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Amazon’s New Kindle Family Members: Meet the Touch, the Fire, and the $79 eReader (But Don’t Invite them Over)

Doing his best Steve Jobs impression yesterday in New York, Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos unveiled three new ereader products at prices that will likely prove disruptive to the two markets that Bezos and Jobs are doing epic battle to control: the markets for content devices – and the content itself.

Bezos chose a “slow reveal” route to the announcement of the Amazon tablet that many digital content watchers had expected. The 7-inch-screen, wifi-only, Android-powered device is called the Kindle Fire, runs a new, mobile-device-specific browser called Amazon Silk, and is joined at the hip to Amazon Cloud Drive, the company’s online content reservoir and streaming service. Which, for South African consumers, means that, slaver though you will, the device will remain out of reach until Cloud Drive becomes available internationally.

The same applies to the other premium device that Bezos brought to the world’s attention yesterday, the Kindle Touch – which comes in both wifi-only and 3G versions. The product page firmly states that it’s available only in the USA, which ZDNet seems to confirm.

If you want a Kindle shipped to your SA address from Amazon, then, you’re stuck with the (admittedly very nice) Kindle Keyboard 3G (it costs $189 plus shipping, and you see it being used on the Cape Town-Joburg flights in about a quarter of the seats) – or (Bezos had to throw a bone to the rest of the world, after all, didn’t he?) the new “baby” Kindle, a 6-inch e-reader that is 30% lighter than the keyboard version and retails for $109 excluding shipping, but doesn’t appear to have 3G.

(The SA e-commerce site Have2Have is promising to get you the Touch for R1645.22 – but whether the device will sync to your SA library is another matter.)

Amazon’s innovative, tiered pricing system, meanwhile, is in place for all the US-only Kindles except the Fire. The latter costs $199 – less than half the price of an iPad (but also with fewer than half of the features) – while, if you can stomach advertising on your ebook, the “baby” Kindle starts at $79, the Kindle Touch WiFi at $99, and the Kindle Touch 3G at $149. If you don’t want ads, the readers will cost $109, $139 and $189 respectively.

The Guardian had the best live coverage of Bezos’ event:

10.15am ET / 3.15pm BST: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is showing slides of all the negative comments that Kindle received. The sales charts show otherwise, he says. “Four years ago we stated with 90,000 books today it’s a million,” he says. “You can choose any of these books and have them in 60 seconds wirelessly.”

This all looks like a pitch for how the new device will get better over time, to defuse criticism that it’s an underpowered iPad.

The newspaper also had a good, early take on whether the Kindle Fire will be able to compete with the iPad:

The new Kindle is far less advanced than the iPad. It doesn’t offer a mobile connection, working only with Wi-Fi; it doesn’t have a camera or microphone; and its screen, at 7 inches, is smaller than the iPad, at 9.7 inches.

However, at half the price, analysts said it presents the first serious challenge to the iPad’s dominance of the tablet market, as Bezos tries to build on the success of his company’s Kindle book reader with a colour-screen, multimedia offering for US consumers. In Britain, buyers will have to wait until next year at the earliest.

Don’t miss Mashable’s video from the event, showing just how content-rich the Kindle Fire is intended to be – and revealing that the business model for the device is driven, in part, by free streaming, when Amazon Cloud Drive is coupled with Amazon Prime, the company’s premium-service, erm, service, which costs $79/year:

YouTube Preview Image

Meanwhile, the Android community has taken some pains to stress that the Kindle Fire is not a standard Android tablet. Computerworld’s JR Raphael blogs a cautionary tale:

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet doesn’t include access to the main Android Market. Instead, all app purchases go through Amazon’s own Android app store, which has a far more limited selection. Amazon’s app store does have many big-name applications available, but plenty of popular items are absent, including most items tied to Google services. A quick search of the store, for example, turns up no results for Google Voice, Google+, Google Docs, Google Maps, or YouTube. Also missing are popular third-party programs like Skype, CNN, and Pandora, though it sounds like the last one could come preloaded on the device. (It may be possible to “sideload” apps onto the Kindle Fire using APK files, by the way, but we won’t know for sure until the tablet is made available for closer inspection. Even if it is possible, that’s not something a typical user would do; for most folks, the Amazon store will serve as the sole source of applications.)

We’ll give the last word to PC Mag, which is already starting to cover the next round of the tablet wars. Enter the Kobo Vox:

With the launch of the new $199 Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, attention may turn to Kobo, which is currently testing its Vox “eReader Tablet”.

Kobo submitted the Vox to the FCC on Sept. 14, a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet that will apparently compete with the Kindle Fire. But how? The release of Kobo Pulse, an expansion of its social platform, implies that the company will focus itself as a socially-connected platform in order to compete with Amazon’s reach.

 

Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 29th, 2011 @15:43 #
     
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    It's worth taking a look at Amazon's front page today -

    http://www.amazon.com

    - for an inkling of just how much importance Bezos is placing on his next-gen ereaders.

    Nearly all the products have disappeared - an extraordinary move for a web retailer - in favour of a letter from Bezos to his customers that begins,

    ***

    Dear Customer,

    There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less. Both approaches can work. We are firmly in the second camp.

    ***

    It makes for high business drama - Bezos has thrown the gauntlet down and said, "come get me".

    The NextWeb has an archive image of Bezos' letter:

    http://thenextweb.com/mobile/2011/09/28/amazons-bezos-we-worked-hard-to-charge-you-less-for-kindle-fire/

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  • Chiara
    Chiara
    September 29th, 2011 @16:04 #
     
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    I wonder if there's any truth to the rumour in there that Amazon is losing up to $50 on every Kindle Fire sold?! (Supposedly, they will make up for it by creating purchasable items on the tablet).

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 29th, 2011 @16:21 #
     
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    The old, "give a man a car and sell him petrol for the rest of his life" scheme, eh, Chiara? (One problem with that particular scheme: it's ludicrous. But the concept is applicable here :) I think it's very likely that Amazon is, at the very least, making zero margin on its tablet - and wouldn't be surprised if it was taking an actual loss. Content is what's going to make the money for Amazon - watch the video above to see how hard films will be pushed to the Fire, for instance.

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  • <a href="http://www.justinslack.com" rel="nofollow">Justin Slack</a>
    Justin Slack
    September 29th, 2011 @22:14 #
     
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    Oh great. Another browser. On millions of devices. Thanks Jeff.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    September 30th, 2011 @08:06 #
     
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    Good point, Justin. Would you please check Books LIVE's Silk compatibility when you get the chance? :)

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  • erick.smit
    erick.smit
    September 30th, 2011 @08:56 #
     
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    Ben, it think you are spot on definitely pushing content, must say for reading I will stick to my Kindle 3g keyboard, for apps I'm seriously considering getting the Fire. Thoughts on the Kindle touch? Seems like a nice device the X-Ray future seems cool hope they add that in a soft wear update to the kindle keyboard. I’m not a fan of fingermarks on a page I will be reading, other than that the size of the device puts me off a little. Going smaller than a paperback book, not sure if I like that will have to get my paws on one first. Pricing a Kindle at 79$ for the basic version, best idea yet!

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  • <a href="http://www.justinslack.com" rel="nofollow">Justin Slack</a>
    Justin Slack
    September 30th, 2011 @15:35 #
     
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    Ben, I'm just waiting for the test devices you ordered to arrive :)

    To change tack slightly, it looks like Silk is going to make Facebook tracking, sharing and privacy issues seem positively quaint.

    From Amazon:

    “All of the browser subsystems are present on your Kindle Fire as well as on the AWS cloud computing platform. Each time you load a web page, Silk makes a dynamic decision about which of these subsystems will run locally and which will execute remotely. In short, Amazon Silk extends the boundaries of the browser, coupling the capabilities and interactivity of your local device with the massive computing power, memory, and network connectivity of our cloud.”

    Which basically means that Amazon will be caching the entire Internet and serving you those pages from their cloud servers. In addition those pages will be optimised for viewing in Silk and will load super fast because they are essentially coming via the biggest proxy server, like, ever.

    Sounds great? No. I can't put it better than this:

    "And, all you have to get all this is to let Amazon see every site you visit on the Web and watch over your ever move. What a deal!"

    http://www.zdnet.com/blog/networking/amazons-kindle-fire-silk-browser-has-serious-security-concerns/1516

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  • Chiara
    Chiara
    October 3rd, 2011 @12:36 #
     
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    Ben, do you know whether one can tweet off the Kindle Fire? Does it have one of those touch-type keyboards like the iPad?

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 3rd, 2011 @13:11 #
     
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    Yep, it does and you can. You can also tweet off the Kindle Keyboard, via its experimental web browser and free 3G connection.

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  • Chiara
    Chiara
    October 3rd, 2011 @13:34 #
     
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    Pity about the Cloud Drive thing making the K Fire unavailable to South Africans. Any guesses when Kindle Fire will be made locally?

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  • <a href="http://andiemiller.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Andie Miller</a>
    Andie Miller
    October 3rd, 2011 @13:52 #
     
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    Speaking of the "give a man a car and sell him petrol for the rest of his life scheme", there's any interesting talk by Chris Anderson, Wired Mag ed -- he of "Free" and long tail theory fame -- here:

    http://results.antfarm.co.za/discovery/September_2011_02/presentation.asp?id=577

    Some interesting stuff about books at the end: eventually becoming a "boutique product", arguably a "Faberge egg-like experience ... physical books are getting better... more beautiful artifacts ... What can print do that digital can't? ..."

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 3rd, 2011 @14:11 #
     
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    Gazing into my crystal ball, Chiara, I see the Kindle Fire coming to SA on 14 May 2013. That I'll be turning a rather grand number of years old then is quite beside the point, of course.

    Justin, I didn't see your comment earlier. Amazon probably already has all our data, so Silk privacy issues may be of degree rather than of kind.

    Andie, this might be one case where Anderson is behind the curve. Digital publishing has heard of the book-as-objet-d'art for many years now. I personally don't think it will be that extreme; normal books will always be around.

    Instead, I see the words "book" and "ebook" becoming obsolete in the digital space. We're going to be calling the narratives that we read online something completely different, just as soon as we wake up, en masse, to the fact that digital content can be truly different from printed content.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 3rd, 2011 @14:20 #
     
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    PS - Looking for a means of comparing top e-readers? Look no further:

    http://paidcontent.org/table/comparing-e-readers-september-2011

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  • <a href="http://andiemiller.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Andie Miller</a>
    Andie Miller
    October 3rd, 2011 @14:50 #
     
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    No, I don't agree with him either (and the fact that he never mentions, in his endorsement of Amazon, the effect of their monopoly on publishers, content producers and workers...) Still, it's interesting to hear in the context of his "Free" shtick...

    14 May 2013? Oh dear Ben, don'tcha know the world is ending 12.12.12.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 4th, 2011 @13:38 #
     
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    Thanks for the reminder, Andie. Better book that round the world trip soon...

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