Thursday, September 06, 2012

Amazon focuses on Apple with its new Kindle Fires

Earlier today, Amazon announced a refresh of its entire line of Kindle eReaders and tablets. The company announced a new eReader, a lower price for its entry-level eReader, an improved version of the Kindle Fire, and a new Kindle Fire HD line with three models. Perhaps even more interesting than the devices themselves is that Amazon said that it's services, not "gadgets", that are important, and it's explicitly positioning its devices as the delivery mechanism for its services. Amazon's metric for success is how many goods and services it sells through its devices, not how many devices it sells.

Here are the details:
  • The Kindle Paperwhite is the new eReader. It's got a sharper, front-lit display with 25% more contrast and 212 ppi resolution (62% more pixels than before,) with a capacitive touch screen. Amazon claims that the display and lighting systems are both proprietary. The lighting system took four years of R&D and uses a flattened-out optical fiber for even illumination, instead of the discreet LEDs that B&N uses. Amazon claims 8 weeks of battery life. The eReader is 9.1mm thick. The Wi-Fi version is priced at $119, pre-orders begin today and it ships October 1st. The 3G version is priced at $179, same availability.
  • The "$69 Kindle"--that's what they're calling it--appears to be the current $79 ad-supported model, just marked down $10. Pre-orders begin today, ships September 14th.
  • The updated Kindle Fire has a faster processor, 1GB of RAM (vs. 512KB in the original model,) 40% better performance, a front-facing camera and longer battery life. Price is $159 (down from $199), and it ships September 14th.
  • The Kindle Fire HD line is entirely new, and it comes in three models that will ship on November 20th:
    • A 7" model for $199
    • An 8.9" model for $299
    • The same 8.9" model with 4G LTE and twice as much memory for $499, compared to $729 for the roughly comparable new iPad
  • All three models use the same basic hardware: The touch screen is laminated directly to the display for 25% less glare and better contrast. They use TI OMAP 4400 series processors--4460 in the 7" tablet, 4470 in the 8.9" model (Jeff Bezos claims that they're better than the Tegra 3, but they only have dual cores vs. the Nexus 7's Tegra 3 with quad cores.) They have built-in stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus, and also have Bluetooth and HDMI out, along with front-facing HD cameras and Skype. The tablets have both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz 802.11n, with dual antennas for better reception and speed--Amazon claims that the tablet's Wi-Fi speed is 41% faster than that of the new iPad. 
  • The new 7" Kindle Fire HD has 1280x800 resolution, while the 8.9" models have 1920x1200 resolution, 254 ppi IPS displays. By comparison, the new iPad's Retina display is 9.7", 2048x1536, 264 ppi resolution. Given the slightly smaller screen on the Kindle Fire HD, most users won't be able to tell the difference in resolution. The screen of the 8.9" model is big enough for two-page magazine (and, presumably, eBook) displays.
  • The 7" and base 8.9" models ship with 16GB of memory; the Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE ships with 32GB of memory.
  • Buyers of the 4G LTE model can sign up 250MB/month of data usage, 20GB of cloud storage and a $10 Appstore credit, for $49.99/year. (Given that Amazon is encouraging customers to keep all their eBooks and media in the cloud, that 250MB is likely to run out pretty quickly.)
  • The updated Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD models run a customized version of Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich.) The original Kindle Fire apparently will not be able to upgrade to the new version of the operating system.
  • According to Engadget, the physical design and build quality of all the new Kindle Fire models is far better than that of the original Kindle Fire.
  • The user interface has been updated, and some elements, like the "wood bookcase", are gone. The Kindle's "X-Ray" feature for books has been extended to movies (via IMDB, which Amazon owns), audiobooks and eTextbooks..There's now built-in Facebook and Twitter support, and many improvements to email. A new FreeTime feature offers much more extensive parental controls--parents can specify when and how long their kids can read books, play games, watch video, etc. And, parents can set different limits for each child. The screen's background turns blue when the tablet's in FreeTime mode.
  • Audible's 100K audiobooks have been added to Amazon eBookstore. Whispersync for Voice allows audiobooks on multiple devices to be synchronized--stop listening on one device, open the audiobook on another device and start listening right where you left off. The Audible audiobooks will display their text at the same time on Kindle tablets, with the text synchronized with the narration, and with real-time highlighting (called Immersion Reading.) Amazon is also launching Whispersync for games--synchronizes game levels between multiple devices.
  • Amazon is launching a collection of serialized eBooks as Kindle Serials. Customers can buy a Serial once and get all the installments. Each new installment is automatically appended to the existing portion, and there's support for reader discussion. The product line is launching with eight titles. $1.99 each, and Amazon is making Dickens' Pickwick Club and Oliver Twist available for free.
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