Kindle Engineer Muffi Ghadiali Joins OUYA Video Game Console Project

A highly popular Kickstarter project that intends to release the first Android-based video game console has revealed some information recently that lends them a bit of credibility.  Muffi Ghadiali, known to come people as a Lab126 member and an important part of the Kindle’s development team, has come forward as one of the OUYA project’s main resources.

Admittedly, this is somewhat peripheral to Kindle news.  On the other hand, it’s interesting and I feel like talking about it.  You’ll have to bear with me here.

The OUYA console is gaining the attention of gamers and Android developers alike at the moment.  Their ambitious goal of $950,000 in 30 days has long since been exceeded.  At the moment they are expecting over $5,000,000 from backers.  The appeal is understandable, when you look at the goals of the designers.

Essentially, they intend to release an Android powered box that plugs into a television.  It will be an open platform, unlike other closely managed console projects enjoying popularity today, and cost comparatively little (backers who help fund the project before the end of the Kickstarter period on August 9th can get theirs for $99).

The open console aspect is particularly interesting, if also problematic.  Developers have almost total control over their product.  This means they can charge whatever they want for any part of their apps.  A free to play model is being encouraged, but any app that has a free demo available will be welcome.  Compare this to Amazon’s Appstore for Android where developers wanting to release their work for the Kindle Fire will often have to wade through weeks of red tape just to issue a patch and it is easy to understand the appeal.

Of course this is just intention at the moment.  While there is some talk of app curation in the associated storefront, no real details are available yet.  They have just now begun working on the interface and such wider concerns are a way off.  When it comes time to start selling, however, they will have to balance customer satisfaction against developer freedom to avoid ending up with the same sort of malware proliferation that the Google Play store is just beginning to get under control.

What Ghadiali brings to the project is expertise and credibility.  The Kindle was an ambitious project that took off in a major way.  If somebody who was part of that says that the OUYA console also has a chance despite being in relatively early stages still, then it may be worthwhile to invest in the project.  His direction should help to ensure that realistic expectations are adopted and that quality is an important consideration every step of the way.

In some ways the OUYA console will be a direct competitor for the Kindle Fire.  It is intended entirely as a means of consuming games, but will also allow developers to sell their other applications.  Since a television connection will be mandatory, streaming video and other such visually impressive applications will enjoy a far superior experience in most cases.

It is hard to imagine a video game console having a major impact on the Kindle Fire given that it is a tablet, but they’re both budget devices running Android that offer media consumption as their primary purpose.  It could be interesting to see how they interact down the line.

Kindle Fire Not Amazon’s Only Instant Video Focus Now With XBox 360 App

Amazon is getting a bit more bold with every passing day, it seems, as they step ever-further into Netflix’s domain.  The most recent such intrusion is their creation of an app for the XBox 360 that allows Amazon Prime subscribers to access the Amazon Prime Instant Video selection and stream directly to their television.  Naturally there is also access for those who prefer to rent or buy in addition to or instead of working with the subscription plan.  It is hard to say whether this works out well for the Kindle Fire.

The major appeal of the Kindle Fire, for a fairly large portion of the customer group, is its ability to stream video from Amazon with no trouble at a moment’s notice.  Lacking as it does any form of cellular connectivity, the Fire is basically something you are going to be watching video on at home if video is being watched.  It is hard to picture large numbers of people gathering at public WiFi hotspots to watch their favorite films on portable devices.  When Amazon makes a move like this that offers a potentially superior in-home viewing experience, we have to wonder what the overall effect will be.

The major flaw in turning the Kindle Fire into a video streaming device has always been its lack of video output.  Naturally this is not an issue when we’re talking about the XBox.  These game systems are already in several times the number of homes as the Kindle Fire, especially when you factor in the Playstation 3 which got its own Instant Video app back in April.  There is always the chance that Amazon’s expanding media availability will render their hardware somewhat obsolete.

There are some downsides to this new offering that will probably keep it from becoming a prime means of consumption for the majority of users any time soon, however.  For one, users are required to maintain an XBox Gold subscription.  This is a relatively minor expense, but it does in many cases increase the monthly cost of access to Amazon Prime Instant Video in a significant way if users do not already maintain this subscription for other reasons.

There is also no integrated purchasing mechanism.  One of the biggest advantages, and sometimes dangers, of using a Kindle Fire is its quick and easy store integration.  If you want to pick up a copy of the latest big name action flick, you can do it and be watching within seconds.  The XBox app will require users to head to a PC for all of their purchasing before anything goes up on the TV.

If you have a chance, I do recommend giving this one a try.  The interface is reminiscent of the new Netflix application for the XBox and while I can’t say the video selection is as simple to navigate, I have definitely found some surprising and enjoyable titles floating around in the past few days.  I love my Kindle Fire, but the jump from a 7” screen to a 47” screen makes an amazing difference when you’re watching just about anything.

Kindle Prices Still Too High!

The Kindle line basically started the digital reading revolution.  They were neither the first nor the best when they appeared, but Kindles were the driving force behind it.  Amazon got too powerful, customers likes affordable eBooks too much, and publishers freaked out to the point of getting involved in what seem to be fairly illegal activities while trying to counter all that.  We’ve been over all that before.  The big question now is “Why are Kindle eBook prices still so ridiculously high?”

I’m not just talking about the results of the DOJ suit against the publishers over their adoption of the Agency Model.  I’m glad that’s happening, and I wish them all the luck in achieving a decisive conviction, but even those publishers who have chosen to settle already will not have had much of an effect just yet.  I’m more concerned with common sense.

The most obvious side of this is the obvious dislike of the format.  Publishers want physical media to be favored because it is more easily controlled.  eBooks are too convenient and most especially too easily pirated, so we have to expect these publishers to try to persuade people to stick to proven methods, right?  Some variation on this argument is likely to come up in any defense of the Big 6.

I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to address it at length here beyond saying that it flat out ignores the facts.  Study after study demonstrates that piracy either increases  or fails to affect overall spending as a trend.  It’s unintuitive, so I don’t blame them for being slow to catch on, but surely somebody employed by these companies could do some research that goes beyond ominous warnings of the dangers of piracy like those thrown around by the MPAA.  Maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time.

Even assuming that was too hard to grasp, however, there is plenty of easy to understand information about adapting to a market that does away with the concept of limited supply.  The most dramatic example comes from the video game industry where Valve CEO Gabe Newell explained a while back that briefly discounting media by 75% had unexpectedly resulted in sales numbers jumping by a factor of 40.  I’m not saying the two industries are directly analogous, but clearly there are signs that digital distribution needs to be approached a bit differently.

There have been a few signs that publishers were tentatively trying to figure all this out.  Some short-lived discounts have popped up, and last summer’s Kindle Sunshine Deals promo comes to mind as a large effort to feel out the market.  It still seems like the biggest motivator for these publishers is a desire not to change.

They have a good thing going and can basically control the entire publishing landscape when they work together.  The Kindle, along with its eReader competitors, is an unknown.  If it were embraced, somebody else might figure out how to do things better and that would be bad.

I have no idea when this will change, but it can’t come soon enough.  All that publishers have managed to accomplish with this ridiculous behavior is temporarily setting back Amazon by shooting both themselves and their customers in the foot.

Nobody really wants traditional publishing to be completely out of the picture, but lately they’re doing more harm than good.  One of these days they will have to realize this and Kindle owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief while stocking their digital libraries.

Website performance

On the 12th of August I did some tweaking to my web hosting. Here’s a question for those of you who visit blogkindle.com on a regular basis. Would you say that website loads faster than usual, slower or no change?

Amazon Kindle Tablet PC Seems Increasingly Likely

Recently the speculation on the potential for a Kindle tablet has gone from considering it a good idea to considering it an inevitability.  All the signs are certainly pointing that way, and it fits in with Amazon’s established business model so far.  The only real question right now is that of what the particulars will be.

Now, we know that Amazon doesn’t really get too into the whole traditional hardware competition mindset too well.  Their only entry so far, as far as I know, has been the Kindle.  While it’s great at what it does, the functionality has always been limited to doing one thing very well rather than adding in all the bells and whistles.  It is safe to assume that the same will be true of any tablet that they bring out.  Affordability and ability to consume media are almost certain to be highlighted over any numerical comparisons of hardware superiority.

As far as software goes, the new Android store and the recent updating of the Kindle for Android software to allow for better tablet PC support via Honeycomb are both indicative of Amazon’s interest in this system.  We’re going to be looking at an Android 3.0 device.  As a result, right out the door the device should have a great selection of apps ready to go, even excluding the Kindle book apps.

One thing that I’m wondering about is whether or not it will be a part of the Kindle line or a new branch of Amazon hardware.  For the most part people have been assuming that it would just be the next generation of the Kindle.  Something along the lines of a Kindle Color to compete directly with the Barnes & Noble Nook Color.  The more I think about this, the less likely it seems.

Amazon is making their money in the Kindle Store, not on the Kindle itself.  Hardware is not what makes this so amazingly profitable for them.  The same will be true of any tablet they might come out with.  By offering their own device with a predetermined source for app purchases, they should be able to lock in that much more in terms of software sales.  The image of the product is likely to reflect this.  Just as the Kindle is advertised as having the best selection of eBooks anywhere, the predicted tablet is likely to be sold as a method to have easy access to any app you could ever need.

When you think of apps, is the first thing that comes to mind the Nook Color?  For me, not really.  While it makes sense at first glance that the smart move would be to capitalize on the Kindle brand in order to jump-start sales, I would say it’s at least as likely that Amazon will try to start off a fresh hardware line without the existing B&N rivalry to anchor this in customers’ minds as a reading device. If they’re going to try to take on the iPad, the best way to approach isn’t with direct comparisons to another product that doesn’t compete on the same level.