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Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire – New Amazon devices announced…

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

Kindle Touch

 

Kindle Touch 3G

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

Features and specs:

Kindle 4 (mini)

Kindle 4 mini

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

Specs and feature:

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

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire Tablet

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

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

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

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

Kindle Fire seems to rely heavily on Amazon Cloud Storage.

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

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

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

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

Specs and features:

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

Amazon Kindle Fire TV ad

Size comparison

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

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

Kindle Book Library For Amazon Prime Members Coming Soon…Maybe

Apparently Amazon has been working on a way to offer Amazon Prime customers a Kindle platform lending library experience similar to what Netflix users have come to expect.  While this is in its extremely early stages and will depend on reaching agreements with publishers who have not been particularly fond of Amazon or the Kindle, if it were to be realized it would be a game changing addition to the eBook world.

It is important to note that this will be distinct from Kindle Library Lending.  An Amazon Prime membership will not be required for Kindle Library Lending.  This service would allow subscribers to access a certain number of titles per month, after which it is unclear whether these users would be cut off or given the option to pay overage fees of some sort.  At launch, and possibly permanently depending on the eventual structuring, this service would be only for older works, leaving the bestsellers list alone in favor of less profitable titles that publishers would have less reason to object to.

Publishers are not terribly enthused by this idea, unfortunately.  While Amazon has reportedly offered a substantial fee for any publishers who join in on the program, there are concerns.  One, executives are apparently concerned that the idea of such a rental program would devalue their publications in the eyes of potential customers.  Two, with Amazon already being in a highly influential place in the eReading world, many are concerned that such a program would alienate competing retailers.

The former concern isn’t exactly surprising in an industry that already seems to view libraries as little more than theft.  The fee offered for participation would have to be substantial indeed to overcome the industry’s anti-lending attitude.  As for the damaged relations, it seems shortsighted.  If Amazon did pioneer a successful subscription based lending program, it would open the door for publishers to arrange similar deals with competing platforms.  That relies on the assumption that the publishers do themselves a disservice by alienating their customers and will eventually have to give people what they want, which apparently is a difficult concept to swallow in many cases.

In all honesty, the fact that one executive defended their position by saying that “What it would do is downgrade the value of the book business” says to me that publishers still don’t quite get the fact that there are few inherent differences between the print and eBook mediums in most peoples’ minds.  Just as public libraries don’t keep people from valuing books, being able to access a Kindle library equivalent wouldn’t change anything for the vast majority of customers beyond removing the need to worry about waiting lists and local availability of lend-able titles in the public library system.

Going along with a plan like this would be great publicity, make author back lists more accessible for potential customers, and quite possibly make the companies more money than would otherwise be the case on these titles, if the fee Amazon is offering is large enough.  Shunning this sort of idea on principal does everybody a disservice.

Kindle Tablet Approaches, Amazon Prepares With Expanded Video Streaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where to Buy Kindle this Holiday Season

This holiday season, you have a ton of options on where you can purchase a Kindle or Kindle DX.  For those of you who prefer shopping in stores instead of online, you are in luck because major retail stores such as Target (NYSE: TGT), Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) and Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) carry the e-reader.  So, let’s take a look at the details and perks on what each store offers.

Amazon – The Kindle 3G and Wi-Fi are available for $189 and $139 respectively.  Amazon makes it easy by providing links on the main page.  Open up an Amazon Prime account and you can get unlimited free two day shipping on all of your orders.

If you are a student and join Amazon Student, Amazon Prime is free!  Ahhh the perks of being a student are endless.

Best Buy – Kindles are not available to purchase on Bestbuy.com, however, you can find a variety of Kindle accessories such as covers and screen protectors.  They have a free shipping deal going on now for the holidays as well.

Target – Same deal here.  Kindles are only available in the store, but you can find a wide variety of covers and screen protectors.  The prices are about the same as they are on Amazon.

Staples – You have variety of Kindle accessories to choose from, and they offer free shipping for orders over $50.

Ebay – I was surprised to find that the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi is actually more expensive on Ebay (NASDAQ: EBAY) than Amazon.  The prices I saw were $159.99, $169.99 and $172.  I did find a Kindle DX for $295, but it was a previous generation.  You can find great deals on accessories though.  Covers were less than $10.

So, you have a good set of choices here.  For the first time, you have a choice of trying a Kindle before you buy one, and prices are quite reasonable.  I’ve seen a lot of great deals so far this holiday season.  Keep an eye on Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN).  Last year I got free two day shipping on my Kindle a week before Christmas.