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September 6th 2012 4:53 pm

Will Amazon's new Kindles catch fire?

With today's announcement of three new Kindle tablets, a backlit e-ink Kindle, and a price cut on its basic Kindle (not to mention an affordable 4G plan for its high-end tablet), Amazon has covered just about every end of the e-reader market, and most of the tablet market as well. But will it be able to compete successfully against everyone from Barnes and Noble to Samsung and Apple?

Based on Amazon's approach -- CEO Jeff Bezos made it clear today that the company's approach is to highlight services, rather than hardware (while also upgrading its hardware to very competitive levels) -- I think the company stands a good chance, despite facing some tough competition.

With the $69 Kindle and $119 Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon shows it still sees e-ink readers as key to its success, and that the company is prepared to undercut Barnes & Noble on pricing, while upping the ante on features and functionality. By all accounts, the Kindle Paperwhite outdoes Barnes & Noble's nook Simple Touch with Glowlight in terms of display quality, sharpness, brightness, and usability -- and it will sell for $20 less than the nook when it ships in October.

On the tablet front, Amazon may well give potential Nexus 7 buyers a reason to reconsider that purchase. The second-generation 7-inch Kindle Fire sells for just $159, which redefines the idea of a low-cost tablet. And the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD starts at $199, pitting it directly against the similarly priced Nexus 7. Anyone who wants a true Android experience will still opt for the Nexus 7. But for Amazon Prime customers, or mainstream users who just want an easy, content-optimized experience, the Fire HD seems like it will be an attractive, affordable option.

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD takes Amazon into new territory, and it's here that I think the company will face the most challenges. At $299, the Wi-Fi version of the 8.9-inch Fire HD may be cheaper than most 10-inch tablets, but it's still $100 more than the 7-inch version, and, other than its size, doesn't necessarily offer Amazon's core customers -- content-focused mainstream consumers -- a real reason to spend more. And at $499, the 4G version is priced on par with the latest iPad. True, you can't get a 4G iPad (or any other 4G tablet) for that price, but anyone willing to spend $499 for a 4G tablet is more likely to be the kind of technically savvy customer turned off by the Kindle's walled garden approach. However, Amazon has experimented with high-end Kindles before (remember the Kindle DX?), and I won't be surprised to see 4G trickle down into the next generation of less expensive Kindles, if the company sees enough demand for it.

I'm not about to rush out and buy a Fire or Fire HD just yet (I already have enough tablets, including a first-generation Fire). But the Paperwhite looks like a very tempting upgrade to replace my aging Kindle Keyboard.

What do you think?

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12 replies

Even though I don't necessarily need a new e-book reader, I pre-ordered the new Kindle Paperwhite the other day after it was announced. The reason why is simple: I read a lot and because of that it's worth $119 to get a better reading experience (or at least that's what the new Kindle's higher resolution and contrast would lead me to believe). For the devices I use frequently, if there's an upgrade that offers a measurable improvement -- and it's not too expensive -- I don't see any reason not to have the best option available.

Plus, I'm still a big believer in dedicated e-book readers. Even though text is remarkably crisp on the new iPad's Retina display, when it comes to reading a book I'll take a Kindle, Nook, or Kobo over a tablet any day. E-ink still does a better job of approximating paper than a backlit LCD, and because they are smaller and lighter, e-book readers are more comfortable to hold while reading, especially in bed. And while this may not be an issue for most people, I do find it easier to stay focused when reading on an e-ink Kindle or Nook; email, Twitter, and a whole host of other distractions are just a couple clicks away when I'm reading on a tablet.
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I agree, and I also ordered the paperwhite immediately. I use my Kindle when reading at home and on the beach. I travel with only a tablet (generally an iPad), no laptop or e-reader. I prefer, like you, to have the best reading experience, but I also like to travel light. But I think that's a sacrifice I wouldn't make if I traveled a lot and/or had a lot of time to read while traveling.
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After many years, and many "great white hopes" that have come along, I still have no faith in the "all purpose device" for real gadget geeks. They are fine for people like my dad, who has minimal gadget needs, but, for the true gadget geek who really cares about the details, I think we will always end up returning to having a host of dedicated devices for the activities we spend any significant amount of time at. I just finished reading Daniel Suarez's Kill Decision on my original Nook and I still prefer that over reading a real book or reading from a phone or tablet screen.
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Totally agree there. Kindle on iPhone works in a pinch but nothing beats how lightweight and portable an e-reader is. Somewhat related, I was just commenting the other day how despite how amazing modern smartphones are they all do a really poor job of handling HD video – both from the recording as well as the transfer-to-pc process. Recently I went back to using a Flip Mino HD (RIP Flip!) and I couldn't be happier. It does one thing and it does it really really well.
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I preordered the Paperwhite as soon as I saw it up on Amazon. It has a bunch of features I've been wanting for a long time (especially the hi-res screen).

As for the tablets, Amazon's pricing strategy is fantastic - not only will it spur on competition, but the $159 price point is going to be huge in Amazon's attempt to get their products in everyone's hands.

Minus Jeff Bezos' summary of how WiFi works, I thought the press conference was very well done, and easily forsee Amazon making a huge amount of money off of these new products.
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There's some disappointment here in Europe that the Paperwhite isn't coming here, at least for the moment. Looks like an excellent upgrade to the basic Kindle. We had to wait a long long time for the Fire too.
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Not only not coming to Europe...looks like not going anywhere but in the US for now. I live in Canada and there is no option to order the new Paperwhite Kindle at this time. I suspect it will just be a matter of time but likely not for a few months so that they can make Americans happy for Christmas. In addition, as with the original Kindle Fire, I am guessing the new Kindle Fire will NEVER be available outside of the US. Amazon is great for Americans and these new devices ROCK but without worldwide content deals and better supply-chain to build the devices fast enough, they cannot gain the clout of Apple.
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I love that Amazon is taking a different approach and selling a service rather than hardware. This pits them opposite Apple at the very base level of strategy rather than facing them head-on in a hardware upgrade war. I think it is brilliant. I also think it will win. Apple's model of selling hardware, with software being an afterthought marketing tool, no longer holds weight in a world of cheap, commodity hardware where everyone just wants to access a few select services. For more and more people that I help to choose their technology purchases, there is a prevailing mindset that "good enough" really is good enough. I have people who I switched to Macs 5, 6, 7 years ago now switching back to PCs for their next machine purchase because they look at the price differential and just can't justify a starting price of $1000 for a machine that they are only going to use to check email, use Facebook, and poke around on the web. I expect to see that same trend play out in the tablet space as some of the non-Apple offerings become more compelling in their user interfaces.

Lastly, don't underestimate the selling power of the "Free Time" feature. I was following the liveblog of the keynote and loudly blurted out, "Damn, that's awesome," when I saw it. As a parent, I can assure you that other parents will buy Kindles for that feature alone.

All in all, I love the way Amazon is approaching this market. It's nice to see some new ideas in the tech world for a change. Whether they pull it off or not, at least it will be entertaining to watch them fight a war of ideologies with Apple. May the best idea win!
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Has anyone seen if the previous generation Kindle Fire will receive a software update so it will support the same features as the new Fires? I can't find information about it.
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If Bezos really means it when he says they don't want to sell you hardware but a service, then I would assume you will get the update. If they are sincere in keeping you using the service. If they elect not to update the original, it would make me question their sincerity on that point since the new features don't seem to be anything that would tax the hardware.
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On the other hand, Amazon is still selling the Kindle Keyboard, but hasn't released a software update for it in a long time. The 4th-gen Kindle got an update a couple months ago with a redesigned font. Why didn't they release this font for the Kindle Keyboard. Don't those devices have pretty much identical screens? Also, I don't think the Keyboard has been updated to support the newest Kindle format (8?). I noticed the Harry Potter ebooks aren't formatted the same on the two devices.
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Hmmmm... did the screen tech change at all from the Keyboard version to the 4th-gen? If so, maybe the font wasn't as good on the old screen? If not, then that doesn't bode well for my theory.
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