People have generally assumed that Amazon was subsidizing the Kindle Fire to some degree. Analysts have estimated that the cost of materials and manufacturing was roughly equal to the asking price and when the first Kindle Fire was launched it was suspected that Amazon could be losing as much as $15 per device to keep the costs down.
When the first Kindle eReader was released, Amazon’s position was that the hardware had to justify its existence by providing profits separate from the digital content sales it encouraged. With the frequent price drops that have occurred in the past few years, that’s obviously harder to stick to. The Kindle was first priced at $399 and sold out in a matter of hours. Now you can get a basic Kindle for just $69, so it’s hard to imagine the money coming in at the same rate.
The new position makes more sense given Amazon’s digital content ecosystem. Bezos has come out and said, for the first time, “We sell the hardware at our cost, so it is break-even on the hardware.” It isn’t a surprise and it certainly isn’t going to upset the status quo, but the confirmation of even fairly obvious suppositions breaks the secretive pattern that generally surrounds Amazon’s hardware business.
This is a convenient way to highlight the differences in sales philosophy between major competitors at a time when Android tablets are drawing roughly equivalent in both price and performance while Apple is rumored to be releasing a smaller version of the iPad before the holidays.
Apple, for example, is not known for releasing any hardware they can’t make at least a 40% profit from. This is the biggest point against the constant rumors of iPad Mini development. The only reason it’s becoming likely that Apple will release a smaller iPad at this point is the possibility of being shut out of a growing market. Even then we can expect them to be getting significant return on each sale. They’re not a company that’s willing to settle for the 30% cut they get from every sale of associated content.
Google, on the other hand, sells their Nexus 7 at cost with the expectation of a different return. Yes they have a return from their Google Play sales, but the real money is in information acquisition. Android is available for free to anybody who wants to use it because unless significant effort is made to avoid it, Android ties people into the Google system. That means more marketing data and more potential for advertising revenue.
Amazon’s course, hoping that cheap devices will result in such a significant increase in sales that it will be worth the initial investment so long as no money is actually being lost on the hardware itself, may be the least obviously profitable of these. Their experience and expertise when it comes to suggested sales and media serving make it totally believable that the Kindle encourages people to read four times as much as they normally would, but it’s not something that many other companies could hope to pull off.
This is not the first time we’ve heard talk of a miniature iPad. In fact, I’ve detailed here on the site exactly how little sense it makes for Apple to release such a device on more than one occasion. Despite the ongoing lack of such a device from Apple, people keep declaring that it is right around the corner waiting to wipe out the Kindle Fire on a moment’s notice. For once, they might be half right.
The cost analysis I did in the past is still relatively accurate. Apple has a reputation for putting comparatively large markups on their devices. An iPad Mini that offered them minimal profits would definitely not be attractive in most cases, especially since it would inevitably eat into existing iPad sales to some extent.
Let’s assume, however, that they have found a way to cut costs significantly. The latest rumors are pointing to a seven inch tablet that lacks the Retina display Apple devices are becoming known for. It would also have comparatively little on-board storage space and other such corner cutting measures to being margins up to acceptable levels. The big question is why they would bother?
Let’s face it, there has not been a good substitute to the iPad thus far. No matter how much I love the Kindle Fire, it is a very limited device. That’s all it was ever intended to be. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is the closest anybody has come and even there, it’s hard to decide. The situation has changed recently though.
Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, and the anticipated Nexus 10 follow-up, makes a compelling argument in favor of Android as a viable tablet OS. No other Android device has managed to create such a positive general use experience for such a lot price. Apple might feel the need to respond to that somewhat.
More likely, however, would be the rise of the Windows 8 tablet. The recently previewed Surface tablet developed in-house by Microsoft is powerful, easy to use, and fairly obviously aimed at besting the iPad feature for feature. If they price it to match as well, Apple might finally be in a bit of trouble despite the large existing user base locked into their ecosystem.
The new Kindle Fire 2 might play into the equation as well, but that’s a long shot. Amazon did take the Android world by storm last year when they priced their device well below anything comparable. It is likely that this low pricing will continue and that customers will get a great value out of the next Kindle Fire as well. Even a ten inch tablet from Amazon is hardly going to trouble Apple at this point given the more serious competition that is showing up lately, though.
An iPad Mini could bite into Kindle Fire sales if it is ever released. Price and name recognition go a long way. Nothing has better name recognition than the iPad so a model priced at or below $300 would likely be a huge hit. It wouldn’t make much sense for Amazon’s device to be the reason for that sort of release, though. The Kindle Fire has never been direct competition as a general purpose tablet. It’s just a good way to get your Amazon content conveniently delivered.
There is essentially no competition to be found between the Kindle Fire and any imaginable Windows 8 Tablet at this time. I’ve touched on this a bit here already immediately following the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it’s come up in emails and various other places often enough since then to be worth revisiting. They are catering to completely different needs, price ranges, and purposes. I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to anybody, but let’s hit the high points again.
The comparison ends up being very similar to that of the iPad vs the Kindle Fire. It is inevitable that people will compare them. After all, they are both tablets. Add to that the fact that they are both extremely popular and that each is backed by one of the biggest companies in the world right now and the parallels are too clear to ignore. Stepping past the most superficial aspects gives us a much more meaningful understanding.
In the case of Windows 8, we’re looking at a tablet OS that is deliberately formed into something that could replace a laptop. The Surface is the ideal example, as you would expect when Microsoft designed both hardware and software sides of things. Users get productivity apps along the lines of a full Office suite, a well-integrated social media sharing system, and more. If you could possibly want to do it on a tablet, or on a portable computing device in general, Windows 8 is probably somehow equipped for that.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, doesn’t even come with full Android functionality. It is an Amazon device meant for consuming Amazon media services. You don’t get much in the way of access to third party programs. Even media coming in from a non-Amazon source isn’t always supported as well as one might like. I can recall a few occasions when the lack of a decent codec pack was problematic. If a particular user’s situation demands it then they can certainly install some approximation of office apps and such, but the experience will be less than ideal and there is no way to significantly improve it.
There is a reason that the Kindle Fire is priced so far below things like the iPad and, presumably, the Surface. You wouldn’t be wrong to guess that part of it is simply an inability to compete at that price point, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either. Amazon is using the tablet in a different way and not even really trying to compete.
There will always be implicit comparisons. Not only will they come up with the big names in the tablet market, but the Kindle Fire will forever be lumped in with the Android Market as people try to figure out who is doing well. In reality, it doesn’t even belong there. Their device is being sold cheaply, maybe even at cost even now, specifically because it doesn’t matter how much they make on the hardware.
Anybody who uses a Kindle Fire, however briefly, is a win for the company simply because they are then tied into the media network where Amazon is really interested in making their money. They don’t want to make a tablet that can be everything for everybody, just to add a bit of incentive to choose them for any digital media needs one might have.
I’ve gone over the fact that choosing a Kindle Fire or iPad isn’t really a tough decision before. They are completely different devices that offer drastically different capabilities to their users. A Kindle Fire could no more replace everything an iPad does than it could a traditional Desktop PC, but buying an iPad to do nothing more than what the Kindle Fire is capable of is wasteful at best. There is some speculation that this will be changing in the fairly near future, however, and we have to wonder how well Amazon can hope to pull off a direct confrontation.
Their strength has been the ability to present a device that does exactly what it sets out to do, does it well, and doesn’t claim to be able to do anything more. The Kindle eReader can be adapted to type on if a user feels like it, but Amazon never advertises it as a tool for that. The Kindle Fire was provided with just enough power to handle movie watching and most common apps. To be able to compete with an iPad on Apple’s terms, Amazon would have to be prepared for just about anything a user would want to do.
Some of these things are easy. Cameras, which most people are either convinced or at least hopeful that the Kindle Fire 2 will have, would go a long way toward making it a better communications device. A mic, which obviously would be needed in almost any situation where a camera would be useful, would also allow for voice controls and speech-to-text. The larger screen would offer users greater real estate for customizing their experience and developers more leeway to add in features or information in ways that couldn’t fit on a smaller device. To really match the iPad 3 side by side though, they would need more.
It is pretty safe to say that the Kindle Fire 2 will not have a Retina Display. It will also not have multi-touch capabilities able to handle significantly more than two contact points at a time. The screen will be larger, which is useful, but the impact of that can’t be assumed to cover everything. In terms of processing power, graphics capabilities, and any number of other factors, there is little reason to believe that Amazon has a chance at taking the lead in general use situations.
Does this mean that a larger Kindle Fire will flop? I don’t believe so. If Amazon can keep the price down, it will still stand out. Apple’s keeping the iPad 2 available at $400 is ingenious in that it makes the comparison with a 9-10” competitor at $300-350 closer than it would be otherwise, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to move in. Really the only question will be how much they advertise what the new Kindle Fire is meant to do. If they can make it clear that despite being larger it is still a purely consumption drive design, that will work as an advantage. If they seem to be actively trying to create and sell a full featured tablet, it will take something big.
For a while now the big issue in predicting the ongoing success of the Kindle Fire has been the anticipated iPad 3. It was going to be a small scale device, roughly comparable in size to the Fire, and be priced closely enough that Amazon would have no choice but to step up in a huge way or give up entirely. So said the rumors, at least. Now that we know better, there is still the issue of what to expect in future releases from Amazon.
Clearly their tablet interests are an ongoing sort of thing. We already have fairly substantial rumors about the second generation of Kindle Fire being planned for this summer. If we take the original Kindle eReader as any indication, the first offering may have been little more than a probe into the market to see what potential there was for profit. Despite its popularity, the original Kindle didn’t hold a candle to the Kindle 2 even given the lack of substantial competition in the early days of the line and this has many wondering if the same level of improvement is in store for the Kindle Fire 2.
The most recent semi-reliable rumors seem to center around a 10” Kindle Fire being in the works. This would be a simultaneous release alongside an update to the 7” version, of course, but it would indicate a serious change of approach by Amazon in drawing direct parallels with the market-leading iPad. This is not out of character in any way, looking at past ads that highlight both the Kindle eReader’s greater suitability for reading in sunlight and the Kindle Fire’s dramatically lower pricing, but drawing increased attention to direct hardware comparisons is a bold move.
To support this, Amazon will clearly have to have a lot of improvements waiting for us. What can be expected? Here are some of my predictions for later this year:
- Cameras – both front and rear facing cameras suitable for video chat, probably VGA quality.
- Bluetooth – Kindle accessories are a big deal and this would open the door to everything from keyboards to wireless headsets. Essential for getting the most out of the tablet as a video player.
- 16GB+ Onboard Storage – The complaint about local disk space might be slightly over-emphasized for many users, but it’s hard to imagine not occasionally butting up against an 8GB limit. Cloud storage is great, but 16GB is not too much to ask.
- Android 4.0 – While this one is hard to say for sure, given potential complications with updating the Kindle Fire’s custom OS fork to take advantage of newer versions of Google’s product, the fact that it was designed with tablets in mind and offers a lot of new features means that an update must at least be in consideration at the moment.
There will not be major changes of philosophy. Users will not be seeing slots for expandable memory, for example. There will also obviously be no chance of an open system that connects easily to Google Play. The new Kindle Fire 2, when it comes out, will be more of what we expect from the first generation in most ways. It will just take what is already an impressive experience and build on it to do the job better.
After months of speculation and rumor about Amazon and Apple going head to head in an all-out Kindle Fire vs iPad 3 (or Mini, or HD) confrontation, we finally have all of the information we’ve been waiting for and it turns out that Apple isn’t addressing their “competition” in any significant way. This should really surprise nobody given the different user bases being served, but it is worth taking a look at what the new iPad can do and how well it does for the price.
The big distinguishing feature of the iPad is that, unlike the Kindle Fire, it is in many ways a computer alternative. There is little that you can’t do on one, aside from truly hardware intensive tasks, if you are motivated enough to use the touch screen. The newest iteration of the hardware line is no exception and does a fair amount to improve the overall experience even further. New features include the move to a Retina Display like that of the iPhone 4, a new A5X Dual Core Processor, one 5 Megapixel camera situated on the rear of the device, Full 1080p HD video recording, 4G LTE connectivity through both AT&T and Verizon, and dictation capabilities. A fair list that expands on what the iPad 2 already did well.
What does this mean for the Kindle Fire’s future? Honestly, practically nothing. This was not, contrary to rumors, a release that intended to kill the Kindle. As any side by side comparison has long since proved, the iPad already had a larger screen, cameras, a microphone, cellular connectivity, and more processing power. If no other factors were considered besides simple hardware performance then Apple wins the iPad vs Kindle Fire matchup every time. The fact that Apple couldn’t help but be aware of this only serves to illustrate that their widening the gap in hardware performance was directed elsewhere; most likely at heading off Microsoft by increasing momentum before the first Windows 8 Tablets start hitting stores later this year.
The biggest factor is still going to be the price for most consumers. For all its impressive power, the iPad 3 still runs at least $499 for the cheapest model with no 4G connection. Even the iPad 2, the cheapest version of which has been kept on at least temporarily at a discount to consumers, is twice the price of the Kindle Fire at $399. None of the major advantages that the Kindle offers in terms of size, weight, or affordability have been addressed. While you can’t say that any of those is universally acknowledged as the most important factor in tablet purchasing (the iPad is not suffering a bit by most accounts, nor does anything from Amazon seem to indicate that they were expected to be by now), they are the things that people take into account when deciding on a new device purchase. For the moment, these remain two completely different types of tablet. The iPad works as a functional PC alternative while the Kindle Fire is all about the consumption. The next big chance to change the equation won’t be until the details are announced for the upcoming Kindle Fire 2.
Remember when we were predicting a Kindle Fire launch with multiple tablet sizes to choose from? Well, better late than never. Chad Bartley, a Senior Research Analyst over at Pacific Crest, has predicted that we will be seeing a 9” Kindle Fire before the end of 2012, possibly as early as this summer. Along with this, an update to the already incredibly popular 7” model is expected. While previous estimates for upcoming Kindle tablet sales had been falling in light of a rumored iPad 3 launch that may include a 7” iPad meant to compete directly with Amazon, the same analyst has upgraded his estimates to account for anticipated demand.
We first heard rumors of an 8.9” Kindle tablet on the way in 2012 via a Digitimes report back in November that indicated a May launch was planned. While Digitimes is often less than perfectly reliable, they have managed to come up with some good information before on many occasions. In this case, they also reported that the choice of screen size was meant to simultaneously take advantage of pushes by LG and Samsung to promote the smaller screen size and to avoid competing directly with more established tablets like Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.
What this will mean to Kindle fans is hard to say at this stage. The immediate concern for owners of the original Kindle Fire will be continuing support. As many owners of the 1st Generation Kindle can attest, Amazon has a tendency to quickly move forward without worrying about ongoing backward compatibility for their newest efforts. At the same time, however, there has obviously been an increased awareness of the importance of consistent branding. While the second generation of Kindle eReader was a fairly noticeable break from the original, subsequent offerings have all remained fairly obviously related. Add to that the fact that the Kindle Fire is already capable of running more recent versions of Android (as demonstrated by recent videos involving ICS installs) which would be the most obvious thing for the company to change on the software side of things, and there is reason to believe that there will be at least a few years of supported life for the current Kindle Fire.
More interesting will be seeing how they handle the upgrade. Will the new model or models bow to customer demand for a camera, for example? There have also been indications for some time that NVidea is interested in getting involved with Amazon’s tablet efforts, which could mean a jump into the Tegra 2 or even Tegra 3 for the larger new Kindle Fire. Either of these would make sense given the emphasis on video and app use that Amazon has made apparent.
Unlike previous rumors, this one is adding up from a number of different sources and seems to be confirmed by the most recent Kindle ad uploaded to Youtube. In this, the iPad’s flaws as a reading device are still emphasized in a familiar message, but they also make a dig at the high price tag relative to the $200 Kindle Fire and imply that there is little the iPad can do that the Kindle line can’t accomplish collectively for less money. To many, this seems to be setting the stage for more direct Kindle vs iPad conflict.
Android has seized a greater share of the tablet market than ever before in the last year, with fourth quarter usage of Android tablets up to 39% of the total (up from 29% the previous year). A great deal of this improvement comes as a result of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet. With the whole tablet market seeing huge growth (including Apple’s sales numbers we saw around 150% growth and a total of over 25 million tablets sold) it is no small feat for something as new as the Kindle Fire to already be edging ahead of more established competition.
These numbers deal specifically with device usage as reported by analytics firm Flurry, based on app sessions. Given the importance of content sales compared to hardware profits, this is probably a significantly better estimate of consumer preference than simple sales or activations. Thanks to this data, we can tell that the Kindle Fire’s approach to content is making a pretty big difference to the user.
The alternative method of analyzing the success of the Kindle Fire would be along the lines of what Google has been doing when describing Android as building up momentum compared to the competition. That would be looking at device activations. While this is not misleading, necessarily, it does focus entirely on numbers that fail to directly equate to post-purchase satisfaction. Even using this method, the Kindle Fire is doing amazingly. Approximately 10.5 million android tablets were sold in Q4 2011. While Amazon is not releasing sales numbers, we can say with a fair degree of certainty that around 5-6 million of those were Kindle Fires. The numbers are favorable, to say the least.
While there is not any indication that this is having a negative effect on iPad sales, there is also little to support the notion that Amazon had any intention of making a direct attack on Apple with this first tablet. It is likely, given how much the two companies overlap in their digital media sales markets that there will be some more direct Kindle vs iPad competition down the road, but a 7″ $200 tablet that clearly lacks the potential to replace even the functionality of a netbook is not something you could take seriously if they were heading for a confrontation with the iPad 2 right away.
The biggest impact of all this is probably going to be on Google. Since Amazon is running such a heavily forked version of Android, and since it lacks easy access to Google’s app marketplace, the success of the Kindle Fire will tend to draw people away from Google services despite technically relying on their original concept. This has the added effect of drawing developers away from the more general marketplace.
While Amazon’s Appstore has not been a favorite destination for many developers thus far due to the heavy oversight and lengthy screening process for even minor updates, the most important thing will always be going where the customers are. Right now, for better or worse, it is looking very much like that is the Kindle Fire if you’re talking Android tablets.
We are well aware now what the big Apple announcement for January was: their new iBooks Author program. It is a program that allows for easy creation of books, most notably textbooks, for free. iBooks might have failed to kill the Kindle platform, even given the whole Agency Model collusion with publishers (the legality of which we’ll have to wait and see about), but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up. After some experimentation with the new program I find myself conflicted. I wanted it to be mediocre, but it’s not. And therein lies the problem.
You see, there is a bit of a problem with the program’s EULA. It won’t be a deal breaker for just anybody, but there is definitely important information to be aware of. By using the iBooks Author program, you are agreeing that not only will anything you sell be available in Apple’s eBook store but also will never never be sold for the Kindle, Nook, or any other non-Apple device.
Before going into the subtleties of the wording, and there are a few arguments with varying degrees of merit that have been made toward the harmlessness of this clause, consider that this can definitely be read as a response to the recent Amazon effort to gain author exclusivity. The only difference is that Amazon brings in authors with a chance at more money while Apple just quietly restricts their distribution rights with a clause that users not only never explicitly accept, but don’t even see unless they go out of their way.
That said, there are a few situations where I think this will be an extremely valuable thing to have. If you are planning to create and distribute your work permanently free of charge, I have yet to find a more intuitive, affordable tool for making textbooks or manuals. If your book was always intended to be marketed primarily to users of the iBooks store, this probably won’t have much of an impact on you.
Now, let’s acknowledge some ambiguities in the wording and clarify some of the many common points of contention:
Restrictions Only Apply To iBook Format: FALSE
The definition of “Work” used in the EULA clearly indicates that anything generated using the software counts. It does not matter if you export to PDF, for example.
Apple Is Stealing Author Copyrights: FALSE
Anything you create is yours from the moment you create it unless you explicitly hand over permission. What Apple is doing is telling you where you can sell it. Using iBooks Author allows them to restrict distribution of your work, but otherwise seems to offer them no rights to it.
All This Applies To Is The Formatted Product, Not The Content: AMBIGUOUS
Leaving aside the textbook for a moment and assuming we are talking about a book that is completely text based. If you want to release a Kindle version, it would seem possible to just copy the text and reformat. The wording of the EULA describes “Work” recursively as “any book or other work you generate using this software”. This can, and hopefully would be, read to mean that only the final, fully formatted output is affected, but the ambiguity is troubling.
It Is Free Software, They Have A Right To Expect A Return: TRUE-ISH
Nobody is forcing you to use this program. It is being provided free of charge by Apple and provides far greater functionality than any other free program out there for the same purposes. Most such restrictions are aimed toward restriction the active use of the software rather than restricting how a creator can manage their own work, though. Neither illegal nor unprecedented, but odd and somewhat troubling.
Not A Consumer Targeted Software Anyway: FALSE
This one comes up a lot. Despite the large number of advertisements being done involving the cooperation of such publishers as Pearson and McGraw Hill in the iBooks Textbook initiative, there has been no indication that they are contributing work under the same agreement. This is free software pointed at teachers and authors in the advertising (particularly the promo video). It has bundled templates to simplify the work, a simple drag and drop interface, and tons of automation. There is depth for those who need it, but definitely not aimed solely at experienced professional textbook publishers.
Apple Can Prevent A Finished Book From Ever Being Sold: TRUE
All that is required for a book to be covered by these restrictions is that it be a product of iBooks Author. Publication is neither automated nor guaranteed, and just because Apple turns you down does not mean that you are free to market your work through another platform or sell through your own means.
Apple Offers Better/Worse Royalties Than The Competition Anyway: FALSE
Apple is effectively offering the same cut of all sales to authors as the vast majority of authors receive when selling for the Kindle and nearly the same (within 5%) as that offered to Nook sellers.
Now, I’m not about to claim that this is the most horrible thing ever done to authors or even that it is deliberately malicious. Some have claimed that just as this is a 1.0 software, so is the EULA in early versions too and ambiguity will inevitably be removed. If so, and there was no intent to deceive or control, so be it. It is already a complicated enough process to get anything out of your eBooks that authors should be aware of what they are getting into, though. I, for one, wouldn’t want to be locked out of the Kindle platform by accident when that’s where all the readers are.
This is good software. Possibly great software. But the limitations aren’t the same as you get when publishing a Kindle Edition, where all you need to worry about is not selling things cheaper elsewhere. Under the current wording it seems to literally stop you from reaching an audience. That’s just unpleasant, and something that people need to be aware of when deciding whether or not iBooks Author is for them.
Recent reports indicate that later this month we can expect to see Apple host a press conference related to, of all things, eBooks. After news that the Kindle Fire has had a noticeable impact on iPad sales this past quarter, clearly something has to be done. This is not official as of yet, but multiple sources in positions to be aware of such plans have passed along the same information. While we have no way as of yet to know for sure where this will lead, the most common rumors seem to point to Apple’s launching of a digital self publishing platform to compete with the Kindle Direct Publishing program.
In reality, such a move on Apple’s part would be quite surprising. In addition to the fact that simply matching the competition seems to offer far less reward than the effort would be worth given that the iBooks store has failed to really take off so far anyway, Apple is already making about as much on each book sold to owners of their devices as they would be likely to make off a program competitive enough to draw in new authors. Keeping in mind the fact that anybody publishing through Amazon’s KDP program, or even Barnes & Noble’s slightly less popular PubIt, will already be available to iOS users, the only real motivation for Apple here would be to draw authors into an exclusive arrangement in some way to enhance the iBooks selection. Amazon has already begun a similar effort tied into their Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, so this would not necessarily be a shocking move, but there is little reason to suspect that Apple is desperate to suddenly push into the eBook market in a major way.
Since we can be fairly certain that whatever the announcement is about will be related to publishing in some way, however, there are a few other possibilities. Textbook rental is one of the more likely possibilities. While Amazon’s new Kindle Format 8 provides some more robust formatting options to publishers and the Kindle Fire obviously handles the demands of textbooks more easily than E INK reading devices, so far the Kindle Textbook Rental program has failed to draw much attention. Given the iPad’s larger screen and Apple’s strong presence on college campuses, it would make sense for them to jump to fill in this gap in the market before anybody else beats them to it.
It is also possible that this has something to do with the ongoing class action lawsuits against Apple and the Big 6 publishers over price fixing and the imposition of the Agency Model around the time the iPad was released. In the past month the situation has become quite a bit more intense, with the US Justice Department joining in and at least 15 ongoing suits. It would seem unlikely that the company would want to comment on an ongoing legal battle, but given claims of detailed inside information on the part of certain plaintiffs there is always the chance that preemptive spin on an anticipated settlement attempt might be in order.
The one thing everybody agrees on is that this will not be a hardware announcement. While there is still speculation with varying degrees of believability about a smaller iPad meant to compete with the Kindle Fire, that will have to wait until later. For now, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect.
It was known well ahead of the official announcement for the device ever took place that the Kindle Fire would be intended for video more than anything else. Perhaps due to that pressure and perhaps just as part of an overall trend in the market, the Nook Tablet was designed along similar lines. While this doesn’t necessarily mean much on its own, it spurred along at least one other development that might mean a great deal more attention for the Android community as a whole.
Amazon’s intent to promote their own streaming video service is clear. Their library has been growing quickly over time, including many titles being given away “free” with Amazon Prime. This is naturally something of a concern for a company like Netflix that is suddenly faced with competition from somebody as big as Amazon. Although Netflix has not commented on it, something definitely spurred them along to push forward their new tablet app upgrade for Android weeks or months ahead of iOS.
The Nook Tablet practically relies on Netflix and other streaming services to function, all the more so because Barnes & Noble currently offers nothing analogous to Amazon’s video services. They also began advertising a uniquely deep connection with Netflix immediately following the reveal. As Kindle Fire owners have likely noticed by now, the Netflix app in the Amazon App Store isn’t exactly lacking either. They went for the maximum possible audience with this update and it seems likely to take.
The implications here go beyond benefits for owners of these new 7″ tablets, however nice those are to have. This is one of the first times that the Android platform has received special attention ahead of the iOS equivalent. That sort of thing does not happen without a fair degree of confidence in the potential profitability. If the Kindle Fire alone, or even the collection group of it and all of the competing $200 tablets springing up from companies like B&N and Kobo, is considered important enough to be prioritized ahead of the market dominating iPad then it could easily be a sign that tides are changing.
Part of the bar to Android’s widespread adoption in tablets has been the fact that quality development tends to get prioritized for the competition. Whether you blame it on the fragmentation of the ecosystem due to frequent non-mandatory upgrades, lack of faith in Google’s offering as a whole, or the lack of a truly major name product to line up behind, the situation has now changed. With luck, this will build up some momentum.
While I have nothing against Apple or the iPad, some heated competition would go a long way toward not only improving their product but creating some genuinely functional alternatives. The strength of iOS that everybody else lacks isn’t the iPad’s hardware or aesthetic. Its main virtue is the functionality that primarily comes from the Apple App Store. Neither the Kindle Fire nor the Amazon App Store is a match for Apple. It isn’t likely that a single company or product will be any time soon. What it does do is get the ball rolling, so to speak.
Can the Kindle Fire really manage to compete with, or even beat out, Apple’s iPad? Opinions are divided, naturally, but it is definitely a strong step in the right direction. What’s going to be most important in the near future is how customers perceive the new Kindle. Is it just another eReader with color, like the Nook offerings? Is it the poor man’s iPad? Would Amazon have been better off making just another generic Android tablet rather than keeping tight control over their ecosystem? Both individual needs and individual experience will play a large part in answering these questions for customers. You don’t necessarily get what you expect or what you’re hoping for, but those are important in informing purchasing decisions.
Since the iPad effectively built the Tablet PC market around itself, that’s going to be the best spot for comparisons. ChangeWave Research, a company specializing in identifying consumer and business demand trends, recently did a survey of 2,600 consumers regarding their interest in the Kindle Fire. The results were interesting.
Of those surveyed, 5% said they had already ordered a Kindle Fire. Another 12% indicated they were fairly likely to make the purchase. Compare that to a similar study of the iPad’s initial launch back in 2010, wherein only 4% considered themselves likely to buy and another 9% said they were somewhat likely. Of those who said that they have already ordered their Kindle Fire, 26% said that they are likely to put off an intended iPad purchase as a result.
Do these numbers mean that the Kindle Fire is doing better than the first iPad was? Only in the most superficially literal sense. Keep in mind that Amazon’s new device is less than half the price of Apple’s. That makes a difference in how many people will even have the opportunity to make the purchase, if nothing else.
What is really telling is the number of people who are likely to put off their iPad purchase thanks to the Kindle Fire. That is only 26% of people who are already getting the 7″ tablet. This would indicate that the clear majority are interested in owning both products. While you can’t say that they are not in competition, it can be assumed from this that the two tablets meet different customer needs (or at least are perceived to do so) at this time.
The iPad currently holds more than two thirds of the tablet market at the moment. Depending on your source, significantly more than two thirds. It is going to be hard to budge no matter who takes it on, regardless of the company backing the hardware. With the Kindle Fire, Amazon has seemingly done a fair job of approaching it non-confrontationally.
This is not just a cheaper iPad or a smaller iPad. It certainly isn’t a superior version of the iPad. The comparisons will remain inevitable because so much of tablet computing is based on what Apple started, but perhaps it is possible for there to be a more nuanced appreciation for the two different pieces of hardware.
Could Apple be feeling a bit threatened by the arrival of the impressively popular Kindle Fire? If certain rumors coming out of Taiwan are true, then the answer seems to be “Yes”.
The most recent set of rumors, which as always should be taken with a grain of salt, indicate that Apple has been looking at samples of 7.85″ screens. Presumably this would be an effort to design something along the lines of a budget iPad to compete with the sudden wave of affordably priced iPad alternatives hitting the market. Such a device would have the advantage of Apple’s excellent reputation and superior presence in the tablet market while also allowing purchase by customers who aren’t quite ready to drop $500+ for their newest piece of narrowly useful electronics.
This would not exactly fit with prior declarations from Apple regarding the usefulness of a 7″ tablet, of course. Steve Jobs came out emphatically against such devices, declaring that extensive testing had shown anything smaller than the iPad to deliver a sub-par user experience when using fingers as pointing devices. This doesn’t rule a smaller iPad out entirely, though. One, with the passing of Steve Jobs his company will naturally have to choose their own course. If the market demands smaller, more affordable tablets then there is every reason to believe that Apple will rise to the challenge. Two, Apple does have some history of declaring things pointless or unfeasible right up until the moment they feel they are in a position to do those very things. Whether this is due to clever PR trying to throw off the competition or simply Apple’s desire to give their customers what they want regardless of what seems to be a smart move at first is open to interpretation.
Clearly nothing is set in stone yet. At best, somebody at Apple thinks that the idea of a smaller iPad is something that should be explored to some extent. As far as anybody knows, orders have not been placed and plans have not been made. We have more substantial speculative information floating around about the iPad 3 than this, by a fair margin. Even if it did happen, would it really be able to outshine the competition anymore?
A smaller iPad competing with the Kindle Fire would almost certainly come in at $250-300 and be unavailable until at least mid-2012. Where Amazon is pushing media, Apple is making most of their profit on the hardware end and would have to scale back the power of their device accordingly, likely eliminating a great deal of their edge along those lines. On top of that, the Kindle Fire will have had time to gain a following. Assuming that the real value is in the content that a tablet has access to, Amazon is certainly offering enough to keep their users happy and the low price is clearly attractive.
We’ll see what happens in the months to come, but I question the potential for a move like this. Apple already controls the performance tablet market and would be better off without a disappointment on the budget tablet end of things.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Continuing the recent trend of slowly filling in the details of the upcoming tablet additions to the Kindle family, we have finally gotten a little bit in the way of technical specs. It is certainly true that you have to take everything these tipsters say with a grain of salt, but the timing seems right for more information to be making its way out and the site that released the information has a fairly reliable track record. Here’s what we’ve got to think about at the moment:
The first of the new Kindle Tablet devices is code-named “Coyote”. This tablet, seemingly the introductory model, will run on NVidia’s Tegra 2 processor. Not an unusual choice in the world of Android phones and tablets at the moment, but it seems to do the job fairly well. While it won’t make the Coyote stand out particularly, there’s nothing to be particularly disappointed by.
The more impressive model is code-named “Hollywood”. The Hollywood model will be making use of NVidia’s upcoming T30 “Kal-El” quad-core processor. It will likely come as little surprise to most of you that the quad-core model is likely to be ridiculously fast by comparison. NVidia has reported that the new processor will be approximately 500% the speed of the Tegra 2.
The only obvious comparison that you can draw at this point in the Tablet PC field is to the iPad. None of the others have managed to make a particularly impressive splash by comparison. Given what we know at this point, it would seem that Amazon has opted out of carving themselves off a chunk of the market to call their own and is jumping straight into contesting Apple’s dominance.
Consider what it was that gave Apple the edge in all this. Yes, they came out with a very affordable tablet and they beat everybody else out. The biggest factor, though, was their being poised to take advantage of every stage of tablet usage. You don’t just buy your iPad from Apple, you also need apps if you want to do anything. In many cases, you can’t even get by with just the app. You need media to run with the app. Apple makes a profit off of hardware, software, and media because they get a cut from every single step. Amazon is now in a position to do the same. They have themselves some new hardware, an app store, every sort of media you can think of, and an already strong following that while not as extensive as the iPhone owner community was at the launch of the iPad, is still impressive. It is obvious that the first people likely to be successfully targeted for the new device are the many satisfied customers of the Kindle since they have some experience with the company’s hardware already.
As with the Kindle, it is going to take a truly impressive product and an extensive support system for Amazon to hope to come out on top here. The thing is, they seem like they have that. Is Amazon going to come out with an iPad killer? Of course not. They are likely going to create the first meaningful rivalry that the tablet world has seen so far, though. It is to be hoped that the Kindle vs iPad competition will do as much for tablets as the Kindle vs Nook has managed so far for eReaders.
The big thing to talk about right now, as far as Amazon and the Kindle goes, is the upcoming Kindle tablet. While we have yet to receive official word from Amazon about things like release dates, technical specifications, or pretty much anything else, the more recently leaked information indicates the potential for more than just the Kindle tablet or even a series of Kindle tablets. We could be looking at a version of the same idea scaled down to a four inch screen to compete directly with the iPhone and/or iPod Touch. Did anybody else see this as a strong possibility in light of the opening of Amazon’s cloud-based music storage service?
Whether one or both comes to be is up in the air yet. It makes a lot of sense to assume that something along these lines is coming, though. Amazon already has a marketplace filled with apps that are made for use on an Android smartphone. Of course many of them will scale up just fine to a larger screen for the Kindle Tablet, but they’ll be best represented on the 4″ screen they were made for. On top of this, the ability to offer a particularly cheap device as part of the new product line will help to ensure a positive reception.
The question of whether or not it will be a real cell phone or simply something to run apps on is still rather hard to speculate on. Amazon has some existing connections to the world of cellular providers, but mainly due to the need entailed by the Kindle 3G. To launch themselves into the cell phone market at the same time as releasing their first tablet PC would seem like a great way to complicate things more than they need to be. This doesn’t necessarily rule it out, of course, since consumers would definitely welcome an affordable, functional iPhone alternative at this point, especially if it uses an LCD alternative that allows for extended battery life as some have considered likely for the entire Kindle Tablet line. Even if there is no specific function as a phone, per se, I can’t imagine that Amazon would miss the opportunity to make them into functional communication devices by allowing things like Google Voice or Skype to run through them. Since it is pretty much inevitable that the Kindle Tablets will have WiFi, as does everything these days, there will always be plenty of options.
So far there is no solid information on the potential release date for anything in this line of devices besides that it is likely to be in the second half of 2011. Given the scheduled announcement by Barnes & Noble of a new entry in the Nook series, however, it would be completely unsurprising if things are being timed for a bit of overshadowing. There has certainly been a history of competition between the two ever since the Kindle vs Nook rivalry began. The exchange should be fun, if nothing else.
There’s been talk of the potential for Kindle vs iPad conflict since months before the latter device was ever actually unleashed on the public. While I do believe that there was some degree of overlap between them for certain customers, the larger trend appears to have involved just grabbing both, if you’re going to get an iPad anyway. The Kindle is almost universally held to be the superior eReader, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the versatility of the iPad in any other way. Apparently Apple may have decided that this situation is less than satisfactory?
Recent reports of an Apple patent just recently made public have been causing a great deal of speculation about the future of this conflict. The proposed display would contain a standard(LCD or OLED) video layer underneath a form of electronic paper(similar to the Kindle’s E Ink display), with a touch interface on top. Perhaps the most interesting part of the proposition is that since the layers would be independent of each other and software controlled, it would be possible to operate both in tandem, in theory, to create an environment extremely conducive to web browsing and video-enhanced eBook reading without sacrificing the readability of the text itself. Thinking this through, however, I’m left wondering if it really addresses the shortcomings of the existing Apple tablet offerings with regard to reading.
I’m going to make the assumption that the electronic paper display that is noted in the patent’s design is somehow transparent when not in use. I’m sure that the technology for that is available, I was just still under the impression that it was not really ready yet. This would give the proposed design an “advantage” that many Kindle naysayers have been looking for for a long time: An E Ink-like screen with a back light. Of course, this also removes a major component of the readability improvement that is enjoyed with current eReaders. Even assuming that you could completely turn off the back light any time you wanted to, and I would definitely assume that this is an intended feature that nobody would think of leaving out, you would be left with text hovering on a transparent plane over a recessed background. Intuitively this seems awkward somehow.
My guess would be that this is meant more as a power-saving measure on potential future tablets than as a serious delving into eReading as a direct Kindle competitor. Think about an iPad with a week’s worth of battery life now that the screen doesn’t need to refresh large sections regularly unless the user demands it. That would be an impressive selling point. This would also address, though to what degree would depend on proper implementation, the complaints of readability in direct sunlight that the iPad has met with.
It remains to be seen what will actually happen, of course, and I’ve only touched on a handful of possibilities. For all I know, this could end up being an offshoot of the iPhone, a competitor for the Nook Color, or the greatest thing ever to happen to the eReading world. A patent just isn’t enough to go off of if you want definitive. Any move away from standard LCDs in portable devices with batteries is always going to get the benefit of the doubt from me, though.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the potential uses for eReaders beyond the simple enjoyment they are so well suited to providing. It’s an interesting pursuit, really. What it always comes back to, however, is that reading is rarely something people do for anything beyond pleasure in the quantities required to justify something like a Kindle. Except if you’re a student!
See, students will always have more to read in a given week than they will have any interest in carrying around. Which makes something like a Kindle an advantage. At the same time, in many disciplines the mediocre PDF display capabilities, small screen, and lack of color do have the ability to hinder the eReader’s usefulness. Recently, however, we have the iPad and the Nook Color as more expensive but potentially more versatile additions to the student equipment list. It made me curious: We can theorize all we want about what should or shouldn’t be the most useful in a professional or academic setting, but what do the people actually using the devices in these situations think? So I asked.
I talked to 43 students who had all used their eReading device for at least three months. I then went down the list and found the common complaints and praises to share with you all. Here’s what we got:
- Battery that lasts forever
- Glare-free screen
- Storage aplenty
- Built-in Dictionary
- Wide selection of books, both academic & pleasurable
- No color for diagrams
- No functioning microphone
- No way to easily take notes during class
- Awkward pagination
- Slow text searching
- Hard to read faculty-scanned articles
Barnes & Noble Nook Color
- Color Screen
- Very Portable
- Easy to hack
- Runs Android
- Can play games and watch video after hacking
- Poor Battery Life with WiFi turned on
- Can’t read outside
- Complicated to install things on
- Underpowered for full tablet use
- Runs everything
- Good screen
- Can take notes with proper keyboard
- Lots of apps, no hacking needed
- Feels breakable
- Disliked by some instructors
- Very easy to spend too much money through
Now, I’ll start out by saying here that not one person I talked to lately was unhappy with their current purchase. A few of the Nook Color owners had iPad envy, but that was about it. I am also not trying to claim that any of the pros and cons listed for one device do not apply to one of the others. These were just the things that those I talked to felt was important. Everything listed was mentioned by at least five eReader owners.
Surprisingly, of the 12 Nook owners, 10 had rooted their eReaders to make them more functional and most of them said that they enjoyed the tablet functionality more than using them for reading. iPad owners were very happy with their devices, but frequently had trouble with instructors who were wary of potential abuse of the tablets during classes(presumably the same instructors would be anti-laptop as well, of course). Kindle owners were the most satisfied in general but tended to be students in the Humanities, while some of the color tablet owners, in business students, mentioned having been converted away from the Kindle in favor of something that better displayed charts and graphs.
I wouldn’t say we have any clear winners on this one. It’s all a matter of what you want to do and how much you want to pay. If you’re a student in the market for an eReader, you might want to look at some reviews and give these factors some consideration.
For any of you I happened to talk to for this, the responses were appreciated!