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My First 21 Questions About Amazon’s New Kindle Devices

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Amazon.com'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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10 comments
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N0TaLIB
N0TaLIB

I received a free iPad 2 with my solar panel lease.

I played with it for a while but all it is, is a larger iPod touch. Just a bigger version of junk.

I have an Android phone and the original Kindle Fire and they are far better products than the iPod equivalents

I gave the iPad away.

Apple products are for people that like being told what to do. 

StephenHendricks
StephenHendricks

One of the most important innovations for the KFHD's is hardly noted by most reviewers. Support for "user accounts" is a game changer for many families. Until now, virtually every tablet has been based on a cell phone OS, a device that is truly personal and seldom shared. But for many a tablet is a "family device," shared not only between a parent and a child but among adults, teens, and kids. And for those folks a single tablet is a royal pain in the a**. Want a custom user interface for your spouse or your child on an iPad? Apple's answer is to purchase another iPad, or two, or three.

At least the original Kindle Fire (and other Android tablets) offered third party apps that provide some of that functionality but it's incomplete and cumbersome. True "user accounts" with custom interfaces based on separate logins will be a major selling point for many families. 

kwn2196
kwn2196

There is (or was) a post-purchase opt-out for ads on regular e-ink Kindles (you just paid the difference in price), but since there is NO version of the new Fires without ads, I would not assume there was a post-buy opt out.  I would expect if there were enough  complaints and returned Kindle Fires, Amazon might offer one, but that's just a guess.

sirwired
sirwired

It should be obvious that retailers selling the Kindle make money off the case virtually everyone buys with the product.  (Similar to how much a USB cable costs when you buy a printer.)  Note that only the original Kindle (which was not sold in stores) came with a case, and it was a lousy one at that...

David Knill
David Knill

One more question: Will folks freak out when they realize they CAN'T buy new Kindle Fires WITHOUT "Special Offers" (i.e. Ads). I've got a problem with that.

Andrew MacDonald
Andrew MacDonald

True, but I believe you can pay to have the ads removed after-the-fact... I might be wrong, But Im sure I read that somewhere?!?

David Knill
David Knill

If true, a fair point. It's still misleading - and doesn't reflect the true price when comparing to the iPad (for example), but that certainly wouldn't be the first time in retail history. 

As for principle, I'd prefer companies just try to make an honest profit on the hardware, but I'm probably just being delusional.

Xolani Mahlangeni
Xolani Mahlangeni

True, you still get apps laden with ads and stuff for sale on all platforms so Amazon are not doing anything odd. Except making these dumbed down devices cheap. The first Fire proved this formula worked.

StephenHendricks
StephenHendricks

Sorry, but I fail to see what is "dishonest" about the profit generated by sales of goods and services used with a particular device. Nor do I see what is "dishonest" about the sale of a news magazine that is subsidized by the existence of ads.

Andrew MacDonald
Andrew MacDonald

No, Im completely with you, David. I'd much rather they be honest up front and advertise two prices... one as Ad Supported, the second, no ads. 

I'd opt for the non-ad supported option every time! Having said that, I'd be buying an iPad anyways, but the principle is the same.