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March 2018
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$80 Kindle 4 Might Be Problematic For Amazon’s School Penetration

It is no secret that Amazon has its eyes on getting Kindles into schools.  That was pretty clear even before the Kindle DX pilot programs and Kindle textbook rentals.  The best part of that for them is that many students and teachers would just love to adopt the new technology.  Unfortunately the issue of accessibility has gotten in the way of such efforts in the past and seem likely to intrude even more so now with the release of the $80 basic Kindle.

The initial efforts to get students and teachers to adopt the Kindle met with some complications.  There are objections to the eReader in general, based on the idea that, since students are trained from early on to highlight and annotate their books while reading actively, they will find themselves less engaged than usual in non-paper books.  This isn’t unreasonable, but it basically amounts to the argument that things shouldn’t change because things have always been this way.  A bit circular.  At best, this side implies that early adoption is essential.

We also get people concerned that a Kindle will be a bad long-term investment due to the stranglehold of the Agency Model on pricing, which results in less substantial savings than seem reasonable.  This was more of a concern in the past, and will probably come up rarely now that an $80 Kindle is available.  The fact that students now have an extremely cheap option open to them that can borrow library books and rent texts from Amazon will likely be a big draw.

Official endorsement, and the potential for textbook replacement that that would provide, is still unlikely.  The legal complication regarding accessibility remains a large one.  Since eBooks cannot provide equal access for the visually impaired, they can’t replace textbooks in most school systems.  The Kindle seemed to be on its way to addressing these concerns with features like Text to Speech, but even that isn’t quite there yet.  It doesn’t help that publishers can turn the feature off, of course.

With the new Kindle’s complete lack of audio capability, the existing objections gain even more traction.  Now even if Amazon did find a reasonable way to address the conversion of print to audio that satisfied opponents, there would still be the problem of it not being applicable to the most affordable level of the price tier system.

If I had to make a guess, honestly, I would say that Amazon seems to have given up on the idea of formal adoption by the school systems.  The new approach, which definitely seems to have more potential, is a direct marketing to the students and parents of students.  It avoids bureaucracy and still manages to save everybody money in the long run.

As eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular become ever more common, it won’t be too hard to get educators to be a bit more open to their presence in the classroom.  Lots has been done to make it more possible, from real page numbers to shared annotation, to make the Kindle more appealing in this market.  They’re not going to abandon it entirely.

Kindle Scribe: Something To Get Excited About?

While there have been some fairly substantial revelations recently regarding the Kindle Tablet, we haven’t been hearing much about the next generation of Kindle eReader.  It’s understandable, given the potential for some really great Kindle vs iPad competition in the near future, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else going on.  Jeff Bezos said at one point that Amazon will remain mindful of their customers’ desire to always have a dedicated eReading device, and I think we can expect them to follow up on the Kindle 3 in a fairly substantial way.

Perhaps the biggest source for speculation regarding the Kindle lately has been the discovery of some domain names secretly registered by Amazon.  Using a hole in Go Daddy’s security, since remedied, interested researchers were able to figure out that they had acquired “kindlescribe.com” and “kindlescribes.com”.  This has, as might be expected, led to quite a few people being fairly sure they know the name and focus of the next Kindle eReader.

At best, I would say this might be half right.  While the Kindle is long overdue for some intuitive and immersion-maintaining method for annotation, I can’t see the addition of a stylus being an important enough addition for Amazon to base an entire generation of their devices on.  It will probably be present as soon as there is a touchscreen to make use of, which I think we can all agree is an inevitability for any new eReader Amazon comes up with at this point, but as a focal point it would just be underwhelming.

What does make sense is a Kindle Scribe(s) service that allows for tighter integration of the Kindle and Kindle Tablet.  One of the biggest problems that the company faces with their entry into the tablet market is that of avoiding cannibalizing their own eReader sales while still maintaining strong competitive advantages.  If the only way to either access or produce hand-written noted in eBooks turns out to be via the Kindle line of devices, not only does value go up compared to the competition in both categories, but the fact that your notes can be shared between the two would encourage dual ownership for a number of applications.  If for no other reason than that a stylus will be equally useful with either new device, there’s no reason to expect a Kindle Scribe eReader.

This isn’t the first time we have heard about potential naming schemes for new Kindle incarnations, of course.  The same source also discovered “kindleair.com” and “kindlewave.com” several months ago, which led to speculation of an earth, wind, and water theme for the next big Amazon device roll out.  For all we know, those will have some applicable meaning when release day comes around too.

While none of this is set in stone and nobody outside of Amazon can really say for sure what is going to come along in the next generation of Kindles, we do know that it’s coming.  Speculation about release dates has been growing, rumors are spreading, and Amazon is selling off refurbished Kindle models for as little as $99 everywhere they can think of to clear stock before the new device is ready to go.  It’s only a matter of time now.

New Amazon Kindles Coming This October?

In all of the speculation about the potential for a Kindle Tablet release later this year, few people have speculated much on the future of the Kindle itself.  Possibly we’re simply running out of good ideas to improve the device without causing a problem with the streamlined user experience?  Whatever the reason, we now have news that there are indeed two completely new Kindles on the way.  A recent Wall Street Journal article has indicated, based on sources familiar with the matter, that this October we can expect to be seeing both a newer, cheaper Kindle of the type we are already used to, and a Kindle with a touchscreen.

While at a glance the Kindle Touch, or whatever Amazon chooses to call it, seems to be a reaction to the incredibly popular new Nook Simple Touch, the timing makes that less of an issue.  October is also the anticipated release month for the first piece in the new Kindle Tablet line.  Many people have been wondering if this meant the death of the Kindle, either by way of abandonment in favor of the newer product, or simply by eroding the existing customer base by offering an affordable alternative that does more than can be handled by existing eReaders.  The latter is far-fetched, since customers have shown a distinct appreciation for dedicated reading devices so far and seem more inclined toward dual-ownership rather than abandonment of the Kindle in favor of any tablet.  The former was a concern, but by launching the new Kindles at the same time as the Kindle Tablet, Amazon has the opportunity to provide what I assume will be their first sub-$100 eReader, as well as a new more advanced model, and thereby reaffirm their commitment to providing a dedicated reading experience for their Kindle customers.

Assuming that Amazon can be counted on to take advantage of the time remaining before the release to address any remaining shortcomings in their design as compared to the competition, such as the Nook’s current superiority in terms of speed boosts and social networking integration, these new Kindles can’t really help but make a splash.  The move at least partially away from the physical keyboard will even leave open the potential for true localization of the newer model without retooling the hardware for every country they decide to open a Kindle Store in.  The fact that many expect the Kindle Tablet to come with a customized front end for the Amazon.com site that is geared toward optimized tablet shopping will almost certainly bode well for the new Kindle as well, should it prove true.

It isn’t going to be the color E Ink eReader that many people were, I think, hoping for.  It would just be too much of a shock to see the price of the Kindle’s newest model jump to accommodate the higher production costs of something like that.  That does not mean that the Kindle Tablet won’t pick up the ball as far as that demand is concerned, though.  Time will tell what needs Amazon has chosen to prioritize, but it is heartening to see that they won’t be letting eReading become a minor aspect of their bigger media distribution effort.

High-End Kindle Tablet Made For Video Streaming?

As the weeks go by and the holiday sales season gets ever closer, we get more and more details about the upcoming Kindle Tablets.  Yes, their very existence has only been hinted at in anything resembling official Amazon.com communication, but we know it’s coming.  It’s only a matter of figuring out in what forms and with what focus.  Now we have a bit more of a line on what the higher-end option of what appears to be the initial release group will be.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to find out that the Kindle Tablet reportedly codenamed “Hollywood” would have a visual media focus to it.  Now, though, we have a bit more to go on than random conjecture based on that name.  A recent report note from investment firm Detwiler Fenton indicates that the anticipated tablet will have a 10″ color screen as well as a bundled trial of an Amazon video streaming service such as, or possibly exactly the same as, that offered at the moment as a perk to Amazon Prime members.  It will also feature significantly more processing power than the other Kindle Tablet offering or offerings expected to launch around the same time, which when added to the anticipated pricing of around $399 would seem to make it a very real threat to the industry leading iPad.

Now, we know that Amazon has been doing so amazingly well with the existing Kindle line because of their focus on selling content for the whole platform rather than simply a line of physical eReading devices.  Rumors go so far as to say that the Kindle itself is being sold near cost.  It makes sense, by extension, that they will want to continue this approach in other forms of media if possible. Video makes perfect sense, as does music.  They have a presence in the retail market for both, in addition to the app marketplace that we have to assume will work exceptionally well with the new Kindle Tablets.  I anticipate an expansion of all of these either in terms of content or functionality before the launch, of course.

If the Kindle ‘Hollywood” Tablet is going to be pointed at the iPad, like many of us are assuming, it will only really have a chance if Amazon can compete successfully against the iTunes store.  That means streaming audio and video, cloud storage, and an amazing selection.  Nothing less will do.  Right now the Amazon Instant Video Store is a decent start, but it only does so much.  We are definitely likely to see an expansion of the offerings by the holidays as well as an extended Amazon Prime membership benefit list that takes advantage of it.  What else happens will depend in large part on what the other new Kindle offerings are focussed on.  A pocket-sized Kindle, perhaps, with a heavy music or audiobook emphasis?  There are a bunch of different openings for new media-consumption devices that remain to be exploited.  You have to admit, though, video is a great start.

Does the Ad-Supported Kindle Go Far Enough?

There have been a wide range of responses to the announcement of Amazon’s new ad-supported Kindle release this past week.  For the most part, people seem to approve.  Amazon made a smart move when they decided to have the ads be unobtrusive and potentially personalized.  This leads me to wonder what the future holds as far as advertising subsidized eReading possibilities.

Let’s face it, it’s impossible to get away from ads on a day to day basis.  They’re all over the net, the roads, buses, walls, shipping containers…I could go on.  How much do we really care anymore, though?  The reason that this was such a great move for Amazon is that people are already so used to seeing ads and simply filtering them out without giving it much thought that this small addition won’t have any major effect.  It isn’t as if they were being placed in such a manner as to interfere with immersion while reading, after all.

I wonder how long it will be before we can get books with the same advantage, though?  Obviously, some people have already caught on to the potential and made a business model out of it (WOWIO).  It is demonstratively possible, therefore, to have an unobtrusive advertising presence in a book.  Not really that much different from your average paperback’s large note that it has recently been made into a movie or television show, when you think about it.  I’m really hoping this becomes a trend for the Kindle.

While I don’t support the inclusion of ads mid-text, I think most people would be willing to glance through one or two as they flip to page one of a new book if that meant that the book was cheaper or even free.  This could definitely work as a way to alter the existing Agency Model pricing scheme that makes eBook purchasing an almost comically overpriced experience from time to time.  Give users the option of the normal book for the usual price, but a copy with ads included for 50% off.  How many people will really turn down that opportunity to save money just because ads are obnoxious?

I’m not advocating the WOWIO model, necessarily.  I see this as having potential as a flag in the downloaded file that turns ads on or off on a case by case basis.  This would allow for the updating of advertisements from time to time and avoid the problem of outdated messages.  What would be the point of a sales announcement if you didn’t get around to seeing it until two months after the fact, right?

Still, the Kindle‘s new pricing due to ad inclusion is a huge step in the right direction.  If, as has often been speculated, Amazon is selling their products at or below cost then something needs to be done to drive the prices further down.  I know we’re all really hoping for those rumored free Kindles toward the end of the year, however unlikely the prospect.

New $114 Ad-Supported Kindle Announced!

Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) has just announced the newest addition to its highly successful Kindle line… kinda!  Visitors finding themselves at Amazon.com today will be seeing an announcement for a new “Kindle(with Special Offers)” being sold at a mere $114.  While it isn’t a hardware upgrade, anything to bring down the price on the Kindle is only going to help get it out there at this point.

What we’ve got is essentially just the existing Kindle WiFi that we all know and love already.  Instead of the standard “enjoyable” screen savers of author portraits and “kindle” related facts, it will display current advertisements and deals available to users.  While there will also be a small ad box at the bottom of the home screen, it is fairly unobtrusive and will not at any time appear during the act of reading.  Overall, definitely sounding like it’s worth the $25 savings so far.  Current examples being highlighted by the pre-order site include “$10 for $20 Amazon.com Gift Card” and “$1 for an album in the Amazon MP3 Store (choose from over 1 million albums)”.

In order to make these ads less painful for people to swallow, and presumably more effective in reaching a target audience at the same time, Amazon will be opening up a service called AdMash.  AdMash will allow Kindle users to preview potential Kindle advertisements and vote on which ones they would like to see.  Those that make it through this user selection process will enter into the pool and have a chance to end up on your eReader.  The plan at present is to allow users to select certain categories that they would be more or less interested in seeing on a daily basis and weighting the displayed ads based on these expressed personal preferences.

If all goes well, for example, a user will be able to decide they really love beaches and see a lot of ads displayed across beach backgrounds.  While still theoretical at this point since nothing has gone live, I can’t really imagine that there will be any shortage of interested advertisers(depending on the pricing scheme of course, since this is a fairly unproven ad medium), so there should be room for variety.  I would even imagine that at least some people, specifically thinking about coupon enthusiasts, will be more interested in the potential for sale notifications and coupons than the existing screen savers anyway.

The implementation remains to be seen, and I’m interested in seeing how a couple things are resolves.  How does Amazon plan to guarantee that users access the Kindle’s WiFi often enough to keep the ads cycling, for example?  Also, is this planned as an international project, or will the current US-only offer stand alone?  Mostly, though, I’m curious how they will address the software issues, especially hacking.  Anybody familiar with this site knows that you’ll find the occasional way to tweak your Kindle.  This is something I think many of us take advantage from time to time.  How, then, will the ads mesh with things like the popular Kindle Screensaver Hack that users developed to get around the repetitive author portraits?  Also, assuming they have managed to find an effective way, will this mean a software update that will impair the user’s ability to play with these sorts of tweaks?  Lots of questions without answers as of yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long before we know more.

Is the Kindle Moving to Android?

In recent days there has been a great deal of speculation on the possible implications of “Lab 126”, the Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) development group that came up with the Kindle, posting some job openings for Android developers.  The immediate speculation has been all about tablets and the potential for the next generation of Kindle to be one.  It’s an interesting thought.

Honestly, I think that at this point the evidence is fairly overwhelming that an Amazon Tablet PC is on the way.  Between this development, the opening of the Amazon App Store, and the obvious success of the Nook Color as a mini-tablet, the signs just point that way.  The big question is what this will mean for the Kindle.  It is possible that this will be a new incarnation of the Kindle, a divergent line of Kindle products, or even a completely new and independent effort(I vote for calling it the “Table” if they go this way).

The one place I personally don’t see this going is a direct sequel to the existing Kindle eReader.  While I wouldn’t put it past Amazon to have decided on a screen technology they like and attempted to never let on to anybody, by this point it would probably have gotten out in some way.  I also cannot see them moving to an LCD eReader after enjoying the kind of success they’ve had to date with the E Ink technology, especially after the last few ad campaigns.

Even if they go with a Kindle Spin-off, or even a fresh product line, however, we have to wonder if a migration of the Kindle line over to Android is in the works.  On the one hand, the existing Kindle software development has gone in another direction and it would seem a bit weird to just throw all that away.  On the other, why maintain two completely distinct software solutions when you could manage it on one?  The original Nook proved fairly well that you can run Android on an eReader without needing it to be a fully functional tablet.

The one place where all these ideas and speculations fall apart is in the fact that Lab 126 seems to be an entirely eReader centered endeavor.  Their website’s vision statement actually begins with “We develop and design wireless electronic reading devices”, so it might be a stretch to say that this is going to be a major tablet release.  Of course, that’s reflective of the current state of things.  It would seem to imply though, that anything coming out of the group will be centered on expanding the Kindle product line.  While I suppose that an Amazon equivalent to the Nook Color would probably go over well, especially with an established App Store to link to at launch already, I simply can’t see that as being the long-term goal.

My preferences definitely tend toward either a serious iPad competitor or a color Kindle that makes use of something along the lines of the Mirasol displays.  That’s just me, of course.  All this is speculation for now, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where this all ends up.

Kindle 3 Reviews By Online Media

Well, it’s been a week now since we got word of the new Kindle 3 release date and the details that go along with it.  Most regular consumers won’t have a chance to get one in their hands for a while yet, given the “On or before Sep 4th” updated release date and the fact that those who didn’t jump right in must now wait a bit longer, since Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) has already sold out their initial stock.  In the meantime, there are a few reviewers who have been given a chance to get to know their new Kindles a bit in advance and a huge number of people wishing they had as they examine every detail they can get while they wait.  What exactly is being said so far?

PCWorld’s Melissa J. Perenson gave us a good look at the new features.  The expected highlights are all there and duly noted as a greatly improved experience.  She liked how the darker border accentuated the screen, the more comfortable button layout, an improved keyboard, faster page turns, etc.  Things that might not have stood out to most potential users, but that seem to be a big deal in practice, are: the lighter weight of the new design(15% lighter than the Kindle 2, which was itself noticeably lighter than the competing nook device), the rubber backing which greatly increases the comfort of reading one-handed(assuming no case, of course), and the ability to change your preferred typeface.  This last might seem like no big deal to the majority of long-term Kindle owners, but it is a feature that most every other eReader, from LCDs to the nook, has had for a while now.  As far as this review goes, she found absolutely nothing worth listing as a significant downside.

ZDNet’s Larry Dignan also managed to get his hands on one and was kind enough to present some opinions.  One of the things that readers will be pleased to note is that the page turn speed is now, according to this description at least, a complete non-issue.  As he describes it: “Simply put, the Kindle turns pages faster than I can. It’s instant book gratification.”  In addition to this, the 50% higher contrast and the improved design of the physical interface were both deemed worthy of mention as major selling points.  A somewhat surprising note was the improved Webkit browser.  While the convenience of a Kindle‘s browser has occasionally been useful, I don’t think many people would consider it a vital feature for improvement.  Maybe Amazon will surprise some people here.  Dignan’s cited negatives as far as the new Kindle goes concentrate on the format(and really who doesn’t want Amazon to at least support third-party EPUBs at this point?), and lack of apps.  Since we’ve started to see some KDK projects in the form of games become available for public consumption already, it’s fairly safe to say that the latter point is becoming moot.  Is the lack of open format going to be enough to turn most people off of the device?  It seems rather doubtful.  Another reviewer with a very positive look at things.

CNET’s David Carnoy takes a bit of a more speculative view on the device, observing its potential for the future, as much as what it offers at the moment.  As usual, note is made of the improved screen, both in terms of contrast and refresh speed.  The brief note that Amazon has advised their customers that they can return their Kindle 2 purchases for the new model, assuming those purchases were made in the last 30 days, should be fairly useful for some.  He also, fortunately, provides us with some details that have not seen as much attention as perhaps they should.  First, the new Kindle software will, it appears, allow for the reading of password-protected PDF documents.  This will, of course, have an effect on a fairly narrow range of users at the moment, but it will also open up a number of new potential business applications.  Second, the new browser, in addition to being faster and easier to use, will have something called “Article Mode”.  This viewing mode will allow users to cut away everything but the text content on a page for ease of reading and to minimize the necessary page refreshes.  While Carnoy once again cites the arbitrary $99 price point as something Amazon has thus far achieved, this is the only negative he seems able to come up with at this point.

Try as I might, and I did, to find a counterpoint to all this unbridled positivity, nobody seems down on the new release for anything rational.  There’s a small crowd of people complaining that $139 isn’t $99, so Amazon is bad.  There’s also a similar contingent claiming that since it isn’t a color touchscreen tablet, the $500iPad renders it worthless.  Overall, however, this is clearly the most positive, most anticipated, and most affordable addition to the eReader market so far.

Nobody is going to claim that there is nowhere left for eReaders to go, but this is clearly a high point for consumers, with an accessible price point, strong hardware that does its job well, an incredible selection, and the whole Kindle platform as it spreads across nearly every computing device one is likely to get an urge to read on.  It will be worth checking back when the device starts hitting homes and people have more first-hand experiences to talk about, but nobody seems at all hesitant to be impressed.

In case you’ve missed out on our own Kindle 3 review, you can check it out before making up your mind.

Kindle 3 Released

Preorders are now available for both the 3G + WiFi Kindle 3 and the much anticipated WiFi-only Kindle 3.  The improvements on both models(the only difference between the two being the exclusion of 3G coverage from the WiFi model and the lower price that that entails) are quite noticeable, if a bit less drastic than many people were likely expecting.

Here’s what we’re going to be looking at:

  • Higher Contrast Display, such as has recently been seen in the Kindle DX Graphite
  • Slightly Streamlined Body: 21% smaller, 17% lighter, but with no sacrifices to screen size
  • Improved Battery and Main Memory Storage, which with the release of Collections a few months ago finally proves incredibly useful
  • Built-in WiFi Connectivity: This is huge.  Connect and download books even in areas where reception is horrible?  You’d better believe I’ll take it
  • 20% Faster Refresh Rate
  • Enhanced PDF Navigation, again much like what we’ve seen in the DX
  • New Kindle Software will support some international characters – Cyrillic (Russian), Chinese, Japanese and Korean

Now, I’ll freely admit that the only thing I was set to care much about was the improved screen.  And, to address that point, it looks like it will be as amazing as could be hoped for. That said, I love the body redesign.  It’s smaller, lighter, easier on the eyes, claims to have quieter page turn buttons, a more pleasantly textured backing, and has done away with the annoyingly protruding navigation stick in favor of a directional navigation pad.  If there were ever a reason not to Kindle, it’s flown right out the window.

So far all pre-orders are due to be shipped on a release date of August 27th.