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.

Kindle Fire vs Windows 8 Tablets: Another Pointless Comparison

There is essentially no competition to be found between the Kindle Fire and any imaginable Windows 8 Tablet at this time.  I’ve touched on this a bit here already immediately following the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it’s come up in emails and various other places often enough since then to be worth revisiting.  They are catering to completely different needs, price ranges, and purposes.  I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to anybody, but let’s hit the high points again.

The comparison ends up being very similar to that of the iPad vs the Kindle Fire.  It is inevitable that people will compare them.  After all, they are both tablets.  Add to that the fact that they are both extremely popular and that each is backed by one of the biggest companies in the world right now and the parallels are too clear to ignore.  Stepping past the most superficial aspects gives us a much more meaningful understanding.

In the case of Windows 8, we’re looking at a tablet OS that is deliberately formed into something that could replace a laptop.  The Surface is the ideal example, as you would expect when Microsoft designed both hardware and software sides of things.  Users get productivity apps along the lines of a full Office suite, a well-integrated social media sharing system, and more.  If you could possibly want to do it on a tablet, or on a portable computing device in general, Windows 8 is probably somehow equipped for that.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, doesn’t even come with full Android functionality.  It is an Amazon device meant for consuming Amazon media services.  You don’t get much in the way of access to third party programs.  Even media coming in from a non-Amazon source isn’t always supported as well as one might like.  I can recall a few occasions when the lack of a decent codec pack was problematic.  If a particular user’s situation demands it then they can certainly install some approximation of office apps and such, but the experience will be less than ideal and there is no way to significantly improve it.

There is a reason that the Kindle Fire is priced so far below things like the iPad and, presumably, the Surface.  You wouldn’t be wrong to guess that part of it is simply an inability to compete at that price point, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either.  Amazon is using the tablet in a different way and not even really trying to compete.

There will always be implicit comparisons.  Not only will they come up with the big names in the tablet market, but the Kindle Fire will forever be lumped in with the Android Market as people try to figure out who is doing well.  In reality, it doesn’t even belong there.  Their device is being sold cheaply, maybe even at cost even now, specifically because it doesn’t matter how much they make on the hardware.

Anybody who uses a Kindle Fire, however briefly, is a win for the company simply because they are then tied into the media network where Amazon is really interested in making their money.  They don’t want to make a tablet that can be everything for everybody, just to add a bit of incentive to choose them for any digital media needs one might have.

Amazon Appstore Expansion Indicates Kindle Fire is Nearly Ready For International Release

Amazon recently announced that they are now interested in developer submissions of Android apps for the international expansion of the Amazon Appstore for Android.  Those who are interested can now submit via the Amazon Mobile App Distribution Portal in order to be ready for the expansion.  This summer the Appstore is expanding to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.  Beyond that there are apparently plans for more, but even a handful of new markets should generate a big surge in popularity for the Appstore in general and the Kindle Fire in particular.

The Kindle Fire has to be what this is all about, of course.  We are expecting the next iterations of the Kindle line, both tablet and eReader, before the summer is out.  Although their first Android tablet has started to lose some of its initial popularity, it is clear that Amazon has a great deal invested in the idea of mobile devices integrated into their media distribution system.

Because of its integration, however, selling the Kindle Fire outside the US has seemed problematic at best.  Amazon has a lot going for them, but media rights need to be established in any country the company chooses to support.  That means not just books as with the Kindle eReaders but also movies, television, music, and apps.

Getting the apps will probably be the easiest part for this effort.  By setting up a portal by which Android developers can submit their applications, they are actually setting up an interesting alternative to Google Play.  Google has had a few incidents with regard to paying their international developers (mostly failing to pay them, actually) that makes an alternate major app store with a proven record huge news.

There are no estimates yet on exactly when the Kindle Fire will be offered outside the United States.  It even makes some sense to question whether Amazon will bother marketing the existing model at all.  With a newer high resolution model supposedly on the way, as well as a larger version set to follow soon after, waiting an extra month or two to make sure to put the best product forward might be the smart move.

The Appstore for Android has already proven itself able to provide better returns for developers than its Google counterpart.  It’s true that many find the extra oversight and extended review process to be painful, occasionally to the point of refusal, but that has not stopped the store from growing rapidly over the past year.  Customers seem to value the higher submission standards, if nothing else.

Will this be enough to revive interest in the Kindle Fire?  That’s hard to say.  With Windows 8 right around the corner and Apple surely waiting to one-up any competition as soon as they are able to justify it financially, it’s an unsettling time to be selling Android tablets.  Because of Amazon’s break with Google’s standard interface and store, as well as the ecosystem integration, they stand somewhat apart from the Android crowd and might be able to survive even if interest in Android falls abruptly.  The next Kindle Fire is going to have to be impressive to regain the kind of market share that it had at the end of 2011, though.

Kindle Fire Passed By Nook Tablet in Web Traffic

Right now it is safe to say that the iPad is on top when it comes to tablets.  I’m assuming nobody genuinely thinks anymore that the Kindle Fire was ever about trying to bring down Apple’s device.  It is no surprise then that in a recent analysis of their web traffic impressions, the Chitika Ad Network found that 91% of tablet traffic on the web comes from iPads.

What was somewhat surprising was that for the first time we see the Nook Tablet beating the Kindle Fire in terms of use.  Since May, the Nook has jumped from making up 0.53% of all tablet traffic to accounting for 0.85%.  For just a month, that’s an impressive increase in presence.  The Kindle Fire saw no such increase and even seems to have fallen off slightly in the same period.

What does this mean for the two devices?  Unfortunately this data is hard to draw any real conclusions from.  Lacking any sort of information about data collection, we don’t even know as much about what devices we are talking about.  How much of the Nook’s internet presence comes from people running rooted tablets thanks to simple tools making use of the SD slot, for example?  That matters, since it is essentially a lost customer for B&N when they are selling their hardware at near-cost in order to lock people into their ecosystem.

Even if we assume that those users are completely removed, we are still left with a study that examines only web use.  Anybody who has spent time browsing the internet on either of these devices already knows that while pleasant enough for what it is, the browsing experience a 7” tablet offers will generally fail to impress.

I would be more excited to see information about impressions and click-throughs on advertising in popular apps across multiple platforms.  That would be likely to give us a better understanding of the comparison since just about everybody loads up some Angry Birds or Words With Friends from time to time.

With the iPad still providing about fifty times the traffic of its closest competition this is all really a minor point.  You just can’t expect a small device designed for media consumption to do the same job or generate the same interest as Apple’s more powerful and popular product.  They have nothing to fear from Android tablets in general right now, let alone the budget side of the market.

Clearly this data will be helpful for anybody who is interested in trying to target tablet users specifically when designing a web-based advertising campaign.  For the rest of us, however, there is not enough detail to be worth thinking too much about it.  It would be nice if the Nook Tablet suddenly experienced a huge boost in popularity since Amazon couldn’t help but push back by adding new products or software features, but that isn’t necessarily the case here.

Maybe the next generation of tablets, with Windows 8 competing against the iPad and a Microsoft-backed Nook line providing intense competition for the Kindle Fire, but for now things are pretty much on hold.

Microsoft Surface Tablet Isn’t Kindle Competition Exactly, But…

Ok, so as much as the Microsoft tablet announcement seemed potentially poised to do something even more unsettling to the small tablet market than Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire pricing could accomplish, the danger has mostly passed.  There is no way that either of the versions of Microsoft’s new Surface tablet are going to be priced comparably to consumption-specific tablets any time soon.

They do bring a few things to the table that might make people think twice about bringing anything else into an academic situation, though.  That could be bad news for the Kindle given Amazon’s emphasis on academic applications for their devices.  While many students couldn’t afford something like an iPad in addition to their computer, a tablet like the Surface has the potential to let students do without a computer while still retaining much of the functionality of a Kindle Fire type of device.

Looking specifically at the ARM-driven Windows RT model, which will be the first to become available, there are really interesting things going on.  No, it will not have anything approximating an E Ink display, but it will come with a 10.6” HD screen.  That’s going to make a big difference for everything from movie viewing to game playing.

On top of that, the device integrates two digitizers.  One of those handles normal touch behavior while the other is specific to stylus contact.  In the event you are writing with a stylus, the Surface knows to ignore your fingers so that you can write naturally.  This will be huge for everything from in-text annotation to general note taking.  Comfortable one-handed scribbling on the go might finally be possible on a tablet.

For media, the Microsoft tablet will have outputs so that you can put your video on an HDTV or monitor as desired.  This was an important enough feature that they practically opened the reveal by talking about how there would be a Netflix app available at launch.  It is also something that the Kindle Fire has definitely been missing.

It will, as always, come down to price.  Right now we know nothing besides that the Surface for Windows RT will be priced close to comparable ARM tablet alternatives.  That probably means that it will run at least $400.  In that case, Amazon has little to worry about among their primary customers.

The biggest concern is going to be when Amazon reveals their new Kindle Fire later this year.  A 10.1” Kindle Fire would be nice, but if it doesn’t significantly undercut both the iPad 2 and the Surface then there will be trouble.  I love the tight integration that Amazon has given their tablet, but when you have something that is literally intended to be a complete PC you don’t need that.

The best we can hope for is that Amazon will stick to their undercutting strategy and market the newer, larger model of the Kindle Fire for something like $250 to maintain its position as a valid alternative for the consumer on a budget.

Amazon Brings HBO GO to Kindle Fire

Beginning immediately, Kindle Fire owners are able to take advantage of the new HBO GO app.  This app, downloadable from the Amazon Appstore for Android, lets HBO subscribers watch their favorite content on demand right from their Kindle.  This means immediate access to, among other things, over 1,400 episodes of HBO’s original content.

You’ll find a lot of that content already available through Amazon’s Instant Video store, but how likely is anybody to pay the $2.99 per episode they’re asking for Game of Thrones at the moment even if DVDs aren’t available?  Chances are good that if you’re really excited about these shows then you already have an HBO subscription and as such will incur no extra charges when bringing your Kindle Fire out as a viewing option.

Amazon has invested a lot of time into making their video selection competitive.  The Instant Video service has gone from somewhat helpful at best to being a genuinely persuasive reason to consider Amazon Prime.  The fact that the Kindle Fire offers convenient direct access to these videos is a large part of why the device was so important to Amazon’s efforts.  After the Kindle eReader took off so strongly they were naturally after a way to turn that model around for other forms of media.

Some people were genuinely worried that Amazon’s emphasis on selling video content and Amazon Prime subscriptions would lead them to exclude other providers to varying degrees.  This is even more of a concern now that they keep expanding.  One of these days there might even be real competition with services like Netflix.  It’s good to see that Amazon’s interest in being a part of the digital video business isn’t so important to them that they would make it difficult for apps like this one to get to customers.

Subscribers will be able to create their own Watchlists to keep track of things.  You also get to mark your favorite shows so that your Watchlist is immediately updated with new episodes as they become available.  From what I can tell, this content is out for streaming almost immediately upon airing, so it makes a lot of sense for those of us unlikely to schedule around weekly TV viewing rituals.

There will also be access to bonus content.  Viewers will be able to pull up behind the scenes extras, interviews with cast and crew, recaps of prior episodes to keep you up to date, and the usual DVR-style interface that we have come to expect.  As in most cases like this, if you are viewing a video on one device and have to stop for whatever reason you can pick up where you left off later regardless of whether you are still on that same device.

HBO still carries a subscription outside of anything related to the Kindle Fire.  This is a great deal if you already have that subscription.  If not, chances are good that this will not be quite enough to push you over the edge into buying.  It’s a neat app and HBO shows are some of the best in production right now by any measure.  That should be your deciding factor.  The Kindle Fire access is just a hugely convenient bonus.

Kindle Fire Sales Decline is Worth Noting, but Only Part of the Story

Recent data out of ChangeWave Research indicates that the Kindle Fire is still idling at a much lower level of consumer interest than was the case in the fourth quarter of last year.  Obviously nobody expected the rate to jump back up to as high as it was immediately after the holiday release of a much anticipated product, but the fact that there has been no noticeable change since the beginning of this year is being taken to mean that the Kindle Fire is essentially dead in the water.

ChangeWave Data (as seen on the right) puts the interest in Kindle Fire purchases among potential customers at about 8%.  This compares less than favorably to the iPad’s 73%.  I don’t think it is fair to say that this comparison should be made given that they serve completely different customer needs, but let’s take this for what it is.

The Kindle Fire is still running ahead of all other Android devices by a fair margin.  Even in the limited information we get from this ChangeWave survey, interest appears to be at least 30% higher for the Amazon product compared to its closest non-iPad competition.  In that respect, it is doing quite well.  This doesn’t mean that there are great times in store for the future of the product, however.

The biggest issue right now seems to be the fact that Android is failing to match up with the competition.  The best sellers are the Kindle Fire, which goes a long way to distance itself from Android, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which appears to be considered as one unit in the publicly available information of this report despite actually being a line of four separate products.  Nobody else stands out.

I would predict that tablet customers get even more cautious in the months to come.  We’re still waiting on an official announcement about the Kindle Fire 2.  The release of Windows 8 tablets into the market is going to upset things in a way that nobody can quite predict yet.  Even Apple might do something unexpected if the incredibly far-fetched iPad Mini ever actually appears.  About the only company that customers can be completely sure of ongoing support from right now is Apple and even there it is hard to be certain that you’ll be making the best use of your money.

In the short term, I expect the Kindle Fire to become more of a niche product.  It is a media consumption tablet rather than a fully functional computing device.  You can’t reasonable replace even a small computer with it like you can an iPad.  This doesn’t make it any less useful, but customers are now realizing that there are specific reasons to get a Kindle Fire and that you can’t expect it to function as an iPad competitor.  It was never really meant to.

In the long term we have to wait and see where Amazon goes with the next Kindle Fire.  If the reports of a larger, more powerful device are true then perhaps they will be trying for a serious PC replacement.  It might not be the best time to be marketing something like that against all the new Windows 8 PCs, given how well Windows 8 is said to perform on a touchscreen device, but there is the chance that Amazon’s forking of Android will be sufficient to generate their own unique category in customer perception.

Even if they had no prayer of ever taking majority control of the tablet market, and realistically I don’t think anybody believes they have a prayer of doing so, Amazon isn’t about to drop the product line.  It is still gaining popularity, however slowly.  Media is still selling through it more steadily than through any other Android device.  However much Kindle Fire sales numbers might not match up to holiday interest, that’s only part of what matters when it comes to success.

Draw Something for the Kindle Fire Now Available

Have you been wanting to engage in a social experience with friends using your Kindle Fire despite its lack of camera or microphone?  If so, it’s a good time to head to the App Store and check out the new releases.  OMGPOP’s hit game “Draw Something” is now in stock.  With both Free and Ad-Free flavors ready for your download, everybody has a way to play.

Much like the ever-popular Words With Friends, a game which came packaged with the Kindle Fire, users are matched up with friends in a turn-based back and forth game.  There are no time limits, and you can have a number of simultaneous games going if that suits your mood.  Don’t have friends who play?  No problem.  Draw Something will match you up with complete strangers at random just so you have something to do with your time.

The core game mechanic in Draw Something is…ok, you can probably figure that one out on your own.  Anyway, each player takes turns either drawing one of three word options presented at random or trying to guess what word the other player was trying to represent with their drawing.  It’s a pretty straightforward kind of game.  Scoring is done using in-game currency, which can then be used to purchase things like extra colors for your use when doing more drawing.  Naturally there is also a micro-transaction option, but it is unobtrusive and easily ignored.

This new release still has a couple problems with it compared to more established incarnations.  There have been issues reported when logging into your account from multiple devices.  There have been similar, yet seemingly unrelated problems for people who own multiple Kindle Fire devices on the same account.  Perhaps the biggest problem that people are running into is the lack of an option to take a screenshot.  Since achieving popularity, Draw Something screenshots have been shared all over the internet and the inability to save a particularly good one due to limitations in the Kindle Fire’s software may be frustrating.

As with many other popular social games, Draw Something is a cross-platform program.  Players can connect with their friends over Facebook or via usernames chosen within the app itself.  If you want to do without a Facebook account then you will need an email address, but there have been no reports of these addresses being abused or spammed in any way.

What it all comes down to is that Kindle Fire users have access to perhaps the most popular time-waster type of game on the market for the moment, which by extension more than doubles the potential Android Tablet user pool.  Better late than never, of course, and there will most likely be months yet before something else comes along to capture popular attention.  Have fun with it and exercise your creative side.

How I Dropped the Kindle Fire Launcher Without Rooting and Why I Went Back

The Kindle Fire is a powerful device for the price and as a result many people are eager to get the greatest possible return on their investment.  It can definitely do more than what the default UI brings to the user’s attention, given the de-emphasis on apps in favor of media consumption.  This has led to an ongoing complaint that the Kindle Fire’s custom launcher is a bar to purchasing because of its break from the general Android experience.

People generally understand, from a financial perspective at least, why Amazon felt the need to cut their tablet off from the Google Marketplace (now Google Play) in favor of the Amazon Appstore for Android.  The building a visually distinct user experience tends to be more troubling.

Having had more experience with Android smartphones than tablets, I have generally been inclined to favor the Kindle Fire UI on a personal level.  It handles everything I feel the tablet is good for and doesn’t bother me with anything else unless I put it on the Favorites bar.  When I got an email from a reader here recently about an app called Go Launcher EX that would change everything around to a more general Android tablet experience without all the trouble of rooting, though, I felt I had to give it a try.

The program is available in the Amazon Appstore, but it is listed as incompatible with the Kindle Fire.  This is not entirely the case.  If you download the .apk from the developer’s website (making sure to enable side-loading in your Kindle’s settings), it will install with no trouble.  The app is freely available.

What you get for the effort is a great deal of customization.  Multiple pages of customizable screen space are opened up by default.  Widgets are included that will keep you up to date on everything from the weather to your device’s battery life and more are available with little trouble through a built-in store.  Technically the backgrounds for the desktop screens are configurable, though that isn’t entirely functional alongside the Kindle Fire’s password screen for some reason.  In general, while far more complicated than the default launcher, Go Launcher EX did bring a great deal of the tablet versatility that might be what people want.

Unfortunately, while using the new launcher I found the Kindle to be noticeably slower to react.  Even when making use of the included utilities to completely free up active memory in every safe way possible, the experience included stuttering from time to time that reminded me of the Kindle Fire’s state before the first major firmware patch.

On top of this, the shift in emphasis to favor apps over Amazon’s integrated services seems to open up new possibilities at the expense of clarity and intuitive design.  For a good half hour I was near to believing it might be impossible to gain access to cloud-stored apps and documents, for example.  Overall I can’t really recommend for or against changing your launcher.  I think the Kindle Fire shipped with a UI that is fast, intuitive, and plays to the hardware’s strengths.  That doesn’t mean it is perfect or that you won’t find things you wish it would do better.

I will probably want to try something like Go Launcher again on a larger tablet, but for now I’m still finding the best uses of such a small device are exactly where they have always been.  Apps can help with the consumption focus, but I’ll never need to have half a dozen screens full of them on the Kindle Fire like I do on my phone.

Amazon is Getting Kindle Fire In-App Purchasing Ready

If you’re going to develop an application around the idea of ongoing micro-transactions, and many people have chosen to do exactly that, then the most important consideration is likely going to be smooth integration of payment options.  Amazon used the essence of this in the creation of the Kindle Fire itself.  The whole tablet is basically a way for customers to get the content they want without thinking too hard about where or how to get it, all while keeping the actual act of purchase as unobtrusive as possible.  Until now, however, app developers wanting to cater to Kindle Fire users have been unable to turn this to their own advantage.

We know they have been looking into making this happen for quite some time, but apparently now we have some confirmation of active testing being done in preparation for a more large-scale roll-out.  One of the founders of Skimble Inc, the maker of some physical fitness programs that have been involved with the pilot, revealed some of the details.

There will be both individual purchase options and the ability to set up a subscription.  This will be handy for newspapers following Amazon’s recent recommendation that potential newspaper submissions set up their own apps rather than getting into the Kindle Store’s selection.  Amazon’s cut on every sale will be the same 30% they take on eBooks and app sales in general.

This opens up whole new avenues of income both for Amazon and for app developers participating in their Android app store.  Currently anybody looking for regular income from their users is forced to either sell ad space in free apps or arrange some sort of non-integrated system for content purchases.  It is a smart move that puts the company in a much better position to capitalize on the Kindle Fire and Android app sales in general.

This is not a trivial thing to get going.  Amazon absolutely needs to get things right.  There have already been complaints about their parental controls thanks to poorly functioning and completely missing options in the initial release of the Kindle Fire.  Users need the assurance that this will not be an issue in the future.

Many will remember the iPad in-app spending horror stories resulting from unrestricted purchasing options.  Children were able to charge thousands of dollars buying virtual goods with no notice or warning screen until Apple came up with more refined controls.  Such have not been nearly as necessary for the Kindle Fire before now, but adding this feature to the system will require some changes.

While Amazon has the best selling Android tablet on the market today, they have the smallest of the three major tablet app stores.  Part of that is the heavy oversight they keep in place to ensure quality control among their offerings, but a lot is also lack of developer interest.  While developers are likely to make significantly more on their app sales through Amazon than through Google Play, the initial sale is not the only source of income for many companies.  If Amazon gets this working, and working well, it could lead to a huge boom in Kindle Fire app-building.