Why there will be fewer Kindle firmware updates in the future

Personally I’m used to updating software. Pretty much every week one or another piece of software on my PC updates – be it Windows itself, the antivirus, iTunes or whatever. I’ve subconsciously come to expect the same from Kindle. And at first Kindle firmware did update quite frequently:

As you can see it seems that Kindle 2 got several updates soon after release and then there was silence.

Early update rush was caused by bugs in the new software. One or two updates were caused by law suit (Text-to-speech, and Orwell book deletion). However, note that none of the updates introduced new features. I guess Amazon sticks to the policy – don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

Kindle DX and Kindle international share most of the software with original Kindle so there is little room for new critical bugs.

But most importantly, the number of Kindles in operation has exploded since the beginning of 2009. And this is probably the most important reason why we will not see many Kindle updates in the future and probably none of them will be feature driven. Amazon pays Sprint 12 cents per megabyte transferred. It would be safe to assume that Amazon gets similar pricing from AT&T for domestic traffic and a much higher price for data roaming. Average Kindle update is 2 megabytes in size. Because of the way Amazon structures the update packages, this accumulates as each subsequent update includes all previous updates as well. So first update was 2 megs, second one was 4, third – 6, etc.

6 megabytes times 12 cents is $0.72 per device updated. By some estimates there may be 2..3 million Kindle devices in operation. Let’s assume that 80% of devices are within wireless coverage (although in reality this number can be much higher). This adds up to $1,440,000 to $2,160,000 per software update deployment and increasing with every update version. And this is just to update domestic Kindles. I wouldn’t even want to think about the pricing to worldwide distribution. Also I wouldn’t want to be the software developer who makes a critical bug that causes an update or that software developer’s boss for that matter…

Given these numbers I don’t believe that Amazon would release update unless they have a very strong reason to do so. Strong reason being a court order or something else of this sort. This more or less addresses they questions of where Amazon will add folders, PDF support for Kindle 2 or official Unicode fonts for that matter via an update. The answer is a definite NO.

On the issue of fonts I’m most sure since Unicode fonts in the updates that I use (that add only partial support without all of the font styles) are 1.5..3 megabytes. Proper Unicode support can easily add up to 10 megabytes. So this would mean millions of dollars spent with potential to spend more millions in the future and near zero return of investment since although many people would like to have this feature, for most of them it’s not a deal-breaker (especially since on Kindle DX you can have any kind of fonts via PDF files). The few books that have non-Latin characters that Amazon sells use Topaz format to embed the extra glyphs that they need. So adding Unicode fonts would help customers read books that Amazon doesn’t sell. In this light the question about Unicode fonts via an update for existing devices is a no-brainer.

It is possible that this support would be included in Kindle 3 or whatever else the next generation Kindle will be called since in this case the cost for Amazon is just licencing fee for the fonts.

18 thoughts on “Why there will be fewer Kindle firmware updates in the future”

  1. Ah, as I was typing the post I forgot to add that last paragraph – about USB updates – it would kill the simplicity – the main selling point of Kindle or would require to install and app that also breaks one of their main selling features. Believe it or not, there are many people out there who don’t know how to unzip and archive.

  2. Hopefully they’ll feel a need to compete with B&N, and will start releasing feature updates to keep up. Yes, it costs money to push a feature, but it costs even more money to lose.

  3. I’d be willing to pay for feature updates that would actually make money for Amazon. Folders, PDF, etc., sure!

  4. I’m confused about this reference to 2.0.4 in the post which seems to indicate it’s been rolled out starting on September 3rd.. My Kindle2 as of November 1st is still indicating 2.0.3 and the software updates page on Amazon still indicate 2.0.3 as the latest.

    Should 2.0.4 be present on my kindle and how would i download the update since I don’t see it on Amazon for download and manual update?



  5. 2.0.4 was deployed to some devices but not all. Newly sold Kindles are likely to have 2.0.4
    Amazon doesn’t want to waste money on deploying this patch.
    I don’t believe that there is anything important in it.

  6. Wow, that would be a shame – and very stupid if they don’t do something to support the dx better. Amazon is ok (for a short period of time) with the dedicated kindle2 users who don’t want all the new stuff to come over this year. The DX, however, is a totaly a different story. It doesn’t live up to its real intended use (In my opinon of course). I bought it for PDF and to have tons of ref docs. The DX just can’t cut it with the way the software is currently setup (no folders…horrible pdf support etc). I do read some fiction books and the large screen is nice (but I could have done that on a k2 for less $$). No updates…bye bye dx and welcome to one of the many many current and new models comming out this year.

  7. Maybe Amazon will deploy critical updates(such as by court order, like you said) by wireless, and put optional updates on the Web so that users can download and transfer updates to their device via USB?
    Kindle 2 International already requires a signature to install update – a guess that it might be used to prevent from partial or incorrect downloaded files, rather than to deal with hacking, as they could have done so since K2 or DX. There is no reason to wait until K2i. So very likely, when update for K2i releases, there will be a note on Web says: International users who want to update their kindle, just download this file and save to root….

  8. even before RSA signature there was MD5 hash check for update packages.
    Making some of the updates optional might create a version hell Amazon wouldn’t want to be in. Say there were 3 optional updates. That yields 8 possible combinations of what users might have. They’ll need to make sure that critical update will install and work properly on all of these. Add another optional update and you have 16 combinations…

  9. I purchased a Kindle 2 refurb, knowing it didn’t have pdf support. I am a seminary student and as such like the convenience of the ebook format for research and the like. I think PDF support is a nice-to-have for certain segments of the population, I would appreciate it for reading academic journals for instance, or the various class notes that are made available in pdf format. But my primary use for the Kindle is long-form reading, PDF’s seem to me to be shorter format.

    I say all of that to point out that the Kindle demographic isn’t monolithic in it’s needs for an ebook reader. I think it may be in Amazon’s best interest to promote a kind of application store similar to Apple’s that will address some of these niche concerns such as a better pdf viewing experience. This would take the pressure off of Amazon to provide large updates, but give users the flexibility to adapt the kindle to their specific needs.

  10. This post makes perfect sense in terms of reasoning and such, but all its conclusions are based on one single thing: the fact that amazon pays 0.12$ per 1Mb.

    If this is not true (which it could be easily, I would rather believe that telcos are charging amazon fixed price per connected kindle, as per megabyte billing would be a nightmare with an enormous overhead to maintain. Or a percentage of the price of item purchased. Or they bill amazon per session), the whole theory of high update price and consequent lack of updates suddenly flops.

    Which leads us to the case where the applicability of this idea depends on amazon making not particularly smart business arrangements in the past. Which is very, very risky assumption.

  11. While your reasoning made sense, it seems it was all pure conjecture and opinion as an update was just released (for the DX, K2 and K2i). Funny how it’s all basic just guess work eh?


    Now, my question is, will the new hacks work with the new firmware? I really like some of these new features (especially native PDF), but also like the screen-saver hack and Unicode Font Hack (using the Georgia font).

  12. Updated my Kindle 2 International to 2.3 today, and all the hacks still work (for the International version)!!!!

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