Thoughts about the new Kindles

I own an iPad and a Kindle 2, and I love both devices because they are extremely good at what they are doing.

Today, Amazon announced three new Kindles, including an Android Tablet, the Kindle Fire.

Let me first say something about another new Kindle, the Kindle Touch: I don’t like it. At all. It seems like the worst of all worlds. It has a multi-touch screen, but no apps or anything, it’s the standard Kindle OS. On the other hand, it does not seem to have physical back/forward buttons. These are a killer feature for me on the eInk because I like to hold the Kindle, rest my thumb on/near the Next Button and just press it. That works so well on the Kindle 2 and 3 and I don’t see the point for not having it. The only real point I see is that selecting a bunch of text is easier (maybe for snippets?), but I think I’d rather go with the Keyboard Kindle 3. Both are equally priced anyway, at $189 for the 3G and $139 for the WiFi Model. I think this is like the iPod Nano: A gimmick

The other new Model is the low-end Kindle priced at $109, a full $30 less than the previous entry-level WiFi Kindle. I think it’s a fantastic product: It’s small and lightweight. It does not have a keyboard, but I don’t take notes anyway on my Kindle, it’s purely a reader that requires three buttons: Select book, Next Page, Prev Page. I think this one will be a massive success, if you can live without 3G.

The existing Kindle Keyboard and Kindle DX are just like they were before: The DX is still overpriced after the last Kindle 3 price cut ages ago, but great if your eyes aren’t that good anymore. The Kindle Keyboard is still a solid device to take notes or make annotations.

Now, the big new announcement is the Kindle Fire, a $200 Android Tablet featuring a Dual Core CPU, multi-touch 7” screen, full color display. It’s essentially a BlackBerry Playbook which doesn’t mean a bad thing – the hardware on that was solid, only the OS sucked. But really, the hardware is for us geeks, the end user is more interested in what this device offers, and this can be summarized with “Books, Netflix, Angry Birds, a Web Browser”.

As I said before, I love my iPad. I use it in the morning to browse the web or when lying on the couch to draw some stuff. However, the iPad is big and heavy, so I don’t usually carry it with me. The Kindle Fire addresses both problems: It’s smaller (7” vs. 10”) and lighter (413 vs. 680 grams).

Amazon is quick to say it’s not an iPad Killer, and they might be right. It’s far more likely that it will kill everything else, because why buy a $400+ Android Tablet that’s not as good as the iPad anyway? The $200 price tag is a killer for pretty much every other 7” Android Tablet, and possibly for a lot of 10” ones as well. I don’t think it will affect the iPad too much, because it not only has a strong established customer base, but also stand out features like 3G, more capacity and a 10” display.

I think it’s a safe bet to assume the price is heavily subsidized – $200 simply sounds to good to be true. Part of the money comes from Kindle books – no 30% commission fee to Apple like they would have on the iPad (if they wouldn’t have created Cloud Reader), and Amazon was once a book seller anyway. Another source of potential income is more interesting: Their Silk Web Browser.

The description reads interesting: Instead of making a ton of HTTP Requests (for JS, CSS, Images), your request will be handled through Amazon (acting as a proxy server), and they send one big chunk of data. Also, they can improve the reading experience by parsing the page and adding page indexes. It’s a bit like Opera Mini on steroids.

Now, this is a great thing to have on a 3G connection. However, the Fire does not have 3G (not surprising, I doubt carriers would be willing to make that commitment at that price). It has WiFi. So why do that? Just to add Page Indexes? This could be done on the device itself, it has a Dual Core Processor after all.

It doesn’t take much imagination and only a little bit of Paranoia to realize what this Feature does: By proxying all traffic through Amazon, they can analyze it and use it for advertising purposes. Essentially what Google is doing with GMail and AdWords.

I could whine about possible privacy concerns, but I think it’s an acceptable tradeoff if you are aware of it. You get a really nice, dirt cheap tablet and in exchange let Amazon monitor your Internet traffic. For people with Google and Facebook accounts, it’s not much difference anyway. I just hope that the amount of compatibility problems will be small, but since it’s an Android Tablet I am 100% sure you can just download a Firefox build for it at some point.

As usual, the Kindles come in a price reduced versions with Advertising on the Screensaver. That makes the new entry level Kindle a $79 device, which is a killer price for it. In fact, I ordered that just today with overnight shipping because it seems like a decent travel device, lighter and smaller than my Kindle 2 at the expense of 3G. I also preordered the Kindle Fire Tablet – if it turns out to be a dud, it’s still a dirt cheap, $200 Linux Computer with multi-touch screen, for which someone will make alternative distributions.

But really, I think we’re going to see a massive price war and the death of a lot of “Me Too” $400+ Android Tablets. And it fires the rumors of Amazon buying Netflix. And it should scare the hell out of Google. In any case, good times lay ahead.

Comments (2)

JulianneNovember 2nd, 2011 at 04:59

Hi - not a comment but a question. With the Kindle Fire, can you copy quotes from text (highlighted) and send or paste them into another app (word processing), and do this also with notes/annotations? I don't see this feature on earlier versions, and it's one of the big reasons I've not gone the kindle/bookreader route......yet. For writing/teaching/research, this ability would be most helpful!

mstumNovember 2nd, 2011 at 07:09

Good question, I'll have to wait 2 more weeks for the Kindle Fire to come out, but I have doubts that it's easy to copy/paste content (the copyright owners surely have an issue with that). Will have to see after November 15.