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Kindle Fire & Nook Tablet Video Focus Brings Android Attention

It was known well ahead of the official announcement for the device ever took place that the Kindle Fire would be intended for video more than anything else.  Perhaps due to that pressure and perhaps just as part of an overall trend in the market, the Nook Tablet was designed along similar lines.  While this doesn’t necessarily mean much on its own, it spurred along at least one other development that might mean a great deal more attention for the Android community as a whole.

Amazon’s intent to promote their own streaming video service is clear.  Their library has been growing quickly over time, including many titles being given away “free” with Amazon Prime.  This is naturally something of a concern for a company like Netflix that is suddenly faced with competition from somebody as big as Amazon.  Although Netflix has not commented on it, something definitely spurred them along to push forward their new tablet app upgrade for Android weeks or months ahead of iOS.

The Nook Tablet practically relies on Netflix and other streaming services to function, all the more so because Barnes & Noble currently offers nothing analogous to Amazon’s video services.  They also began advertising a uniquely deep connection with Netflix immediately following the reveal.  As Kindle Fire owners have likely noticed by now, the Netflix app in the Amazon App Store isn’t exactly lacking either.  They went for the maximum possible audience with this update and it seems likely to take.

The implications here go beyond benefits for owners of these new 7″ tablets, however nice those are to have.  This is one of the first times that the Android platform has received special attention ahead of the iOS equivalent.  That sort of thing does not happen without a fair degree of confidence in the potential profitability. If the Kindle Fire alone, or even the collection group of it and all of the competing $200 tablets springing up from companies like B&N and Kobo, is considered important enough to be prioritized ahead of the market dominating iPad then it could easily be a sign that tides are changing.

Part of the bar to Android’s widespread adoption in tablets has been the fact that quality development tends to get prioritized for the competition.  Whether you blame it on the fragmentation of the ecosystem due to frequent non-mandatory upgrades, lack of faith in Google’s offering as a whole, or the lack of a truly major name product to line up behind, the situation has now changed. With luck, this will build up some momentum.

While I have nothing against Apple or the iPad, some heated competition would go a long way toward not only improving their product but creating some genuinely functional alternatives.  The strength of iOS that everybody else lacks isn’t the iPad’s hardware or aesthetic.  Its main virtue is the functionality that primarily comes from the Apple App Store.  Neither the Kindle Fire nor the Amazon App Store is a match for Apple.  It isn’t likely that a single company or product will be any time soon.  What it does do is get the ball rolling, so to speak.

Kindle Fire Demand Exceeds That Of First iPad

Can the Kindle Fire really manage to compete with, or even beat out, Apple’s iPad?  Opinions are divided, naturally, but it is definitely a strong step in the right direction.  What’s going to be most important in the near future is how customers perceive the new Kindle.  Is it just another eReader with color, like the Nook offerings?  Is it the poor man’s iPad?  Would Amazon have been better off making just another generic Android tablet rather than keeping tight control over their ecosystem?  Both individual needs and individual experience will play a large part in answering these questions for customers.  You don’t necessarily get what you expect or what you’re hoping for, but those are important in informing purchasing decisions.

Since the iPad effectively built the Tablet PC market around itself, that’s going to be the best spot for comparisons.  ChangeWave Research, a company specializing in identifying consumer and business demand trends, recently did a survey of 2,600 consumers regarding their interest in the Kindle Fire.  The results were interesting.

Of those surveyed, 5% said they had already ordered a Kindle Fire.  Another 12% indicated they were fairly likely to make the purchase.  Compare that to a similar study of the iPad’s initial launch back in 2010, wherein only 4% considered themselves likely to buy and another 9% said they were somewhat likely.  Of those who said that they have already ordered their Kindle Fire, 26% said that they are likely to put off an intended iPad purchase as a result.

Do these numbers mean that the Kindle Fire is doing better than the first iPad was?  Only in the most superficially literal sense.  Keep in mind that Amazon’s new device is less than half the price of Apple’s.  That makes a difference in how many people will even have the opportunity to make the purchase, if nothing else.

What is really telling is the number of people who are likely to put off their iPad purchase thanks to the Kindle Fire.  That is only 26% of people who are already getting the 7″ tablet.  This would indicate that the clear majority are interested in owning both products.  While you can’t say that they are not in competition, it can be assumed from this that the two tablets meet different customer needs (or at least are perceived to do so) at this time.

The iPad currently holds more than two thirds of the tablet market at the moment.  Depending on your source, significantly more than two thirds.  It is going to be hard to budge no matter who takes it on, regardless of the company backing the hardware.  With the Kindle Fire, Amazon has seemingly done a fair job of approaching it non-confrontationally.

This is not just a cheaper iPad or a smaller iPad.  It certainly isn’t a superior version of the iPad.  The comparisons will remain inevitable because so much of tablet computing is based on what Apple started, but perhaps it is possible for there to be a more nuanced appreciation for the two different pieces of hardware.

Apple May Be Bringing 7″ iPad To Compete With Kindle Fire

Could Apple be feeling a bit threatened by the arrival of the impressively popular Kindle Fire?  If certain rumors coming out of Taiwan are true, then the answer seems to be “Yes”.

The most recent set of rumors, which as always should be taken with a grain of salt, indicate that Apple has been looking at samples of 7.85″ screens.  Presumably this would be an effort to design something along the lines of a budget iPad to compete with the sudden wave of affordably priced iPad alternatives hitting the market.  Such a device would have the advantage of Apple’s excellent reputation and superior presence in the tablet market while also allowing purchase by customers who aren’t quite ready to drop $500+ for their newest piece of narrowly useful electronics.

This would not exactly fit with prior declarations from Apple regarding the usefulness of a 7″ tablet, of course.  Steve Jobs came out emphatically against such devices, declaring that extensive testing had shown anything smaller than the iPad to deliver a sub-par user experience when using fingers as pointing devices.  This doesn’t rule a smaller iPad out entirely, though.  One, with the passing of Steve Jobs his company will naturally have to choose their own course.  If the market demands smaller, more affordable tablets then there is every reason to believe that Apple will rise to the challenge.  Two, Apple does have some history of declaring things pointless or unfeasible right up until the moment they feel they are in a position to do those very things.  Whether this is due to clever PR trying to throw off the competition or simply Apple’s desire to give their customers what they want regardless of what seems to be a smart move at first is open to interpretation.

Clearly nothing is set in stone yet.  At best, somebody at Apple thinks that the idea of a smaller iPad is something that should be explored to some extent.  As far as anybody knows, orders have not been placed and plans have not been made.  We have more substantial speculative information floating around about the iPad 3 than this, by a fair margin.  Even if it did happen, would it really be able to outshine the competition anymore?

A smaller iPad competing with the Kindle Fire would almost certainly come in at $250-300 and be unavailable until at least mid-2012.  Where Amazon is pushing media, Apple is making most of their profit on the hardware end and would have to scale back the power of their device accordingly, likely eliminating a great deal of their edge along those lines.  On top of that, the Kindle Fire will have had time to gain a following.  Assuming that the real value is in the content that a tablet has access to, Amazon is certainly offering enough to keep their users happy and the low price is clearly attractive.

We’ll see what happens in the months to come, but I question the potential for a move like this.  Apple already controls the performance tablet market and would be better off without a disappointment on the budget tablet end of things.

Kindle Tablet Finally Sampled?

Earlier today, a TechCrunch reporter claims to have had a chance to play around with an actual working Kindle Tablet in a closely supervised situation.  Much of the information he came out with isn’t exactly what we were hoping to hear when the real details started to turn up, but everything does fit the current situation pretty well and there are no glaring discrepancies.  As with all unofficial reports it should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but for the time being it is probably safe to say this is our best picture of Amazon’s upcoming entry into the Tablet PC market.

Here’s what we have to work with:

  • 7″ Back-lit touchscreen of some description with no hybrid options(2 finger capacitive multi-touch)
  • Highly customized Android OS, possibly forked as early as Android 2.2
  • No physical controls aside from the power button
  • Possible single-core processor
  • As little as 6GB internal storage
  • WiFi Only at launch
  • Expandable memory slot
  • No camera
  • Bundled Amazon Prime Membership
  • $250 Price Tag
  • Late November 2011 Release Date

Clearly the high expectations of Kindle fans will not be met in their entirety.

There is a sense that Amazon is rushing this to market, even after all this time.  If a guess were required, I would say that it almost seems as if they were hoping to carry the day by using the next best thing in display technology to get the jump on everybody only to have that tech fail to manifest in time to be useful.  That aside, they’re still bringing plenty to the table to make a splash.

The Nook Color has managed to carve out a space for itself by being something of a budget iPad, for all its stated eReading emphasis.  Amazon can bring the same sort of value to the table, perhaps with a more impressive array of applications and support structure, and not even have to bother with the eReader facade.  We have to assume at this point that they won’t make the mistake of marketing this as a Kindle eReader, whether or not it’s capable of displaying books, given the whole anti-iPad LCD commercial campaign.

The focus on cloud storage and streaming will negate the obvious problem of minimal storage space to some extent, though Amazon seems to be gambling a lot on the ubiquity of wireless networks.  If the reporting article is to be believed, then the Android OS fork should be customized and optimized well beyond simply skinning Froyo and throwing out the standard Google App Marketplace, which means that it’s too early to judge anything based on that at this time.  Nobody really expected Amazon to include a completely open copy of Android anyway, right?

Just because this isn’t the ideal situation that would blow the iPad out of the water without any significant contest doesn’t mean it isn’t a great step.  Tablets put out by anybody but Apple have tended to fare poorly so far, as evidenced by the HP TouchPad debacle recently, but Amazon has the marketing, support, and name recognition to make it happen.  I still don’t think this will end up being a direct contest with just the Nook Color for most people, unless something gets reviewed particularly poorly at release.

Amazon vs Apple App Store Battle Sees More Success In Germany Than US

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.

Despite Rumors, Kindle Tablet Unlikely To Target Only Nook Color Competition

After months of speculation and a fair amount of information pieced together from parts orders, supposed inside information, and extrapolation from Amazon’s more recent choices as they expand their reach, we have to assume that we have at least a pretty fair outline of what the upcoming Kindle Tablet is going to look like.  I would never simply trust a rumor, but enough of the little things add up and agree with each other lately that sudden conflicting information has to be viewed with some skepticism.  This is why, when perusing the latest set of stories, blogs, and whatnot, I was rather surprised to see a sudden turnaround in the speculation that points the proposed device at the same market as the Nook Color.  Apparently some people don’t think Amazon is quite ready for the larger game?

Tracing things back, the speculation along these lines seems to stem from a Business Insider article that simply cites “a source close to the company” as saying that it will basically be a color eReader with some apps on it.  They build this on top of earlier reports of underpowered processors and the anticipated lack of cameras and leave it at that.  For a couple reasons, I believe the evidence fails to support the argument.

Mostly, we know that in the time since the Kindle Tablet rumors started going out Amazon has built up its app store, cloud storage, cloud based music system, and video streaming library.  Every one of these would integrate impressively will a full tablet offering and do next to nothing for a dedicated eReader, even if it were color.  There are uses for each of these things as pieces to the Amazon.com experience, but they don’t seem like they could have a huge impact in any area taken as individual enterprises.  A unifying experience is necessary to explain the overall plan.

Leaving aside the arguments about hardware speculation, since those bits of information don’t give us information on what what display technology the Kindle Tablet line will take advantage of and therefore leave too much to the imagination so far in my opinion, I could see this simply as a misinterpretation of the situation by all parties.  We have indicati0ns that there will be at least two Kindle Tablet offerings this year, including a 7″ and a 10-11″. The fact that the smaller, lower powered version of these does not compete well with the specs of the iPad may well make it smarter to market as an eReading Tablet rather than a fully powered Tablet PC.

I think the general idea is going to be a staggered release, in the end.  The fact that the first, smaller Kindle Tablet will be released alongside the new Kindles may make it a transition point between Amazon’s eReaders and Tablets.  Easily advertised as the next step in eReading and focused overtly on tying that experience in, but without any of the initial restrictions that crippled the Nook Color as a Tablet on release.  To say that Amazon is not focused on the iPad competition still seems naive, since we can expect something much more powerful and functional in the next 6 months.

Amazon Kindle Tablet Rumor Recap

There have been a lots of theories, rumors, and “leaked” information floating around for the past couple months about what we all assume will be the new Kindle Tablet (or Tablets) later this year.  Lately, even the Wall Street Journal has printed a few bits of information coming from a “reliable source”.  It all adds up to a potentially impressive picture that a lot of us are looking forward to.  I thought, as a result, that it might be useful to go over what we think we know so far.

The Probable

  • Reports from various sources say that at least one Kindle Tablet, almost certainly the first of a series, will be released before the end of the year.  Possibly as early as October.
  • The Kindle Tablet will not compete with the Kindle, or result in its being discontinued.
  • The new Tablet PC will be running some variation of Google’s Android 3.0 or later, with seamless integration into Amazon’s Android App Store.
  • The focus will be on media consumption, with streaming video being strongly emphasized
  • The first Kindle Tablet will likely have a 9″ screen.
  • Prices on any and all Tablet PC offerings from Amazon are expected to undercut iPad 2 prices.
  • The initial stock order is sufficiently large that selling out should not be a problem.
  • There will be no camera.
  • An improved mobile shopping experience will be a major issue for Amazon’s new device.

The Possible

  • Some sources have claimed that two Kindle Tablet models will be available at launch, codenamed ‘Coyote’ and ‘Hollywood’.  The former would be a low powered, but affordable option with either a 7″ or 9″ screen.  The latter would feature more impressive hardware and a 10+” screen.
  • In order to fill as many niches as possible, Amazon plans to offer pocket-sized devices similar to the iPod Touch eventually, and maybe even a Kindle Phone.
  • The Kindle Tablet could be priced at or below cost in order to bolster sales, with any deficiencies made up through advertising space on the Tablets themselves.
  • Amazon may have some deals in the works with AT&T to provide 3G connections to the Tablets.
  • It is hoped that the displays for the Kindle Tablet line will take advantage of newer, more power conserving technology, based on Amazon’s criticisms of LCD shortcomings in previous ad campaigns.

A fair amount to go on so far, especially since Amazon has declined to even officially confirm the existence of the new device.  The only things we can be completely sure of are that Amazon has a Tablet PC in the works, they are anticipating strong sales based on manufacturer information, and it is unlikely that the Nook Color is the intended competition.  Amazon seems to have their sights set a little higher than Barnes & Noble’s almost unintentionally impressive budget Tablet.

Given that some rumors place the announcement and release as early as August, and that almost all of the more well sourced ones mention 3rd quarter 2011, it is certain that we’ll know more definite details soon.  In the meantime, it might be a good time to hold off on impulsively buying the next cool looking Tablet on the market.  Amazon has done a pretty good job of proving they know what they’re doing via the Kindle.  It should be worth the wait to see how they hold up on their next big hardware push.

First Quarter Analysis Puts Barnes & Noble Nook Line Ahead of Amazon Kindle

A recent report from the International Data Corporation has provided an analysis of the Tablet PC and eReader markets for the first quarter of 2011.  Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and their respective markets in general are doing quite well, with eReader growth at 105% over the past year and tablets not doing too bad either.  Although demand did not grow quite as much as expected, for a variety of reasons, things are improving.

Right now the Barnes & Noble Nook product line is on top in terms of worldwide sales for the first time, beating out the Kindle a bit.  IDC attributes this in part to the introduction of the popular Nook Color, for which this was the first full quarter of sales.  While many have leaped at the chance to interpret this as an indication that the Nook Color is single-handedly outselling the Kindle, no indication of such is made in the article.  Instead, it seems likely that the Barnes & Noble Nook line’s incorporation of both a dedicated eReader and a budget Tablet PC has proven a smart move, especially with their managing to classify their tablet as a primarily reading focused device.  This does not necessarily mean that the Kindle is doing poorly in any way, but it does indicate fairly well that the expansion of the Kindle line to incorporate a variety of Tablets will come at a great time for Amazon.  The eReader market is expected to continue to expand, and IDC has increased their number of expected unit sales for the year.  Current forecasts call for 16.2 eReaders shipped worldwide in 2011.

On the tablet front, the iPad and newly released iPad 2 are continuing to dominate the market.  Though sales fell short of expectations in the post-holiday season, due to both current economic conditions and certain supply chain issues, there was still noticeable expansion and the rest of the year is looking strong.  Worst off have been the iPad’s competitors who choose to concentrate on distribution through telecommunication venues.  Due perhaps to customer reluctance to get locked into a monthly fee with their purchases, the demand in these areas is growing comparatively slowly.

Amazon’s anticipated third quarter tablet release is definitely looking like it has a chance at making a major impact on the Tablet PC space.  Due to firmly established distribution channels and an existing support structure, the device or devices can expect to be better received than most.  Should Amazon meet their expected sales numbers, as estimated from reports of supply orders made in anticipation of the upcoming release, they could jump to a 5% share of the Tablet market within months of release.

Given the success of the Nook line in the eReader market in a period when they were offering a fairly outdated eReader and an underpowered Tablet, it can be assumed that the combination of the current generation Kindle and the upcoming high-powered Kindle Tablet will provide Amazon with just the versatility needed to get firmly in place as a hardware provider in the months ahead.

eReader Growth Outpaces Tablets as Kindles Catch On

A recent survey by Pew Research Center shows growth in both eReader and Tablet PC markets.  The ownership base for Kindle and Nook owners has doubled in the 6 months from November 2010 to May 2011, ending up at an impressive 12% of those polled.  Tablet ownership, over the same period, has seen a 3% jump.  The breakdown is about what one might expect in a lot of ways.  While it might just be a matter of curiosity for most at the moment, studies like this will be what determines the immediate future of these devices. The study takes into account 2,277 adults aged 18 and up.

Owners of eReaders like the Kindle are fairly evenly broken across the genders.  Parents are more likely to have picked up an eReader in the last six months than people without kids under 18.  The greatest growth among surveyed ethnic groups was in Hispanics, who jumped from 5% ownership to 15%.  The only group that seems to have dropped off in terms of eReader ownership was High School non-graduates, who went from 5% to 3%.  College graduates predictably jumped the most.

Tablet ownership grew along similar lines, though not necessarily the same ones.  Men, for example, are significantly more likely to own a tablet than women, with a large number of those surveyed saying that being able to impress others with their purchase was a priority.  This might have played into age demographic differences as well, since tablets showed the most growth in the 18-29 bracket.  eReaders, by comparison, did best with those 30-49. In the case of tablets, ownership among college graduates was actually outpaced by that of those with partial college completion.  Hispanics still lead the pack among reported ethnic groups.

Basically, everybody likes their new gadgets.  Men, especially younger men, are fond of the flashiness of the tablets.  Slightly older people of both genders are getting into the eReader market.  Overall, tablets are still lagging a bit behind, in spite of early predictions that they would spell the end of the eReader.  Possibly this has to do with the lack of serious competition among tablet makers, in which case we’ll likely be seeing some different numbers this time next year.  More likely would be that this is an indication of a trend toward dual-ownership.  A good 3% of those surveyed confirm that they have both types of device on hand.

For now, there are already groups where as many as 20% of those surveyed have adopted eReaders.  There has been noticeable growth in all households with an income greater than $30,000 per year.  Households over $75,000 per year are of course doing the most shopping for portable electronics, but the difference in growth between this and other income brackets is not as pronounced as it is among tablet owners.  They seem to be cheap enough to be accessible to, and appealing to, pretty much everybody.  Pricing the Kindle at just $114 might be the smartest move Amazon could have made.  It will likely surprise nobody if the upcoming Kindle Tablet undercuts the competing iPad by more than a little bit to take advantage of the trends.

Why Amazon’s Upcoming Kindle Tablet Has A Chance Against The iPad

It is not surprising to see me claiming that the Kindle is a great product, nor that the Kindle Tablet line is likely to be impressive.  The former point is by now, I think, borne out as more than simply personal bias.  The latter, while possibly wishful thinking given the lack of official detail so far, is based on a few points that seem to make sense to me.  I’ll admit right at the outset that I’m not a market analyst, product tester, or specialist of any really useful sort when it comes to these things.  I still just think that it makes a lot of sense.

The most important point that I see in favor of Amazon’s potential success is the marketing.  So far, nobody has even come close to marketing a tablet as heavily as the iPad has been by Apple.  On the occasions when you see much at all from the competition, they tend to be focusing on specific points of technical superiority.  As far as I can tell, the average consumer is less concerned with what goes on behind the scenes than anything else about their device.  That’s where Apple has managed to do so well up until now.  They make a point of providing devices that “just work” without any knowledge or skill necessary.  Amazon, along the same lines, has demonstrated well by now that they know how to point out what their potential customers might want to know without getting too technical.

The same basic theory applies to the product itself.  Yes, there are some customers who will undoubtedly want to make use of the configurability that an Android Tablet provides to get the most out of every bit of potential the hardware has to offer.  What will make the Kindle Tablet stand out, however, is a clean, understandable, and heavily supported user experience that any customer can pick up in no time at all.  Whether or not existing tablets offer this, and some do to at least some extent, this is something that Amazon is known to do well based on both the Kindle as we know it today and the Amazon.com site as a whole.

I’m also hoping, of course, that they choose to make a big deal out of screen technology.  Now, I love the iPad.  I find all sorts of uses for it.  The LCD screen is, in my personal opinion, its weakest point.  If Amazon can release a Kindle Tablet with an optionally back-lit screen, not only should battery life make them stand out impressively, but general use will improve to the point where people cannot help but take notice.  Now, we can’t know for sure that this will happen, but after having an entire ad campaign devoted to pointing out the shortcomings of the iPad’s LCD screen, I think it is fairly inevitable.

All of this makes the assumption, of course, that Amazon will be able to undercut Apple on tablet pricing.  At present, Kindle Tablet pricing is estimated to be around $399 at launch.  This would give them a jump on the iPad even with an underpowered device.  Look how well the Nook Color did even before B&N realized that it didn’t work as just a dedicated eReader.