Amazon is turning up the heat—again—in the competition for the tablet and ebook reader markets. At a press conference in Santa Monica, Calif. on Sept. 6, 2012, with several hundred media folks in attendance, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos gave a 90-minute presentation about its latest Kindle products that are aimed directly at challenging Apple’s iPad and, indeed, all other tablets and e-readers. The company introduced some impressive new technologies and features for its Kindle line and has definitely pushed pricing to a new low. More importantly, Bezos made it clear that the company plans to derive its revenue from the sale of content that the devices drive. “We make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.” The gauntlet is down.
Light it Up
The media and analysts had been expecting that Amazon would introduce a front-lit e-reader Kindle to compete with the Barnes & Noble NOOK Touch with GlowLight—and indeed, it did. Bezos says the new Kindle Paperwhite is the most-advanced e-reader ever constructed with 62% more pixels and 25% increased contrast, a patented built-in front light for reading in all lighting conditions, extra-long battery life (up to 8 weeks), and a thin and light design. I brought my Kindle Touch to the press event and compared them side-by-side (see photo), and the difference was quite striking.
I like the new Time to Read feature, which helps readers know the amount of time it will take them to finish a chapter or a book. I would also enjoy using the new X-Ray feature. With a single tap, readers can see all passages across a book that mention ideas, fictional characters, historical figures, places, or topics that interest them, as well as more detailed descriptions from Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon’s community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers. Amazon says it built X-Ray using its expertise in language processing and machine learning, access to significant storage and computing resources with Amazon S3 and EC2, and a deep library of book and character information.
The new latest generation Kindle (without the Paperwhite technology), the lightest and smallest Kindle, now features new, improved fonts and faster page turns—and, much to the delight of the media audience at the event, the price has dropped from $79 to $69.
Amazon also announced several new services, including Kindle Singles, serialized short stories available for $1.99 per series; a new form of WhisperSync that allows readers and listeners to synchronize between audiobooks and ebooks; WhisperSync for games, which shares game saves between devices; and Immersion Reading, a new feature that plays an audiobook while highlighting the text being spoken on screen.
Kindle That Fire
The Kindle Fire tablet was launched less than a year ago and has reportedly become the best selling item on Amazon.com. On Aug. 30, Amazon announced that it was sold out but that the company had “an exciting roadmap ahead,” so expectations had been high for unveiling of new tablet devices.
The Kindle Fire has been upgraded with a new faster processor, double the RAM, 40% faster performance, and longer battery life. It also sports a competitive $159 price tag.
But it was the announcement of the new Kindle Fire HD that caught everyone’s attention. It features a stunning custom high-definition display (yes, it really is stunning), exclusive Dolby audio with dual stereo speakers, high-end, laptop-grade Wi-Fi with dual-band support and dual-antennas/MIMO for 40% faster throughput than other tablets, enough storage for HD content, and the latest generation processor and graphics engine—and it is available in two display sizes—7” and 8.9.”
The company says the Kindle Fire HD uses Gorilla Glass to provide superior strength and reliability. Amazon also added custom features that reduce glare and improve color saturation at any viewing angle.
Another compelling offering is the pricing for the 4G data plan on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” 4G at $49.99 a year. Bezos presented a comparison of first-year costs for the iPad 3 (cost $729 plus data plan estimated at $230 for 12 months) and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” 4G. The savings was more than $400 in the first year with the Kindle.
Here, listed in ascending order by price and functionality, are the new Kindle Fire tablet devices. As Bezos says, “This year, we want to have the best tablet at any price.”
- The new latest generation Kindle Fire with a faster processor for 40% faster performance, twice the memory, and all the new features is only $159, available for pre-order at www.amazon.com/kindlefire and will begin shipping on Sept. 14.
- The all-new Kindle Fire HD 7”—with a stunning HD display (1280x800 resolution), the fastest Wi-Fi, exclusive HD audio with two stereo speakers and Dolby Digital Plus, 16 or 32 GB of storage, more than 11 hours of battery life, and a powerful processor is $199. Kindle Fire HD 7” is available for preorder at www.amazon.com/kindlefirehd7 and will begin shipping on Sept. 14.
- Kindle Fire HD 8.9” with all of these features plus an ultra-high definition 8.9” screen (1920x1200 HD display with 254 ppi), and 16 or 32 GB of storage; starts at $299 and is available for preorder at www.amazon.com/kindlefirehd, and will begin shipping on Nov. 20.
- Kindle Fire HD 8.9” 4G, with an affordable 4G data plan through AT&T (just $49.99 per year), and 32 or 64 GB of storage; starts at $499 and is available for preorder at www.amazon.com/kindlefirehd4G, and will begin shipping on Nov. 20.
The Kindle e-readers, also in ascending order, are the following:
A video of the press conference is available on Kindle’s YouTube Page. High-resolution images of Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite are available here.
Other Fall Tech Announcements
The fall is probably the busiest time of the year for mobile device announcements, gearing up for the upcoming holiday selling season. Amazon was not alone in its big rollout.
On the same day of the Amazon announcements, Kobo, a Toronto-based company that is owned by the Japanese company Rakuten, launched two new e-readers—one front-lit (Kobo Glo), one five-inch—and a 7-inch Android tablet called the Kobo Arc. The e-readers will be available in the U.S. Oct. 1, and the Arc will be available in November.
Motorola Mobility, now owned by Google, refreshed its product line with three new members of the RAZR phone brand line. Nokia announced two Microsoft Windows Phone 8 devices, the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820, with more sensitive touch screens. They will be available later this year. Microsoft’s new Surface tablet is due on Oct. 26.
Apple is expected to announce its new iPhone at a press event 2 days from now—on Sept. 12, with availability on Sept. 21. Tech folks in the know expect it to have a larger screen and new case design. No other word on what else Apple might announce. Some speculate that a smaller iPad will debut later in the fall. You can be sure that Apple will be trying its hardest to counter any moves made by Amazon. The competition can only be good for consumers—better products, more choices, lower prices.
And speaking of lower prices—things could get very interesting now that now that a U.S. District Court judge approved a settlement between the DOJ and publishers Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, and HarperCollins Publishers on charges that they colluded with other publishers and Apple to fix prices on ebooks to undercut Amazon’s ability to sell popular ebooks at $9.99. Apple, along with publishers Penguin Group and MacMillan, declined to settle and are scheduled for a trial next summer. Many observers say we can expect to see lower ebook prices, but possibly only in the short term.