As I write this, Jeff Bezos is on stage in Santa Monica, California presenting the newest developments in the Kindle product line. It’s been greatly anticipated the last several weeks and this is the time to learn what all the fuss has been about.
The first reveal of the day was the update to the Kindle eReader. The newest version of this Kindle is known as the “Kindle Paperwhite”.
The biggest appeal of this product is, as might be expected, improved screen technology. The Paperwhite has sharply improved contrast that everything crisper. Text will stand out more sharply than has been the case in other models as a result.
It also boasts a greater pixel density than previous models. The Kindle Paperwhite’s screen has 212 pixels per inch, up from the last generation’s 167ppi.
Rather than the three font options that we’ve had access to before, the new model will have six. New additions include Palatino, Helvetica, and Futura.
Battery life is still the same, offering up to 8 weeks of uninterrupted use.
Most importantly, the Kindle Paperwhite will have a lit screen, despite rumors about supply line issues. The light source is placed on the bottom edge of the screen itself and appears to do a great job of spreading illumination evenly across the display area.
As always, this new eReader will be thinner and lighter than previous models. As Bezos put it, “It’s thinner than a magazine, lighter than a paper”.
The new Kindle Paperwhite will be just $119 ($179 for the unlimited 3G model) and will be available in October, though preorders will begin immediately. The basic Kindle will also be getting a screen upgrade and a price drop to just $69.
In other Kindle hardware news we get the new updated Kindle Fire.
The replacement for the existing Kindle Fire will be 40% faster than its predecessor. Battery life has been extended a vague but apparently significant amount. The price has also dropped to just $159. It will be available on September 14th, explaining the sudden lack of Kindle Fires in the Amazon store this week.
More importantly, we now know about the Kindle Fire HD. This will come in two sizes, as many had hoped. The newer, larger Kindle Fire will be 8.9” and have a 1920 x 1200 resolution. Not quite as large as the iPad, but definitely moving in on Apple’s territory.
Both versions of the Kindle Fire HD will have stereo speakers to replace the mediocre sound quality of the first device.
They will also have greatly improved wireless connectivity. Anybody who was following the first Kindle Fire launch will remember that the device ran into trouble on many networks. This time around it will have two antennas, work on the 5GHz band, and have over 40% faster speed than the iPad’s wireless.
The 7” Kindle Fire HD will be shipping on September 14th for just $199. The 8.9” Kindle Fire HD will be $299 and ship sometime in November. Both models will have 16GB of storage space at these prices.
There will also be a $499 Kindle Fire HD that has 4G LTE cellular connectivity. This model will have 32GB of storage space and the data plan associated with it will run $50 per year. That meets one of the community’s big demands for the new model, so we will see how widespread adoption is.
Depending on how performance holds up in actual testing, and it seems to be impressive based on presentation alone, the Kindle Fire HD might just have what it takes to build Amazon up well beyond even the 20%+ tablet market share they claim to currently enjoy.
Stay tuned and we will keep you up to date on all the latest news related to this launch.
At long last, it seems we might get to see what Amazon has really accomplished in their efforts to update the Kindle Fire to be competitive with other big name tablets like the Nexus 7. Signs point to a hardware upgrade coming in the next few days, which would be good news given that the previously speculated initial release date was two weeks ago now. This week may just give us a good idea of exactly how much of a chance the Kindle Fire has of retaining its now-dominant position in the Android tablet market.
It seems safe to say that Amazon intends to at least announce their new products in a batch. This would include a new Kindle Fire, possibly a larger scale variation on the Kindle Fire, and at least one new Kindle eReader. This is based on a combination of intersecting timetables and the previous Kindle eReader release that brought us the Kindle Touch. Since Amazon is basically required to put out a front-lit Kindle at this point if they want to stay competitive in terms of hardware, it would make little sense to miss an opportunity to join that side of the business with the more versatile tablet side.
To make room for the expected new release, Amazon has quietly discontinued a large part of their eReader selection. The Kindle Keyboard WiFi is simply gone. The Kindle Touch 3G appears to be gone as well. Even the WiFi version of the Kindle Touch is currently listed as having delays from 3-5 days for the Special Offers option and no stock at all for the ad-free model. We also noticed that earlier this week Amazon used the Kindle DX as one of their Daily Deals selections, discounting it by $110 for a day. The basic $79 Kindle is still available, but it would be surprising if anything else is shipping out right now at all, regardless of rough delivery estimates made by the Amazon.com site.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, is still listed as in stock and shipping immediately. Whether this is true or not is open to speculation, but it would fit with some of the rumors we have reported here previously. Amazon may be planning to continue offering the existing Kindle Fire at a discounted rate for a while in order to increase the rate at which users attach themselves to the Amazon digital services ecosystem.
A lot has been done lately to prepare for this release. Amazon has updated their music, video, and Android gaming capabilities significantly since a year ago when the first Kindle Fire was announced. While nobody really expects that the Kindle Fire 2, or whatever Amazon decides it will be called in the end, will be able to claim superiority over the Nexus 7 on paper, that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily have trouble competing. A decent facelift, improved software, and more integrated services than ever before are a guarantee. Somehow it doesn’t seem like they’re likely to stop at that, though.
All of the rumors seemed to indicate that July 31st would be the day we finally heard solid details about the new Kindle Fire release. Obviously that didn’t happen. That’s not necessarily a bad sign though. While things might be taking slightly longer than fans, speculators, and analysts had expected, there are plenty of signs that Amazon has something big planned right around the corner.
The update to Amazon’s music management is a strong indication that something is going on. Amazon’s emphasis on media service integration with their devices is well known. They might not have the most powerful hardware on the market but Kindle Fires are the easiest way to get at any of the digital content the company sells that can be reasonably run on a small, modestly powered tablet. The existing model isn’t exactly at its best with music playback thanks to the speaker configuration, but the interface makes use simple enough.
Now that you can import existing music selections rather than uploading them individually, including files downloaded through other services, the appeal of that option should be increased for any interested user. As far as Kindle Fire specifics, though, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon has been working on docking stations for their next tablet, which reports indicate will have a very distinct form compared to its predecessor.
The recent release of the Amazon Instant Video app for iPads is also, paradoxically, a fair indication that the Kindle Fire 2 is nearly ready. Even if a larger model of Amazon’s tablet is ready right away, there is no way that they want to be entering into head to head competition with Apple at this stage. Plenty of rumors say that Apple ‘s already taking things in that direction with an impending iPad Mini, but that rumor has been cropping up repeatedly for two years now and the reasoning doesn’t seem to have improved much in the meantime.
By creating a convenient way for Apple’s customers to access their Amazon video purchases, the need for confrontation is somewhat negated. It’s important to remember that Amazon gains very little by way of income for selling the Kindle Fire. They’d be just as happy to have an iPad user locked into using Amazon services thanks to the closed ecosystem being developed, since content is where the money is anyway. The app release here might look like a lack of confidence in the Kindle Fire, but it’s really just paving the way for a deliberately niche product.
Most importantly, and most obviously, Amazon has started selling off refurbished Kindles at ridiculously low prices. This has happened before. People who use an Amazon.com Rewards Visa can pick up a basic Kindle eReader for just $47 now through August 15th using the coupon code KINDLE40. It’s pretty obvious that something is on the way to replace that Kindle.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re looking at an August 15th release date. In fact, people have largely stopped trying to guess at when Amazon will be ready. It will be here when it’s ready, but it’s safe to say that time is not far off.
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.
Well, only hours after my speculation that Amazon might intend to make a huge impact by being the first company to make the next obvious step in eReader innovation by jumping in with a Color Kindle they have leaked some information to the contrary. Instead, according to a recent Reuters report citing an inside source who has direct experience with the prototype, there will be new Kindle models coming this July that include the first front-lit monochrome Kindle eReader.
Naturally the comparison will be made with the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight. We have to expect that Amazon will be making a more significant overhaul of their eReader than Barnes & Noble did, given how well the Kindle Touch has held up in direct Kindle vs Nook comparisons of late. Adding a lighting layer to the existing model would hardly be enough to get people interested.
That said, it will meet demands. Customers have been wishing for a light on their Kindles since the first version was released. While the complaint has not been enough to derail the Kindle, as many initially thought would be the case with so many LCD-based eReaders on the market, the demand has not gone away at any point.
The type of lighting we believe will be used in the new Kindle will allow for adjustable intensity for reading in any situation while not being a major source of eye strain or power depletion. Essentially we get to keep all the benefits of E Ink without making the sort of sacrifices that are usually involved in switching to lit devices.
Chances are good that Amazon will attempt to draw attention to the new Kindle by pricing it below the comparable Nook model. Reuters speculates on a $10 price increase related to the added light and that does seem reasonably in line with previous Kindle pricing, as Amazon loves to demonstrate how affordable they can manage to be. The normal, un-lit Kindle model or models will be priced the same as ever, most likely, with further cuts possible should they have managed to source cheaper parts. Clearly the strategy of selling at or near cost is working to their advantage and will continue.
While it is disappointing to not have a color Kindle on the horizon just yet, it makes sense that this upgrade had to come as soon as possible. The Kindle has not always been the best eReader available, especially in early comparisons with what Sony was offering, but there has rarely been a feature that could be pointed to as overwhelmingly important and only available through the competition.
Look for the newest Kindle eReader to be released before the end of July 2012 and the newest developments in Kindle Fire and color Kindle hardware in the months that follow. It is unlikely that Amazon will fail to pursue color E Ink in the year to come and we know that the Kindle Fire is due for an upgrade before the holiday season. This should be the first of many big Kindle developments.
The demand for a color Kindle has been relatively constant since the eReader was first introduced. It was the major point of contention in early Kindle vs iPad comparisons and likely resulted in the sale of no small number of iPads in the first generation. The Kindle Fire was a step in the right direction, but like the Nook Color it relies on an LCD display that is far from ideal for reading. The back-lighting necessary for such a display is both hard on the eyes and a huge drain on batteries compared to E Ink alternatives.
Now, E Ink eReaders have a new standard to live up to since the launch of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight. We can be relatively certain that Amazon is aware of this fact and interested in stepping up the game a bit with their next Kindle release. This means that there will obviously be a similar lighting feature that doesn’t intrude too much on the battery life users have come to expect from a Kindle eReader, but there will have to be more if they want to really stand out. The new Nook has been around for long enough that light alone will probably fail to impress even if Amazon could launch immediately.
There may be a case to be made for expecting a front-lit color E Ink Kindle in the second half of this year that will make besting the Nook’s GlowLight model possible. Consider the shortcomings of E Ink’s Triton displays. They do have color, yes, but it is dull and lifeless except in ideal lighting situations. Even in some specially selected showrooms there are times when Triton’s color fails to impress. Adding in a front-lighting solution along the lines of what Barnes & Noble has achieved with GlowLight may eliminate that problem. If the lighting is built right into the device and still doesn’t significantly reduce the battery power then there is no reason to avoid color E Ink anymore.
This is not new speculation, but it does carry slightly more weight than it used to. We have already had information leaked about Amazon’s possession of lighting technology for the new Kindle. It was reported on shortly before the new Nook was made public. Now DigiTimes, that highly unreliable but occasionally informative Taiwanese publication, has made the claim that parts suppliers are getting orders for color eReader components on a schedule that would set release in the second half of 2012. I would never rely wholly on DigiTimes for information and so would advise against considering that confirmation, but they have been right even more often than they’ve been wrong.
If we do get a color Kindle eReader before the holidays, expect a fresh boom in eReading in general. Not only would it be impressive new technology that addresses a major customer demand, it would benefit from the first major change in eBook pricing since the introduction of the Agency Model. We can’t be sure how soon Amazon will jump on the pricing issue given that there are still unsettled defendants in the DOJ case, but the end result will definitely benefit Kindle owners immensely. This could be a very big year.
After all of this time and effort developing the Kindle line into such an overwhelmingly popular force in reading that the biggest publishers felt the need to break the law rather than be intimidated, I think it is fair to say that Amazon is not prepared to give up on the electronic books. Even knowing this, it is clear that they are lagging behind a bit in development while concentrating on other areas. Sooner or later they are going to have to pay a bit more attention to the Kindle eReaders and hopefully this will result in a few big changes.
The platform is still amazing. Nobody can beat the Kindle Store right now. A Kindle vs Nook comparison that excludes hardware is hardly worth making, it’s so one-sided. Apps and content alone won’t be enough to carry the line forever, though, and there are a few additions that are safe to guess at so long as Amazon doesn’t try to simply eliminate the competition by selling eBooks below wholesale now that the Agency Model is on its way out.
Lit Kindle Display
We’ve already had some rumors about this, but nothing solid has manifested so far. The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight already accomplishes this in a way that impresses and avoids the shortcomings of backlit LCD options. Offering a new generation of Kindle eReaders that lacked the feature would be a mistake.
Yes, the Kindle Collections system is better than nothing. It came as a welcome change to years of nothing at all to organize with. It even makes sense to handle things with tags, given the cloud-centric nature of Amazon’s services. Being able to better organize books is going to have to happen eventually, though, and it would be a big selling point for new customers if it came soon.
Physical Page Turn Buttons
You won’t find many people who are completely satisfied with the lack of physical page turn buttons on the Kindle Touch. It is a fine eReader, but this was a glaring omission that is genuinely hard to ever completely get used to. It can’t possibly increase costs enough to justify leaving it out and hopefully Amazon will realize that now.
Color E Ink Display
This one is a long shot, but being the first to offer an affordable, reliable, attractive color eReader would definitely be a coup for the Kindle line. With the lighting options that have been described by Kindle rumors and put in place on the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, it would be more possible than ever to make the otherwise dull color E Ink currently available look quite nice. The only question is whether Amazon is able to do that and still sell cheap eReaders.
Support For Online Communications
Let’s face it, the big thing everybody keeps pulling out for eReaders is the social media integration. Kindle, Kobo, Nook, whatever, they all want to let you post from inside the eReader. Take it a step further and let the next Kindle act as a portal for select communications (Facebook, Twitter, email, and maybe a few others) and you expand the attraction of the device at minimal cost. This reduces the emphasis on the single use nature of the Kindle, but it makes it that much more attractive to a segment of the user base that prefers to stay constantly connected at the same time. It’s a smart trade-off.
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.
For a while now the big issue in predicting the ongoing success of the Kindle Fire has been the anticipated iPad 3. It was going to be a small scale device, roughly comparable in size to the Fire, and be priced closely enough that Amazon would have no choice but to step up in a huge way or give up entirely. So said the rumors, at least. Now that we know better, there is still the issue of what to expect in future releases from Amazon.
Clearly their tablet interests are an ongoing sort of thing. We already have fairly substantial rumors about the second generation of Kindle Fire being planned for this summer. If we take the original Kindle eReader as any indication, the first offering may have been little more than a probe into the market to see what potential there was for profit. Despite its popularity, the original Kindle didn’t hold a candle to the Kindle 2 even given the lack of substantial competition in the early days of the line and this has many wondering if the same level of improvement is in store for the Kindle Fire 2.
The most recent semi-reliable rumors seem to center around a 10” Kindle Fire being in the works. This would be a simultaneous release alongside an update to the 7” version, of course, but it would indicate a serious change of approach by Amazon in drawing direct parallels with the market-leading iPad. This is not out of character in any way, looking at past ads that highlight both the Kindle eReader’s greater suitability for reading in sunlight and the Kindle Fire’s dramatically lower pricing, but drawing increased attention to direct hardware comparisons is a bold move.
To support this, Amazon will clearly have to have a lot of improvements waiting for us. What can be expected? Here are some of my predictions for later this year:
- Cameras – both front and rear facing cameras suitable for video chat, probably VGA quality.
- Bluetooth – Kindle accessories are a big deal and this would open the door to everything from keyboards to wireless headsets. Essential for getting the most out of the tablet as a video player.
- 16GB+ Onboard Storage – The complaint about local disk space might be slightly over-emphasized for many users, but it’s hard to imagine not occasionally butting up against an 8GB limit. Cloud storage is great, but 16GB is not too much to ask.
- Android 4.0 – While this one is hard to say for sure, given potential complications with updating the Kindle Fire’s custom OS fork to take advantage of newer versions of Google’s product, the fact that it was designed with tablets in mind and offers a lot of new features means that an update must at least be in consideration at the moment.
There will not be major changes of philosophy. Users will not be seeing slots for expandable memory, for example. There will also obviously be no chance of an open system that connects easily to Google Play. The new Kindle Fire 2, when it comes out, will be more of what we expect from the first generation in most ways. It will just take what is already an impressive experience and build on it to do the job better.
Remember when we were predicting a Kindle Fire launch with multiple tablet sizes to choose from? Well, better late than never. Chad Bartley, a Senior Research Analyst over at Pacific Crest, has predicted that we will be seeing a 9” Kindle Fire before the end of 2012, possibly as early as this summer. Along with this, an update to the already incredibly popular 7” model is expected. While previous estimates for upcoming Kindle tablet sales had been falling in light of a rumored iPad 3 launch that may include a 7” iPad meant to compete directly with Amazon, the same analyst has upgraded his estimates to account for anticipated demand.
We first heard rumors of an 8.9” Kindle tablet on the way in 2012 via a Digitimes report back in November that indicated a May launch was planned. While Digitimes is often less than perfectly reliable, they have managed to come up with some good information before on many occasions. In this case, they also reported that the choice of screen size was meant to simultaneously take advantage of pushes by LG and Samsung to promote the smaller screen size and to avoid competing directly with more established tablets like Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.
What this will mean to Kindle fans is hard to say at this stage. The immediate concern for owners of the original Kindle Fire will be continuing support. As many owners of the 1st Generation Kindle can attest, Amazon has a tendency to quickly move forward without worrying about ongoing backward compatibility for their newest efforts. At the same time, however, there has obviously been an increased awareness of the importance of consistent branding. While the second generation of Kindle eReader was a fairly noticeable break from the original, subsequent offerings have all remained fairly obviously related. Add to that the fact that the Kindle Fire is already capable of running more recent versions of Android (as demonstrated by recent videos involving ICS installs) which would be the most obvious thing for the company to change on the software side of things, and there is reason to believe that there will be at least a few years of supported life for the current Kindle Fire.
More interesting will be seeing how they handle the upgrade. Will the new model or models bow to customer demand for a camera, for example? There have also been indications for some time that NVidea is interested in getting involved with Amazon’s tablet efforts, which could mean a jump into the Tegra 2 or even Tegra 3 for the larger new Kindle Fire. Either of these would make sense given the emphasis on video and app use that Amazon has made apparent.
Unlike previous rumors, this one is adding up from a number of different sources and seems to be confirmed by the most recent Kindle ad uploaded to Youtube. In this, the iPad’s flaws as a reading device are still emphasized in a familiar message, but they also make a dig at the high price tag relative to the $200 Kindle Fire and imply that there is little the iPad can do that the Kindle line can’t accomplish collectively for less money. To many, this seems to be setting the stage for more direct Kindle vs iPad conflict.