Interesting times for Amazon. Especially in the hardware space. First we get the surprise launch of their new set-top box, the Fire TV, now rumours are spreading of an imminent smartphone from the retail giant.
Not that this rumour is new, per se. We’ve been hearing speculation about an Amazon phone almost as long as we’ve been hearing about an HDTV from Apple. But this time, the rumour comes with a new level of specificity at least as it relates to a key tech spec: the handset will supposedly ship with a quad set of cameras that will enable a retina-tracking, glasses-free, 3D display.
Let’s assume for the time being that this phone, if real, will be a logical stable-mate to the existing Kindle Fire line of tablets. This would mean Amazon’s proprietary fork of Android and access to all of Amazon’s streaming services. Certainly not a bad set of specs. Especially if they include access to the Fire TV’s game store.
Frankly, if this was all there was to this rumoured handset, the right price would make it a very popular choice. Amazon’s tablets have received very favourable reviews and it seems likely that an Amazon phone would fare equally well.
But I’m troubled by the 3D aspect of the report. I know that movie studios continue to flog 3D on all of their mega-budget releases as a way of luring audiences to theatrical releases (with the correspondingly over-priced tickets). Some people even choose 3D over 2D when given the choice. Not me. I’m completely over 3D. Most of the time my brain becomes so accustomed to the effect that 20 minutes into the movie the only thing I’m noticing is the glasses on my face and the darker picture on the screen (non-3D movies are noticeably brighter).
As for home 3D? Fugedaboudit.
Even if we owned a 3D TV I doubt we’d ever use the 3D part. My neighbour, who is as big a movie buff as you’re likely to find, never uses his TV’s 3D capability. I suspect he’s far from an outlier on that count.
Which brings us back to why Amazon would choose to include 3D on a handset, especially when others have tried (and failed) to market one successfully.
The most obvious reason is that they want to enable traditional 3D content, i.e. movies and games. Nintendo has enjoyed relative success with their 3DS line of hand-held game consoles and those who have them assure me that the 3D part is really enjoyable (I’ll have to take their word for it).
But there may be a secondary element to Amazon’s 3D strategy: retail. Though I’ve never felt that the current model of multiple-angle images in gallery format was insufficient when looking at products online, perhaps Amazon wants to take the virtual shopping experience to the next level by giving shoppers a more immersive and realistic view of catalog items.
Could such an evolution in the display of retail objects (or indeed any objects) be a game-changer? My instinct is to say “no” purely based on my lacklustre experiences with 3D in other contexts. But I underestimated how profoundly popular having an “iPod Touch on steroids” would be when the iPad was first released, so I’m willing to concede that the experience of 3D shopping might be one of those things you need to see, before rendering judgment.
What are your thoughts on a 3D phone from Amazon?
Amazon takes the proprietary route with its Fire TV set top box and gives consumers one more choice that won’t serve all of their needs.
I’ve always admired Amazon for their customer-centric view of the world. Their online shopping experience is second to none. Their customer service is superb. Their dedication to creating devices and services to meet the needs of their customers has always impressed me – especially given that the hardware space is so competitive (and littered with failures).
So I was really keen to find out what Amazon’s latest toy, the $99 Fire TV set-top box had to offer. Even though it isn’t available to Canadians currently, the U.S. version is likely a very strong indicator of what we’ll get when it arrives.
Sadly, what we’ll get is a series of compromises.
If you’ve never heard of the word “showrooming,” you might not be aware of one of the most fundamental shifts in retail. Heck, you might even have showroomed and not even known you were doing it.
Here’s how to tell: If you’ve ever been in a store and pulled out your smartphone to see if another retailer or online store has the product you’re looking at for a better price, you’re a showroomer. It’s a growing trend and it has retailers rightfully worried.
The biggest benefactor of showrooming is Amazon.com. eBay, Kijiji and Craigslist pick up a lot of business this way too, but the sheer size of Amazon’s catalog paired with a high degree of customer loyalty means they win.
You’d think that the company would be doing whatever it could to facilitate showrooming. The most obvious way to do so would be to create iOS and Android apps that let you scan the UPC barcode of the product in question, to trigger a quick lookup on Amazon’s website. What could be easier? Companies like CNET have had this functionality built-in to their apps for years.
And yet, rumour has it that Amazon has bricks and mortar ambitions of their own.
Now while I have tremendous respect for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his team, this strategy – if indeed real – seems out of sync with the company’s strengths. Considering that the company only makes a single product line – their highly successful Kindle readers and tablets – they aren’t in the same game as Apple, Microsoft or even Google who arguably have strong reasons to give consumers a physical place to experience their products.
Would these rumoured stores be a new take on the book-seller? That also seems odd. Let’s face it, if they simply added a barcode scanner to their Kindle app, every single bookstore on the planet would become an Amazon bookstore. Prefer e-reading? Buy the book immediately and have it delivered to your chosen device before you can pass by the physical cash register on your way out. Want a physical copy? You’ll probably get a better price on that too.
The current belief is that these stores will sell high-end devices like laptops and tablets in addition to Amazon’s own Kindle line.
If this is true, Amazon might need to watch their backs…. Showrooming could just as easily turn the tables on them too.
Update, Feb 21: Well lookee here… Amazon.ca announces new shopping apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Phone. I guess that dollar store crystal ball I bought might be working better than I thought ;-)
Image credit: LuxuryLuke via Flickr.com
Though Bloomberg News actually beat Jeff Bezos to the punch, it’s now official: Amazon has launched their much-anticpated tablet, known as the Kindle Fire. It debuted today at a 7″ size and a $200 price point.
The unit is based on the same physical design as the BlackBerry PlayBook, but lacks a mic, camera and 3G. It’s multi-touch capabilities are also limited to two points of contact unlike Apple’s iPad which can recognize up to 10. The Kindle Fire will also include 30 days of Amazon Prime, a program that offers members free streaming music and video (in the U.S.) along with benefits such as reduced shipping rates on Amazon orders.
Among the Kindle Fire’s unique features are rapid web-page loading thanks to a technology that Amazon calls “Amazon Silk”. It’s their way of leveraging their considerable cloud-based infrastructure to handle some or all of the rendering processes required by a browser to display a web page. Depending on your settings, Silk can take over the web surfing experience or you can manage it all locally on your tablet.
In a similar vein, Amazon is taking their WhisperSync technology to its obvious next level: the Kindle Fire will let you bookmark where you are in any movie or TV show so that you can resume playback from that point, regardless of the device you’re using.In addition to the Kindle Fire, Amazon is also introducing a new Kindle e-reader, known as the Kindle Touch. It uses the same infrared system as the Kobo Touch but incorporates an ambidextrous system for easy page turns. There’s also a cool feature called “X-Ray” which downloads additional material from Wikipedia along with your book so that on each page, you can pull up relevant information that helps you get more out of your read. The example shown was the Wikipedia entry on the Treaty of Versailles as it relates to the book Remains of the Day. The Kindle Touch is only $99, while a global 3G version will cost $149 (all prices in $USD). Also new to the Kindle stable is a $109 version that once again features physical buttons (though no keyboard) and is smaller and lighter than the current 3rd generation Kindle. The new Kindles will all have “Special Offers” versions at lower prices. These feature local ads instead of the literary screen savers, which presumably help Amazon to get this new lower price point. This version of the Kindle is now known as simply “Kindle”, while the 3rd generation – the one with the physical keyboard – has been renamed the Kindle Keyboard. It also gets a new price point: $99 for the Wi-Fi only model.
Given the abundance of new models and prices, here’s a simplified cheat-sheet (all prices in $USD) – and yes, sadly no international availability for either the Fire or the Touch models as of today.
$199, Pre-order now, ships November 15th
U.S. orders only
$79 (with Special Offers)
$109 (without Special Offers)
$99 (with Special Offers)
$139 (without Special Offers)
Pre-order now, ships November 21st
U.S. orders only
Kindle Touch 3G
$149 (with Special Offers)
$189 (without Special Offers)
Pre-order now, ships November 21st
U.S. orders only
In the consumer tech world this year, there have been a few persistent rumours: An Apple television, the iPhone 5 and an Amazon tablet to compete with the iPad.
The good news for those who have been fearing that Amazon was simply going to launch a me-too device (as so many other companies have done with their uninspired Android tablets) is that they have boldly taken a different direction, at least as far as the operating system is concerned.
According to Siegler, although it is based on Google’s Android OS, the new Kindle (yes, it gets the same name as Amazon’s existing e-readers) has a user interface that is like no other implementation of Android that we’ve seen to-date.
The 7″ capacitive touchscreen unit which apparently bears a striking resemblance to RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, is running a completely overhauled version of Android 2.2. The customization runs far deeper than other Android skins such as HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz. Even the Android Market has been stripped out in favour of – you guessed it – Amazon’s recently launched App Store.
For more details on the hardware side of the story, check out Siegler’s post. There aren’t any photos unfortunately, but his description tells the story of a capable, if bare-bones tablet that will not only make potential iPad buyers hesitate but should also set off alarm bells at places like Barnes and Noble and Sony.
What fascinates me about Amazon’s move into the tablet space is the way they have fused the hard work done by the Android team at Google with their own in-house design talent. Without having seen it, I’m already confident that Amazon has created a user experience that is consistent with their brand, and not something generic. Replacing the Android Market is not only a smart thing to do from a revenue point of view, it addresses one of the biggest critiques that has been leveled at Google’s app market – specifically a lack of oversight on which apps get approved and the significant security risks that have resulted from this easy-going policy.
You can bet that Amazon, much the same as Apple, will exert a great deal of control over their app store to avoid just this kind of situation.
So, will a $250 Amazon Kindle tablet take the tech world by storm? Will it finally present the iPad with some serious competition? Or will it merely cannibalize sales of their existing e-ink readers? Far too soon to tell. But it’s going to be a very interesting holiday season, don’t you think?
If you haven’t already checked out a friend or family member’s Kindle, and have harboured an intense curiosity about how the e-reader from Amazon feels in your hand, or how its screen handles the display of text, today’s your lucky day.
That’s because The Source is the first retailer in Canada to stock the Kindle and odds are, you live within a few minutes of a Source location (they have over 700 locations across the country). You’ll find the Kindle at most locations except those in Quebec.
While you’re there, be sure to get a sales associate to pull out one the other e-readers the Source carries – say the Sony PRS650, or the Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro, so you can compare them to the Kindle. The Sony and the Aluratek are great products, but I have a feeling that once you get your hands on a Kindle, you won’t want to put it down.
The Kindle’s pearl e-ink screen is easy on the eyes, and actually gets easier to read the brighter your environment which makes it the perfect outdoor companion this summer. Tablets are great and they can do so much – same with smart phones – but they have yet to create a tablet screen that handles sunlight as well as e-Ink.
I’m also a big fan of Amazon’s online bookstore and they way they’ve integrated it right into the Kindle. As soon as you’ve finished reading one book, you can immediately receive recommendations and have your next title sent to your device within minutes. It’s incredibly easy.
If there’s any downside to the Kindle, it’s the current lack of compatibility with lending libraries, at least in Canada. In the U.S., Amazon has a solution they are rolling out to enable library lending and with any luck, it won’t be long before that solution comes up here.
Pricing is $159 for the Wi-Fi only model and $209.99 for the Wi-Fi+3G model – which includes free 3G access for downloading books, magazines etc, in hundreds of countries. Interestingly, unlike the vast majority of the The Source’s product selection, the Kindle is only for sale in-store, not online.
If you’re still hunting around for that perfect Father’s Day gift, I highly recommend the Kindle. If, however, you can wait a little longer, the rumour mill is heavily favouring a price drop on the Kindle before the holidays.
Full Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada which also owns The Source
The move won’t come as a surprise for many who have been watching the e-reader wars heating up over the last 6 months. With new players such as Apple’s record-breaking iPad and the value-priced Kobo, Amazon is obviously feeling pressure to stay relevant.
The price drop on the Kindle is noteworthy for two reasons: First, it closes the gap between Amazon, Sony and Kobo, all of whom are now in the sub-$200 category. It also makes the Kindle far more appealing given that feature for feature it still trumps these other devices.
Second, the new price likely indicates that a new model is on the horizon. Some are calling for this to happen as early as August. The current Kindle is now just under two years old so the timing is right for a refresh.
So should you take advantage of the price drop and jump on the ereader bandwagon? Or if you’ve already decided you want in on the e-reading platform, is the Kindle now the obvious choice?
Here are some things to consider:
– The Kobo Reader is easily the best value at $149 CDN. However it is a basic device – you can read books, PDFs and that’s pretty much it. Connectivity includes USB-to-PC and a Bluetooth option that requires a smartphone like the Blackberry. The included SD-card slot makes storage virtually unlimited. The Kobo is also the lightest device in its class, at 221 grams, largely thanks to its plastic case which may strike some as not quite robust enough for heavy use.
– The Sony Reader (Pocket Edition, now $199 CDN) matches the Kobo in terms of features and weight (but lacks the Bluetooth and SD card slot options) yet it has a more solid construction. I find that that the Sony’s e-ink display is crisper than the Kobo’s which is odd given that they both use the same technology. This could simply be the difference in their choice of materials.
– The Kindle ($189 USD) is still the most expensive – especially when you factor exchange rate and shipping. However it is packed with an impressive feature list that you won’t find on any of the other readers. The highlights are: Full QWERTY keyboard which can be used for annotating books and other publications, plus searching the contents of the device, a built-in 3G modem which gives you free wireless access to the Amazon book store. Books can be purchased and downloaded directly to the Kindle in under a minute. Text-to-speech capability means that the Kindle can actually read books aloud, so long as the publisher has enabled this for the title in question. However the Kindle is heavier than the other two (at 289 grams) and is not compatible with the ePub format, so you’re pretty much limited to what Amazon has in their bookstore. On the other hand, it does support MP3 and Audible audio files.
– The iPad is an amazing device, but despite what some have said, it is not an e-book killer. It has a beautiful colour screen, which is highly reflective and ends up getting smudged with finger prints. This combination makes it nearly unreadable in bright sunlight. iBooks is a very slick app, and books on the iPad look great, but the iPad itself is heavy and awkward to hold for any length of time. I can’t imagine trying to get comfortable reading a book on the iPad while you’re lying in bed.