A recent report based on information coming from a Staples executive has had the internet abuzz with rumors about there being as many as six Kindle Fire tablets on the way any time now. Demos Parneros, president of US Retail for Staples Inc, indicated that they have six SKUs ready for the upcoming release. Naturally Amazon has declined to comment on any of these rumors, but the chances of there actually being six new tablets on the way are incredibly low.
This is not to say there will be nothing new. Chances are very good that both a 7” Kindle Fire and a larger 10” Kindle Fire will be released at the same time. We also have information from previous such stories that tells us the existing Kindle Fire will be re-released at a lower price with a slightly improved screen to help Amazon once again corner the Android tablet market. It’s reasonable to expect that will be as far as the expansion of the line goes, however.
New SKUs do not mean entirely distinct new products. If we assume that at least one of the tablets will have 4G connectivity available as an option, that option would be its own distinct SKU. The same would be true for each variation in storage space. An 8GB Kindle Fire and a 16GB Kindle Fire would be separated even if they were otherwise identical.
Six SKUs could be as simple as Amazon offering either extra storage space or optional 4G connectivity for each of the three models we are expecting. Alternatively, we may still see only 7” releases at this time and find a “Kindle Fire Original” along with Kindle Fire 2 models featuring varying combinations of storage space and such. It isn’t hard to come up with minor variations that account for the Staples information.
All of the speculation about there being completely unexpected products, such as a Kindle Phone, is jumping the gun. That sort of thing may happen, and some people consider it to be almost inevitable, but it will not be coming in the next could weeks. After all, what sense would it make for Amazon to release so many options that no particular Kindle Fire successor was able to capture public interest? This is clearly a company that knows better than to do something that reckless, however sure they may be of their position in the market right this minute.
Interest in a potential Kindle Phone has been rising ever since Bloomberg reported that Amazon was in the middle of testing said phone. The logic behind the move is arguably sound for Amazon, which leaves people fairly certain that it will happen. After all, if there are customers to be gained and the sort of 24/7 connection that many people have with their smartphones can be tied into Amazon services then the hardware line is worth it even if it doesn’t generate a dollar in sales on its own. What is especially interesting about all of this speculation, however, is the idea that Amazon is on the verge of upsetting the smartphone market in a major way.
To really understand the potential impact of a Kindle Phone, we have to look at what they have already done with the Kindle Fire. Users get access to an affordable, functional consumption device that is tied into Amazon.com. There are no major optional features, none of Google’s default Android services, and no efforts are being made to pretend that it is anything more than what it is able to be. All the designers cared about was how to get people the best access to Amazon’s media at the lowest price.
Let’s carry that through to a phone. Obviously we would be talking about something highly affordable. That is how the company defines their products. It would have to be exclusively connected to Amazon’s own services, which means no Google interaction. In a market increasingly pushing for universal access to turn-by-turn directions, calendar alarm notifications, and constant digital communications access, this could be slightly problematic. Even the Email app that shipped with the Kindle Fire didn’t quite work right at first, so it is hard to imagine them solving every possible problem with a new, more complex Android implementation so soon.
This doesn’t rule out an Amazon phone, but it does place it in a certain bracket. Just as the Kindle Fire doesn’t try to directly compete with the iPad, perhaps a Kindle Phone would avoid trying to compete with the iPhone.
There is a great deal of exposure to be gained if they choose to go with a “pay as you go” device. A Kindle Phone with the ability to connect to WiFi networks could be sold cheaply to millions of budget-conscious consumers. Even if they didn’t need it as a phone, the iPod Touch has demonstrated in the past that there is a level of consumer demand for such hardware. The ability to add prepaid minutes to a calling plan would just add a level of functionality to make it marketable while avoiding many of the hassles inherent in dealing with a normal carrier.
There is too little information to go on so far, and it is still definitely possible that Amazon will come out with a whole array of new services to make up for the lack of Google integration by the time a Kindle Phone sees the light of day. It might even turn out to be a high end device that puts every Android smartphone on the market to shame. The Kindle Fire set the tone for Amazon’s Android hardware, however, and the theme there has been one of simplicity and affordability. I think it is unlikely to see that change just yet.
Supposed upstream supply sources have released information that may pertain to the upcoming announcement of the Kindle Fire 2. This info, coming through NPD DisplaySearch Analyst Richard Shim, indicates slightly different production emphases than the recent BGR article talked about, but is otherwise mostly consistent. While this must be taken with a great deal of caution, upstream supply chain sources being notoriously unreliable and often interpreted poorly, the implications are worth exploring.
The report in question talks about four upcoming Kindle Fire models:
- 7” Kindle Fire 2 w/ 1024 x 600 Display
- 7” Kindle Fire 2 w/ 1280 x 800 Display and Camera
- 7” Kindle Fire 2 w/ 1280 x 800 Display, Camera, and 4G Internet Access
- 8.9” Kindle Fire 2 w/ 1920 x 1200 Display
Of these, according to Shim, the two basic 7” models are scheduled to begin production in August while the 7” Kindle Fire 2 w/ 4G Internet Access will have to wait until September. The larger model will not be available until it’s time for holiday sales.
Along with this information, we get notice of an upgrade to the pixel density of the Kindle Fire 2’s screen. Like the Nexus 7 from Google, it will now be a 216 PPI display. For context, the existing Kindle Fire has a 1024 x 600 display with 170 pixels per inch.
There are two vital pieces of information to take from this, as well as one fairly interesting point that may be useful later this year.
First, while there will still be a lower resolution Kindle Fire model made available for under $199, this information would indicate that there have been hardware changes. The most inexpensive Kindle Fire model available after the new hardware is announced will not simply be backstocked units of Amazon’s current tablet.
Second, the Kindle Fire 2 will likely be able to beat Google’s Nexus 7 to 4G connectivity. If Amazon can pull that off, it will be a huge boost to their reputation in the tablet market and would lead to increased sales. We are certainly not looking at the potential for unlimited free cellular transfer as in the Kindle eReader line, due to the volume of data involved in media streaming and app downloads, but just having the option available will open doors.
This report also points to the larger Kindle Fire 2 being an 8.9” device rather than the 10.1” device that many have been hoping for. Since we are looking at slightly more distant production there will be more room for variation and this is in direct conflict with other equally “reliable” sources. Nonetheless, going with a slightly smaller size might be a productive choice if Amazon is looking to both keep the costs down on their own device and avoid too many direct comparisons with the industry-leading 9.7” iPad. Clearer size differences mean fewer side by side comparisons.
Either way, keep an eye out for highly discounted Kindle Fire offers. If we’re moving into a new generation of devices, Amazon’s likely to have “refurbished” units on sale.
This is not the first time we’ve heard talk of a miniature iPad. In fact, I’ve detailed here on the site exactly how little sense it makes for Apple to release such a device on more than one occasion. Despite the ongoing lack of such a device from Apple, people keep declaring that it is right around the corner waiting to wipe out the Kindle Fire on a moment’s notice. For once, they might be half right.
The cost analysis I did in the past is still relatively accurate. Apple has a reputation for putting comparatively large markups on their devices. An iPad Mini that offered them minimal profits would definitely not be attractive in most cases, especially since it would inevitably eat into existing iPad sales to some extent.
Let’s assume, however, that they have found a way to cut costs significantly. The latest rumors are pointing to a seven inch tablet that lacks the Retina display Apple devices are becoming known for. It would also have comparatively little on-board storage space and other such corner cutting measures to being margins up to acceptable levels. The big question is why they would bother?
Let’s face it, there has not been a good substitute to the iPad thus far. No matter how much I love the Kindle Fire, it is a very limited device. That’s all it was ever intended to be. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is the closest anybody has come and even there, it’s hard to decide. The situation has changed recently though.
Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, and the anticipated Nexus 10 follow-up, makes a compelling argument in favor of Android as a viable tablet OS. No other Android device has managed to create such a positive general use experience for such a lot price. Apple might feel the need to respond to that somewhat.
More likely, however, would be the rise of the Windows 8 tablet. The recently previewed Surface tablet developed in-house by Microsoft is powerful, easy to use, and fairly obviously aimed at besting the iPad feature for feature. If they price it to match as well, Apple might finally be in a bit of trouble despite the large existing user base locked into their ecosystem.
The new Kindle Fire 2 might play into the equation as well, but that’s a long shot. Amazon did take the Android world by storm last year when they priced their device well below anything comparable. It is likely that this low pricing will continue and that customers will get a great value out of the next Kindle Fire as well. Even a ten inch tablet from Amazon is hardly going to trouble Apple at this point given the more serious competition that is showing up lately, though.
An iPad Mini could bite into Kindle Fire sales if it is ever released. Price and name recognition go a long way. Nothing has better name recognition than the iPad so a model priced at or below $300 would likely be a huge hit. It wouldn’t make much sense for Amazon’s device to be the reason for that sort of release, though. The Kindle Fire has never been direct competition as a general purpose tablet. It’s just a good way to get your Amazon content conveniently delivered.
Some of the likely details regarding Amazon’s upcoming Kindle Fire successor have been available for a bit now. As we get closer to what most sources consider a highly probably launch event in July, these are naturally becoming more detailed. Most recently, tech news site BGR has expanded on a few of the more interesting details that make the upcoming Kindle Fire an improvement on the original.
The biggest news here is that, assuming BGR has once again found a reliable source, the highly sought 10 inch Kindle Fire will be released in July at the same time as the improved 7 inch model. While the plan when Amazon’s first tablet was still in its earlier stages there were plans for the release of both 10 inch and 7 inch options. In the interest of releasing in time to take advantage of holiday sales, they chose to concentrate on the less expensive of the two devices. Now that some time has passed and interest has remained relatively high we will finally get to see the line filled out a bit.
The new 10 inch Kindle Fire 2 will be running a quad-core processor to offer a bit more power. Obviously the larger screen is an improvement, but it will also be higher resolution. Whether this means 1280 x 800 as with the 7 inch model is unknown, but it is likely that the emphasis here will be on true HD content delivery and that will influence things.
The overall build quality of the new Kindle Fire models has also apparently been improved. While they will be thinner than the existing Kindle Fire, and slightly thinner than the original iPad, they will feature a metal case rather than the soft plastic that the older model makes use of. A new chrome finish will be used to add highlights against the black matte we are used to, and a ribbed texture on the back will make it more comfortable to hold. Having a more distinct appearance will definitely help with sales regardless of any other reasons for switching to a metal case.
The positioning of the speakers has been altered to some degree in order to improve the sound quality. The 10 inch Kindle Fire 2 will also finally offer users a front-facing camera. While not exactly the most useful of features for most people, it is one that has frequently been requested. Both models will include a microUSB port and what is suspected to be an HDMI port.
Amazon has been aware of impending competition from Google and Microsoft on the tablet front throughout their development. While the Kindle Fire took off immediately and conquered the Android tablet market, everybody else is catching up quickly. That includes some like Google who can actually offer comparable media integration. The new Kindle Fire 2 will have to be impressive to compete with not just the new competition but also the thoroughly entrenched iPad. They can’t avoid the comparison to any degree once a larger model is available for sale and it should be interesting to find out exactly how much of an improvement has been made in order to meet these challenges.
The current expected release date is July 31st. There is no word yet on 10 inch Kindle Fire 2 pricing. The 7 inch Kindle Fire 2 is expected to sell for $199.
Unless literally none of the information we have about upcoming developments in Kindle products turns out to be accurate, there are a couple things we can safely assume. There will definitely be a front-lit Kindle eReader along the lines of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight, for example. That was inevitable, of course, but thanks to the details of Amazon’s recent contract with the US State Dept we know that it will be sooner rather than later. We also know that there will be a new Kindle Fire tablet of some sort this year.
Amazon is said to have originally intended a larger model Kindle Fire to b ready on release day, giving customers some choice. Due to time constraints, and the need to be ready for last year’s holiday season, that didn’t pan out. This year the talk has been about Amazon making good on that potential. We have heard rumors indicating an 8.9” Kindle Fire, a 10.1” Kindle Fire, both at once, and more. The predicted timeline puts whatever happens in the next 4-6 months.
The latest update we have on this comes via DigiTimes. As always, they must be taken with some caution. Still, the information seems realistic and they have come up with some early information in the past that turned out accurate.
This report indicates that Amazon will be releasing an update to their 7” Kindle Fire in the third quarter of 2012. It will include a higher resolution 1280 by 800 screen as well as other unspecified hardware improvements meant to target higher-end tablet customers. The price of this model will still be just $199.
The existing Kindle Fire will continue to be available to customers much as the iPad 2 remains available despite the hardware having moved on. The Kindle Fire Classic, or whatever it is called by this time, will be sold for just $149. This is expected to go a long way toward increasing Amazon’s exposure and overall Android tablet dominance.
The same report also goes on to explain that the previously mentioned 10.1” Kindle Fire is still going to be made and appears to be on the way either late in 2012 or early in 2013. Supposed 8.9” device development has been suspended, presumably because three active options in the Kindle Fire line will already be more than enough to choose from. There is no word so far how much this larger tablet will cost.
DigiTimes aside, I think that there is enough precedent to say that Amazon will likely have a large sale on the existing Kindle Fire prior to and immediately following the release of its successor. It may be kept around, much as the Kindle Keyboard has been, but more likely the price drop will simply be a transition tool. Amazon has been suspected of selling previous generation devices as “refurbished” regardless of their actual condition in order to drum up some last minute interest and clear out existing inventories.
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.
I would be the first to admit that the Kindle line is amazing. I love my Kindle Keyboard and use it daily. I also know that I’m not the only one. It is therefore unsurprising that when a Digitimes rumor indicated that Amazon was buying up truckloads of color E Ink screens in a size that would work in the standard eReader form, many people took it seriously. It turns out that this is pretty much confirmed to be a fabrication already, and that is not at all the bad thing that it seems at face value.
As those who have followed any of the rumor storms surrounding Kindle releases are probably aware by now, Digitimes is something of a questionable source. While they get just enough right that people keep checking back, this time other more reliable resources with far better track records have checked into the situation and confirmed that there is no chance at all that Amazon will be launching a color Kindle. Not only are the E Ink Triton displays currently being produced primarily in 9.7” rather than the 6” that Amazon would certainly require after the failure of the Kindle DX to take off in any major way, they would apparently need at least a year to gear up for fresh production of this magnitude.
Before you get upset, though, take a look at the Triton display a little more closely. Under ideal conditions, it is amazing. Everything we would ever ask for from a color eReader and perfect for a new Kindle to breathe innovation into the eReader market with. What we saw at CES 2011 was not that. It looked nice, but that’s about all. The colors were definitely on the screen and they were distinct and easy to make out, but they were dull. Uninteresting. Not quite ready.
As much as I would love to have a brand new color eReader that could bring everything in the print world together again without the need for the flaws of LCD displays, this is not the way to pull it off. When Amazon releases their first color Kindle eReader, let’s hope that they take it seriously and make it a serious product rather than just jumping to get something on the market to prove to customers that they haven’t completely given up on reading in favor of tablet sales.
Make no mistake, in time there will be a Kindle Color and it will not have an LCD display. Jeff Bezos said a long while back now that he was unwilling to release a color eReader before the technology was ready to do it right. This is not that time and I am happy to say that there is no reliable indication that either Bezos or Amazon in general have changed tune. Give it a year or two, then we can see what the future of eReading looks like. In the meantime, there is always the Kindle we know.
Sources have recently reported that Amazon may be about to open up a whole new direction for their Kindle marketing. Before the end of this year we can expect to be seeing the first small store or stores arriving in Seattle. This seems to be intended as a preliminary effort directed at determining the viability of such outlets as a real money maker, but there is some reason to think that this could be a big factor in the future of both the Kindle and Amazon’s new publishing imprints.
With Barnes & Noble’s recent decision to effectively ban all of Amazon’s new efforts in the field of publishing, the company is going to be needing new ways to showcase their products. These boutique style stores would offer them the chance to make up for the lack, especially as it seems likely that their intention is to increase their involvement in publication rather than let it fall away under external pressures.
While it seems less likely, given that focus will probably be at least somewhat important, there is even the chance that this will be Amazon’s biggest move so far to show off their product lines in various other areas aside from books and eReaders. Their AmazonBasics consumer electronics line has at least some connection to things like the Kindle Fire, even if their Strathwood furniture wouldn’t fit so well. Hard to imagine that even a small store could be properly stocked using nothing but three Kindle eReaders, the Kindle Fire, some accessories, and whatever books they are able to get published before the end of the year.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Amazon has been rumored to be working on building themselves a physical presence. Unlike previous instances, though, the details do seem to add up here. In addition to the fact that the proposed pilot store would be in Seattle, home of Amazon and a state where sales taxes are already being collected by the company, the initial report indicates that they have already contracted store design through a shell company. It will be small rather than something intended to compete head to head in every area at once with other retail giants like Walmart, which also makes a good deal of sense for a company that derives a great deal of benefit from being highly distinct from such stores while still offering amazing savings. Most importantly, unlike the 2009 rumors Amazon has not jumped in to quash this one before it takes hold.
While there are downsides to building a Brick & Mortar presence for the Kindle line, especially given the numerous partnerships that Amazon maintains with the likes of Best Buy and Target to keep their hardware available on the local level, being able to highlight something with as much investment behind it as the Kindle Fire and its anticipated successor might well be worth the risks. Hopefully over the next few months we will learn more about how Amazon intends to show off the Kindle to their advantage.
Several weeks back, speculation rose about the possibility for Amazon’s following in the footsteps of Apple with a Siri-like product of their own for the Kindle Fire. Siri, for those who aren’t aware, is a virtual digital assistant for the iPhone. It allows users to conversationally ask questions and make requests that the software will try to accommodate. For the most part it does an impressive job and when Siri can’t cope it will come up with a variety of witty or whimsical responses tailored to the user input.
The cause for speculation with regard to Amazon stems from their acquisition of Yap, a voice to text company whose specialty is transcribing voicemail. While Amazon wasn’t mentioned by name in the acquisition, the company that Yap merged with lists its headquarters at an Amazon building. There are a few reasons to make a move like this, of course, but it is fairly clear that the idea of copying Apple’s efforts was not one of them.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Yap is absolutely nothing like Siri. Yes they both involve accurately pulling information out of the spoken word, but that is as far as it goes. Siri is an attempt at artificial intelligence that will try to understand user intent by pulling key words and phrases out of what it hears. Yap’s specialty is simply putting words on “paper”, so to speak, in a cheap and fast manner. Cloud computing is Amazon’s new big thing, of course, so the fact that Yap does its work mechanically on the cloud servers also fits in well with their philosophy.
What this could be a precursor to is an Kindle Fire type of smartphone. While Amazon has not yet announced any official plans to add such a device to their growing selection of hardware, it’s a possibility. The Yap software would be helpful for both its original voicemail applications as well as for voice commands, in this case. The voice command idea in general would likely go over well on future Kindle Tablets, but since the only mic we’ve seen in a Kindle has been the disabled one inside every Kindle 3 it might actually be a bit surprising. There is also the chance that this was simply a matter of acquiring Intellectual Property to guard against lawsuits and license to other companies.
Quite possibly my favorite potential use for this would be on demand transcription of audio files. This would come in handy for practically anybody who regularly needs to deal with presentations or meetings, especially in business environments that require fast turnaround on their reference material. That might be a long shot, though.
Regardless of how Amazon decides to actually make use of the Yap acquisition, there’s just no chance it will be as a Siri clone. The Kindle Fire is great at what it does, but it lacks the hardware to make a Siri possible. Even if that hardware were present, the speech to text component of such a feature would be only a small part of a huge endeavor. It would be great to have that kind of capability, but it’s overoptimistic for the foreseeable future.