It appears that the long-rumored Amazon smartphone will become a reality at some point in 2014. We have heard talk and speculation about it since as early as 2011, but now it seems that HTC has been tapped to help Amazon put together a real contender to stand up to Apple and Google.
People familiar with the project recently mentioned to FT that at least one device is in an advanced stage of development and that if things don’t change in the meantime there is every reason to expect a launch sometime next year. Amazon, of course, declines to confirm these rumors.
If Amazon were to release a device using the same sales philosophy as it employs with the existing Kindle line – sell near cost and make your profits through use – then there is little doubt that adoption would be strong.
This would put HTC in a bit of a bind with Google, who has proven to be proficient at protecting their brand over the past couple years. Given the release of HTC’s less than successful Facebook Phone, though, they probably have the details about that already under consideration.
Watch for more news toward the end of this year. Amazon might not be willing to confirm, but a Kindle smartphone is going to have leaks along the production line and it should be particularly interesting to see what these reveal along the way.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a big step forward for its whole product line. It provides a way for the user to read a book in a dark room without providing their own external light or straining their eyes. That’s something people have been hoping for out of eReaders since the day they started hitting shelves. It’s probably to be expected that the response has been enthusiastic. Even Amazon appears to be surprised by how enthusiastic people are getting, though.
While it’s only the beginning of November, we have already seen Kindle Paperwhite shipping dates slip back twice. First they were pushed back to the beginning of December and now as I’m writing this they are set for the week of December 17th.
The most popular reading device on the market experienced such a surge of consumer interest that Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer and producer of the previous millions of Kindles sold, was taken by surprise and left unable to ship promptly. That’s good news for fans of the Kindle and great news for eReaders in general, somewhat putting to rest the recurring speculation that it’s a market on the way out due to competition from tablets.
Unfortunately, it also calls into question Amazon’s ability to meet holiday sales demands. While their track record indicates that there’s a good chance many of those orders will ship well before the 17th of December, that date wouldn’t be on display if they could guarantee things sooner. If we’re already pushing orders back until a week before Christmas with seven weeks to go before the holiday, Amazon will have to be producing to exceed current high demand levels. Nobody really believes that demand will drop abruptly before the end of the year at this point.
A month is a long time to get production sped up. Maybe it’s premature to be talking about this. The fact that the orders put in today are being set back so far is strange, though. If you’re hoping to make the new Kindle a big stocking stuffer for your family and friends, it might be best to get a jump on shopping. At this point I think the best we can hope for is last minute deliveries and nobody likes gambling on FedEx and UPS being prompt at that time of year.
We already know that Amazon intends for the Kindle Paperwhite to set the new standard for eReader hardware in every way they could manage. Some people might still wish for physical page turn buttons (I certainly do) but other than that it is a clear step ahead of all of the competition right now. That’s referring entirely to the US markets, of course, which may be a good reason that they have decided to update the Paperwhite firmware with some specific comic-related improvements in mind.
On a November 8th release, the new software improvements were made available for download. If you have a Paperwhite and haven’t gotten everything automatically delivered to your device at this point, check out the side-loading instructions located here.
Foremost in the advertised improvements is the list of optimized fonts. Palatino, Baskerville, and Futura have all been made sharper and smoother. It’s a small thing in many ways, but the change will stand out for anybody who prefers to use these fonts regularly.
The ability to remove Recommended Content from your Paperwhite’s home screen is now also included. This has become a point of annoyance for many users, but the ability to remove this particular advertising stream was added not long ago to new Kindle Fire models and was inevitable here as well. A more interesting update would have been producing the same stream for older models on demand, honestly.
The settings menu has been brought to the front of things a bit more as well. You can now jump straight into this menu directly from the menu while reading a book with no need to return to the home screen.
Perhaps most importantly, given the recent push into Japan, is the improved manga/comic display capability. A new Fit-to-Screen option will stretch images to fill the entire screen, addressing many situations where small panels were practically unreadable previously.
The Paperwhite is also now able to retain a manga/comic specific setting for page refresh preferences that is completely separate from the same options for book reading. This makes it easier to choose the proper setting to maximize both battery life and reading quality in two areas with distinctly different visual representation needs.
In preparation for a move beyond Japan into China, Simplified Chinese is now included as a font option. It’s a small note now, but could be vital in the long run.
The only other really notable change is in book samples. When picking up the full version of a given book after reading the sample you will now start off at the last position accessed in the sample. The sample itself will be removed from the library. Organization will be greatly improved as a result for anybody who regularly samples their books.
Many of these updates are small things, but added together they make for a great update. There is more than can and likely will be done to improve things, especially with regard to comic-reading. Now that we’re seeing a much bigger effort to get graphic storytelling into the Kindle marketplace, however, it’s safe to assume that a wider audience will demand attention and genre-specific features that will quickly optimize the eReaders as best a black and white display can be optimized.
A few weeks ago, Amazon announced that they were going to acquire Goodreads, one of the most popular social sites on the internet for book lovers. Goodreads has become a great place to go for sharing reviews, recommendations, ideas, and more since its debut in 2007. While this is certain to be mutually beneficial in many ways, we have to assume that the goal here is to develop the Kindle Social experience into a real selling point for the eReader line.
The Kindle has an interesting position with regard to social interaction.
By its very nature it allows greater privacy than most paper books would. No matter what situation you happen to be in, nobody can tell what you are reading without looking directly over your shoulder or asking you. This cuts out the opportunity for people to randomly discover shared literary interests.
At the same time, because it offers access to practically any book in print at a moment’s notice there is a lot of opportunity for sharing and recommendations. Users just need a way to willingly share their activity now that book covers can’t do the job. The current integration with Twitter and Facebook are alright in this regard, but really a dedicated space for that sort of posting would go over better. Hence the Goodreads acquisition.
There are a few things that both organizations stand to gain beyond that, of course.
One of the main services that Goodreads provides its users is book recommendations. Regardless of what your opinions are of their other business strengths, nobody is going to deny that Amazon is the best there is at accurately targeting recommendations based on previous purchases. Taking that technology and applying it to these book lists will improve the performance immensely.
That helps to drive up business at Amazon, since the Kindle Store remains the best place to buy eBooks. In addition to the sales, there’s a wealth of data to work with on the Goodreads site. Tying the review system there into the main Amazon site could provide much more accurate information for potential shoppers. The associations and trends found between various readers will probably do some good in refining recommendations further as well.
It’s going to be a while yet before anything changes. The acquisition that was just announced won’t actually take place for a couple months. Even after that there will need to be a fair amount of work before anything is ready for release.
Millions of readers are about to get a much more robust social experience out of their reading.
Amazon announced today that they will acquire Ivona Software. Ivona is the company that currently supplies the Kindle Fire line of tablets with its speech recognition capabilities. Although there is little in the way of details regarding the terms of purchase, we can be certain that this signals an increased emphasis on audio input in the future for these products.
The immediate assumption that has to be made after this acquisition is that Amazon has its eye on a Siri imitation or something with similar capabilities. Now naturally there has been some disappointment over how poorly Siri has lived up to the hype for iPhone users, but that doesn’t change anything about the appeal of the concept or the possibility that this could be a big thing for the future.
That’s especially true if Amazon ever comes through with their frequently-rumored Kindle Phone. While we haven’t exactly seen any details emerging so far, indicating that this is a long way off yet even if it will probably be a future focus for the company, building this sort of capability to establish feature parity with Apple and Google products only makes sense. There wouldn’t be much room to undercut prices the way the Kindle Fire made its big first impression on the tablet scene, so being able to line up with other popular smartphones feature for feature could be particularly important.
On the tablet side of things, there are other ways that Ivona could help things improve. Since the Kindle Fire HD is a consumption-based media tablet, it’s only natural to assume that something along the line of the Microsoft Kinect’s voice controls could be in the works as well. Hooking up a tablet to stream Amazon Instant Video to your HDTV and being able to control it with a word from across the room would be quite nice if they can pull it off properly.
The potential for improving accessibility is also worth noting. Ivona already works in various ways to improve support for the blind and visually impaired. That would probably be more useful on the eReader side of things. Amazon’s initial attempts to get their eReading line made into a standard educational tool were hindered by its inability to accommodate the visually impaired. They have come a long way since then in various products, but this could offer new directions for them to approach the problem from.
Perhaps most important, though less impressive in terms of new feature selections, is the possibility that this will lead to more expansive localization options. The press release makes a point of noting that Ivona offers voice and language products in 44 voices across 17 languages with a number more still in development. Given the international growth of the Kindle line as a whole, that’s not a bad resource to be able to draw on.
As the rumors grew more intense and details began to leak from production line sources about the reality of Apple’s new device, it became fairly common to see “hold off on any purchases until the iPad Mini is ready” posted as advice. There is even reason to believe that many people took that advice, it turns out. Amazon put out a statement recently indicating that the 24rd of October (One day after Apple’s iPad Mini launch event) was “the $199 Kindle Fire HD‘s biggest day of sales since launch”.
Some of the lack of interest in the iPad Mini has to come from its shockingly high price. At $329 for the basic unit it is hard to compete with the $199 Kindle Fire HD in a market oriented toward people wanting to spend less for their tablet. That extra $130 is a huge step above the prices of 7” tablets that Apple has openly shown they intend to compete with.
More importantly, the Kindle Fire HD has a superior display. Now display isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Apple has largely maintained their advantage in tablets by offering some of the best visual performance money can buy. A tablet, like a smartphone, is basically a handheld screen; nothing could be more apparent as a selling point. Amazon and Google have had to price their tablets at cost in order to compete with the iPad up until now, but with better prices AND better visuals the competition is more than weighted against Apple for once.
The spec comparisons largely go in this direction. Apple cut so much out of their device that just about all it has going for it is the slightly larger screen size (7.9” vs 7”) and the name “iPad”.
It’s possible that the iOS ecosystem will overcome these deficits. It certainly will be the biggest factor in driving sales. As more and more developers optimize their apps for the iPad 3’s A5X processor and the iPad 4’s A6X processor, however, people using the iPad Mini’s A5 processor might find their experience increasingly lacking. Anecdotes of iPhone 4 owners unhappy with the problems created by iOS 6 performance are common enough to make this particularly important. We’re talking about a device using roughly the same technology as the iPad 2 at a time when the iPad 4 is headlining.
There is still every reason for Amazon to be concerned about their chances in the larger tablet market. The 4th Generation iPad was updated to compete with the sort of powerful Windows 8 tablets beginning to hit the market and it is hard to imagine that even the $200 price difference in favor of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” will be enough to drive sales in the face of those competitors unless Amazon does some serious expansion of their content ecosystem before the November 20th release date.
In terms of smaller tablets, it’s fair to say that the big names to watch right now are Google, Amazon, and maybe Barnes & Noble. Apple has priced their option right out of the running, given what it’s made of. As much as I like the Kindle Fire, it would have been great to get some even more intense competition to push things forward. It’s a disappointment that Apple didn’t come through here.
The move away from physical keyboards gave Amazon an easy route into any number of non-Anglophone markets for the first time. They’ve made good use of that since the Kindle Touch was first released. In addition to being able to find a Kindle practically anywhere in the world, localized versions of the popular eReader can now be found for a number of language options. Now, for the first time, Amazon is pushing their efforts into Asia with the first ever Japanese Kindle.
Amazon.co.jp will now have its own Kindle Store and will be offering the Kindle Paperwhite for sale. Preordering is now open for both the WiFi and 3G versions of the device. The prices are currently ￥8,480 and ￥12,980 respectively. They will begin shipping on November 19th.
Japan has proven a hard market for Amazon to move the Kindle into so far. Their site has been operating successfully there for twelve years now, but it has been reported that they had trouble getting Japanese publishers interested in doing business with them after all of the conflict between Amazon and the Big 6 publishing houses in US markets. It seems that terms have now been reached that are considered satisfactory. The press release for this announcement indicates that over 50,000 Japanese-language titles will be available at launch and that these will include the largest selection of Oricon best sellers anywhere.
Naturally all of these titles will be accessible through Amazon’s various distribution channels. Kindle Paperwhite owners will be able to make use of the new store, but so will Kindle Fire owners, Kindle app users, and anybody with a web browser.
Introducing the Kindle line to Japan is a particularly important move for Amazon if they want to keep expanding the customer base. While geographically small, Japan is home to one of the most literate cultures in the world. It also enjoys the widest newspaper circulation anywhere and may prove a useful place to renew interest in digitally distributed newspapers and magazines.
There is also a large market for graphic literature to be exploited. This launch will include over 15,000 manga selections. Kindle Format 8’s Panel View will come in handy for this and the high contrast Kindle Paperwhite display could prove an ideal medium for these books.
The Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are also now available in Japan and should be shipping on December 19th, one month after the Paperwhite goes out. While this caters to a different market, having options is never a bad idea. The Kindle Fire HD might not be quite as good for reading as its single-purpose eReader counterpart, but it does provide a greater versatility and convenience for the money.
Amazon has now introduced the Whispercast service, which allows for organizational management of Kindle devices. This includes both Kindle eReaders and the Kindle Fire tablet series. Using this service it is possible to distribute content, manage available functions, and generally maintain control over your organization’s device even when it is in the hands of an authorized user.
One of the main markets that Amazon initially tried to target with the Kindle was education. The fact that it is difficult to manage these devices is one of the major factors that has held up institutional adoption. Parents have reason to be uncomfortable with the idea of their children being handed anything with unrestricted internet access, teachers have plenty of reason to wonder if that same internet access would be abused during school hours while also having doubts that it would be possible to ensure uniform content across entire classes, and the issue of potential theft is an ever-present concern in as poorly funded an organization as your average public school.
Business customers, meanwhile, have largely had better options than the Kindle Fire when it comes to device management for employees. The alternatives on the market today make it possible to run a sophisticated Bring Your Own Device(BYOD) program in a way that Amazon has until now failed to match. This is a big step forward.
Right now the benefits seem to be restricted to company/school owned Kindles. There are plans for further features that make Whispercast more versatile for BYOD programs, but that’s still listed as “Coming Soon”.
The available management features are fairly straightforward and fall into two categories: Access and Distribution.
Access controls cover anything having to do with user privileges. Through Whispercast it is possible to determine whether a device is able to connect to the internet, how much access they have to things like Facebook and Twitter integration, and if they are allowed to make purchases through the Kindle Store. Blocking the ability to deregister or reset to factory settings is of course part of the package. All of this is managed from a central control screen and it removes the need to individually configure every Kindle. It is even possible to send WiFi details directly through the cellular signal of compatible devices so that users are able to connect with no trouble when in range of your home network.
Distribution is fairly obvious. You can distribute content to all devices on your account or break them down into subgroups in order to get people exactly what they need. This could mean sending one class or grade level only their own content for the school year or keeping each department of your business supplied with the latest relevant documents. Eventually apps will be included in this control scheme, though at present they are not.
Basically, if there is any intention of turning the Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire tablet into a regularly used part of your organization, things just got a lot easier. Schools and libraries will definitely find this handy, but it certainly won’t hurt business management.
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.
The Kindle Paperwhite is reclaiming the top of the e-ink reader market with positive early reviews.
The Kindle Paperwhite is Amazon’s newest generation Kindle that includes front-lit lighting designed to enable readers to read at night, or in darker settings without eyestrain.
Notable improvements over predecessors
The e-ink quality is better, leading to sharper text and images.
The screen is designed to create a reading experience closer to that of reading print books. This was the original goal when Amazon first developed the Kindle. The touch screen isn’t as sensitive. The Kindle Touch would skip chapters or pages sometimes if I so much as breathed on it.
The device itself is smaller, more streamlined, and includes a grip back cover similar to the Kindle Fire.
Then, last but not least, there is the built in light, designed to spread evenly across the screen and give off a cool ambiance that does not hurt the eyes.
The Audio Controversy
Not including audio is mostly an author or publisher issue. It knocks out consumers who rely on audio to read. For example, readers who are blind, or others who just prefer audiobooks over text-based books.
While it isn’t an issue with the majority of readers, including audio is a good feature to work on for future software updates or Kindle generations if Amazon really wants to reach out to the broadest audience possible.
Here’s what reviewers are saying about the Kindle Paperwhite
“I’ve been very impressed with my new Kindle. The screen and light are absolutely gorgeous and the page turns are much faster than my old Kindle Touch. Although I know that it isn’t heavier than the last version it someone feels more substantial and solid than the older version. I am a little disappointed1111111111111 that they took away audio capabilities, but I rarely used that anyway. Overall a fantastic upgrade that I know will keep me reading!”
“Its amazing. It actually looks like a real white paper with black ink text. I have used Sony eBook reader, nook touch and older kindles in the past, but the dull gray screen was something which always made eBooks inferior to a real paper book. No more. In my opinion, this is a quantum leap!”