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.
Investors have recently suffered a bit of disappointment as Amazon’s fourth quarter revenue failed to meet expectations. Stocks fell, as a result. The big question is why this was the case. With Amazon saying that the sales of their Kindle line were up 177%, and the Kindle Fire specifically being the best selling product on their site since before it was even released, it’s possible we have an answer.
Regardless of whether or not the Kindle Fire, or any of the Kindle eReader devices for that matter, is being sold at a loss, it is definitely not being sold for a significant profit. That is even taking into account nothing beyond the simple numbers that people have managed to break down as far as parts and manufacturing cost estimates and ignores any other form of investment the company has to make to create a successful product. This means that everything after launch from software development to marketing to Amazon’s ever impressive support staff will inevitably push things over into the red. This can create some misleading information when you launch something like the Kindle Fire that exceeds expectations so strongly.
The way the Kindle line works, especially the Kindle Fire, is that the profit always comes from media purchases over the course of the device’s life. By providing each customer with a simple way to get whatever they want at a moment’s notice with no complications, Amazon makes it easy for a $1 eBook here and there to add up to a decent income. This means that while expected income for the company on each Kindle Fire is estimated to exceed initial guesses, it will take time for that to manifest. The short term will see more investment in making the product as indispensible as possible to users and cement customer loyalty even if it means taking larger short term losses than expected due to the sheer number of new users.
Basically that is what this all seems to come down to. Despite the doomsday predictions floating around now that Amazon has had a superficially bad quarter, there is reason to believe that the short term loss is actually a good predictor of long term growth.
The Kindle Fire has had a huge impact on markets and now accounts for the largest percentage of Android tablet usage by some accounts. It is beating out the competition and still gaining momentum along the way. There have been some reports that Android developers are currently making as much as 250% more off of their app sales on the Amazon Appstore than on those made through the general Android Marketplace, especially in those situations where revenue is advertising based.
The model is working and people are definitely making good use of their new tablets. While it remains to be seen what will come of Amazon’s efforts beyond the Kindle Fire, particularly given that future installments are rumored to be vaguely directed at confrontation with Apple’s iPad, right now there is every reason to believe that the experiment in moving beyond eReaders was a success.
It’s undeniable that the release of the Kindle Fire, and along with it the competing Nook Tablet, has shaken up the Tablet PC market. Since launch Amazon has already firmly taken second place next to the Apple iPad, selling as many as 5 million units in the 4th quarter of 2011 alone. Barnes & Noble is also doing pretty well, having moved more than a million of their own tablet in the same time period. The way things are going with these two, there has even been some speculation that there is no room for dedicated hardware manufacturers with this kind of competition.
Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling their tablets at near, or possibly even below, the cost of production. The goal is to get people hooked into the platform and make ongoing profits based on media sales. Effectively, the hardware has become secondary now that it can be treated as a conduit for consumption rather than an end in and of itself. Amazon is doing a better job on this side of things than Barnes & Noble so far.
The Nook Tablet has the technically superior hardware, with double the RAM and double the storage space among other things, but doesn’t make very good use of it. The storage is restricted and the interface doesn’t seem to run significantly smoother than the Kindle Fire‘s. There is an SD slot to expand the available memory of the device, but to get a sufficiently large one to make a difference you can expect to add a significant percentage onto the already comparatively more expensive price. None of this means that it is a bad tablet, it’s actually quite excellent and highly recommended, but it is worth noting that B&N has a way to go before they are really making the best use out of their device’s potential.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, lacks some of the power of the Nook. What it does have is a deeper integration with Amazon.com’s storefront and content. Unlike B&N, Amazon has their own source of video and music for customers to take advantage of, as well as a robust cloud storage service that makes up for a lot of the seeming shortcomings of the hardware. The lower price certainly doesn’t hurt sales numbers either, especially given the inevitable comparison of both products to each other and the iPad.
We can expect sales for both tablets to be improving even more through the next year. The Kindle line, and the Kindle Fire in particular, is one of Amazon’s biggest marketing priorities, while the Nook line is pretty much the only thing B&N has going for it right now in terms of profitability. What remains to be seen is what effect the next iteration of the Kindle tablet line brings. A larger tablet could cement Amazon’s place on top of tablets for the foreseeable future, second only to Apple, but it could also severely damage the company’s reputation if something goes wrong and open the door to a big push by Barnes & Noble.
Either way we have good products to work with, but both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are built for content consumption and that means active ongoing support. The more popular each one becomes, the more incentive the associated company has to expand the platform, and the more valuable the tablet in question becomes for owners. It will be interesting to see the back and forth as the competition heats up in months to come.
It’s safe to say that the Kindle Fire has made an impression. Tablet prices are dropping across the board, some major hardware developers seem to be reconsidering their desire to enter the fray, and Amazon has increased their expected sales numbers on the order of millions of units beyond what was originally planned for the 2011 holiday season. Not only does this spell good news for Amazon’s first non-eReader (or maybe post-eReader? Hard to say precisely where to draw the line since it technically can show you books), it means that the hardware line is sure to continue and expand as time goes on.
There is some contention at the moment about exactly which Kindle Fire followup we can expect to see next. Some are certain that it will end up being a 10.1″ direct competitor for the iPad while a newer contingent citing supposedly inside information from the production chain has started indicating somewhere around 9″ as the next step. Regardless of where you would place your bet, one frequent point of speculation is the potential for a Kindle Phone.
There has been speculation before that Amazon was interested in entering into cellular devices, but until recently that seemed doomed to be nothing but a rumor. This past week, though, Citigroup analyst Mark Mahoney noted that certain checks they have done indicate that development for an Amazon Phone is already underway with delivery expected in 4th quarter 2012.
To be honest, it is hard to know what to expect moving forward. While this seems to be fairly detailed information, it feels like there is little in it for Amazon in the end. The tablet makes sense since Amazon is able to completely control the data end of things and sell at near cost, undercutting the competition. In a cellular market closely controlled by carriers, there might well be less room for such tactics. When consumers are already used to getting hardware for less than half of its suggested retail cost, budget options aren’t as shocking.
What I could definitely envision, however, is a Kindle Fire-like device with a smaller screen and optional 3G coverage along the lines of what is available for the iPad. It would work marketed as an iPod Touch competitor but still have the hardware necessary to function as a communication device should the desire arise. Even without the 3G, relying on WiFi availability, such a thing would make a big splash at the right price.
As much as it might be a difficult thing to enter into the smartphone marketplace at this time, would Amazon be willing to pass up a chance to grab hold of what is only going to continue to be an expanding market? The Kindle Fire has demonstrated for them the potential of Android devices and the fact that they already have an Android fork fully developed and customized to fully integrate into their sales systems means that much of the work is already done. Maybe it’s just optimism, but I think the Kindle Phone is definitely on its way.
I don’t think anybody can really doubt at this point that Amazon wants to take their eReading success in the US and replicate it globally. Amazon in general is an always expanding entity, of course, but specifically the Kindle line has been growing rapidly for some time now and is finally showing up in non-English dominated countries. Even if nothing else had pointed in that direction, simply the removal of the physical keyboard from the Kindle, a long-standing and almost iconic part of the popular eReader, would have given some hints as to aspirations outside of US markets. If we take that as a given, though, does Amazon have a chance to make the same sort of impression elsewhere that it has in the United States?
Probably the number one thing that Amazon has going for it when it comes to getting the Kindle Store out there is the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. This has allowed authors to bring out work that might never have seen the light of day otherwise. In some cases there was a good reason for that, of course, but the number of success stories from KDP authors is growing all the time and it is becoming increasingly common for new works to be self-published digitally without ever even being offered to major publishers. There is every reason to believe that this will be a popular service no matter where Amazon makes it available and that as a result they can hope to keep their selection original and diverse in any market.
Self publishers will not be driving an entire eBook industry any time soon, though. Customers want access to the big names and best selling titles. Here is where Amazon will be running into some trouble. Despite, or perhaps because of, the roadblocks that the company has hit from Agency Model price fixing, nobody can compete with the Kindle and publishing houses aren’t prospering in the new market the way they would like to. While those two facts don’t necessarily have a direct connection, publishers are clearly unhappy with how things are going now that the Kindle and eBooks in general have taken off. That will have an effect on how publishers who have not as of yet dealt with Amazon will approach forming a new relationship.
On top of this, there is the incredibly complex task of managing rights issues across multitudes of jurisdictions. Amazon can’t just form a deal to sell a book, they have to make deals to sell every book in every individual country it needs to be sold in. As any Kindle owners in Canada can attest to, that results in problems with unequal selections.
Will Amazon push through and make the attempt in spite of the complications? Of course. They’re already doing it. I would guess that after this first major push to hit what they perceive to be the best potential markets, though, we see a couple years of consolidation. When it comes to the Kindle, Amazon has proven they have a desire to deliver quality over quantity and that can’t always be rushed.
Let’s assume for a moment that the Kindle Fire proves to be a successful endeavor. I don’t just mean that it sells well, since we know that it is already doing that, I mean that users love it as much as the existing Kindle line and product loyalty can be assumed to a certain extent. Where do they go next with things at that point?
Well, there are already indications of a 10″ Kindle Tablet. Personally, I’m guessing we’ll be calling it the Kindle Air by early 2012. This is based on rumors from people in the know about what is going on at Foxconn Electronics, who Amazon is said to have tapped for the production of their next device. While it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, the fact that Foxconn is also the producer of Apple’s iPad 2 hints at a more head-on confrontation over the high end tablet market. This will likely end up being what was originally known as the Kindle ‘Hollywood’ Tablet rather than anything directly upgrading the brand new Kindle Fire
A larger Kindle Tablet was always a given in most ways, though. The majority of “leaked” information leading up to the reveal of the Kindle Fire indicated that there was always meant to be a larger, more powerful option that Amazon just ran out of time to have ready to ship in time for the 2011 holiday season. We can hope that by taking more time with it we will get a device that while still affordable brings a larger display and significantly more power.
Looking to the longer term, though, Amazon has to be hoping to bring their end to end service to all areas of the portable electronics market. After all, being based on Android should make it relatively easy to port their Kindle Fire OS to anything with a screen on it. My guess, and I’m hardly alone in this, is that there is a Kindle Phone coming up down the line.
There were predictions about a possible 4″ Kindle Tablet type of device in a Wall Street Journal article some months ago featuring supposedly leaked information about the Kindle Fire. It was interesting then and it remains that way. While it would be easy to see that resulting in something along the lines of an iPod Touch competitor, though, I don’t see how that would make the kind of impression that launching a new type of Kindle should aspire to.
More likely would be a Kindle Phone. In 2010, Lab 126 representatives stated in an interview that Amazon was interested in entering into the mobile phone arena in the past, but at the time considered it out of reach for a variety of reasons. That was before the Kindle Fire and its Android fork, though, so things have changed. At this point they have the OS, the App Store, plenty of media to serve, and even an existing relationship with a major cellular provider. A phone just seems like a logical extension of putting all of these things together.
A combination of the high expectations surrounding the upcoming Amazon Kindle Tablet and the lack of substantial information regarding the expected hardware update to the existing Kindle eReader line has led to some speculation about secretly substantial change being just around the corner for the bestselling eReading device. Domain name acquisitions have pushed some people into a belief in the importance of a touchscreen for the Kindle, but more ambitious sources are holding out hope for a truly impressive jump forward. Wouldn’t having the first affordable Color E INK eReader be quite the coup for Amazon, after all? It would certainly make the Nook Simple Touch a bit less shiny by comparison.
Still, and I say this with nothing but regret, there is next to no chance that we will be getting a true Kindle Color any time soon. Sure the Kindle Tablet will have the ability to read, but only in the same way that the Nook Color or your average smartphone can technically be an eReader if the user so desires. Until screen technology advances a bit further, nobody is likely to want to gamble on a good color reading display.
The problem right now is the tradeoffs. To make a Kindle Color worthwhile, Amazon would need to have a vibrant color display that didn’t detract from the existing touted benefits of the Kindle’s display. That means you can’t have a back-light, high battery draw, or less than crisp text. Nothing currently being produced meets all those criteria while still being affordable enough to keep things competitive. If they did, the Kindle Tablet would be looking at such a screen and would have a significant advantage over every other Tablet PC on sale today.
Naturally something has to give. The Kindle device is going strong at the moment, but that’s mostly sue to a combination of momentum and strong backing from the platform as a whole. If the hardware faces too much competition that can match or surpass it, Kindle sales and by extension Kindle eBook sales will suffer. Amazon has to know this. As such, I would say that getting your hopes up for an updated Kindle is totally safe.
What can we expect if not a color screen? Well, a touchscreen is inevitable to match the competition from B&N, Sony, and Kobo, if nothing else. Given the Kindle Scribe rumors, it wouldn’t be at all shocking if a stylus were included in the design. Since nobody else is using 3G coverage Amazon could technically let that slip, but the recent ad deal with AT&T would seem to indicate that they value the ability to bring that sort of thing to customers. Beyond these things, however, it’s anybody’s guess. Higher resolution screens? Bluetooth? Strange magical powers? All possibilities!
Current speculation places the updated Kindle‘s release in late October, but that information is several weeks old now. Given the most recent Kindle Tablet developments, and the fact that Amazon is likely to emphasize the new branch of Kindle products heavily for this holiday season, we may not be seeing new Kindles before late November. More updates will show up here as we dig them up.
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.
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.
I am unable to really express how often over the last year or two I have heard from people the idea that the Kindle will never hit it big until they get their pricing under the hundred dollar mark. This has not stopped the Kindle from becoming overwhelmingly popular, but it makes a great talking point for people who want to argue for discounts or claim Tablet PC superiority in eReading. Finally, however, we can have an end to the idea’s repetition. There is now a Refurbished Kindle available for just $99. There are other factors involved that might make this a deal worth waiting on, though.
The $99 pricing seems appealing and probably will sway a few people. I seem to recall that discounted refurbs toward the end of the Kindle 2’s life cycle did the same. Still, before you jump on it, it is important to keep in mind what this move is likely to imply. Rumors abound, both substantial and completely speculative, about the upcoming next generation of Kindle products. We can be almost 100% sure that they will be showing up in the next three months, but beyond that there is little total certainty due to the expected overlapping release of the first Kindle Tablet and the difficulties inherent in trying to pick through the bits of information we have to determine which bit goes to which device. Given competition in the eReader marketplace alongside some business moves that Amazon has made lately, though, we can make some pretty solid assumptions.
Amazon will, it can be assumed, be releasing a new touchscreen Kindle. It is very, very likely that it will run Android in some form. There are certain to be several incarnations of it to allow for choice between WiFi, 3G, ad support, and the combinations thereof that we have become accustomed to. It is very unlikely that the new Kindle baseline model will cost more than the $114 currently being asked for the cheapest brand new Kindle on sale right this minute.
The question potential customers have to ask, then, is what factors matter in their choice. If this is meant to show Amazon that you will not support Kindles over $100, then it is a good way to put your money into making your point while still getting a great product. If you are in a hurry and don’t feel like waiting to get the new Kindle, then it makes sense to pick up one of these. Never any harm in grabbing a refurbished product from a company that is known to have excellent customer service. If you don’t have a point to make and aren’t in a rush, however, I can’t see that holding back to see how well the Kindle 4/Kindle Touch/Kindle Whatevertheycallit stacks up compared to the competition. There’s no reason to believe that there won’t still be Kindle 3 refurbs and back stock sitting around by then anyway, probably discounted even further or sold through Woot.com. While there are rumors going around that many customers will be getting brand new Kindles labeled as refurbished in order to be sneaky about their official new product announcement, it is hard to see Amazon running out completely in the next couple weeks.