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Amazon Kindle Smartphone Rumor Spreads

According to people with knowledge of the situation, Amazon is planning to bring out their own smartphone to compete with Apple’s iPhone line.  A Bloomberg revelation provided that information recently.  The idea of a Kindle phone is something that has been touched on here before, particularly during the days leading up to the formal announcement of the Kindle Fire when anything seemed possible.  It is increasingly likely that this is going to be the next stage of Kindle growth now that a tablet presence has been established.

The Kindle Fire gives the retail giant a foothold in portable electronics in a way that even the Kindle eReader couldn’t accomplish.  The Kindle built its own market and basically kicked off the previously minimal eBook industry.  The Kindle Fire proved that Amazon was both willing and able to enter into an existing device market and hold their own.  In addition to building up consumer trust, it helps get things ready to enter into an even more competitive market.

Selling a smartphone is not likely to be a simple task, even for Amazon.  This is not a company known for passing any large amount of control to their partners.  While it is standard practice for carriers to demand custom devices, it is hard to imagine a Kindle phone going that way.  The whole point of Amazon’s hardware development is to lock people into a fairly closed loop of media services provided by Amazon and nobody else.  Allowing carrier customization would seem likely to dilute their own branding somewhat.

This move would also open the company up to any number of patent disputes.  It doesn’t matter whether they manage to acquire a large patent portfolio to defend against infringements, though sources indicate that this is exactly what is happening already, lawsuits over mobile devices are the norm rather than the exception right now.

On the plus side, the fact that Amazon already has a well-received fork of the popular Android OS will help them get off the ground.  Despite running on Google’s software, the experience provided by the Kindle Fire is sufficiently unique to make it stand out.  A similar effort released in a smartphone would provide an attractive alternative to the competition.

It would also greatly expand the potential user base for Amazon’s Appstore for Android, which many users find preferable to Google Play’s less carefully policed app store already.  More users would naturally add additional pressure for app developers who might be on the fence about signing up with Amazon so far.

Since we have no more solid information aside from comments by “people who should know”, this can’t be taken too seriously.  It would definitely be a smart move in some ways, but the added expenses from carriers, legal defenses, and assorted other problems particular to the mobile communications industry would make it difficult for Amazon to continue maintaining their policy of providing ridiculously low prices on all their hardware.

Would a Kindle phone sell well?  Probably.  Would it sell well enough for it to be worth the investment?  It’s too early to tell, though Amazon seems to be considering the possibility.

Apple Still Not Threatened Enough by Kindle Fire to Invest in iPad Mini

The latest in an unending series of rumors about Apple’s supposedly devious plans to take everybody else out of the tablet market no matter the cost has recently popped up via iMore.  Apparently the Kindle Fire is doing far too well and it will be necessary for Apple to step in and eliminate the competition before the holiday sales numbers have a chance to solidify into a real presence in the tablet market.  This report indicates that the new iPad Mini will be available in October of 2012 if all goes well, along with yet another iteration of the iPhone.

Naturally, the speculation makes a number of rather impressive claims.  The iPad Mini will sport a 7.85” Retina Display, for example.  It will also be priced between $200 and $250.  Basically it is a scaled down version of the iPad 3 that just happens to be half the price of the cheapest version of that tablet.  The price drop can apparently be accounted for at least in part by the reduction of on-board storage space to 8GB.

Once again, despite how seriously this rumor is being taken at the moment by various sources, there is a major flaw in it.  None of the details make sense.

The most obvious point is the pricing.  In previous iPad offerings, Apple has never once accepted less than a 50% profit margin on every sale.  The newest version, the iPad 3, is estimated to cost about $310 to manufacture (16GB, 4G Model).  This makes it the least profitable iPad for Apple so far at an estimated 51%.  Even if we assume there to be a relatively large decrease in production costs as they move from a 10” display to a 7”, there is no real way that the company could hope to get even a 25% margin out of a $200 iPad Mini.  The Kindle Fire is only viable at that price because of Amazon’s heavy emphasis on media sales after the purchase.

There is also the issue of OS fragmentation.  Regardless of whether the proposed device would be able to maintain the iPad’s 2048 x 1536 resolution, the decreased size would change the way that users interact with their device and therefore the way designers create their interfaces.  It would introduce a new tier of apps that would have to be directly targeting the Mini.  Coming into what will likely be a major competition with Microsoft’s Windows 8, Apple will not want to be dealing with a complete refresh of their store this fall.

There are plenty of other reasons that we can expect no iPad Mini.  It would cannibalize iPod Touch sales.  It would indicate that Apple was far more concerned about the Kindle Fire than the numbers come close to justifying.  The list goes on.  Basically, the chances of such a product hitting shelves is slim at best.  Even if it happens, the final specs are certain to look nothing like what sites like iMore indicate unless the price is totally different from what they are expecting.  The Kindle Fire will continue to be the dominant $200 tablet for a while longer and Apple will continue to be disinterested.

Is Google Taking On the Kindle Fire With a New 7” Tablet?

Until we see Windows 8 hitting shelves, the only real contenders in the tablet market are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS.  As much as the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 does some great things, most of its newfound strength comes from being able to import Android content.  Given the importance of Google’s place as the developer of Android, which while lagging behind iOS is still making rapid gains, it has struck many people as troubling that Amazon would take their software and cut them out of the loop entirely with the release of the Kindle Fire.  Despite the fact that it’s not really against any rules, the breaking of that the most popular Android tablet ever from the Android Marketplace and other Google services comes up frequently in Kindle Fire reviews.  Now we have reason to believe that Google has taken notice and may be willing to respond.

According to recent reports, Google will be releasing their own 7” $200 Kindle Fire competitor as early as early as 2nd Quarter this year.  Information is still mostly speculation with regard to the specifics of this new tablet, but supposedly it will run Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, have a 7” 1280 x 800 display, and be introduced in an initial production run of 1.5 – 2 million units.  For a new launch early in the year, that indicates fairly strong confidence in their product.

For once this may actually be a sufficiently strong product to beat out the competition.  Google is in a position to control the entire ecosystem surrounding their device, much like Amazon with the Kindle Fire, but can draw on a much more significant pool of content when providing apps and such.  This may be what it takes to approach the iPad in a meaningful way right off the bat.  While the most obvious conflict being sought when releasing a 7” tablet will be the Google vs Kindle Fire matchup, Apple’s anticipated iPad 3 will be joining the fray as well with a smaller design that intrigues many potential customers.

All of Google’s more recent actions with regard to Android, from the tablet optimization to the automated policing of the Android Marketplace to remove malware and other malicious programs, come together to make this a far more appealing prospect than it could have been a year ago.  The Kindle Fire has proven more than anything previously that there is room for more than one big name in the marketplace by overtaking even the most established competing Android devices in a matter of months and setting the new standard for tablet pricing.

At worst this rumored tablet would be something that other Android device developers could model their design on with confidence, knowing that Google is already designing with such a configuration in mind.  At best, maybe even the Kindle Fire and iPad have something to look out for in the months to come.  Until we see concrete details it’s hard to guess which competitor will be targeted directly, but it’s even harder to imagine that Google would settle for anything less than one of the big names in tablets.

New Kindle Fire 7” & 9” Models Reportedly On The Way

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=sulfQHdvyEs

Next Generation of Kindle Fire Now Expected To Be 8.9″ Tablet

Originally, the plan for the Kindle Fire‘s release was supposed to have involved two Tablet PCs.  That was the story being told during the speculation period, at least, and it seemed pretty believable.  Supposedly, as Amazon grew concerned about the time it was taking to get both products ready, they became afraid of missing out on the 2011 holiday season and put all resources into the 7″ Kindle Fire instead.  There is yet every reason to believe that further Kindle Tablet devices are planned for the future, though.

Up until now we have been assuming that the next one to come would be the previously rumored device known by the code name “Hollywood”.  This was to be the 10.1″ version of the Kindle Fire that would run a quad core processor and have an increase in both storage and memory.  Many analysts have been expecting to see this device released as early as the first quarter of next year, but new information from DigiTimes seems to point to a slightly different course for the immediate future.

They have heard from sources associated with Amazon’s current 7″ display suppliers that Amazon has set things in motion for the production of 8.9″ screens.  While it is always important to remain somewhat skeptical of supposed inside sources for a variety of reasons, if true this could mean that entirely new things are in the works for Amazon’s next Tablet PC.

While it would not necessarily be true that an 8.9″ display would have to be less powerful than the Kindle Hollywood rumors were indicating, there has to be a reason for such a shift.  The obvious answer would be cost management.  While the Kindle Fire is currently selling ridiculously well in pre-orders, it is only able to do that by virtue of its low price and comparatively high level of content.  Should Amazon have jumped into the tablet market with something trying to take on Apple’s iPad on equal terms, it is likely that things would be going somewhat less well.

By using a screen that is somewhere between the iPad and the Kindle Fire, Amazon not only keeps costs down below what Apple has been able to manage, but also continues to remain distinct in customers’ minds.  Yes they are both tablets, but by virtue of form alone they will fill different needs and desires just as the Kindle eReader line was able to do.

This doesn’t rule out the possibility of a 10″ Kindle somewhere down the line, but should the rumor prove true then it would be far less likely.  The Kindle DX‘s lack of success should be enough to steer Amazon clear of the “bigger is better” mindset, if nothing else.  In addition, while there are currently a wide number of Kindle eReaders to choose from, there is every reason to believe that Amazon will be eliminating the Kindle Keyboard as a major part of the product line within the next few months.  Just as it makes little sense to try to keep providing five or more different eReader options at a time, trying to market 3-4 different sizes of tablet seems unlikely to significantly increase sales.

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.