With the emphasis on portable electronics always tending toward smaller and/or thinner it isn’t surprising that the Kindle DX was never quite as popular as its smaller counterparts. The extent of its failure is a little strange, though. The 9.7” version of Amazon’s Kindle eReader now seems to have been quietly pulled from the virtual shelves and left without a successor. Why did it fail to catch on and is there even a market for a device like this?
As has been demonstrated in both tablets and eReaders, bigger doesn’t always mean better. There have been many eReaders attempted with larger screens and the variety of Android tablets is quite a bit more impressive. The iPad is still going to be the bestselling tablet in the world for years to come, however, and it is quite a bit larger than many options. One would think that screen size would be a valuable enough asset in the reading experience to make something similar possible for the Kindle DX.
There are plenty of reasons why that comparison is lacking. Mostly it comes down to the fact that Apple put out a well-designed product and Amazon screwed up a bit. What did they need to do better to keep the DX a viable option for customers?
When it was released, the Kindle DX cost just about 30% more than the Kindle 2. That made it $489. While I remember spending $300+ on an eReader and being satisfied with each one, whether it was the Sony PRS-500, the Nook, or the Kindle 2, that wasn’t a sustainable sales strategy. The Kindle is now under $70 per unit. The Kindle DX at its lowest never got below $299 new.
The fact that the Kindle DX only had navigation buttons on one side was a major shortcoming. It hampered one-handed reading and landscape-orientation reading in general. The keyboard, while nice to have, was also less usable than it needed to be. The larger screen would have benefitted more from a touchscreen than any current Kindle does by far.
E Ink screens aren’t known for being the most durable things in the world. The Kindle DX, however, used the only one that I have ever had break on its first fall. Twice. I understand that a combination of the larger size and higher device weight make it more likely to have problems, but this is a big issue in light of the tendency for people to read one-handed.
The Kindle DX never really saw much attention in terms of software updates. It needed to. Many of the issues that users reported, especially with regard to PDF viewing, could have been addressed. Amazon gave the impression of having given up on the device within months of its release.
All told, it’s safe to say that this doesn’t really prove anything about the niche. Yes, the Kindle DX is gone. That could be because customers just don’t like large eReaders, sure. It could also be because customers aren’t interested in incredibly expensive eReaders with design flaws and a lack of software updates.
Don’t misunderstand, I love the Kindle DX. Until giving mine away to a friend, it was used on a regular basis. It just happened to give the impression of being a product that still needed work. A larger version of the Kindle Paperwhite priced at $179 would fly off shelves, in my opinion. As much as I wish that would happen it seems to be time to give up on the idea. The Kindle DX is no longer relevant.
Amazon has arranged for a September 6th press conference that leaves a lot to the imagination. The text of the invitation apparently reads, in its entirety, “Please join us for an Amazon Press Conference.” It will take place at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica. That’s really not much to go on. Still, it is all but a given that the event will show off the latest generation of Kindle products.
About a year ago Amazon released an entirely new set of Kindles. The Kindle Fire was the centerpiece, of course, but the then-renamed Kindle Keyboard was joined by a new basic Kindle and the Kindle Touch. The Kindle Fire shook up the entire Android tablet world and changed the game entirely there. It’s thanks to Amazon that we’re seeing truly useful tablets in the $200 range.
The newer Kindle eReaders did not enjoy as much success. The basic Kindle is indeed the cheapest and most widely purchased eReader on the market today, being the first to get under the previously impressive $100 mark. That is about all that has managed to impress people about it, however. The Kindle Touch is an interesting device and brought a touch interface to the line, but that’s not been enough to really demand attention for a while now.
The speculation about what September 6th will bring for the Kindle is still rather varied despite the event being close at hand. Based on the information available, however, we can make some fairly safe predictions.
Using a front company, Amazon seems to have managed approval for new versions of both the Kindle Fire and the Kindle eReader. This is not unprecedented and the last update to the product line involved three devices registered through three separate front companies in an effort to keep details under wraps.
On August 15th The Digital Reader reported a tip that led them to the new Kindle Fire. It is less than informative, and certainly not as detailed as many would prefer, but some useful info can be gathered. Judging from the dimensions, for example, we’re looking at a 4:3 device as opposed to the 16:9 aspect ratio used by most tablet builders. It’s an interesting choice that may point to this being a larger tablet meant to compete directly with the iPad, since that is the same aspect ratio Apple uses in their own design.
The new Kindle eReader cleared in much the same way on August 21st. A different front company run through the same corporate services provider registered an “electronic display device”. While the testing doesn’t indicate a front-lit screen, which would be in keeping with certain delay rumors that have been floating around, it does point to something with both WiFi and 3G access as well as audio capabilities.
This does not mean that there will be no front-lit Kindle. The three filings mentioned above from last year were all made the day before their official public announcements. All that this indicates is that there will definitely be a version of the next generation that doesn’t have front-lighting. Not really a surprise given that the inclusion of such a feature is sure to bump the price compared to unlit alternatives at least slightly.
State Dept Contract Cancellation Reinforces Front-Lighting Rumors?
There will definitely be a front-lit Kindle at some point, regardless of delays and pricing differences. We know that Amazon is working on producing them thanks to leaks, property acquisitions, and basic reasoning (the light on the Nook Simple Touch is really useful and Amazon would be silly not to make one).
The fact that they have failed to land a proposed $16.5 million no-bid contract with the US State Dept might point to delayed releases. The initial proposal required 2,500 Kindles with preloaded content and front-lit displays. Since the document included the indication that the “Amazon Kindle [is] the only e-Reader on the market that meets the Government’s needs”, something came up in the meantime. Production delays that would result in an inability to meet deadlines are not at all out of the question.
In what will probably turn out to be another preparation for this event, Amazon has managed to grab the trademark for the word Firedock. That was originally the name for a fairly impressive Kindle Fire accessory concept from Grade Digital Audio that is now going by the name Matchstick.
The Kindle Fire, despite its emphasis on media, is badly in need of affordable accessories. An official charging station/speaker dock would sell amazingly well and clearly Amazon is aware of that. The big question is “why didn’t they put something out sooner”, but with luck the wait will have been worth it. Combined with a potentially larger display, this could completely change the level of utility for the next generation of Kindle Fire.
Nexus 7 and Nook Competition
With all the talk of a Kindle Fire meant to compete with the iPad, it’s easy to forget that the existing model is already enjoying some fairly stiff competition. Google’s Nexus 7 is quite possibly the best tablet available for $200 right now; no matter what metric you are using.
Despite some supply issues, Google’s 7” tablet is enjoying a deserved surge in popularity. Between allowing access to the wider world of Android content (including that offered by Amazon) and the more up to date hardware/software combination it ships with, there is little to recommend the existing Kindle Fire by comparison unless Amazon’s home-grown interface is a deeply desired feature.
On the eReader side of things, the Nook is still going fairly strong as well. While device sales are down according to their most recent quarterly reports, content sales are up and the Nook Simple Touch is still setting the hardware standard. Given that Barnes & Noble is about to begin extending sales of the Nook to Britain, opening the door to new and as-yet untapped customers, we can’t discount the potential for a sales boom in the Nook’s future.
Sources seem to indicate that there will also be a refresh of the Nook Tablet in the next month or two. Given how forgettable the Nook Tablet has been in the current generation, despite its superior hardware specs compared to the Kindle Fire, this would initially seem to be a minor issue. At the same time, though, there was nothing to really complain about with the existing device. It just didn’t impress by comparison. Barnes & Noble has invested the time and money necessary to improve things in the meantime and will almost certainly surprise to some degree. Right now about all we know is that the intention is to have the new model improve the reading experience and show off a revolutionary new display technology of unknown capabilities.
iPad Mini Competition
The long-rumored iPad Mini seems to finally be on the horizon. While I’m personally still quite skeptical about the existence of such a device, increasingly reliable sources seem to agree that Apple has finally caved in and decided to join the 7” tablet market. The Kindle Fire, despite being updated, might have trouble competing in that segment should Apple really put serious effort into things.
At the same time, however, the objections that many have cited in the past remain applicable. Apple is not known for their ability to sell things cheaply. The least expensive iPad they have sold to date has made the company around a 50% profit at launch. They will have to accept much smaller margins or furnish far less modern hardware if they are to get device prices down to the $250-300 range that they would need to achieve. This doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen, but take the rumors with a grain of salt.
Right now, Kindles are getting hard to come by. The Kindle Touch is completely out of stock. You can’t get one in any form, with or without Special Offers and/or 3G access. The Kindle Keyboard is similarly hard to come by, though the Kindle Keyboard 3G is still around.
Basically anybody buying one of the current generation devices can choose between the $79 Kindle with no real navigation and annotation capabilities and the Kindle Fire. Unless you think that Amazon is getting people together on the 6th to talk about how they’re cutting back to just two models, it’s fairly obvious where this is going.
We’ll keep you up to date here when solid information as it becomes available. This is the time when Amazon really has to come up with something big to stay in the tablet market and they aren’t known for disappointing customer expectations. It’s going to be an interesting announcement.
The next generation of the Kindle eReader is going to have at least an optional lit display. We know that for a fact at this point. Even if previous reports of supply chain requests, patent purchasing, and “leaked” previews of the hardware weren’t enough, the no bid contract that Amazon signed with the US State Department clearly indicated that the devices they delivered would have front-lit E Ink displays. Unfortunately it might be a bit longer than we expected before we see these new lit Kindles.
According to information from DigiTimes (to which all the standard cautionary disclaimers regarding their notorious unreliability apply), there have been some problems coming up in the production of their new lighting. While reports of test units have indicated that the technology works, apparently something is going wrong now that they have stepped up to mass production.
This may have the effect of delaying shipments of the new Kindle eReader until late in the third quarter of 2012. Considering the fact that most people expected to see this new product announced as early as the end of July, the delays mark a major issue for Amazon’s continued investment in eReaders.
At the moment, the Nook Simple Touch w/ Glowlight is the most functional eReader on the market. Barnes & Noble, Amazon’s primary competition for eBook customers in the US, came out with their own lighting solution months before Amazon was even rumored to be ready with their own. This has not stopped the Kindle from remaining the most popular eReader on the market today but even with superior customer loyalty, satisfaction, and brand recognition you can’t think they will be happy about losing any customers over the hardware side of their business.
Even with these delays, there is no reason to expect the front-lit Kindle to be pushed back beyond the holidays or abandoned. Amazon is already committed to releasing such a device and it is about the only direction they could hope to improve their hardware at this point until color E Ink screens become less problematic.
The biggest problems with this delay will likely be experienced by users already invested in the Kindle platform. Many are hoping that the update to the Kindle’s hardware will address some of the more common complaints in addition to offering the convenience of lighting. Touchscreen Kindles from the latest generation have not included physical controls for turning pages, unlike the Nook Simple Touch, which is one of many customer demands that will likely come up here.
The Kindle Keyboard is still available and offers up all of the reading enjoyment that it ever did while not requiring the user to sacrifice screen quality, but it is also not receiving significant upgrades to its software features anymore and as such can’t quite compete with newer models for many users. Presumably the next installment will combine the advantages of both possible approaches now that Amazon has had a chance to see what worked and what didn’t when they moved the Kindle over to a touchscreen.
The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, taking place now through June 10th in Wales, has been one of the largest growing literary gatherings since its inception in 1988. From a humble gathering of around 400 bibliophiles, it has become a staple for the community that expects to draw in around a quarter of a million guests over its ten day run this year. The Festival boasts panels with famous authors, debates about literature and environmental sustainability, and a number of other topics and activities. A much-cited quote taken from Bill Clinton in 2001 declares it “The Woodstock of the mind”. It is unfortunate, knowing about all this, to hear the recent press around participants’ demands to completely ban the Kindle from the event for the duration.
It would be hard to call this a surprise considering the nature of the festival. Whatever else it has become, the festival was begun as a way to draw attention to the town of Hay-on-Wye and its position as a central location for independent bookshops. In many ways this has been amazingly successful. As things expanded, and they certainly have by this point with there being over a dozen different official “Hay Festival” events happening around the world every year, it just would have been nice for a bit of a wider view to take hold.
I’m not against the idea of the festival. If anything, however, the Kindle belongs right in there with everything else. Consider their own description of the festival itself:
“Hay celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking. We believe the exchange of views and meeting of minds that our festivals create inspire revelations personal, political and educational.”
This event is meant to be a gathering in celebration of great writers and thinkers, not favorite formats and business interests.
The Kindle protesters, led by local bookshop owner Derek Addyman, blame the activities of Amazon for the recent closings of five of the area’s thirty or so secondhand book stored this year. Add to this the fact that the town’s only seller of new books went out of business as well and you can understand some of the pressure that the group must be under.
It’s interesting to see exactly how hostile the statements are getting, though. Addyman has been quoted as saying “Booksellers here definitely want them banned. You see people walking around with Kindles and they are like robots in another world…Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.” It isn’t a great way to garner sympathy from potential customers, given the increasing support eReaders have been enjoying every year.
If the Hay Festival really is a celebration of the written word and great writers, then the Kindle is going to be especially important in making those things more accessible to the readers of the world. If this is still simply a propaganda-driven event meant to promote Hay-on-Wye bookshops then they need to make that more clear. To the best of my knowledge there has been no actual ban, nor was there ever really going to be one, but it is rather sad that this sort of thing is allowed to hijack what is otherwise an interesting and potentially productive event.
When it comes to reading devices like the Kindle, E Ink displays are both the primary draw and the biggest marketing problem. On the one hand they allow for insanely long battery life and a reading experience as easy on the eyes as any paperback. On the other, they offer little advantage besides that ease of reading since the opaque nature of E Ink means that even optional lighting has not been possible before now.
Recent reports coming out of Seattle indicate that the next generation of Kindles will finally have built in lighting. While we have not had a chance to actually play with any, the technology reportedly being employed will involve front-lighting of some sort that can be controlled through the system’s menus. This both gets around the problematic opaqueness of the E Ink material and avoids doing so in such a way as to produce eye strain like that found when reading on an LCD.
This will be the first big step forward for either the Kindle or eReaders in general in quite some time. For the most part, the only think that differentiates the Kindle from its competition at this point is the integration with Amazon’s Kindle Store. Other than that the Nook Simple Touch is the slightly superior device and even the less well known competition is close enough to be comparable. E Ink Pearl has just been around for long enough that everybody who is interested has managed to adopt it.
Now it is definitely cool that we will be able to do our Kindle reading in dark or poorly lit rooms after all this time. It is even cooler to discover that it won’t have tradeoffs that negate the point of owning a Kindle instead of or in addition to a tablet. Most exciting for me, though, is what this means for the generation beyond what we’ll see this year.
The major shortcoming of color eReaders using displays like E Ink Triton are that, unless the lighting is close to ideal, the colors are washed out and dull. Once Amazon has some experience with including front lighting and has the implementation of a lighting layer down, there is no reason to think that they would have trouble adjusting to meet the needs of color displays. This would probably result in having a color/monochrome toggle that insisted on turning the lighting on any time you wanted your Kindle to pull up a magazine, but it would still completely change the color eReading marketplace and eliminate the need for LCD reading tablets.
All reports indicate that the newest Kindle generation is still in development phases while the company works on things like weight, battery life, and light quality. Even so, it is safe to assume that the Kindle 5 will show up before the end of the year. Should the Agency Model be eliminated as soon as as we now suspect it might be, Amazon will almost certainly celebrate that fact with a huge push in the product line. The coinciding release of a glow-in-the-dark Kindle would round that out nicely.
In the past several months, especially since the announcement of the Kindle Touch, I’ve mentioned regularly that I expected the Kindle Keyboard to be a thing of the past by early 2012. While nothing concrete has happened just yet, there are beginning to be small indications that this is beginning to happen.
The most obvious early sign was the fact that the Kindle Touch’s 3G option did not include the same freedoms that we have come to expect in previous models. Where up until now you could browse freely, albeit in a limited fashion due to the nature of the Kindle’s screen and experimental browser, now users are stuck with only Wikipedia and Amazon’s own store. Given the size of the ongoing 3G bill that Amazon has to have been racking up over the past several years, this change should be no surprise. Lifetime 3G for free is going to be hard to keep going without limitations. What is surprising and makes this stand out is the fact that the Kindle Keyboard did not start having the same restrictions. If this was really the direction that Amazon has chosen to go, the only easy explanation is that they were waiting to run out existing stock.
More recently, the Kindle Keyboard WiFi w/ Special Offers has silently disappeared from the Kindle Store. You can still get the more expensive ad-free model, but somehow I doubt that is because Amazon has suddenly decided to drop their advertising subsidized eReader plans. Not only is it gone, but the newer versions of the sales banner for the Kindle Family are now focused entirely on the newest devices and don’t display the Kindle Keyboard at all.
It would not be surprising to find that even more signs have been given that were just too subtle to be noticed at the time. I seem to recall there being white versions of both WiFi and 3G Kindle 3 models, for example, but now that is only available for the 3G model. Hard to say for certain at this point since the graphite frame was so appealing at launch that I didn’t bother picking up a white edition.
Will this be the end of eReaders with physical inputs? Quite possibly! The major competition has already moved to entirely touchscreen, though the Nook Simple Touch eReader still has some actual page turning buttons. The virtual keyboard allows for a lighter, more compact device that is even less intrusive than previous Kindles. I’m still dealing with mixed feelings regarding this move, having gotten used to my keyboard and not quite having had the same amount of exposure to the new design, but it does seem the way of the future.
If you are still interested in the Kindle Keyboard (formerly Kindle 3), now is really the time to buy. Lefties will find it especially valuable since the Kindle Touch requires swiping if you want to flip a page forward with your left hand. It offers pretty much everything that the Kindle Touch does aside from X-Ray and the ease of use in highlighting and annotation, but you get the reassuring presence of buttons. The option won’t be around much longer, I’m sure, but for now you can get either the normal Kindle Keyboard or the Kindle Keyboard 3G w/ Special Offers for just $139.
The success of any Tablet PC is pretty much going to depend on the usefulness of the associated application offerings. It would be hard to argue that this is anything but a major factor in the success of Apple’s iPad. Naturally, with the Kindle Tablet in mind for the future, Amazon was depending on its App Store to make it big and have all sorts of fun stuff ready when the hardware launches. The money to be made is not really in the hardware anymore for either of these companies, so it is no wonder that Apple is trying to corner the market on anything they can manage with regard to Apps.
So far, not much luck along those lines in the US. While Apple is trying legal channels to prevent Amazon from calling its app store an app store, the judge asked to provide a preliminary injunction against Amazon’s use didn’t see them having much chance of success and turned down the request. It seems like a lot of the argument Apple is making is based on their assumption that Amazon will be happy to host viruses, malware, and porn, which would keep potential customers from trusting anything labeled with the same name. Hard to see that going very far, in the long run, but time will tell. The trial is set to start in October of 2012.
Just because their case does not seem to be going well so far in the US, however, doesn’t mean that it is dead in the water. Germany’s response to the same lawsuit has resulted in Amazon being forced to close the door to new submissions for the time being. Amazon is, of course, going to be spending a great deal of effort trying to defend their interests wherever they can, but for the time being there is no word and little room to speculate on when that situation might change.
On the one hand, it really doesn’t matter how it comes out one way or another. If the name has to be changed to Amazon’s Android Emporium or something else ridiculous, it will only increase the potential for name recognition if they play it right and the functionality won’t be changing a bit. Even in the unlikely event that Apple can pull this off, everybody else is going to do just fine. On the other hand, anything that lets Amazon directly equate their new Kindles and Kindle Tablets to the iPad in peoples’ minds will work to their advantage as they push for maximum dispersal of the hardware. Yes, the important part will be the device integration which won’t rely much on names anyway, but why not make it as clear as possible?
What will happen in the meantime as we lead up to the rulings in various locations, pretty much the only thing that we can be sure of is that nobody with a Tablet is going to want to go without apps. It just wouldn’t really work. Hopefully that will be an option for everybody who wants to when the Kindle joins that marketplace.
While a great deal of effort has been put into supporting a supposed opposition between eReaders like the Kindle and traditional paper publications, there are some places where paper just wasn’t really cutting it even before the eReader came along. Specifically, I’m thinking about newspapers. It’s practically become a cliche to point out that most people get their news from the internet these days, when they aren’t just watching TV, because why wait until tomorrow to learn what’s happening today? Deciding what needs to be done for traditional news vendors to stay relevant will probably be difficult, but it seems inevitable that things like the Kindle will play a large part.
Now, I can’t claim that this is a new thought, exactly. The New York Times has found what appears to be one method for making the most of new technology. Kindle subscribers, as well as Nook subscribers and anybody who wants to pay to get this benefit a la carte, can not only get their regular issues delivered but access the paper’s website in its entirety without any of the annoying restrictions that the average non-subscriber has to put up with. While they have seen a decline in overall subscribers and ad revenue recently, the NYT reports a noticeable jump in Kindle subscribers. There would seem to be other options, though. There practically have to be since not every paper can leverage the kind of reputation that the NYT brings to the market.
My favorite theoretical idea, which I admittedly have no idea as to the practicality of, is inspired by the Barnes & Noble in store Nook experience. Location based subscriptions that allow access to a publication or collection of publications, especially local ones, while on the premises. It offers the same sort of benefits to the business doing the subscribing that having paper copies on hand would, which is not uncommon in coffee shops, libraries, etc, but without the bulk, waste, opportunity for damage, or potentially outdated news. Just bring your Kindle or Nook in and read your paper over a drink.
Ideas aside, since as I mentioned I can’t really judge the practicality of the many approaches that are available, one of the biggest issues will probably be a change in mindset. Newspapers are traditionally reliant on their advertising revenue. On something like a Kindle, you don’t have nearly as much space for that, even if you have an eReader-specific edition of your paper. The native web browser even offers an impressively effective Article Mode that will remove them from anything a reader happens to be looking through on a paper’s website. It isn’t like this is unique, given ad blocking extensions available for pretty much every web browser on the market. About the only place that people are forced to look at ads when they don’t want to anymore is on paper. It is a complicated problem, but the Kindle offers more potential than most options. Something like the WOWIO eBook advertisement wrapping around a daily package of news delivery might just do the trick?
Amazon has recently decided to exercise their policy regarding explicit material to remove a selection of yaoi manga from the Kindle Store, much to the dismay of a vocal set of Kindle owning manga enthusiasts and anti-censorship enthusiasts. The decision is based around rules prohibiting “Pornography and hardcore material which depicts graphic sexual acts”. Pretty understandable, I suppose, but it’s an oddly complicated situation.
First off, there’s the matter of precedent. Many of the now-denied manga offerings are analogous to previously approved titles, according to their publishers, and at least two of the titles in question were previously in the store and only recently received updates that apparently brought them to the attention of whoever happened to make the latest decision. While you cannot fault Amazon for enforcing their own stated rules, the fact that the enforcement is selective and at the discretion of the company without terribly specific guidelines is troublesome.
There is also the fact that one of the Kindle store’s largest sections at present is their erotica section, which contains thousands of depictions of potentially offensive material and remains pretty much untouched. Some have connected the attention received by this particular brand of manga to the fact that it depicts homosexual romance between men. It would not surprise me at all if that fact, highlighted by user complaints from somebody hoping to police the perceived morality of their favorite shopping venue, were what started this whole mess. Since the first I heard of this, however, several heterosexually oriented titles have met with similar complaints.
This definitely leads to the conclusion that no matter how all of this began, Amazon is stepping up its enforcement practices. Will this extend to depictions of possibly offensive content that are not being displayed graphically? It seems unlikely Amazon will be going through the Kindle Store and deleting thousands of selling titles, but to single out one particular area that is no more guilty than the rest is a bit hypocritical.
There are some moves being made to organize boycotts and emails, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Some twitter users have even revived the once popular #amazonfail hashtag to raise awareness of the situation. Whether you care about yaoi or not, there would seem to be an advantage for all of us in keeping selective censorship out of the store as much as possible. If they’re going to enforce well defined standards uniformly across all eBooks, that’s one thing. When the rules are being applied on a case by case basis depending on the personal interpretations of individual judges at Amazon, it’s a problem. The Kindle platform is one of the best things about owning a Kindle eReader, mostly because of the impressive selection. If the central distribution point for all of our reading material becomes a bit irregular, it’s to all of our disadvantage.
While it is hard to say at this point if Amazon is likely to back down in time, chances are good that they’ll hold to their decision for the immediate future. If you’re interested in one of these titles and see it in the Kindle Store, it might be a good time to consider picking it up. No eBooks that have already been purchased will be removed from user accounts, they are simply being made unavailable for future sales.