My First 21 Questions About Amazon’s New Kindle Devices

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Getty Images's Jeff Bezos explains the company's strategy at its media event in Santa Monica, California on September 6, 2012.

12. How compelling are Amazon’s inventive new software features? The original Kindle Fire had the features it needed to get in the game, and not a whole lot more. But the new ones have plenty of imaginative touches, such as FreeTime, an option which lets parents specify how much time their kids can spend using the Fire and what they can do with it. We’ll know these items are a success if other tablet makers start ripping them off.

13. What about Silk? At Amazon’s first Kindle Fire event in September of 2011, one of the biggest news tidbits was the Fire’s browser. It used a technology called Silk, which offloads a lot of the heavy lifting of rendering pages pages onto Amazon’s servers, thus speeding things up on the tablet itself. Bezos made it sound amazing, but it’s just not that exciting in real life. The new Fires have Silk, too: Will it be a bigger selling point this time around?

14. How big a problem is Android? The new Kindle Fires are based on Amazon’s own heavily tweaked version of Android 4.0, and the company has worked with Facebook and Skype to build custom apps. It also has its own AppStore. But the Fires — especially the larger-screen variant — may be hamstrung by the situation with third-party Android apps. They’re getting better, but they’re still not as good as iPad apps, and remarkably few of them have been written with tablets in mind. I’m not sure if a tablet can be the best tablet at any price if the app selection isn’t first-rate.

15. How big a deal is the Kindle Paperwhite? I kind of thought there were no more major innovations left in the world of monochrome, E Ink-based e-readers. But the Paperwhite is a genuine breakthrough: It’s the first monochrome e-reader with a screen that actually delivers black text on a white background, even in a dark room, and without making you turn the illumination on and off. And if Amazon’s claim of eight weeks of battery life is accurate, there’s no downside. It may be the most impressive single thing Amazon showed today, and could convert people who have resisted digtal books until now into e-reading fans.

Barnes & Noble’s $139 Nook With GlowLight, which debuted back in April, is a fine product. But the Paperwhite, which is $20 cheaper, seems to blow it out of the water. Can B&N bounce back with something that’s in the same class as the new Kindle?

16. Will there ever be a free Kindle? The first model, back in 2008, cost $399. The cheapest new Kindle, which is much better than the original in most respects, is $69. Not bad! But people (such as Slate’s Farhad Manjoo) keep predicting that Amazon will start giving away Kindles at some point, possibly to customers who spring for its $79-a-year Prime membership.

Amazon didn’t do that today. And Bezos seemed to allude to the reason why not when he said that the company likes to price its hardware aggressively — but doesn’t want to lose money on it in hopes of making it up later in content sales. A free Kindle would be a big money loser by definition, so it may not be in the cards.

17. Does Amazon make money off Kindles sold in stores? Bezos also said that Amazon wants to do well when its products get used — when people purchase movies, music, books, apps and other stuff. That’s why it’s happy enough even if it doesn’t make much money on the initial hardware sale. But he said that it doesn’t want to lose money on devices.

When Amazon sells Kindles on its website, it can deal with a razor-thin margin. But how about the ones it sells at retailers such as Best Buy and Staples? Those companies aren’t going to reap any rewards from content that Amazon sells later, and so presumably want to make a decent amount of dough on the device sale itself. Where does their profit come from?, and if they make one, does that mean that Amazon takes a bath

18. Are in-game purchases of real-world products such a fabulous idea? One of the few moments in the presentation which seemed a tad off-key was a demo of a game with an embedded offer for a related physical toy which players could buy — from Amazon, of course. Bezos seemed pleased. But I’m not sure whether such offers would come off as a welcome convenience or an obnoxious marketing tactic in the real world.

19. Will there be a Kindle phone? Despite the last-minute scuttlebutt, I didn’t think one would be announced this week; I figured that if one comes along, it’ll get its own marketing blitz. But the fact that there was no FirePhone at this event doesn’t mean there won’t be one, sooner or later. I still want one.

20. Will there be a Kindle TV box? Some wondered if one might be a surprise announcement at the event involving video streaming — hey, Santa Monica is near Hollywood! Nope. But a totally Amazon-centric box for use in the living room might still make sense. It would be startling if the company wasn’t thinking about one, at least.

21. Could Amazon end up being Apple’s greatest rival? It would be silly to give it that title right now. It’ll probably be silly to do so in a year. But I can’t think of a company that’s in a better position to meld content, services, software and hardware into the sort of experiences which Apple does so well and which so many hardware makers don’t understand at all.

And those are all the Kindle questions I have at the moment. Got any answers — or additional questions of your own?

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