail to manifest in time to be useful.  That aside, they’re still bringing plenty to the table to make a splash.

The Nook Color has managed to carve out a space for itself by being something of a budget iPad, for all its stated eReading emphasis.  Amazon can bring the same sort of value to the table, perhaps with a more impressive array of applications and support structure, and not even have to bother with the eReader facade.  We have to assume at this point that they won’t make the mistake of marketing this as a Kindle eReader, whether or not it’s capable of displaying books, given the whole anti-iPad LCD commercial campaign.

The focus on cloud storage and streaming will negate the obvious problem of minimal storage space to some extent, though Amazon seems to be gambling a lot on the ubiquity of wireless networks.  If the reporting article is to be believed, then the Android OS fork should be customized and optimized well beyond simply skinning Froyo and throwing out the standard Google App Marketplace, which means that it’s too early to judge anything based on that at this time.  Nobody really expected Amazon to include a completely open copy of Android anyway, right?

Just because this isn’t the ideal situation that would blow the iPad out of the water without any significant contest doesn’t mean it isn’t a great step.  Tablets put out by anybody but Apple have tended to fare poorly so far, as evidenced by the HP TouchPad debacle recently, but Amazon has the marketing, support, and name recognition to make it happen.  I still don’t think this will end up being a direct contest with just the Nook Color for most people, unless something gets reviewed particularly poorly at release.

Kindle Tablet Approaches, Amazon Prepares With Expanded Video Streaming

Amazon has just announced a large increase in the number of titles available through their Instant Video service, giving customers access to over 100,000 Movies and TV Shows.  Amazon Prime members can access over 9,000 of those selections at no extra cost beyond their existing membership fees.  While this is of course a good move in general, it works even better with the knowledge of a video-focused Kindle Tablet right around the corner.

There is some  fairly good evidence to support the theory that Amazon is getting ready to try to do with video what they already accomplished in eBooks with the Kindle.  Even if you leave aside the rumors of the Kindle ‘Hollywood’ Tablet, supposedly being produced for late 2011/early 2012 with lots of processing power and a larger screen than most tablets, the support structure is getting pretty large.  Already you can access Amazon Instant Video via many HDTVs, set-top boxes, BluRay players, TiVos, and more, even if you don’t like to watch video on your PC.  Like with the Kindle, once you purchase something you can access it through any device registered to your account.  For the most part this is even true of the Amazon Prime selections.

Up until now, the video library has been rather thin.  It was clear that Amazon was simply testing the waters and no real threat to any of the more established names in the field.  Now, however, things are getting more impressive.  You have a fairly good movie selection, admittedly heavily weighted to older titles (though not so much as was the case previously), and access to many TV shows within a day of airing.

Does this mean that Amazon is poised to shove Netflix out of the way and step into a well-deserved spot on top?  Not really.  By all accounts Netflix hasn’t even really noticed them enough to consider it real competition yet. Who knows what might change in the future, though, with Netflix customers quite vocally unhappy about the handling of recent price hikes due to a jump in operational costs.  It seems like just about everybody is trying to jump on the video streaming bandwagon right now, which means lots of competition but also lots of potential for a well-planned and well-supported endeavor.

With the upcoming Kindle Tablets, Amazon is in a highly advantageous position.  Not only can they advertise hardware optimized for video streaming and integrated directly into existing Amazon.com services of all sorts, but a simultaneous release of an Instant Video for Android App would earn them sales space on the vast majority of competing Tablet PCs.

Such an app would have to be something of an inevitability both because of the choice of OS for the Kindle Tablets and the fact that Amazon’s main goal seems to be harnessing media distribution rather than sales.  No need to completely close off the competing hardware if you are making your money elsewhere anyway.  The Kindle platform has given them a solid grip on the eReading market by being device-independent.  I think we can count on Amazon to have learned from their own success.

Amazon vs Apple App Store Battle Sees More Success In Germany Than US

The success of any Tablet PC is pretty much going to depend on the usefulness of the associated application offerings.  It would be hard to argue that this is anything but a major factor in the success of Apple’s iPad.  Naturally, with the Kindle Tablet in mind for the future, Amazon was depending on its App Store to make it big and have all sorts of fun stuff ready when the hardware launches.  The money to be made is not really in the hardware anymore for either of these companies, so it is no wonder that Apple is trying to corner the market on anything they can manage with regard to Apps.

So far, not much luck along those lines in the US.  While Apple is trying legal channels to prevent Amazon from calling its app store an app store, the judge asked to provide a preliminary injunction against Amazon’s use didn’t see them having much chance of success and turned down the request. It seems like a lot of the argument Apple is making is based on their assumption that Amazon will be happy to host viruses, malware, and porn, which would keep potential customers from trusting anything labeled with the same name.  Hard to see that going very far, in the long run, but time will tell.  The trial is set to start in October of 2012.

Just because their case does not seem to be going well so far in the US, however, doesn’t mean that it is dead in the water.  Germany’s response to the same lawsuit has resulted in Amazon being forced to close the door to new submissions for the time being.  Amazon is, of course, going to be spending a great deal of effort trying to defend their interests wherever they can, but for the time being there is no word and little room to speculate on when that situation might change.

On the one hand, it really doesn’t matter how it comes out one way or another.  If the name has to be changed to Amazon’s Android Emporium or something else ridiculous, it will only increase the potential for name recognition if they play it right and the functionality won’t be changing a bit.  Even in the unlikely event that Apple can pull this off, everybody else is going to do just fine.  On the other hand, anything that lets Amazon directly equate their new Kindles and Kindle Tablets to the iPad in peoples’ minds will work to their advantage as they push for maximum dispersal of the hardware.  Yes, the important part will be the device integration which won’t rely much on names anyway, but why not make it as clear as possible?

What will happen in the meantime as we lead up to the rulings in various locations, pretty much the only thing that we can be sure of is that nobody with a Tablet is going to want to go without apps.  It just wouldn’t really work.  Hopefully that will be an option for everybody who wants to when the Kindle joins that marketplace.

Despite Rumors, Kindle Tablet Unlikely To Target Only Nook Color Competition

After months of speculation and a fair amount of information pieced together from parts orders, supposed inside information, and extrapolation from Amazon’s more recent choices as they expand their reach, we have to assume that we have at least a pretty fair outline of what the upcoming Kindle Tablet is going to look like.  I would never simply trust a rumor, but enough of the little things add up and agree with each other lately that sudden conflicting information has to be viewed with some skepticism.  This is why, when perusing the latest set of stories, blogs, and whatnot, I was rather surprised to see a sudden turnaround in the speculation that points the proposed device at the same market as the Nook Color.  Apparently some people don’t think Amazon is quite ready for the larger game?

Tracing things back, the speculation along these lines seems to stem from a Business Insider article that simply cites “a source close to the company” as saying that it will basically be a color eReader with some apps on it.  They build this on top of earlier reports of underpowered processors and the anticipated lack of cameras and leave it at that.  For a couple reasons, I believe the evidence fails to support the argument.

Mostly, we know that in the time since the Kindle Tablet rumors started going out Amazon has built up its app store, cloud storage, cloud based music system, and video streaming library.  Every one of these would integrate impressively will a full tablet offering and do next to nothing for a dedicated eReader, even if it were color.  There are uses for each of these things as pieces to the Amazon.com experience, but they don’t seem like they could have a huge impact in any area taken as individual enterprises.  A unifying experience is necessary to explain the overall plan.

Leaving aside the arguments about hardware speculation, since those bits of information don’t give us information on what what display technology the Kindle Tablet line will take advantage of and therefore leave too much to the imagination so far in my opinion, I could see this simply as a misinterpretation of the situation by all parties.  We have indicati0ns that there will be at least two Kindle Tablet offerings this year, including a 7″ and a 10-11″. The fact that the smaller, lower powered version of these does not compete well with the specs of the iPad may well make it smarter to market as an eReading Tablet rather than a fully powered Tablet PC.

I think the general idea is going to be a staggered release, in the end.  The fact that the first, smaller Kindle Tablet will be released alongside the new Kindles may make it a transition point between Amazon’s eReaders and Tablets.  Easily advertised as the next step in eReading and focused overtly on tying that experience in, but without any of the initial restrictions that crippled the Nook Color as a Tablet on release.  To say that Amazon is not focused on the iPad competition still seems naive, since we can expect something much more powerful and functional in the next 6 months.

The Amazon Kindle’s International Future

At the moment, and in spite of some admittedly impressive competition, the Kindle is pretty much the biggest thing in eReading.  In a given review or opinion, another eReader might come out on top as the new Nook Simple Touch Reader has managed to do lately, but nothing else has managed the level of distribution and quality of content that Amazon has pulled off so far.  The margin isn’t all that it used to be, though.  In order to keep on top of things, they are going to have to do more than we have seen in the past couple months.  While it would not be entirely out of line to assume that the current focus on the upcoming Kindle Tablet might be drawing attention away from the existing product line, I think there may be more to it than that.

The Kindle, as it stands right now in terms of both the physical eReader and the platform as a whole, is limited in a number of ways.  The current level of control being exerted by publishers prevents any one-upsmanship in terms of pricing.  Amazon has some of the smaller names experimenting with sale offerings, but we have to assume that even if companies start buying into the idea of discounted eBooks it will not be a platform specific thing.  That avenue is closed for now.  They’re doing a rather good job of getting a lot of self publishing authors into their stores, which helps, but assume that at the moment there is not much that can be done to fix up the store as we know it.

The device itself is also pretty much at the peak of what we can hope for.  It has the best screen technology available, amazing battery life, whatever connectivity options you want, and a lot more.  About the only thing left to complain about is the physical keyboard.  I think this is the first place we can expect major change is here.  We know that one of the new Kindle options we can expect in October will be a touchscreen eReader.  Not only will this reduce the size of the Kindle without losing the functionality of the admittedly difficult to use keyboard and appease the crowd of people who really don’t like physical buttons anymore, it will allow true localization.  Hard to really pull that off when every device you sell has a built-in English keyboard.

This also brings up what I believe will be the next big stage in Kindle expansion.  Right now, while a hit in some places, the Kindle platform seems to only be dominating in the US.  Amazon has the experience and resources to spread out a bit.  I would anticipate, following the release of the Kindle Touch and the first generation of the Kindle Tablet (and, of course, the initial patching stage to iron out the bugs), a big effort to get the Kindle out to any market that Amazon thinks is large enough to be worth tackling.  Possibly even before localized firmware is a reality, but with a promise of fully integrated language selection as a later option.  There isn’t any reason to hold back now, and stagnation would lose them the edge.  Amazon has to keep moving and this is the only way that really makes sense as far as eBooks go.

New Amazon Kindles Coming This October?

In all of the speculation about the potential for a Kindle Tablet release later this year, few people have speculated much on the future of the Kindle itself.  Possibly we’re simply running out of good ideas to improve the device without causing a problem with the streamlined user experience?  Whatever the reason, we now have news that there are indeed two completely new Kindles on the way.  A recent Wall Street Journal article has indicated, based on sources familiar with the matter, that this October we can expect to be seeing both a newer, cheaper Kindle of the type we are already used to, and a Kindle with a touchscreen.

While at a glance the Kindle Touch, or whatever Amazon chooses to call it, seems to be a reaction to the incredibly popular new Nook Simple Touch, the timing makes that less of an issue.  October is also the anticipated release month for the first piece in the new Kindle Tablet line.  Many people have been wondering if this meant the death of the Kindle, either by way of abandonment in favor of the newer product, or simply by eroding the existing customer base by offering an affordable alternative that does more than can be handled by existing eReaders.  The latter is far-fetched, since customers have shown a distinct appreciation for dedicated reading devices so far and seem more inclined toward dual-ownership rather than abandonment of the Kindle in favor of any tablet.  The former was a concern, but by launching the new Kindles at the same time as the Kindle Tablet, Amazon has the opportunity to provide what I assume will be their first sub-$100 eReader, as well as a new more advanced model, and thereby reaffirm their commitment to providing a dedicated reading experience for their Kindle customers.

Assuming that Amazon can be counted on to take advantage of the time remaining before the release to address any remaining shortcomings in their design as compared to the competition, such as the Nook’s current superiority in terms of speed boosts and social networking integration, these new Kindles can’t really help but make a splash.  The move at least partially away from the physical keyboard will even leave open the potential for true localization of the newer model without retooling the hardware for every country they decide to open a Kindle Store in.  The fact that many expect the Kindle Tablet to come with a customized front end for the Amazon.com site that is geared toward optimized tablet shopping will almost certainly bode well for the new Kindle as well, should it prove true.

It isn’t going to be the color E Ink eReader that many people were, I think, hoping for.  It would just be too much of a shock to see the price of the Kindle’s newest model jump to accommodate the higher production costs of something like that.  That does not mean that the Kindle Tablet won’t pick up the ball as far as that demand is concerned, though.  Time will tell what needs Amazon has chosen to prioritize, but it is heartening to see that they won’t be letting eReading become a minor aspect of their bigger media distribution effort.

Amazon Kindle Tablet Rumor Recap

There have been a lots of theories, rumors, and “leaked” information floating around for the past couple months about what we all assume will be the new Kindle Tablet (or Tablets) later this year.  Lately, even the Wall Street Journal has printed a few bits of information coming from a “reliable source”.  It all adds up to a potentially impressive picture that a lot of us are looking forward to.  I thought, as a result, that it might be useful to go over what we think we know so far.

The Probable

  • Reports from various sources say that at least one Kindle Tablet, almost certainly the first of a series, will be released before the end of the year.  Possibly as early as October.
  • The Kindle Tablet will not compete with the Kindle, or result in its being discontinued.
  • The new Tablet PC will be running some variation of Google’s Android 3.0 or later, with seamless integration into Amazon’s Android App Store.
  • The focus will be on media consumption, with streaming video being strongly emphasized
  • The first Kindle Tablet will likely have a 9″ screen.
  • Prices on any and all Tablet PC offerings from Amazon are expected to undercut iPad 2 prices.
  • The initial stock order is sufficiently large that selling out should not be a problem.
  • There will be no camera.
  • An improved mobile shopping experience will be a major issue for Amazon’s new device.

The Possible

  • Some sources have claimed that two Kindle Tablet models will be available at launch, codenamed ‘Coyote’ and ‘Hollywood’.  The former would be a low powered, but affordable option with either a 7″ or 9″ screen.  The latter would feature more impressive hardware and a 10+” screen.
  • In order to fill as many niches as possible, Amazon plans to offer pocket-sized devices similar to the iPod Touch eventually, and maybe even a Kindle Phone.
  • The Kindle Tablet could be priced at or below cost in order to bolster sales, with any deficiencies made up through advertising space on the Tablets themselves.
  • Amazon may have some deals in the works with AT&T to provide 3G connections to the Tablets.
  • It is hoped that the displays for the Kindle Tablet line will take advantage of newer, more power conserving technology, based on Amazon’s criticisms of LCD shortcomings in previous ad campaigns.

A fair amount to go on so far, especially since Amazon has declined to even officially confirm the existence of the new device.  The only things we can be completely sure of are that Amazon has a Tablet PC in the works, they are anticipating strong sales based on manufacturer information, and it is unlikely that the Nook Color is the intended competition.  Amazon seems to have their sights set a little higher than Barnes & Noble’s almost unintentionally impressive budget Tablet.

Given that some rumors place the announcement and release as early as August, and that almost all of the more well sourced ones mention 3rd quarter 2011, it is certain that we’ll know more definite details soon.  In the meantime, it might be a good time to hold off on impulsively buying the next cool looking Tablet on the market.  Amazon has done a pretty good job of proving they know what they’re doing via the Kindle.  It should be worth the wait to see how they hold up on their next big hardware push.

First Quarter Analysis Puts Barnes & Noble Nook Line Ahead of Amazon Kindle

A recent report from the International Data Corporation has provided an analysis of the Tablet PC and eReader markets for the first quarter of 2011.  Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and their respective markets in general are doing quite well, with eReader growth at 105% over the past year and tablets not doing too bad either.  Although demand did not grow quite as much as expected, for a variety of reasons, things are improving.

Right now the Barnes & Noble Nook product line is on top in terms of worldwide sales for the first time, beating out the Kindle a bit.  IDC attributes this in part to the introduction of the popular Nook Color, for which this was the first full quarter of sales.  While many have leaped at the chance to interpret this as an indication that the Nook Color is single-handedly outselling the Kindle, no indication of such is made in the article.  Instead, it seems likely that the Barnes & Noble Nook line’s incorporation of both a dedicated eReader and a budget Tablet PC has proven a smart move, especially with their managing to classify their tablet as a primarily reading focused device.  This does not necessarily mean that the Kindle is doing poorly in any way, but it does indicate fairly well that the expansion of the Kindle line to incorporate a variety of Tablets will come at a great time for Amazon.  The eReader market is expected to continue to expand, and IDC has increased their number of expected unit sales for the year.  Current forecasts call for 16.2 eReaders shipped worldwide in 2011.

On the tablet front, the iPad and newly released iPad 2 are continuing to dominate the market.  Though sales fell short of expectations in the post-holiday season, due to both current economic conditions and certain supply chain issues, there was still noticeable expansion and the rest of the year is looking strong.  Worst off have been the iPad’s competitors who choose to concentrate on distribution through telecommunication venues.  Due perhaps to customer reluctance to get locked into a monthly fee with their purchases, the demand in these areas is growing comparatively slowly.

Amazon’s anticipated third quarter tablet release is definitely looking like it has a chance at making a major impact on the Tablet PC space.  Due to firmly established distribution channels and an existing support structure, the device or devices can expect to be better received than most.  Should Amazon meet their expected sales numbers, as estimated from reports of supply orders made in anticipation of the upcoming release, they could jump to a 5% share of the Tablet market within months of release.

Given the success of the Nook line in the eReader market in a period when they were offering a fairly outdated eReader and an underpowered Tablet, it can be assumed that the combination of the current generation Kindle and the upcoming high-powered Kindle Tablet will provide Amazon with just the versatility needed to get firmly in place as a hardware provider in the months ahead.

eReader Growth Outpaces Tablets as Kindles Catch On

A recent survey by Pew Research Center shows growth in both eReader and Tablet PC markets.  The ownership base for Kindle and Nook owners has doubled in the 6 months from November 2010 to May 2011, ending up at an impressive 12% of those polled.  Tablet ownership, over the same period, has seen a 3% jump.  The breakdown is about what one might expect in a lot of ways.  While it might just be a matter of curiosity for most at the moment, studies like this will be what determines the immediate future of these devices. The study takes into account 2,277 adults aged 18 and up.

Owners of eReaders like the Kindle are fairly evenly broken across the genders.  Parents are more likely to have picked up an eReader in the last six months than people without kids under 18.  The greatest growth among surveyed ethnic groups was in Hispanics, who jumped from 5% ownership to 15%.  The only group that seems to have dropped off in terms of eReader ownership was High School non-graduates, who went from 5% to 3%.  College graduates predictably jumped the most.

Tablet ownership grew along similar lines, though not necessarily the same ones.  Men, for example, are significantly more likely to own a tablet than women, with a large number of those surveyed saying that being able to impress others with their purchase was a priority.  This might have played into age demographic differences as well, since tablets showed the most growth in the 18-29 bracket.  eReaders, by comparison, did best with those 30-49. In the case of tablets, ownership among college graduates was actually outpaced by that of those with partial college completion.  Hispanics still lead the pack among reported ethnic groups.

Basically, everybody likes their new gadgets.  Men, especially younger men, are fond of the flashiness of the tablets.  Slightly older people of both genders are getting into the eReader market.  Overall, tablets are still lagging a bit behind, in spite of early predictions that they would spell the end of the eReader.  Possibly this has to do with the lack of serious competition among tablet makers, in which case we’ll likely be seeing some different numbers this time next year.  More likely would be that this is an indication of a trend toward dual-ownership.  A good 3% of those surveyed confirm that they have both types of device on hand.

For now, there are already groups where as many as 20% of those surveyed have adopted eReaders.  There has been noticeable growth in all households with an income greater than $30,000 per year.  Households over $75,000 per year are of course doing the most shopping for portable electronics, but the difference in growth between this and other income brackets is not as pronounced as it is among tablet owners.  They seem to be cheap enough to be accessible to, and appealing to, pretty much everybody.  Pricing the Kindle at just $114 might be the smartest move Amazon could have made.  It will likely surprise nobody if the upcoming Kindle Tablet undercuts the competing iPad by more than a little bit to take advantage of the trends.

Kindle Tablet to Hit the Market in October

I haven’t seen an official Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) announcement yet, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the Kindle Tablet and two other Kindle upgrades are set to arrive in October.  The Kindle Tablet that has been under speculation for months will directly compete with the iPad, while a new touch version of the Kindle will compete with the Nook and Kobo Touch editions.

To be honest, in a matter of personal preference, I am more excited about the possibility of a touch version of the Kindle because I’m not a big fan of the keyboard.  Whenever this does get release, I’ll be ready to upgrade my Kindle.  The keys are way too small and somewhat difficult to press.  However, when the touch version does arrive, there will need to be some kind of audio enabled to make sure it is accessible for people with disabilities.

As for the tablet.  This is exciting news, but the iPad has a pretty solid hold on the tablet market, and is said to be successful on into the next year.  So, I think that it will be awhile before the Kindle Tablet will make a huge dent in iPad sales.  There are also a number of other tablets to choose from as well.  Although, I will say, a much cheaper Kindle Tablet might just give Amazon a good start in the tablet game, as will the well liked Android operating system.  I see the iPad to the tablet market as the Kindle is to the e-reader market.  They are both the inventors of their own niches, and were the only ones to hold their niches for a good length of time.

Lastly, there will be an upgrade on the current version of the Kindle.  It will be similar in structure, but include better features and a lower price.  Prices are dropping constantly.  Amazon just dropped the Kindle 3G Special Offers version from $164 to $139.  So, perhaps a $99 or less version of the Kindle is in the near future?  We can only hope!

Kindle Apps: The Future, or A Flop?

One of the first fun hidden Kindle features that a lot of people were surprised to discover was the hidden Minesweeper game. It is still there, by the way, when you hit Alt-Shift-M on your home screen.  The big deal was that it provided people with an example of something the device could do besides reading.  The Kindle made a lot of people nervous because of how narrowly focused it was.  Nobody likes a single-purpose gadget, in theory.  By having something more right there for people to see, it kept the options open.  These days, with the Kindle on top and nobody left questioning the usefulness of an eReader for many people, it isn’t so much of a priority.

Now, I’ve found several Kindle apps helpful on a fairly regular basis.  The Notepad app from 7 Dragons is useful in all sorts of situations and tends to make the keyboard on my Kindle more useful than the annotation features.  Calendar Pro is another that just made sense for a device that I carry around with me all the time anyway. That doesn’t mean that there are all that many potential uses for that kind of software.  The processing power of the Kindle, along with the drawbacks of the E Ink Pearl screen when used for non-reading purposes, severely limits the possibilities.  We still have games, of course.  There are fun word games, board games, and that whole selection.  A whole “less is more” approach to design has forced some interesting and often entertaining innovation.  It’s still a sharply limited area with little in the way of potential for the future.

I’ve seen some complaints that a real Kindle Apps Store has failed to develop.  In fact, Amazon has failed to even bring forth some of the basic features that people were hoping for, like customizable screen savers.  This demonstrates a certain lack of commitment to the field, one would think.  The problem is that there is just not a lot of room to grow outside of what has been done.  Refinement, sure, but that’s it.  The upcoming Kindle Tablet, with its accompanying focus on the Android platform, would seem to illustrate Amazon’s understanding of that.  They couldn’t build on what they had anymore, so they moved on.

If I had to make a guess, I would say that there will be no new major, officially supported, non-reading capability added to the Kindle eReader line. There is simply more room to grow app capability in the tablet market, and Amazon has to be hoping to convert Kindle owners into Kindle Tablet owners as they get ready for the release. Lessons were probably learned about how to deal with app sales, though perhaps not to the same extent that they have been from the Android App Store, and it will translate into superior quality when the new, more powerful devices come along.  The app for the Kindle wasn’t a bad idea, but I think it has mostly run its course now.  We’ll see a bit more tweaking, some vying for dominance in the few truly useful application niches, and many more diverting games, but real innovation might need to focus more on the future Kindle Tablet offerings.

Why Amazon’s Upcoming Kindle Tablet Has A Chance Against The iPad

It is not surprising to see me claiming that the Kindle is a great product, nor that the Kindle Tablet line is likely to be impressive.  The former point is by now, I think, borne out as more than simply personal bias.  The latter, while possibly wishful thinking given the lack of official detail so far, is based on a few points that seem to make sense to me.  I’ll admit right at the outset that I’m not a market analyst, product tester, or specialist of any really useful sort when it comes to these things.  I still just think that it makes a lot of sense.

The most important point that I see in favor of Amazon’s potential success is the marketing.  So far, nobody has even come close to marketing a tablet as heavily as the iPad has been by Apple.  On the occasions when you see much at all from the competition, they tend to be focusing on specific points of technical superiority.  As far as I can tell, the average consumer is less concerned with what goes on behind the scenes than anything else about their device.  That’s where Apple has managed to do so well up until now.  They make a point of providing devices that “just work” without any knowledge or skill necessary.  Amazon, along the same lines, has demonstrated well by now that they know how to point out what their potential customers might want to know without getting too technical.

The same basic theory applies to the product itself.  Yes, there are some customers who will undoubtedly want to make use of the configurability that an Android Tablet provides to get the most out of every bit of potential the hardware has to offer.  What will make the Kindle Tablet stand out, however, is a clean, understandable, and heavily supported user experience that any customer can pick up in no time at all.  Whether or not existing tablets offer this, and some do to at least some extent, this is something that Amazon is known to do well based on both the Kindle as we know it today and the Amazon.com site as a whole.

I’m also hoping, of course, that they choose to make a big deal out of screen technology.  Now, I love the iPad.  I find all sorts of uses for it.  The LCD screen is, in my personal opinion, its weakest point.  If Amazon can release a Kindle Tablet with an optionally back-lit screen, not only should battery life make them stand out impressively, but general use will improve to the point where people cannot help but take notice.  Now, we can’t know for sure that this will happen, but after having an entire ad campaign devoted to pointing out the shortcomings of the iPad’s LCD screen, I think it is fairly inevitable.

All of this makes the assumption, of course, that Amazon will be able to undercut Apple on tablet pricing.  At present, Kindle Tablet pricing is estimated to be around $399 at launch.  This would give them a jump on the iPad even with an underpowered device.  Look how well the Nook Color did even before B&N realized that it didn’t work as just a dedicated eReader.

Why We May Not See Any Changes To Kindle For iOS

As many of you may be aware, the deadline for app developers to comply with Apple’s new competition stifling rules is the end of this month.  So far, no changes are evident in either the Amazon Kindle for iOS app or even the Barnes & Noble Nook app.  While it would seem odd for this to be the case this close to the deadline, I’m thinking it might be a carefully made decision on Amazon’s part.

We know by now, or at least are overwhelmingly confident, that there will be a Kindle Tablet coming later this year.  By releasing something like that, Amazon sets themselves up for a far more justified version of the old Kindle vs iPad debate.  They need to set themselves apart as a device company.  The way I see it, Android isn’t enough at this point.  Too many other people are already working with it.  Even having their own on-site app store won’t necessarily wow anybody.  Some good publicity would help though.

Assume for a moment that the Kindle for iOS app doesn’t get changed in any way before the June 30th deadline.  Apple will then have two choices.  They can either follow through on threats to remove apps in violation of the new rules or they can publicly admit that they need what these developers bring to the table.  I think it’s likely that banning will occur.

Amazon’s response to this, if planned correctly, could be huge publicity.  I would expect something along the lines of a public statement explaining that the Kindle Store simply cannot productively operate under the restrictions that Apple is trying to place on it, but that as a service to their loyal customers the app will be chopped down to comply with the new rules enough so that existing customers can still read what they’ve bought while Amazon examines other solutions.  Then, a month or two down the line, a full roll-out of Kindle for the Web that completely bypasses the need for apps.

Yes, under the new rules Amazon could just raise prices of in-app purchases to make up the margin that Apple is demanding.  This would bring them nothing but ill will from the average Kindle for iOS user, though.  With the new line of Kindle Tablets pending, these are the same customers that Amazon has to be hoping to win away.  Probably not the smartest thing to pass on fees to them.

They could also choose to simply announce that all purchases must be done on the website and do away with the in-app purchasing links.  I think that’s probably what will happen with the post-banning reboot of the app, should my scenario prove true, but it would cause the loss of impulse buying opportunity for a large portion of the Kindle user base without also providing any sort of good PR.  I just don’t see that making sense right now.

We’ll know by the end of the month, of course, but right now there hasn’t been any intention to comply expressed by Amazon.  Most likely, they’ll just stand by and watch Apple shoot themselves in the foot while pointing out that the Kindle makes a great, affordable eReader alternative to putting up with that sort of ridiculousness.  The Kindle for iOS app doesn’t seem likely to be as profitable for the company under the new guidelines anyway, so they might as well get that preemptive jump on Apple in the public eye.

High-End Kindle Tablet Made For Video Streaming?

As the weeks go by and the holiday sales season gets ever closer, we get more and more details about the upcoming Kindle Tablets.  Yes, their very existence has only been hinted at in anything resembling official Amazon.com communication, but we know it’s coming.  It’s only a matter of figuring out in what forms and with what focus.  Now we have a bit more of a line on what the higher-end option of what appears to be the initial release group will be.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to find out that the Kindle Tablet reportedly codenamed “Hollywood” would have a visual media focus to it.  Now, though, we have a bit more to go on than random conjecture based on that name.  A recent report note from investment firm Detwiler Fenton indicates that the anticipated tablet will have a 10″ color screen as well as a bundled trial of an Amazon video streaming service such as, or possibly exactly the same as, that offered at the moment as a perk to Amazon Prime members.  It will also feature significantly more processing power than the other Kindle Tablet offering or offerings expected to launch around the same time, which when added to the anticipated pricing of around $399 would seem to make it a very real threat to the industry leading iPad.

Now, we know that Amazon has been doing so amazingly well with the existing Kindle line because of their focus on selling content for the whole platform rather than simply a line of physical eReading devices.  Rumors go so far as to say that the Kindle itself is being sold near cost.  It makes sense, by extension, that they will want to continue this approach in other forms of media if possible. Video makes perfect sense, as does music.  They have a presence in the retail market for both, in addition to the app marketplace that we have to assume will work exceptionally well with the new Kindle Tablets.  I anticipate an expansion of all of these either in terms of content or functionality before the launch, of course.

If the Kindle ‘Hollywood” Tablet is going to be pointed at the iPad, like many of us are assuming, it will only really have a chance if Amazon can compete successfully against the iTunes store.  That means streaming audio and video, cloud storage, and an amazing selection.  Nothing less will do.  Right now the Amazon Instant Video Store is a decent start, but it only does so much.  We are definitely likely to see an expansion of the offerings by the holidays as well as an extended Amazon Prime membership benefit list that takes advantage of it.  What else happens will depend in large part on what the other new Kindle offerings are focussed on.  A pocket-sized Kindle, perhaps, with a heavy music or audiobook emphasis?  There are a bunch of different openings for new media-consumption devices that remain to be exploited.  You have to admit, though, video is a great start.

Kindle Tablet to Reinvent Mobile Shopping

While you can definitely grab whatever eBooks you might be interested in reading directly through your Kindle‘s connection to Amazon.com, there is no denying that you can get all the information you need about a potential buy more easily by pulling it up on your computer’s web browser.  Part of that is the E Ink screen, with its associated monochrome display and slow refresh rate.  Apparently this is a big problem across the board with mobile devices, however.  Research has been done that indicates that the majority of shopping is done from desktop computers or laptops rather than more portable devices.  Those tend to be a less successful avenue for sales efforts so far.

This is part of why the Kindle Tablet seems to be such an integral part to the future of Amazon and other online retailers.  While the trend is likely to take a long while, there are indications that we are moving into something of a post-PC marketplace.  At least as far as daily home use is concerned. If you’re on a computer, you tend to be at the computer with a significant portion of your attention directed at it.  With a tablet or a smartphone, you can simply be on the internet while doing something completely unrelated.  Plenty of people already have trouble going anywhere without being connected.

It is hard to pin down precisely why the online shopping experience hasn’t quite kept up for people, but Jeff Bezos had some comments on the subject a short time ago.  He said, among other things, that at present browsing on a smartphone tends to be “a marginal experience in many cases”.  This is a temporary thing, of course.  As smartphones and tablets advance, they get more powerful, more versatile, and generally more enjoyable in every way.  At the same time, web developers are learning more ways to accommodate these browsers and the many non-PC features that they bring to the browsing experience.

The acknowledgement of the situation is important in understanding the potential for the Kindle Tablet.  Yes, it is likely to be placed as something extending the Kindle eReader line.  More important, however, is its extension of the Amazon.com website.  Call it a bridge between the Kindle and Amazon.com, maybe.  There is going to be a huge advantage for Amazon in that they will not only be controlling their own app ecosystem in the form of the Amazon Android App Store, but also offering their entire website in a form that is perfectly compatible with the tablet people are browsing on.  After all, the company itself is involved as every stage at this point so they can make sure it all works smoothly.  They know what the device, or devices, can do.  They know what changes need to be made to make everything show up smoothly.  There is even the possibility of a customized front end specifically for tablet user browsers.  Even leaving aside considerations of a Kindle Phone or any Kindle Tablet option with 3G access and the advantage that Amazon would gain by connecting their users to the site 24/7, this looks good.