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.
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.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is basically the company that controls how things are named on the internet. They decide whether a country has its own unique extension or not. They spent years working out the details for the controversial “.xxx” extension. Now, in a move that has a lot of people shocked, they are opening up quite a bit. Adding to the fewer than two dozen generic top-level domains to choose from (.com, .net, etc.), new top level domains are being made available for purchase. The big names in internet media are obviously excited about this and Amazon is no exception.
Amazon has filed for 76 different domains. Considering these are selling for $185,000 up front and another $25,000 per year to maintain possession, this is no small investment. Some of the choices are obvious, such as “.AMAZON”. Others are clearly defensive. They can’t afford to let the competition control “.BOOK” uncontested while running the world’s largest eBook store. The ones that are the most interesting are the unexpected choices that hint at future developments.
For Kindle lovers, my favorite choice here is “.AUTHOR”. It would seem to hint at new features for the Kindle Store. Most likely, this would allow for greater self-promotion opportunities among KDP authors. Unlike the “.BOOK” extension, it is not currently contested. This means there is a good shot that Amazon will get to run with it, assuming they actually have plans and aren’t just preemptively acquiring it for later possibilities.
Since this sort of opening up of web naming hasn’t happened before, it is hard to say what it will mean for future applications. Obviously it would be helpful to have access to this sort of domain naming, but there is no precedent to draw on. If we have Amazon controlling “.KINDLE” then what will they do with it? There is no point in controlling your own registry if all you do with it is host a single page, but nobody really expects Amazon, Google, or most of the other applicants for these names to change their minds about maintaining closed registries.
Obviously we’re looking at the introduction of new organization scheme for the Kindle Store and Amazon in general. If they win even half of the names they are trying to get their hands on, things are going to get really interesting. Innovation is likely, and may come in unexpected ways. Some people are expecting little more than shortened product names that redirect to existing Amazon.com pages but that would hardly be an intuitive choice for browsers for a lot of these choices. ICANN has indicated that they have plans to deal with companies who purchase and don’t make any use of a top level domain in order to limit squatting, so even defensive acquisitions can’t be left idle.
If nothing else, it is easy to imagine this drastically changing the future web interface for Kindle devices.
It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked. There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services. Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway. Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?
We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent. Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application. This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.
Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis. This is one part of why they are able to get away with it. They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed. It is something that people know when they buy into the line. Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.
There is more to it than that, though. Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page. The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation. At least there is a visible tradeoff here.
I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it. Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company. More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise. They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices. Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first. That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here. We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch. If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up. I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here. Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?
It hasn’t been all that long since we first saw the release of the Send-to-Kindle program for the PC, but it has already proven to be a huge improvement to the Kindle’s functionality for many users. Not only does it make things like exporting DRM-free eBooks from Calibre that much easier (nobody likes having to find their USB cable, assuming they even have one), the ability to print from practically any window directly into a Kindle document makes life a lot easier. Now Mac users will get to experience the same benefits, thanks to Amazon’s newest software release.
If you are a Mac user and have an interest in taking advantage of this new feature, head over to this page on the Amazon.com site and download the application. The installation is simple and will result in having a “Send to Kindle” icon sitting in your dock. Any time you want to send something to your Kindle, you can simply drag and drop the document into the dock icon. Multiple simultaneous documents are acceptable as well, of course.
If you want to send something active to the Kindle, perhaps a web page or working document from Word, the Send to Kindle application also includes the same sort of “printer drivers” that the PC version makes available. Simply print as you normally would, choosing “Send to Kindle” as your device of choice. The same window will appear that you see when dragging document icons into the dock.
This window offers a few useful options. Most importantly, you get to tag your document with both Title and Author metadata. This means that it is not important to worry about file naming prior to transfer. One less hassle. You also get to decide on delivery options. You can choose to have your documents sent via Wi-Fi or Whispernet. If you choose Whispernet, the usual charges will apply and as such it is usually preferable to avoid it. You also get to decide which Kindle or Kindles get access to the document being sent. This can be everything on your account, just your smartphone’s Kindle for iOS app, or any combination in between.
You also get the option of archiving your document in your account’s Kindle Library. This is particularly handy and may get used more often than you expect. While each account only gets 5GB of free storage space, this does not generally fill up quickly when it is used primarily for document storage. This means that anything you think might be handy to have available can be stored in the cloud even when it is not worth the trouble of keeping on your Kindle itself at any given time. I find myself frequently using this function even when I have no reason to need an immediate transfer to the Kindle.
So far we lack any information about a possible “Send to Kindle for Linux” option. That would seem to be the next big step if another were to be take. Given Amazon’s enthusiasm for Linux as a platform, it might be a fairly long wait. It is definitely nice to see Kindle eReader and Kindle Fire functionality continuing to be expanded and made available to the largest possible audiences, however, and we can only anticipate the trend continuing as Kindle eBook prices drop in the near future.
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.
By now Kindle users have become familiar with the idea of sponsored screen savers on their eReaders when the devices are on standby. They are generally unobtrusive, don’t get in the way of the reading experience, and can even offer some decent deals from time to time when you get lucky. Not many people argue against them anymore, especially since Amazon now allows users to pay the price difference between a Kindle with ads and a Kindle without ads to have the whole mechanism disabled entirely. Unfortunately, the idle screen’s ads have opened Amazon up to a claim of patent infringement from one of the biggest “Patent Trolls” in operation.
The company making the accusation, Network Presentations Solutions, is a shell company operated by Acacia Research Group. Acacia Research Group, as some might remember from last October, has taken on Amazon before with regard to Kindle devices. Last time it was a variety of issues regarding the Kindle Fire. This time around, they have acquired the rights to a patent for any personal computing device that shows ads on a screen after a certain designated period of idling. Naturally this would include all recent Kindle offerings, in addition to other companies such as Kobo that have followed in Amazon’s footsteps, one would think.
What are they hoping to accomplish with this suit? The requested ruling would require Amazon to pay a substantial penalty, recall and destroy every Kindle device ever sold with the Special Offers screen savers, issue a copy of the court ruling along with an admission of wrongdoing to everybody who has ever owned a Kindle, and generally appear contrite and humbled. More realistically, Acacia is hoping for a substantial payday when Amazon settles to avoid the potentially huge ramifications of losing. Patent Trolls are not held in particularly high regard at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they always lose in court. Amazon isn’t exactly the most beloved company around at the moment either, after all.
While there seems to have been no word as to what, if any, progress has been made on the last Acacia vs Amazon lawsuit, it is a fair assumption that Amazon is not in the habit of quietly accepting this sort of thing. They have placed a great deal of faith in the Kindle line, both eReader and Tablet offerings, and such vaguely applicable patents have questionable standing when held up to scrutiny. Remember that a software patent holder needs to be able to prove that its patent involves a non-obvious solution to a problem. It is hard to say whether or not advertisements in place of screen savers would really qualify in the eyes of the court.
Chances are good that this is not the last time we’ll be seeing Amazon hit with patent litigation. Patent Trolling is huge money and there is a lot of profit to be made in anything somebody can make stick to the Kindle. With the next generation of Kindle Fire just around the corner and the possibility of a Kindle Phone being whispered about in vague rumors about the distant future, Amazon is just going to be even more open to these things. Hopefully the added expense of an occasional settlement or legal dispute won’t be enough to scare them off of ongoing hardware development.
Users of both the Amazon Kindle and PCs in general may be pleased to note that Amazon has released a new software tool for the PC that will make it a great deal simpler to transfer personal documents to a Kindle device. Simply called Send to Kindle for PC, this program will both insert an option to “Send to Kindle” in the context menu for any compatible file and add a printer option to print directly to your Kindle Library in a PDF format. It isn’t a groundbreaking development that will revolutionize the way we think of eReaders, Tablets, Kindles, or computers, but Amazon has actually addressed one of the most common hassles of using their devices in a simple yet thoroughly useful way.
The workings are simple enough. Install the package and log into your account at the prompt and you are ready to go. In the case of files you already have laying around on your computer, simply right-click and click “Send to Kindle”. You will be prompted to edit the title and author of the work and given the option to deliver to any registered Kindle device attached to your account. There is a check box present for anything that you desire to have added to your Kindle Library archive. To the best of my knowledge, working mostly from trial and error, leaving this box unchecked will prevent a copy from being saved in cloud storage.
Printing via Send to Kindle is equally simple. Just open whatever it is that you wish to have sent and choose the Print option as if you were looking for a paper copy. Send to Kindle will be listed among your computer’s printers. From there you will get exactly the same prompts mentioned above, with a note at the bottom of the window that the resulting document will be in PDF format.
This pretty much eliminates the need for USB transfer cables on Kindle eReaders in any situation where reliable WiFi access is available. It seems to take less than a minute for things to upload, process, and arrive at the destination device(s), with some delay to be expected for much larger files (max 50mb). This will not take the place of your cable for music or video files, which means that it is obviously more targeted toward eReaders, but documents and photos can be sent directly to the Kindle Fire if desired just like any other Kindle.
It’s nice to see that despite the overwhelming fascination with the Kindle Fire these past few months, Amazon has not forgotten its eReading customers. This is extremely useful, and gets around the annoyances of physical connection and emailed documents. While at present it does not include any sort of document conversion, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that at some point Amazon simply tells users to start sending EPUBs this way and removes the need for even something as simple as Calibre. Give it a try and see what you think. The Send to Kindle download is only 5mb or so and makes the Kindle even more useful.
Amazon’s audiobook subsidiary, Audible, has a long standing promotion for new subscribers that could make your next Kindle upgrade significantly more affordable than expected. It is not a new thing, in fact I am pretty sure that I’ve mentioned it here before from time to time, but since Amazon hasn’t been spending a lot of time advertising it recently I thought it would be worth another mention. The way it works is simple enough to summarize here.
We’re making the assumption here that you enjoy the occasional audiobook. Many people do, for a wide variety of reasons. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the quality and usefulness of Audible’s selection, but you would like to consider making use of this promotional credit, do not succumb to the instinct to try out the service with a 30-Day Free Trial. Yes, this is available, but you are only able to make use of one promo every 2 years according to the present terms & conditions and doing so would make you ineligible. your best bet is to ask around for somebody who is already a member and try out something they have picked up. It shouldn’t be hard to find someone, in my experience.
That addressed, it’s a simple enough arrangement. By making the commitment of a 12 month membership plan at $14.95 per month, you get one book each month and $100 any qualifying product. This includes any number of electronics from MP3 players and headphones to GPS devices. There are even some tablets and laptops in the selection. Most importantly, as far as I’m concerned, is that every Kindle product currently available is included in the promo. This means that your Kindle Fire could be picked up for just $99, assuming you wouldn’t rather just have a free Kindle Touch.
To take advantage, head over to this Amazon promo page. Under the heading “How to get your $100 promotional code” there is a link to sign up. Your new audible membership will be tied directly into your Amazon.com account as soon as the transaction is complete. This offer should be good until at least January 31, 2012. It may be extended beyond that point, and has been in the past with no notice or fanfare, but you never know for sure.
There’s little risk in this if you are an audiobook fan. Signing up for 12 books at $15 each isn’t exactly a ripoff on Amazon’s part, and they do not insist that you remain an active member to listen to them. These days you can download your Audible selection to practically anything, up to 3 devices at a time, and take it to go. The readings are above average, for the most part, and the service has been around long enough that reviews are plentiful and often highly informative.
Should you find yourself regretting the decision shortly after signing up, have no worries. The program can be cancelled at any point in the first 30 days. In that case you would be given the option to either pay the difference on your Kindle Fire (or whatever device you purchased with the $100 discount) or send it back unopened.