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On e-Reader Tech News we track down the latest e-Reader news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great e-reader tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest devices and accessories.

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Introducing Amazon Coins: A Digital Currency for Kindle Fire Owners

Amazon’s most recent Kindle Fire marketing effort is the introduction of Amazon Coins.  They’ve released their own digital currency that can be used to purchase apps and games from the Amazon Appstore.  On the surface it’s a confusing move, given the larger trend of companies moving away from internally controlled currencies, but there’s a lot to be said for the idea if it is handled correctly.

Most users should already have received the email informing them that 500 Amazon Coins have been added to their account.  That will hopefully give people a chance to get interested in the idea.  This will not be blocking off real currency-based purchases, of course.  That’s going to be an important consideration, since systems that completely replace all other forms of money with their own tend to enjoy little enthusiasm.  One mistake easily avoided.  Even Microsoft has been forced to begin removing their digital currency thanks to that approach despite a large and dedicated user base.

Most likely, the goal here is twofold: Encourage more frequent spending and allow for more options where children are concerned.  The addition of an alternate currency model that can be used for these tasks makes perfect sense so long as they are not forced on the customer without their input.

Consider the potential for the Amazon Coin as a micro-transaction currency.  Rather than needing to enter a password for every payment, a customer can purchase 100 coins for a dollar and spend them at their leisure with no hassle.  Abuse is limited since there is a hard limit to how much of the currency is present at any given time.  Annoying lists including dozens of $0.05-0.10 transactions are removed from statements.  Customers even feel more free to make the occasional transaction they might otherwise have avoided, since the Coins are already sitting there.

When it comes to children, this has the additional benefit of security.  Nobody wants a repeat of the early iPad problems that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of purchases being made by those too young to grasp what they were doing, but at the same time parents often want to be able to allow free use of the devices.  By setting up a separate wallet for this sort of thing, Amazon could allow these parents to offer an allowance of sorts that doesn’t require regular input of a password or PIN.

Amazon is known for offering frequent promotions with purchases.  This will certainly continue to be the case.  While the occasional free MP3 or video credit might be beneficial for some and overlooked for others, it’s going to be easier to encourage people to make use of these freebies if they have a wallet to fill up with Amazon Coins.  This will encourage app purchasing and use while giving developers even more incentive to join the platform.  Considering the fact that Amazon’s Appstore for Android already shows superior returns when compared to the Google Play app store, it’s only going to get harder for anybody to justify staying away.

Amazon’s Updated Kindle Line Adds HDX For an Even Better Selection

Kindle Fire HDX comes with Mayday button supportAt this time Amazon has expanded their hardware offerings to include three types of Kindle. The Kindle eReader is still going strong, while the Kindle Fire HD and new Kindle Fire HDX justifiably occupy their space atop the Android tablet market. The release of the HDX also beings in a lot of great features that users have been requesting since Amazon’s first foray into tablets.

Improvements added to the Kindle Fire HDX over the Kindle Fire HD go beyond the incremental changes that we would take as a matter of course. There is the expected power increase, bumping it up to a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core CPU, as well as slightly improved battery life, but that is only the start of things. The HDX is also lighter, has more cameras (Front-facing added to the 7” model, Front- and Rear-facing now included on the 8.9”), and features a higher resolution screen with greater pixel density than the iPad 3.

The biggest benefits aren’t available from hardware specs, though. Fire OS brings a lot to the table. The most-hyped addition is the Mayday button. This will connect you instantly with tech support and allow they to walk you through any problem you might have, giving them access to your screen and the ability to highlight various portions of it to point out important functions.

Perhaps most important to device adoption is the expanded enterprise support that Amazon has put in place. A lot of people have been using the Kindle Fire at work and Amazon has taken steps to make it more useful for that purpose. There is now VPN support and MDM available through companies like Citrix. It makes for a much friendlier BYOD offering.

The existing Kindle Fire HD remains an excellent tablet in its own right, despite not measuring up on paper to its successor. The fact that the HD remains only $139 (8.9” – $229) compared to the HDX’s $229 (8.9” – $379) helps to assume that it isn’t going to be abandoned right away. Still, if you have the money and the inclination then the HDX is definitely the superior product.

New Kindle Paperwhite has greatly improved lighting and contrastThe eReader side of Amazon’s Kindle line has been fading away in the last year or two. It doesn’t get much spotlight now that there isn’t much room to grow. Still, they did recently update the Kindle Paperwhite to a new version and find a few ways to make it even better.

The improvements in the new Paperwhite are small, but noticeable. It is a bit faster, somewhat more responsive, and contains a better light than the original version. Most importantly they have evened out the lighting a bit around the edges. There are unlikely to be any complaints about the way things look now. While they may not be betting everything on eReaders anymore, Amazon hasn’t left Kindle readers behind.

Kindle Black Friday Specials for 2012

Every year Black Friday sales get more hyped and involve more ridiculous deals.  In some cases that’s a bad thing, especially when it involves camping outside stores for silly amounts of time to get a chance at one of the only two units available in a particular sale.  In many others it’s just a great time to save some money.

Since we know that a sale is on the way let’s take a look at what to expect as far as discounts this week.

According to Buyer’s Review, we can expect the following deals in brick & mortal stores this Friday:

  • Best Buy: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159.99 bundled with free $30 Best Buy Gift Card
  • Office Depot: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159.99 bundled with $25 Visa Card
  • Staples: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card
  • Office Max: Amazon Kindle Fire – $159
  • Best Buy: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199.99 free $30 Best Buy Gift Card included
  • Office Max: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199, bundled with $25 Office Max Gift Card
  • Staples: 16GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $199, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card
  • Staples: 32GB Amazon Kindle Fire HD – $249, bundled with $20 Staples Gift Card

We do have every reason to believe that Amazon will use this opportunity to further promote the Kindle line directly through their own storefront as well, though.

Sadly, we’re not going to be seeing a sale on the Kindle Paperwhite.  The eReader side of things has proven so popular since the Paperwhite was released that an order today will take over a month to get to its destination, just barely making it in time for Christmas if you spring for 2-day shipping.  In a matter of days it will likely be impossible to order a Kindle Paperwhite and have it before 2013.

We will certainly be seeing this sale day used as an opportunity to promote the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, however.  An effort was clearly made to get the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” out before Black Friday, which indicates that the larger tablet will be a part of the promotion as well.

Looking at the store offers above, nobody is actually discounting the Kindle Fires themselves.  All that is being added is a promo gift card.  Given all the blowback Amazon has been getting from these same retailers about showrooming, I expect that the online deal will go a bit further.  How much further is difficult to predict, but 10-20% off the price would create a huge surge of interest.

Remember that Amazon is using the Kindle Fire as a cheap option for content sales.  They’re not making much on the devices themselves.  As such I don’t think we can expect to see a $99 Kindle Fire, even using refurbished 1st Gen models.  Since recent teardowns point to there being a bit more profit than the earlier generation allowed for in a single unit, however, they have some leeway.

I know that I’ll be watching for a $160 Kindle Fire HD and I would be surprised if I don’t see one by the end of the week.

DC Comes to Kindle Store & More, Ending Comixology Exclusivity

While DC Entertainment is insisting that the move is not necessarily a switch away from Comixology, the publisher has now made the transition to offering its weekly content directly through the Kindle, Nook, and iBooks stores.  There is now very little reason to expect anybody to continue using the Comixology apps given that their main selling point was exclusive access to DC content.

This change in distribution model comes at a time when digital distribution is up nearly 200% over 2011’s numbers.  For comparison, DC has stated that their physical volume sales are up just 12%.  Given the already comparatively strong sales of the weekly comics in question it is a lot simpler to increase the audience for digital content by an impressive percentage, but this also comes at a time when many publishers are seeing digital distribution begin to overwhelm their traditional sales market.

The plan for rollout is essentially what you would expect.  The new titles, especially those that are part of DC’s “New 52” franchise reboot, will be available immediately as they are released.  Over an as-yet undetermined period of time they will begin issuing the back catalogue.  A DC spokesperson claimed that the only real reason that it would take some time to get to content that wasn’t brand new was the limitation of bandwidth.  The more interest digital content generates, the faster they will get the whole library converted and available through the various stores.

While there is not yet any way to get the DC catalogue in a readable format for a black and white eReader like the Kindle Paperwhite it is possible that this situation may change in the not too distant future.  Representatives of the company are interested in the idea of making their content available to eReader owners and see little reason for that to be prevented if a positive experience with black and white reading can be confirmed.  Senior VP of Digital for DC Hank Kanalz went so far as to explain his position:

“We’re taking a look at whether we like how it looks in the black-and-white space. My attitude is that if you’re stuck on a train, and you only have your Paperwhite or other black-and-white device, you can read it then and see it in color later”

This should go a long way toward both increasing interest in digital comic distribution and proving that an online distribution model will work for such a large publisher of graphic storytelling.  Seventy titles are already present in the Kindle Store and more will be around soon.  Perhaps it’s a matter of personal opinion, but I doubt there will be much concern over the end of Comixology’s reign when it comes to comic content being served to Kindle Fire owners.  It’s only a matter of time now before everybody else catches on.

First Japanese-Language Kindles Coming Next Month

The move away from physical keyboards gave Amazon an easy route into any number of non-Anglophone markets for the first time.  They’ve made good use of that since the Kindle Touch was first released.  In addition to being able to find a Kindle practically anywhere in the world, localized versions of the popular eReader can now be found for a number of language options.  Now, for the first time, Amazon is pushing their efforts into Asia with the first ever Japanese Kindle.

Amazon.co.jp will now have its own Kindle Store and will be offering the Kindle Paperwhite for sale.  Preordering is now open for both the WiFi and 3G versions of the device.  The prices are currently ¥8,480 and ¥12,980 respectively.  They will begin shipping on November 19th.

Japan has proven a hard market for Amazon to move the Kindle into so far.  Their site has been operating successfully there for twelve years now, but it has been reported that they had trouble getting Japanese publishers interested in doing business with them after all of the conflict between Amazon and the Big 6 publishing houses in US markets.  It seems that terms have now been reached that are considered satisfactory.  The press release for this announcement indicates that over 50,000 Japanese-language titles will be available at launch and that these will include the largest selection of Oricon best sellers anywhere.

Naturally all of these titles will be accessible through Amazon’s various distribution channels.  Kindle Paperwhite owners will be able to make use of the new store, but so will Kindle Fire owners, Kindle app users, and anybody with a web browser.

Introducing the Kindle line to Japan is a particularly important move for Amazon if they want to keep expanding the customer base.  While geographically small, Japan is home to one of the most literate cultures in the world.  It also enjoys the widest newspaper circulation anywhere and may prove a useful place to renew interest in digitally distributed newspapers and magazines.

There is also a large market for graphic literature to be exploited.  This launch will include over 15,000 manga selections.  Kindle Format 8’s Panel View will come in handy for this and the high contrast Kindle Paperwhite display could prove an ideal medium for these books.

The Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD are also now available in Japan and should be shipping on December 19th, one month after the Paperwhite goes out.  While this caters to a different market, having options is never a bad idea.  The Kindle Fire HD might not be quite as good for reading as its single-purpose eReader counterpart, but it does provide a greater versatility and convenience for the money.

ABC News App Now Available for Kindle Fire

Fans of ABC News can now get their content directly from the source using their Kindle Fire without the hassle of using the website.  ABC decided it was time to optimize their Android application for the Kindle Fire in order to cater directly to owners of the most popular Android tablet to date.

What this means for users is that they can now get anything they want from ABC’s recent content in a format optimized for the Kindle Fire’s 7” screen.  The wider reaching implication is the vote of confidence this represents.  It might not be much of a stretch for ABC to decide that it’s worth their time to work with the most widely owned budget tablet on the market, but it does count for something that they did so at a time when many are declaring the end of the Kindle Fire thanks to Google’s Nexus 7 competitor.

The app itself is fairly nice.  Users get browse their news under a number of headings.  Each story is presented with both title and basic summary.  There are even images on the selection screen in cases where the story includes either photos or video.  It’s quite intuitive.  These headings are presented on a looping ribbon at the top of the home screen.  By sliding the ribbon, more options become available.

These headings do include local content, show-specific content, and video selections.  That should make it easier for regular viewers to find what they need.  The shows highlighted include Good Morning America, World News, Nightline, and 20/20, among others.  Local news is available from Chicago, Fresno, Houston, LA, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco, and Sarasota.  General video content appears to be drawn directly from the website.

While this is a very usable app, there are some small issues.  The most significant is the lack of orientation control.  All text and image-based news content is displayed in portrait mode, as are all menus.  Video content, on the other hand, is displayed only in landscape mode.  This can be jarring and really has no business being the case, given that the Kindle Fire’s screen is more than capable of displaying both types of content in either mode with no loss of quality or usability.

Some might also be put off by the advertising.  While this is a free app, most videos and seemingly all photo slideshows include ads.  Since most of these ads lack the user interface elements that are shown while browsing the content they appear amidst, it can be confusing to determine what exactly needs to be done to dismiss them.

Overall ABC News has released a strong app that caters to existing fans.  If you don’t already follow the network, there is little here that will persuade you to start.  On the other hand, there is absolutely nothing to complain about when comparing the app to other similar offerings.  We can hope that when the next generation of Kindle Fire is released, the ensuing popularity will encourage ABC to put some effort into making their program even better.

Funamo! Parental Controls for Kindle Fire May Cover For Lack of Built-in Options

The lack of intricate parental control options has been a popular complaint about the Kindle Fire since about the time it was released.  Amazon has made some moves to address the most pressing issues.  We haven’t heard any horror stories about people going into debt over Smurfberry purchases, for example.  Still, until Amazon comes up with more options that allow parents to manage how these devices are used, there is going to be a steady stream of complaints.  Funamo has stepped up to handle that need in the meantime, for a small fee.

At $20, this is not a cheap application.  Not only that, Funamo is not yet available in the Amazon Appstore for Android.  This means that it needs to be purchased through the developer’s website.  The hassle and expense may be worth it considering what can be accomplished by having it around.

The default settings are fairly straightforward.  You install Funamo and log in, after which the device settings will be completely locked out.  It comes with its own web browser, which has all the usual things one would expect parents to want to keep blocked already cut off, and encourages users to put the Silk browser onto the “Protected Apps” list.  Besides that, everything else is up to the user.

This isn’t just a matter of locking out certain content, either.  Yes, it is likely that many parents would approve of the ability to block porn viewing from their child’s tablet.  Using Funamo, it is also possible to say that the same child’s favorite games will only be available between 9am and 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Parents can set limits on everything from media viewing time to reading.  Many will even be quite encouraged to note that it is possible to block the Kindle Fire’s access to the Appstore entirely when desired.

Any of these settings can, of course, be overridden with a password.  You never know when exceptions to the normal rules might be in order.  They can also be changed on short notice as well, and not only from the Kindle Fire itself.  Nightly syncing allows parents to maintain control through any internet-connected browser.

Through this web interface, it is possible to add, change, or remove access restrictions.  It is also possible to view a detailed history of everything that has been done on the tablet recently.  If a child does something unexpected that the parent never thought would come up, it is a simple matter to adapt the rules to cover the new situation.  While the Kindle Fire does not support Push updates, Funamo is set to sync up nightly by default.

At a glance, this seems to be slightly overprotective.  Users are encouraged to take control of literally every aspect of their kid’s tablet experience.  That sort of control is precisely what many parents are looking for, however, and if this allows the child to enjoy ownership of their own Kindle Fire where it would otherwise not be allowed, it is probably worth the hassle for everybody involved.

Android 4.1 Jelly Bean Brought To the Kindle Fire

As many people expected, the Google Nexus 7 tablet is a product developed specifically to knock Amazon off of the top of the Android charts.  Hardware-wise, it is certainly more powerful.  Whether this is enough to actually sway users is still in question, however, since the popularity of the Kindle Fire has never been based on its performance alone.  The software is another story.

By releasing the Nexus 7 with the newest version of Android (4.1 Jelly Bean) Google packed in some major advantages that Amazon never even had the option of putting in the Kindle Fire in the first place.  It was a smart decision, given reviews, and things are looking up for Google at the moment.  Kindle Fire owners might still feel a bit left out, however.

That is where XDA comes in.  It is the good people over on the XDA Developers forums who we have to thank for any number of Android hacks, including the ability to gain root access on the Kindle Fire.  Their most recent Kindle-related development is a custom ROM for installing Jelly Bean on the Kindle Fire.

Now, Amazon has not exactly set any records for taking security on their device seriously.  The last time an update went so far as to disable the security hole by which people were rooting their tablets, another option was available immediately.  If I recall correctly, the new rooting method might have been released before the update was ever rolled out thanks to somebody getting their hands on it a couple days early.  As such, it seems unlikely that Amazon will be terribly worried about the impact of customer device customizations on their bottom line.

The existing Android 4.1 ROM for the Kindle Fire is still being worked on.  It is fairly simple to install using the instructions provided over at XDA, but not everything is enabled just yet.  There is a bit of a problem with the wifi connectivity, though that is more an inconvenience than anything and fixes can be found scattered around, and various minor complaints have come up with certain apps in cases where this ROM is installed on top of an existing custom ROM.

Should you decide that you want to try all the newest features from Google, look this option up.  Keep in mind, however, that doing so will void your warranty.  It is also possible that you can render your device unusable if you botch the installation.  These are standard cautions that anybody attempting this process should be aware of.

Amazon has done a great job with developing a fork of Android 2.3 specifically for the Kindle Fire.  Users seem to really like it and the integration with Amazon services is impressively smooth.  Chances are good that the new Kindle Fire 2 will ship with an even more advanced build that offers far more features.  None of that means that the desire to try the unlocked, open version of Android is unusual or problematic.  If you do it right, follow all the instructions, and exercise caution then a completely different experience is available to try.

Say Goodbye to OpenFeint, Amazon Introduces GameCircle for Kindle Fire

One of the biggest problems with making games for Android devices like the Kindle Fire is that it can be very difficult to create a framework around them.  Yes, there are plenty of stand-alone titles to choose from, but if you’re talking about anything competitive or social then that means potentially huge investments in technology beyond the app itself.

Many app developers have found shortcuts around this problem.  Among the more popular is a service called OpenFeint.  The service provides a relatively easily integrated social gaming platform with a fairly large established user base ready to draw on, but it also runs into issues.  The company running the service has been accused of privacy violations, sharing user personal information with advertisers, and monitoring user activity outside of games.

The lawsuits regarding those complaints and more are still pending.  Whether you believe that the company is a problem or not, though, clearly the adoption of the platform can cause problems for a developer.  You need only look at some of Amazon’s previous “Free App of the Day” selections to see how it affects reviews, especially among Kindle Fire users.

Many have felt the need to incorporate that platform, or something similar to it, in order to provide features like competitive scoreboards and other social features without the need to create an independent support structure for them.  Amazon, fortunately, has provided a better option.

On July 11th, they announced the new GameCircle service.  A series of APIs are now available to developers that allow them to build in achievements, leaderboards, and cloud saving.  It has already been included in a number of popular games, including Temple Run and Triple Town, thanks to a successful beta run involving those developers.

Achievements are a natural way to increase time spent in a given game.  They have become common enough that just about any user will recognize them and they provide arbitrary goals within games that can both guide and reward players in a variety of situations.  The potential for increased engagement that they provide is well known and far more effective when made into a socially shared experience rather than an in-game checklist.

Leaderboards are excellent for any potentially competitive title.  Timed games, anything point-based, and progress competition are all possible.  The implications are obvious.

The most important part of this update, however, is the sync feature.  By allowing a user to sync their progress in a given game without requiring that files be left behind even after the deletion of a title from the device, GameCircle extends the lifespan of games.  Even if you don’t finish a given selection on your phone tonight, you can always pull it up on your Kindle Fire tomorrow and pick up where you left off.  You can even forget about a game and not have to start unlocking levels again from the beginning when you think about it a year down the line.  It’s highly appealing.

Overall, GameCircle meets a need.  It eliminates the need for potentially shady alternatives and further incentivizes development specifically for Amazon’s Appstore.  That will be essential for the continued popularity of the Kindle Fire, but anybody with an Android device stands to benefit.

Amazon Kindle Smartphone Rumor Spreads

According to people with knowledge of the situation, Amazon is planning to bring out their own smartphone to compete with Apple’s iPhone line.  A Bloomberg revelation provided that information recently.  The idea of a Kindle phone is something that has been touched on here before, particularly during the days leading up to the formal announcement of the Kindle Fire when anything seemed possible.  It is increasingly likely that this is going to be the next stage of Kindle growth now that a tablet presence has been established.

The Kindle Fire gives the retail giant a foothold in portable electronics in a way that even the Kindle eReader couldn’t accomplish.  The Kindle built its own market and basically kicked off the previously minimal eBook industry.  The Kindle Fire proved that Amazon was both willing and able to enter into an existing device market and hold their own.  In addition to building up consumer trust, it helps get things ready to enter into an even more competitive market.

Selling a smartphone is not likely to be a simple task, even for Amazon.  This is not a company known for passing any large amount of control to their partners.  While it is standard practice for carriers to demand custom devices, it is hard to imagine a Kindle phone going that way.  The whole point of Amazon’s hardware development is to lock people into a fairly closed loop of media services provided by Amazon and nobody else.  Allowing carrier customization would seem likely to dilute their own branding somewhat.

This move would also open the company up to any number of patent disputes.  It doesn’t matter whether they manage to acquire a large patent portfolio to defend against infringements, though sources indicate that this is exactly what is happening already, lawsuits over mobile devices are the norm rather than the exception right now.

On the plus side, the fact that Amazon already has a well-received fork of the popular Android OS will help them get off the ground.  Despite running on Google’s software, the experience provided by the Kindle Fire is sufficiently unique to make it stand out.  A similar effort released in a smartphone would provide an attractive alternative to the competition.

It would also greatly expand the potential user base for Amazon’s Appstore for Android, which many users find preferable to Google Play’s less carefully policed app store already.  More users would naturally add additional pressure for app developers who might be on the fence about signing up with Amazon so far.

Since we have no more solid information aside from comments by “people who should know”, this can’t be taken too seriously.  It would definitely be a smart move in some ways, but the added expenses from carriers, legal defenses, and assorted other problems particular to the mobile communications industry would make it difficult for Amazon to continue maintaining their policy of providing ridiculously low prices on all their hardware.

Would a Kindle phone sell well?  Probably.  Would it sell well enough for it to be worth the investment?  It’s too early to tell, though Amazon seems to be considering the possibility.