The next generation of the Kindle eReader is going to have at least an optional lit display. We know that for a fact at this point. Even if previous reports of supply chain requests, patent purchasing, and “leaked” previews of the hardware weren’t enough, the no bid contract that Amazon signed with the US State Department clearly indicated that the devices they delivered would have front-lit E Ink displays. Unfortunately it might be a bit longer than we expected before we see these new lit Kindles.
According to information from DigiTimes (to which all the standard cautionary disclaimers regarding their notorious unreliability apply), there have been some problems coming up in the production of their new lighting. While reports of test units have indicated that the technology works, apparently something is going wrong now that they have stepped up to mass production.
This may have the effect of delaying shipments of the new Kindle eReader until late in the third quarter of 2012. Considering the fact that most people expected to see this new product announced as early as the end of July, the delays mark a major issue for Amazon’s continued investment in eReaders.
At the moment, the Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight is the most functional eReader on the market. Barnes & Noble, Amazon’s primary competition for eBook customers in the US, came out with their own lighting solution months before Amazon was even rumored to be ready with their own. This has not stopped the Kindle from remaining the most popular eReader on the market today but even with superior customer loyalty, satisfaction, and brand recognition you can’t think they will be happy about losing any customers over the hardware side of their business.
Even with these delays, there is no reason to expect the front-lit Kindle to be pushed back beyond the holidays or abandoned. Amazon is already committed to releasing such a device and it is about the only direction they could hope to improve their hardware at this point until color E Ink screens become less problematic.
The biggest problems with this delay will likely be experienced by users already invested in the Kindle platform. Many are hoping that the update to the Kindle’s hardware will address some of the more common complaints in addition to offering the convenience of lighting. Touchscreen Kindles from the latest generation have not included physical controls for turning pages, unlike the Nook Simple Touch, which is one of many customer demands that will likely come up here.
The Kindle Keyboard is still available and offers up all of the reading enjoyment that it ever did while not requiring the user to sacrifice screen quality, but it is also not receiving significant upgrades to its software features anymore and as such can’t quite compete with newer models for many users. Presumably the next installment will combine the advantages of both possible approaches now that Amazon has had a chance to see what worked and what didn’t when they moved the Kindle over to a touchscreen.
Unless literally none of the information we have about upcoming developments in Kindle products turns out to be accurate, there are a couple things we can safely assume. There will definitely be a front-lit Kindle eReader along the lines of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight, for example. That was inevitable, of course, but thanks to the details of Amazon’s recent contract with the US State Dept we know that it will be sooner rather than later. We also know that there will be a new Kindle Fire tablet of some sort this year.
Amazon is said to have originally intended a larger model Kindle Fire to b ready on release day, giving customers some choice. Due to time constraints, and the need to be ready for last year’s holiday season, that didn’t pan out. This year the talk has been about Amazon making good on that potential. We have heard rumors indicating an 8.9” Kindle Fire, a 10.1” Kindle Fire, both at once, and more. The predicted timeline puts whatever happens in the next 4-6 months.
The latest update we have on this comes via DigiTimes. As always, they must be taken with some caution. Still, the information seems realistic and they have come up with some early information in the past that turned out accurate.
This report indicates that Amazon will be releasing an update to their 7” Kindle Fire in the third quarter of 2012. It will include a higher resolution 1280 by 800 screen as well as other unspecified hardware improvements meant to target higher-end tablet customers. The price of this model will still be just $199.
The existing Kindle Fire will continue to be available to customers much as the iPad 2 remains available despite the hardware having moved on. The Kindle Fire Classic, or whatever it is called by this time, will be sold for just $149. This is expected to go a long way toward increasing Amazon’s exposure and overall Android tablet dominance.
The same report also goes on to explain that the previously mentioned 10.1” Kindle Fire is still going to be made and appears to be on the way either late in 2012 or early in 2013. Supposed 8.9” device development has been suspended, presumably because three active options in the Kindle Fire line will already be more than enough to choose from. There is no word so far how much this larger tablet will cost.
DigiTimes aside, I think that there is enough precedent to say that Amazon will likely have a large sale on the existing Kindle Fire prior to and immediately following the release of its successor. It may be kept around, much as the Kindle Keyboard has been, but more likely the price drop will simply be a transition tool. Amazon has been suspected of selling previous generation devices as “refurbished” regardless of their actual condition in order to drum up some last minute interest and clear out existing inventories.
The demand for a color Kindle has been relatively constant since the eReader was first introduced. It was the major point of contention in early Kindle vs iPad comparisons and likely resulted in the sale of no small number of iPads in the first generation. The Kindle Fire was a step in the right direction, but like the Nook Color it relies on an LCD display that is far from ideal for reading. The back-lighting necessary for such a display is both hard on the eyes and a huge drain on batteries compared to E Ink alternatives.
Now, E Ink eReaders have a new standard to live up to since the launch of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight. We can be relatively certain that Amazon is aware of this fact and interested in stepping up the game a bit with their next Kindle release. This means that there will obviously be a similar lighting feature that doesn’t intrude too much on the battery life users have come to expect from a Kindle eReader, but there will have to be more if they want to really stand out. The new Nook has been around for long enough that light alone will probably fail to impress even if Amazon could launch immediately.
There may be a case to be made for expecting a front-lit color E Ink Kindle in the second half of this year that will make besting the Nook’s GlowLight model possible. Consider the shortcomings of E Ink’s Triton displays. They do have color, yes, but it is dull and lifeless except in ideal lighting situations. Even in some specially selected showrooms there are times when Triton’s color fails to impress. Adding in a front-lighting solution along the lines of what Barnes & Noble has achieved with GlowLight may eliminate that problem. If the lighting is built right into the device and still doesn’t significantly reduce the battery power then there is no reason to avoid color E Ink anymore.
This is not new speculation, but it does carry slightly more weight than it used to. We have already had information leaked about Amazon’s possession of lighting technology for the new Kindle. It was reported on shortly before the new Nook was made public. Now DigiTimes, that highly unreliable but occasionally informative Taiwanese publication, has made the claim that parts suppliers are getting orders for color eReader components on a schedule that would set release in the second half of 2012. I would never rely wholly on DigiTimes for information and so would advise against considering that confirmation, but they have been right even more often than they’ve been wrong.
If we do get a color Kindle eReader before the holidays, expect a fresh boom in eReading in general. Not only would it be impressive new technology that addresses a major customer demand, it would benefit from the first major change in eBook pricing since the introduction of the Agency Model. We can’t be sure how soon Amazon will jump on the pricing issue given that there are still unsettled defendants in the DOJ case, but the end result will definitely benefit Kindle owners immensely. This could be a very big year.
I would be the first to admit that the Kindle line is amazing. I love my Kindle Keyboard and use it daily. I also know that I’m not the only one. It is therefore unsurprising that when a Digitimes rumor indicated that Amazon was buying up truckloads of color E Ink screens in a size that would work in the standard eReader form, many people took it seriously. It turns out that this is pretty much confirmed to be a fabrication already, and that is not at all the bad thing that it seems at face value.
As those who have followed any of the rumor storms surrounding Kindle releases are probably aware by now, Digitimes is something of a questionable source. While they get just enough right that people keep checking back, this time other more reliable resources with far better track records have checked into the situation and confirmed that there is no chance at all that Amazon will be launching a color Kindle. Not only are the E Ink Triton displays currently being produced primarily in 9.7” rather than the 6” that Amazon would certainly require after the failure of the Kindle DX to take off in any major way, they would apparently need at least a year to gear up for fresh production of this magnitude.
Before you get upset, though, take a look at the Triton display a little more closely. Under ideal conditions, it is amazing. Everything we would ever ask for from a color eReader and perfect for a new Kindle to breathe innovation into the eReader market with. What we saw at CES 2011 was not that. It looked nice, but that’s about all. The colors were definitely on the screen and they were distinct and easy to make out, but they were dull. Uninteresting. Not quite ready.
As much as I would love to have a brand new color eReader that could bring everything in the print world together again without the need for the flaws of LCD displays, this is not the way to pull it off. When Amazon releases their first color Kindle eReader, let’s hope that they take it seriously and make it a serious product rather than just jumping to get something on the market to prove to customers that they haven’t completely given up on reading in favor of tablet sales.
Make no mistake, in time there will be a Kindle Color and it will not have an LCD display. Jeff Bezos said a long while back now that he was unwilling to release a color eReader before the technology was ready to do it right. This is not that time and I am happy to say that there is no reliable indication that either Bezos or Amazon in general have changed tune. Give it a year or two, then we can see what the future of eReading looks like. In the meantime, there is always the Kindle we know.
Originally, the plan for the Kindle Fire‘s release was supposed to have involved two Tablet PCs. That was the story being told during the speculation period, at least, and it seemed pretty believable. Supposedly, as Amazon grew concerned about the time it was taking to get both products ready, they became afraid of missing out on the 2011 holiday season and put all resources into the 7″ Kindle Fire instead. There is yet every reason to believe that further Kindle Tablet devices are planned for the future, though.
Up until now we have been assuming that the next one to come would be the previously rumored device known by the code name “Hollywood”. This was to be the 10.1″ version of the Kindle Fire that would run a quad core processor and have an increase in both storage and memory. Many analysts have been expecting to see this device released as early as the first quarter of next year, but new information from DigiTimes seems to point to a slightly different course for the immediate future.
They have heard from sources associated with Amazon’s current 7″ display suppliers that Amazon has set things in motion for the production of 8.9″ screens. While it is always important to remain somewhat skeptical of supposed inside sources for a variety of reasons, if true this could mean that entirely new things are in the works for Amazon’s next Tablet PC.
While it would not necessarily be true that an 8.9″ display would have to be less powerful than the Kindle Hollywood rumors were indicating, there has to be a reason for such a shift. The obvious answer would be cost management. While the Kindle Fire is currently selling ridiculously well in pre-orders, it is only able to do that by virtue of its low price and comparatively high level of content. Should Amazon have jumped into the tablet market with something trying to take on Apple’s iPad on equal terms, it is likely that things would be going somewhat less well.
By using a screen that is somewhere between the iPad and the Kindle Fire, Amazon not only keeps costs down below what Apple has been able to manage, but also continues to remain distinct in customers’ minds. Yes they are both tablets, but by virtue of form alone they will fill different needs and desires just as the Kindle eReader line was able to do.
This doesn’t rule out the possibility of a 10″ Kindle somewhere down the line, but should the rumor prove true then it would be far less likely. The Kindle DX‘s lack of success should be enough to steer Amazon clear of the “bigger is better” mindset, if nothing else. In addition, while there are currently a wide number of Kindle eReaders to choose from, there is every reason to believe that Amazon will be eliminating the Kindle Keyboard as a major part of the product line within the next few months. Just as it makes little sense to try to keep providing five or more different eReader options at a time, trying to market 3-4 different sizes of tablet seems unlikely to significantly increase sales.