We’ve recently talked about the release of the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9”. It’s a solid device that gives every indication of being worth an investment. While not quite as versatile as many Android tablets due to Amazon’s proprietary software configuration that prevents access to the Google Play service, there is little else to complain about and a lot to be excited for. Some reports indicate that between this and the 7” model, Amazon’s tablets will outsell the iPad Mini 2 to 1 over the upcoming holiday season.
All that sounds great for Amazon and it’s definitely a sign that they will remain a major part of the Android tablet scene for some time to come. They may be in trouble as time goes on, however. The problem is not what many people have expected. The iPad is hard to compete against, but the surge in video game consoles with touchscreen accessories may hit Amazon in a major way.
The Wii U just dropped, which is what brings this to mind. Nintendo’s new console comes with a controller that doubles as a tablet. It offers a supplementary second display that should come in handy in everything from game play to movie watching. Sure, it requires a Wii U console to work, but that also allows the user to tap into a wide selection of content associated with that system.
Microsoft is also said to be working on a 7” tablet to supplement the Xbox 360 and the as-yet unannounced Xbox 720. Their Smartglass software already allows anybody with a portable device (smartphone or tablet), or even a convenient PC, to tap into the console experience. The Xbox Tablet, as it’s being called, will offer many of the same benefits that the Wii U controller boasts as well as serving the role of standalone portable.
Now, the main use of the Kindle Fire line is in consumption. Amazon designed them for that purpose and there has been no real effort to make them into anything but a convenient gateway into Amazon’s digital content selection. This means that in many ways the same customers they are looking at attracting are also likely to be interested in gaming and entertainment consoles, for obvious reasons. If we’re looking at a class of devices that are exceedingly popular and tie into their own proprietary tablets, as in the case of these consoles, it may cut into Kindle Fire prospects.
While this is all speculation, I can’t help but feel that Amazon is going to have to come up with some special service that distinguishes their hardware offering in the next year or so. The budget tablet market is still going strong, but there are a lot of big names that seem about as well equipped as Amazon who are set to enter the market. Since all the digital content sold through the company is meant to be platform-agnostic, there’s going to need to be something special done. Otherwise it’s only a matter of time before the iPad is just one of many strong competitors for the Kindle Fire HD.
After all of this time and effort developing the Kindle line into such an overwhelmingly popular force in reading that the biggest publishers felt the need to break the law rather than be intimidated, I think it is fair to say that Amazon is not prepared to give up on the electronic books. Even knowing this, it is clear that they are lagging behind a bit in development while concentrating on other areas. Sooner or later they are going to have to pay a bit more attention to the Kindle eReaders and hopefully this will result in a few big changes.
The platform is still amazing. Nobody can beat the Kindle Store right now. A Kindle vs Nook comparison that excludes hardware is hardly worth making, it’s so one-sided. Apps and content alone won’t be enough to carry the line forever, though, and there are a few additions that are safe to guess at so long as Amazon doesn’t try to simply eliminate the competition by selling eBooks below wholesale now that the Agency Model is on its way out.
Lit Kindle Display
We’ve already had some rumors about this, but nothing solid has manifested so far. The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight already accomplishes this in a way that impresses and avoids the shortcomings of backlit LCD options. Offering a new generation of Kindle eReaders that lacked the feature would be a mistake.
Yes, the Kindle Collections system is better than nothing. It came as a welcome change to years of nothing at all to organize with. It even makes sense to handle things with tags, given the cloud-centric nature of Amazon’s services. Being able to better organize books is going to have to happen eventually, though, and it would be a big selling point for new customers if it came soon.
Physical Page Turn Buttons
You won’t find many people who are completely satisfied with the lack of physical page turn buttons on the Kindle Touch. It is a fine eReader, but this was a glaring omission that is genuinely hard to ever completely get used to. It can’t possibly increase costs enough to justify leaving it out and hopefully Amazon will realize that now.
Color E Ink Display
This one is a long shot, but being the first to offer an affordable, reliable, attractive color eReader would definitely be a coup for the Kindle line. With the lighting options that have been described by Kindle rumors and put in place on the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, it would be more possible than ever to make the otherwise dull color E Ink currently available look quite nice. The only question is whether Amazon is able to do that and still sell cheap eReaders.
Support For Online Communications
Let’s face it, the big thing everybody keeps pulling out for eReaders is the social media integration. Kindle, Kobo, Nook, whatever, they all want to let you post from inside the eReader. Take it a step further and let the next Kindle act as a portal for select communications (Facebook, Twitter, email, and maybe a few others) and you expand the attraction of the device at minimal cost. This reduces the emphasis on the single use nature of the Kindle, but it makes it that much more attractive to a segment of the user base that prefers to stay constantly connected at the same time. It’s a smart trade-off.
While it has been known for a while now that Amazon’s first effort at tablet design, the Kindle Fire, was probably the most popular non-Apple tablet on the market, we have only just learned to what extent that is true. Recent information coming out of comScore indicates that the Kindle Fire has managed to acquire 54% of the Android tablet market in the months it has been available. Nobody else even comes close.
The last time we talked about this topic, the Kindle Fire had just started pulling ahead of the Samsung Galaxy Tab as the most popular of the iPad alternatives. Things are now apparently a bit less close. comScore reports that the Kindle Fire now has just under four times the market share enjoyed by the Galaxy Tab.
This report looks exclusively at the period from December 2011 through February 2012. In that time the Kindle’s popularity nearly doubled while not a single other Android tablet gained at all. The Galaxy Tab family lost nearly ten percent, falling from 23.8% to 15.4% of the market.
Amazon clearly struck the right note with their surprisingly low pricing of the Kindle Fire. At $199, it immediately enjoyed an advantage over the competition. While there are other options now at the same price, nobody has managed to leverage that advantage quite as well as Amazon did. Some of that is likely due to exposure and brand recognition. The Kindle Fire was the first truly useful $199 tablet and by far the most heavily advertised.
Mostly we can blame the competition’s failures on the inability to compete with Amazon’s media integration. Google has been doing great things with Google Play recently, including huge efforts to clean up the App selection and greater emphasis on video and music selections, but it is far from the experience the Fire offers even on a completely unaltered installation of Android.
The big question now is whether anybody else can hope to compete. The tablet market is increasingly centered around the iPad and the Kindle Fire. Admittedly this is already a change since six months ago it was entirely centered around the iPad. That said, the low price that Android tablet customers are coming to expect means that the potential for profit among hardware manufacturers without their own content hubs is shrinking at an alarming rate. Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab 2 is impressive, but it seems unlikely that the desire for a more versatile tablet will overcome the Amazon advantages across a large audience.
The Kindle Fire is clearly doing something right to have pulled this far ahead. While Amazon is rumored to be either subsidizing the price slightly or at most selling the hardware at cost, they are not the only option available. Even among the Kindle’s traditional competition, nobody seems to realistically consider the Kobo Vox or Nook Tablet to be equally attractive products at this point. There is more to that than just Amazon’s ability to throw money at problems until they come out on top.
While the Kindle name is practically synonymous with eReading for many people, it has been confined largely to the US for a rather long time now and as such Amazon may have lost a chance to build the same momentum in other markets. Much of what made them so successful was being the first company on the scene ready to get eBooks out there when customer interest began to stir. The situation will be a bit different moving forward.
When it comes to international market coverage in eReading, Kobo is the name to reference. They haven’t had the same impact in the US that Amazon has managed with the Kindle, but the Kobo Touch eReader has been available in areas where a Kindle was hard to come by for quite a while now. They have recently partnered up with WHSmith in the UK in an effort to gain more coverage. The Kobo Vox, essentially their attempt to match the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, is just £149.99 (by comparison, the Kindle Fire is not even available). That’s not to mention the fact that Kobo devices are already available in 190 countries with expansion still ongoing, or the newly revamped self-publishing platform that they are having some success with.
Sony is also making something of a comeback. While they were possibly the first company to launch a major eReader line with the Sony PRS series, they have failed to stay relevant in recent years. Their new Reader Store has finally opened (months behind schedule) in the UK and they have a fairly substantial presence in select other markets where the Kindle is just beginning to move in.
Even Barnes & Noble is going to be something of a threat, potentially, in specific international markets. Well, one specific international market if they’re lucky. The much-reported partnership that the company has with Waterstones has produced very few results so far. The partnership is still likely to happen, but they are taking their time about it. This is most likely a matter of developing relationships for content to fill UK eBook stores with and could be held up at least partially due to the chance of the Agency Model being abolished in book publishing by ongoing lawsuits. This would naturally have widespread implications.
None of this is to say that the Kindle won’t be able to make it outside the US. If anything, the international launch of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G enjoyed such popularity that even Amazon was shocked. Since the creation of a real, local Kindle Store in any given market is likely to be a major undertaking, however, anybody who has already got their store and device out there for customers is at a distinct advantage. Amazon certainly has enough weight to throw at the problems they encounter, and they will do so without much hesitation as the recent small publisher negotiations prove, but it may be a long process at best with all the other big names already at work.
It seems the rumor mills just won’t give up on the idea of a 7-8” iPad. We’ve been hearing rumors about the development of such a device for well over a year now that have yet to manifest. At this point having one announced would almost make me wonder whether it wasn’t a response to the popularity of the rumors rather than the rumors being a reflection of actual development. Either way, iPad fans are convinced that if and when such a tablet is released it will spell the end of the Kindle Fire.
Of course it is also being touted as Apple’s answer to the anticipated Windows 8 Tablet boom later this year. There is a very real impression that some people think all Apple needs to do is get this one last product to market to prevent anybody else from having the opportunity to break in. Unfortunately, the rumors don’t really explain why they would want to.
Depending on the source, we are talking about a 7”, 7.85”, or 8.1” iPad running at 1024 x 768. Essentially a scaled down version of the first two generations of the line. There is no explanation of how this will reduce prices enough to really make such an offering attractive. An iPad Mini would have to be scaled down in other ways as well. This would probably need to be more than just reduced battery life. We’re talking about a comparatively underpowered processor, reduced storage space, etc.
I won’t make the claim that this product will never appear. It feels that way a bit now though. Even if we assume, as many of these rumors do, that Apple made no effort to directly match price with the Kindle Fire and sold this smaller iPad for $299, it would mean the lowest profit margin they have taken to date. Every iPad being sold right now makes the company at least $200 profit, according to analysts. Apple is not a company who sells their hardware at a loss, as a rule.
Even if we do take the leap of faith and assume this happens, will it change things? The Kindle Fire is marketed to a completely different audience than the iPad. This might not, and probably will not, always be the case. For now we have to assume that Amazon is dedicated to developing the product as a means of ever-improving media consumption, though, and as such there is little need for the kind of versatility that the iPad manages.
Amazon would lose those customers who just want an iPad anyway but who are unwilling to spend enough money to pay for the larger, more expensive models. They are still going to be in a position to undercut Apple on the hardware prices due to the lack of reliance on device sale profit margins. This means that the customers who just want a smaller, cheaper tablet with access to a lot of features will still have a good chance of buying a Kindle Fire, or whatever the current model is called by the end of the year. An iPad Mini would upset the balance and be a big blow to the general Android Tablet market, but chances are good that the Kindle Fire could weather it. Somehow I still doubt we will have a chance to find out for sure.
While we recently learned that Amazon was planning something new with a front-lit version of the Kindle, Barnes & Noble has gone a step further and launched a lit Nook complete with release date. There’s no reason to think this is anything but a reaction to the leaked info regarding Amazon’s plans, but the fact that they already had a response prepared like this indicates a great deal of foresight. What was already quite possibly the best eReading hardware on the market will be the first to get upgraded for the next generation.
Those familiar with the Nook Simple Touch will also have a good impression of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. They are the same product, as the name might imply. GlowLight, Barnes & Noble’s solution to the problem of reading in poor lighting, has just been added into the existing model with minimal fuss. It doesn’t even get in the way of what have traditionally been the strengths of the un-lit eReader.
The new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will still have the same E Ink screen that we’re used to. It will work as well as ever in direct sunlight and any other situation where reading from a paper book would be plausible. The difference now is that holding down the ‘n’ button on the Nook will turn on a set of LEDs along the sides of the display. This provides sufficient light for any situation while avoiding a drastic increase in battery drain.
This upgrade will add an additional $40 to the price tag of the Nook. It is likely more than worth the investment, though. You are getting all of the advantages of E Ink with the conveniences a standard LCD would provide, but supplied in such a way as to be fairly easy on the eyes even when the adjustable lighting is in use. That’s the sort of convenience you really can’t pass up in an eReader.
The Kindle product line is still my preference and the eReader line that I would recommend to anybody I knew personally. That is not so much a matter of hardware superiority at this point, though. If anything, it is a matter of hardware adequacy and highly superior back-end support to shore up the physical product by comparison. There is nothing wrong with the Kindle Touch, per se, but it also doesn’t come with any such compellingly interesting new features.
We know that Amazon will be releasing something similar to GlowLight. Chances are even good that now that B&N has set a May release date for the new Nook, a shiny new Kindle will appear by June. If circumstances surrounding the settlements in the DOJ price fixing investigation didn’t seem likely to offer Kindle owners some truly amazing advantages in the near future, though, this would be the time when Amazon needed to sweat a little over the competition’s superior offering.
Say what you will about Windows 8 and the Metro style it introduces as a general computing option, it is amazing on a touch screen. I’ve had a chance to play around with it more than a bit since the Consumer Preview build was released to the public a few weeks ago and after a short adjustment period I have had nearly no complaints. There are obvious potential complications for the Kindle world, though since we can’t guess yet how inexpensive it will be possible for a full Windows 8 tablet to be, at best it is possible to make educated guesses about how portable device development changes in months to come. What might surprise many people, though, is that just as Android has been used effectively to power E Ink reading devices like the Barnes & Noble Nook, Windows 8 has been mentioned as a possible operating system for future Kindle competitors.
The goal has always been to create a consistent experience between every device that runs a version of the operating system. If you’re using Windows then it doesn’t matter if you’re on a tablet, a desktop, or a smartphone, because they will all function effectively the same way. Traditionally Windows has been seen as far too slow and overly large to be considered a cost effective way to handle a dedicated eReader, but this may be changing. Since Windows 8 emphasizes speed, efficiency, and power consumption, it may well work perfectly to bring that distinct touch-centric Metro style to the reading world.
This wouldn’t be bad news for the Kindle platform, of course. While Microsoft Is developing their own in-house app store to compete with that of Apple, there is already a Kindle for PC app to play with. It seems fairly safe to assume that since Microsoft will not be allowing highly customized or restricted copies of their software to be shipped (unlike with Google’s Android), the Kindle app will remain open to anybody using these new tablets and eReaders.
While we’re still a long way from anything certain, especially since the launch of Microsoft’s new operating system is expected no earlier than October, we do know that representatives of the company have hinted at an interest in joining the eReader market. They don’t build the hardware, so it might be quite a while before anything affordable comes along to demonstrate the potential of the Windows 8 option, but if a barebones copy of the software can be had cheaply enough to match existing prices then it might really shake things up.
Right now the Kindle is dominating the reading world. None of the Kindle eReaders make use of Android, but the Kindle Fire and any number of competing eReaders do. Microsoft would have to set prices so low as to shock many people if they really wanted to hope to compete with established products, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do so. They are butting up head to head with Apple and are clearly trying to establish a competing ecosystem. I don’t see them teaming up with Amazon to offer a dedicated Kindle Store option as an official counter to iBooks, but it’s inevitable that something is brought up to match practically every facet of iOS. The Kindle might well be caught in the crossfire.
It was recently announced that Kobo, Amazon’s leading competitor against the Kindle outside the United States, is offering a fun new perk for anybody who picks up one of their eReaders between now and May 2012. The new Kobo Book Club, as they are referring to it, will offer each person a book of their choice from a limited selection once each month through the end of 2012. As with what seems to be the competing program, Amazon’s new lending library, the available books will not necessarily be off the bestseller list, but they will be permanent acquisitions instead of just rentals.
Amazon made a bold move when they launched the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. It took long enough to even get the public library system compatible with the Kindle in the first place, thanks to the break from EPUB early on in Amazon’s eReading endeavor. Even that comes in the middle of the long fight publishers have put up against eBooks being in any way cheaper or more convenient than their paper counterparts, but that’s another story entirely. What’s most relevant, especially if we’re talking about somebody like Kobo trying to come up with a similar program is the reaction.
In a lot of ways that program is Amazon flexing their muscles. Yes, the lending library benefits Kindle owners and is something that I totally support, but starting it up without general publisher or author support and working around that problem by taking advantage of wholesale discount arrangements has led to a bit of drama. The Big 6 are upset, since it means that eBooks are yet again in danger of being found more convenient and less expensive than print books. The Author’s Guild has lent support to that side of things as well. It’s doubtful that any of this will cause Amazon to back off, but not many other companies would be in a position to get away with a similar move.
Kobo has avoided the problem entirely with their choice of titles. January’s titles, for example, will be:
Glancing at Amazon these seem to be well-rated titles, but you have to admit that the audience likely to get excited about them will be limited. If this marks the beginning of an ongoing trend, it’s hard to see this as a major draw for new customers despite its being available in Canada as well as the US.
This is especially true since buyers who go for the new Kobo Vox aren’t included. Many people are expecting the Vox to make a big splash by beating the Kindle Fire to new markets, and Kobo clearly rushed to get something out there in time to compete, so this exclusion is rather hard to understand.
While I wouldn’t exactly say that this should be a huge factor in any eReading platform choices, it’s nice if you were planning to go that route anyway. Kobo is currently the third most popular eReader platform around, so clearly the demand is there. An occasional extra can’t hurt, even if it doesn’t really provide exactly the same value as the Kindle counterpart.
While the Kobo eReader has had trouble gaining much traction against competing Kindle and Nook options, it continues to be a comparatively strong presence in the eReader marketplace. This is especially true in international markets where Amazon has not yet managed to secure the same sort of market dominance that it enjoys in the US. In an effort to keep up with the recent Kindle and Nook price drops, the Kobo Touch eReader had been brought down to as low as $99.
Of course, they accomplished this by using Amazon’s own methods against them. This newer, cheaper version of the popular touchscreen eReader will only be available at the $99 price point by offering advertisements. This is obviously no different from what has been done before with the Kindle, but it is especially interesting in that Kobo is the first company to attempt to make use of Amazon’s eReader ad revenue stream model.
The major question right now will be in how they implement it. Since none of the new Kobo models have shipped just yet, we have no way of knowing precisely where these ads will be placed aside from in screensavers. Any time the device is powered off or in sleep mode, the owner will be treated to a sponsored special offer. No major imposition there. The tricky part is that Kobo also lists ads in “other discreet places” without clear definition of where these will be.
I think it is safe to say that none of these ads will in any way interfere with the reading experience. Not only would that better adhere to Amazon’s already successful model, but Kobo as a company has always maintained that it is interested first and foremost in the reader. Nobody would be particularly happy at this stage if they had to read ads inside their books. That does not preclude throwing up half-screen banners or pop up windows that need to be closed to proceed throughout the menu navigation, though. We can hope that these will not be present, but the company does not have quite the clout that Amazon brings to the table and may need to concede a bit to get advertisers interested.
While it can be a touchy issue to bring advertising into something like this, especially in an environment where publishers are desperately afraid that customers will start perceiving eBooks as an affordable alternative to paper printings, if done right it can reduce costs significantly. There is every reason to expect that within the next year or two we will be seeing Kindles priced so low as to make it almost silly not to own one. They might even be free, under the right promotion. If this takes place, the competition will have no choice but to follow suit or drop out. Considering how tactfully Amazon has managed to include ads on their eReader line, making many owners including myself wish that it were possible to ad the adds to older Kindles, there is no reason not to join in so long as a similarly low key approach is employed.
The new Kobo Touch with Offers will be shipping in 2-3 weeks.
The Nook Color might have been the first tablet to come from a major eReader maker, but the Kindle Fire has clearly set the tone for devices in its size / power range. Amazon’s new media tablet hasn’t even shipped yet and people are scrambling to match prices or rush out competing product. For the most part, there isn’t really any obvious reason for Amazon to be concerned, but the new Kobo Vox is an imitator with impressive potential.
Kobo’s new Kindle Fire competitor, marketed as a color eReader much like the Nook Color, will be a 7″ Android 2.3 device with comparable specs, expandable memory, and a small selection of colored quilted backs to choose from. The single core processor might end up being a slight negative, but this was never intended to be a powerhouse anyway. Oddly enough, both the major strengths and the major shortcomings come in on the software end.
When Barnes & Noble started out with the Nook Color, they tried to keep it almost entirely about the reading. It was only relatively recently that their app selection started to improve. Amazon avoided that mistake by building up a huge App Store for the Kindle Fire before it even existed. Kobo seems to feel like it isn’t worth the trouble. Rather than a heavily customized, or even locked version of Android, they have decided that Vox users can just grab what they want through the default Android Marketplace. The OS seems to be pretty much just basic Android 2.3 with some Kobo Apps.
On the one hand, this is genius. It gives them the ability to offer customers access to the largest selection of Android apps in existence without having to jump through hoops. At the same time, however, it means that Kobo themselves will not be making any money off of anything but the books. Whether or not this proves to be a smart business move remains to be seen, but it will definitely appeal to a certain segment of the customer base.
What really makes the Vox a major player among eReading companies jumping into tablet production is Kobo’s international presence. More than pretty much anybody else so far, Amazon included, Kobo has managed to make sure a wide selection of books is there in any market they can get their hooks into. The Kobo eReader is widely available and has been for some time. It would not surprise me even a little bit to discover that when Amazon manages to get the Kindle Fire out to markets outside the US, especially those new sites like Amazon.es, the Kobo Vox is already a common sight.
It isn’t the best option in terms of hardware or software in the US right now, even for the $200 price, but for users who want just a cheap, effective 7″ Android device it might fit the bill. In areas where the tablet market has yet to really take off, though, I expect to see the Vox make a huge impression. Let’s just hope Apple can hold off on the anti-competition lawsuits?