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It was an interesting week for anyone watching the dueling public statements of Amazon and Apple. And even more so for anyone trying to decide which tablet to buy this Fall, either for one’s own use or as a holiday gift.
I have to admit that I was stunned by Apple’s big event the other day when it seemed like they were announcing updates of just about every product they have ever released: iMacs, MacBooks, all kinds of tablets, and more. It was certainly a testament to the company’s relentless innovation and to the number of times its spokespeople could use superlatives like “amazing” and “incredible” in the course of an hour. Anyone who doubted that Apple could keep turning out magical and revolutionary products under Tim Cook was proven wrong.
But Apple made some huge blunders in terms of product marketing, pricing array, and — most importantly — attention to building a relationship of trust with its most loyal customers. It was nice that Apple launched a new iPad with an A6X chip, but what about the millions of people who bought the last-generation iPad, launched with an A5X just six months ago? It’s nice that Apple launched a $329 iPad Mini to compete with the Kindle HD 7 and the Nexus 7, but Apple execs have to be smoking some funny stuff if they expect to compete with a price that is 65% higher. Maybe Apple customers’ product loyalty is so great that they can pull it off, but it says here that Apple hubris has just opened the door for the Kindle Fire and other Android-based tablets to take a majority market share in the tablet market by the time the 2013 holiday buying season is under way. Kindle Fire HD sales via our Kindle Nation websites were already brisk over the past six weeks, but since Apple announced that its competing Mini-Pad would be priced at $329 we have seen those sales double.
I suspect Amazon execs were a bit shocked themselves by the combination of Mini-Pad’s price and such poor screen resolution that one would not be far off to call the iPad Mini a “smaller, fuzzier” version of the iPad. So I am willing to accept that as an excuse for the fairly clumsy insertion of a bullet-by-bullet comparison between the new iPads and the Kindle Fire HD models in Amazon’s earnings press release Thursday. It was a little clumsy. But it also summed things up quite well:
Watch HD movies and TV – cannot on iPad mini (iPad mini is an SD device)
Better audio with dual stereo speakers and Dolby Digital Plus
Wi-Fi with dual band, dual antennas + MIMO
Costs $130 less
When you take another look at the relative prices and consider the widespread concern that the new iPads may have significant holiday shipping delays, one has to wonder if these magical and revolutionary new products might not be the beginning of the end of Apple’s dominance in the tablet market. Click here to compare all current Kindles
Amazon’s press office staffers have been earning their keep this month — the company has put out 16 press releases already in August, including 10 in the last 11 days, after averaging 11 per month during the first half of 2012 — but the real heavy lifting lies in the work that’s being done to prepare for what may become Amazon’s biggest press conference ever next Thursday, September 6.
updated eInk models including one or more with a front-lit display to remove any slight hardware advantage held by Nook’s Glowlight feature, and
major enhancements to Amazon Prime that could have the effect of transforming customer experience across the entire Amazon Store.
As a Kindle Nation Daily reader you will be well represented at next week’s press conference in Santa Monica, with KF-KND editor April Hamilton and contributing editor Len Edgerly (of The Kindle Chronicles) on the scene (April for same-day coverage and Len for an onsite interview that will be featured in the following Saturday’s Kindle Nation Weekender), and associate editor Candace Cheatham and myself stirring the pot from KND world headquarters.
Part of the challenge for Amazon in such an event is to find a way to distill dozens or even hundreds of product enhancements, feature roll-outs, and new or significantly expanded services into a single compelling story that Jeff Bezos can present to the world from a single stage within, one hopes, a single hour. Our expectation that this could be “Amazon’s biggest press conference ever” is based in large part on the impressive breadth of groundbreaking new announcements that the company seems poised to make, but figuring out how Amazon could break all that ground without stories A and B stepping on stories C, D, and E is way above my pay grade, and perhaps even Bezos’.
And we could be totally wrong, but we can’t think of any way that Amazon could layer an announcement like a new Kindle phone or, say, the acquisition of Spotify AB on top of the aforementioned items without totally losing focus on its various Fire, eInk, and Prime announcements. The image that comes to mind for me is of Henry Ford holding a press event to announce the Model A but also, at the same event, announcing the Model T, the Thunderbird, the Lincoln, the Falcon, the F-150 and more. Wouldn’t the glut of messages have made them all the Edsel? But it may be that we on the outside just lack sufficient imagination.
So let’s start with Amazon Prime.
“Amazon Prime is the best bargain in the history of shopping,” said Jeff Bezos again this week in one of Amazon’s press releases, and this time he teased us — and perhaps next week’s press conference as well — by adding the line “and it’s going to keep getting better.”
Over the past five years many of us have come to understand Amazon’s Kindle and now the Kindle Fire as a seamless, friction-free, almost instantaneous content delivery system for a growing catalog of entertainment and/or educational content that began with ebooks and now includes newspapers and magazines, blogs, audiobooks, music, movies, television programming, games and productivity apps, and other web content. Of course all of that content, in order to be deliverable almost instantaneously to handheld devices with no transmission or data cost, is digital in one way or another.
But Amazon is far from just a digital store: it has grown the rest of its retail store relentlessly across a growing number of departments, platforms and nations, with the result that it now offers tens of millions of physical products in nearly every imaginable category. And until Jeff Bezos and his team of innovators manage to turn Amazon into Nanozon by coming up with some way of digitalizing and then reifying physical products via some new wireless manufacturing-via-quantum physics functionality, Amazon Prime may offer the company and us its customers the best chance to revolutionize delivery, even if it doesn’t quite hit the “nearly instantaneous” sweet spot.
One possibility would be a major expansion of expedited Prime shipping options such as Amazon’s remarkable $3.99 overnight delivery service and the same-day delivery program that is now available for some products in the cities of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Part of the trick for Amazon is to build as much value as possible into its Amazon Prime buffet while avoiding any increase in the same $79 per year membership price with which it kicked off Prime back in 2005 when its only real offering was free two-day shipping on about a million selected items. It’s a major feather in Amazon’s cap that the program is still just $79 seven years later with 15 million eligible items and the much newer additions of 22,000 free movie and television offerings under Prime Instant Video and 180,000 Kindle titles that can be borrowed free (up to one per month with no due dates) via the Prime-eligible Kindle Owners Lending Library.
Another possible addition to Prime features might involve the offering of 3G or 4G Kindle Fire connectivity for Prime members. Such an offering would be costly, but we always pay attention to what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has to say, and we thought it was very significant when he told our contributing editor Len Edgerly in an exclusive interview earlier this summer that, of all of the company’s customers, the people who read the most (or buy the most books) are people who buy “our 3G version of the Kindle.”
“And the reason, I think, for that,” Bezos said, “is that it makes getting books even more frictionless, makes it even easier. You don’t have to look for a WiFi hotspot. You can just get them wherever you happen to be. And it roams globally at no charge, so people can figure that out, too, and get it wherever they are, even if they’re traveling around the world.”
Part of the DNA that has made Bezos and Amazon so successful, of course, lies in the capacity to take a conclusion like that one and extrapolate that adding 3G or 4G wireless connectivity for a new deluxe Prime-compatible Kindle Fire would almost definitely have a similarly salubrious effect on the shopping behavior of its owners for other content and products, both digital and physical, in the Amazon store. It remains to be seen whether Amazon could make free 3G or 4G wireless connectivity work for its tablets the way it has worked for the Kindle 3G and Kindle DX, but even limited connectivity to the Amazon cloud and the Amazon store would be a significant start. If Amazon could offer unlimited connectivity across the entire web, market share for the Fire tablet family would quickly grow well beyond the benchmark the company announced this week: “Kindle Fire has captured 22% of tablet sales in the U.S.”
Then there’s the very significant fact that the press conference is being held in Santa Monica, rather than in New York like past Kindle press conferences and announcement events. We don’t think the LaLa-land location is any accident, so we’re expecting that the event will include some real Hollywood star power, perhaps in support of original video content that might be free to Amazon Prime customers for viewing on the Kindle Fire and other devices — say, an original docudrama series based loosely on the agency model pricing conspiracy, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, and John Lithgow?
Nor would we be surprised to see some stars onstage as voice actors in association with even greater Kindle integration and expansion of Amazon’s Audible.com subsidiary, following on the recent Audible roll-out of its “A-List” program of performances featuring Colin Firth, Anne Hathaway, Kate Winslet, Samuel L. Jackson, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, and Jennifer Connelly.
No doubt it will all be great fun, and it may lead Amazon’s share price to rise even further beyond its current all-time high levels, but don’t get us wrong: after the confetti has landed and helium balloons have attached themselves to the ceiling, the event should be largely about the Kindle and especially a new Kindle Fire. Although Amazon announced this week that it is “sold out” of the Kindle Fire, this “sold out” status is not quite the same as the “sold out” status that occurred in November 2008 (and lasted for months) after Oprah went Gaga over the original Kindle. This time it is clearly the case of Amazon pulling the Kindle Fire’s Buy button ahead of the announcements contemplated by Bezos when he said in a release this week: “Kindle Fire is sold out, but we have an exciting roadmap ahead—we will continue to offer our customers the best hardware, the best prices, the best customer service, the best cross-platform interoperability, and the best content ecosystem.”
Improve web functionality with less reliance on truncated “mobile” representations
Allow an SD Card
Offer 3G/4G wireless connectivity, possibly free with Amazon Prime
Keep the $199 price point for the new 7” Fire and offer a larger Fire for under $250
Allow greater user control of font sizes on the web and in apps
Allow full input/output functionality for apps such as Google Docs/Google Drive documents
Enhance curb appeal so that teh Fire looks and feels as good as the Nexus 7
Add external volume controls
Provide camera functionality similar to that on the iPhone
Provide Siri/Iris Capability that hits the sweet spot both for information and for commerce
Add a microphone
Place the power switch (and an external volume control) on the upper right edge
Allow greater user personalization and customization
Add full-featured GPS for a 3G or 4G model
Add maximum Android platform compatibility
Add access to Google’s Android Market
Seize every available opportunity to make the Fire a replacement for netbooks and notebook computers
See what we mean? Even half of that is a lot to announce in one day. And there are plenty of other possibilities, including even the possibility of a dual screen tablet/eInk combo, but we’d rather see Amazon focus on making each of these very different devices, as well as the Kindle phone that will surely follow, as good as it can be.
My $199 Google Nexus 7 tablet arrived Wednesday, and I’m a newly minted fan. Kindle Nation Daily, and I personally, have been ardent in our love for all things Kindle for almost five years now, and this has not changed. But our heads have been turned by this new kid on the block. And not just because the emergence of the Google tablet could lead to some real ebook price and feature competition (as we’ll see later.)
The Google Nexus 7 hardware itself, and the attention to quality with which this 7-inch tablet has been built, is a flat-out triumph. The Nexus 7 hardware is manufactured for Google’s Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) platform by Asus, and whether you give Google credit for bringing the Nexus 7 to market or for simply selecting the right Android tablet product from the available third-party choices, kudos are definitely in order.
Just to hit a few of the hardware high points, the unit comes with a 7” 1280×800 HD display (216 ppi) (same size as the Kindle display, better resolution than the Fire’s 169 ppi, not as good as the iPad’s 264), scratch-resistant Corning glass and a 1.2MP front-facing camera, and it weighs under 12 ounces (the Kindle Fire is 14.6 ounces and the iPad is about 23 ounces.) It has nice 10-hour battery life for most purposes (much longer if all you are doing is listening to music or an audiobook), ships with a fast, crisp Quad-core Tegra 3 processor, wifi, a camera, a microphone, and an accelerometer, among other things. The base unit comes with 1 GB RAM and 8 GB storage, or you can pay $249 for 16 GB storage.
There are various ways to look at this turn of events, and while they are largely good for Google, they are not necessarily bad for Amazon and the Kindle Fire. One reason the emergence of a Google tablet is actually great for Amazon is that, like the iPad, the iPhone, and several other devices, it is one more way to connect with the Kindle Store, the Amazon MP3 store and cloud player, the Amazon-owned Audible.com store, and the overall Amazon store, but of course there’s more to it than that.
There are now four important tablets on the market, and for the first time since late 2011, the game may be about to change at a fundamental level. Until now, the Kindle Fire has not had serious competition — in terms of the overall value proposition — from any other tablet. The Nook is a nice hardware unit that has been hampered on the content and customer-experience side by an Edsel-like initial presentation, atrocious customer service, and deceptive marketing. The Apple iPad is very cool, but at $399-$829 it is so expensive that it seems as if Apple thinks it is in a different market niche from that occupied by the Kindle Fire and the Nook (which is why the Fire has made serious inroads on the iPad market share.)
All that has changed, and the real competition is now on. As a hardware device, the Nexus 7 is significantly superior to either the Kindle Fire or the Nook, and one has to get into very arcane and rather nitpicky territory to find much about it that is inferior to the iPad.
In trying to define the value proposition among tablets in the past, I have stated my view that for most users the Kindle Fire can do 75 to 85% of what you actually would do with an iPad for 23 to 50% of the iPad’s cost. For the Nexus 7, based on my extensive use of it during the past 48 hours, I believe it can do about 97% of what most users actually would want to do with the iPad, still for just 23 to 50% of the iPad’s cost.
That’s pretty compelling. If you demand that your tablet must have “retina display,” you’ll want a third-generation iPad, and such magical and revolutionary enhancements combined with Apple’s brand power will likely dictate continued growth in iPad sales. But unless the iPad finds a way to compete with the Google tablet’s $199 price, that growth will slow, and it seems very likely that Apple’s iOs tablet market share, estimated recently at 70%, could decline to a minority share, as early as this Fall among all tablets sold, and eventually for total installed base as well. Any way you cut it, these events are likely to have a negative impact on Apple’s revenue in three important ways: overall iPad tablet sales, iPad per-unit profitability, and iPhone sales (which have already been surpassed by Android phone sales.) Apple’s Mac personal computer has been an iconic and profitable product for years despite having only about 13% of the U.S. PC market, but Apple’s iOs device strategies are predicated on a much greater market share, and Apple will have to act boldly over the next three to five years to avoid serious slippage in market share for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
At the risk of admitting that I may have buried the lead here, I expect it will be equally interesting — and in this case we should have a very good idea over the next three to five months — to see how the emergence of the Google tablet affects Amazon’s Kindle offerings, by which I mean not only the array of devices but the wide and growing range of content that can be consumed on the Kindle Fire.
Like the Kindle and the iPod, the raison d’etre for the Google tablet is content consumption. The eInk Kindle and the Kindle Fire excel as content consumption devices, but even the Kindle Fire is not quite what we would like it to be when it comes to navigating the web, handling email, productivity uses, game play, and some other purposes. Google’s video presenters for the tablet and for the latest version of the Android platform are clearly taking aim at the Kindle Fire and the Nook when they say pointedly that “we’ve declared war on lagginess,” and for now at least they have certainly won a pivotal battle.
It’s important to remember, as we have seen repeatedly with the Kindle over the past few years, that it takes a lot more than having the best hardware to build dominant market share where personal electronic devices are concerned. While we loved the first three or four Kindle models (1, 2, 3, and DX) each in their own way as they came to market, what made Kindle the dominant ebook reader and transformed reading was the combination of the hardware with what I like to call the four C’s: customer base, catalog, convenience, and connectivity. From 1995 to late 2007 Amazon built an outrageously popular and well-stocked online bookstore that avid readers had already learned how to navigate, and with the launch of the Kindle made a seamless transition to even greater convenience and instantaneous-delivery connectivity.
The fact that Google has nailed the Nexus 7 tablet hardware does not mean that avid readers will come to see Google Play anytime soon as their go-to bookstore or, for that matter, their go-to online store for music or movies. Although Google uses some creative counting to claim the largest ebook catalog, the Kindle Store probably has an insurmountable lead among ebooks that are actually likely to be purchased — one part of which is the fact that authors and publishers have given Amazon “Kindle exclusive” status for about 177,000 ebook titles at last count — and I’d be surprised if the Kindle ebook platform does not establish itself as the most popular ebook platform (and store) on Google’s tablet, just as it has on Apple’s tablet. If we see Google investing a great deal of cash in ebook price wars this Fall after the agency model is killed in the courts, it will be a strong signal that Google thinks it is worth the fight to try have its own ebook platform prevail over Kindle. But while Google’s pockets are much deeper even than Amazon’s, it will take more than price to compete with the Kindle’s bookselling prowess. Google’s bookstore is organized far better than the pathetically understocked iBookStore, but it falls far short of Amazon’s user-friendly search-and-browse infrastructure for both ebooks and print books.
Google Play may be much more competitive when it comes to music, movies, and apps. The combined power of the iTunes Store, Amazon’s MP3 Store and their respective clouds means that it will take a lot for Google to be a real contender with respect to music, but aggressive pricing and marketing could make a huge difference here. At least for now, neither Amazon’s nor Apple’s instant video offerings are available on the Google tablet, and Google’s App store is better stocked than Amazon’s. It will be interesting to see if Amazon is able to make deals for compatibility of its video and app offerings on the Nexus 7, but it’s hard to see why Google would want to go there.
Unfortunately, there are already some indications that Google, for all its cash, power, and virtuosity in several areas of its business, may not have the intense focus on customer experience necessary to push its Google Play content offerings anywhere near the head of the class. Perhaps I’m setting the bar high here after years of being spoiled by the stellar customer support offered 24/7 to Kindle owners, but my first couple of days with the Nexus 7 included some head-scratching moments, including:
I noticed online, before my unit arrived, that Google said it would come with a reasonably good selection of free preloaded content (including the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a novel written by Robert Ludlum’s trademark, five popular magazines, and about 20 song tracks ranging from Merle Haggard to Busta Rhymes to Coldplay to the Stones.) Alas, said content was not present when my unit arrived. I called customer service and waited on hold for over 12 minutes before Tom picked up, which was over 11 minutes longer than I have ever waited to speak with a human in my dozens of calls to Kindle support during the past five years. Tom was surprised, but after he put me on hold for another four minutes he solved the problem.
The tablet’s front-facing camera seemed like a nice feature until I realized that there was no camera launcher pre-loaded onto the device. Eventually I found a useful free third-party camera launcher in the app store.
Google’s user manual for the device was not present on the Nexus 7 when I turned it on. I had to search for it on the web, find it in the Google Play store, and download it, only to find that it lacked much useful information, including, for instance, any reference to the camera or the preloaded content.
I’m fine with the fact that Google charged me $12.44 in Massachusetts sales tax for the Nexus 7. I wasn’t thrilled to be charged $13.99 for shipping, both because I was not given any options, because $13.99 seems like a lot fo two-day shipping of such a light, small package these days, and because, of course, I’ve grown accustomed to being charged exactly zilch for shipping when I order a Kindle. Of course Google does not have to do everything exactly like Amazon, but it seems worth mentioning here that my cost for the Google tablet was $225.43, not $199. On the other hand, I appreciated the fact that the device was supposed to come with a $25 credit for Google Play content, which would have made up for the additional cost if that $25 credit had actually arrived with the device. Instead, it arrived after I spoke to Tom in Google Support.
So it was a bit of a bumpy start, but I will get over it. Especially if I see plenty of evidence that Google knows how to do this customer support and customer experience thing. For people who use other Google commercial services like Blogger, Youtube, Adwords, Adsense, etc., Google is known for being a company where one can never reach a human being. Needless to say, that won’t work for Google’s latest business venture.
What’s the bottom line? If you were thinking of buying an iPad, I would strongly recommend that you try the Google tablet first. If you were thinking of buying a Kindle Fire, this Google tablet launch should give you pause. Amazon needs to act quickly to hold onto the Fire’s position in the face of this upstart, and that should mean — before the holidays — that we will see a new and improved Kindle Fire, with an even more appealing array of price points. Can Amazon compete at the high level at which Google has now set the bar? I’d be shocked if it didn’t step up, but we’ll see.
“Apple’s Lower Prices Are All Part of the Plan,” ran the headline for an interesting piece yesterday by Nick Wingfield of the New York Times.
Wingfield believes that Apple, “once known as the tech industry’s high-price leader,” is carrying out a major strategy change to the point where it is now competing with, and often beating, its rivals on hardware prices.
I’ll have to admit that despite some interesting anecdotal pricing comparisons made by Wingfield, I’m not feeling him. Yes, Apple has certainly shown some signs that it is pulling back some on its hardware prices, and those prices could soon collapse by 30% or more due to forces entirely outside Apple’s control. We’ll get to that, but it is unlikely that such a collapse would reflect Apple’s strategy.
To conclude that Apple has a real commitment to competitive pricing in its corporate DNA, we’d have to see a lot more evidence of significantly lower prices on mainstream hardware items like the iPad, the iPod Touch, and the various workhorse Macs (as opposed to boutique products like the MacBook Air or carrier-subsidized products like the iPhone.)
It could happen. But to suggest that Apple management will be in the driver’s seat applying the gas on such a strategic transformation is to ignore a number of powerful forces that leave Apple few options.
For starters, let’s look at the tablet market, which it is entirely fair
to say was created through the innovative brilliance of Apple and its
late leader Steve Jobs. The brilliant success of the iPad — both in its elegance and in its acquisition rate by the public — made fierce competition inevitable. So while iPad sales continue to grow dramatically quarter over quarter, iPad’s overall tablet market share fell from 95.5% a year ago to 66.6% in the third quarter of 2011, FierceWireless reported Friday. Nothing truly stunning there; it’s a pattern one could expect to see in any new market as it begins to mature.
A little more of a jaw-dropper is that the market share for the various Android tablets on the market — including devices from HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Acer and Dell — grew from 2.3% to 26.9% in the same period.
Now, in the fourth quarter of 2011, the Android market share is likely to grow even more dramatically with the launch of the Kindle Fire tablet, priced at $199 and capable, Amazon clearly believes, of doing everything an iPad can do except for the things that only a few people really care about.
If the Kindle Fire hits the hardware sweet spot once people have it in their hands, it could quickly become the single most coveted holiday gift for smart grownups this year at that $199 price, and that price and popularity would constitute a very powerful if traditional pressure on the $499-to-$829 iPad price structure.
But there is another set of pressures forming just now that could totally pull the rug out from under iPad prices. As we reported last week in our post Interested in Trading Up for a New Kindle Touch or Kindle Fire Tablet? Pull Your Clunker In to Amazon’s Super Lot, Amazon is now investing website real estate and an aggressive marketing campaign to create its own secondary marketplace for virtually all tablets and ebook readers. If Amazon can succeed at enticing thousands of the customers whom it shares with Apple to trade in their iPads and iPod Touches for the 30% to 40% offers now on the Amazon website, those trade-in units could stake Amazon or its “Warehouse Deals” subsidiary to an off-price inventory that might, in time, create an entirely new form of downward pricing pressure on Apple.
But there could be another mission for Amazon, one that could well influence the economics, the retail pricing, and perhaps even the share price for a competitor such as Apple over the next few years. It’s easy at this point to think that Amazon’s new two-way hardware market will be dwarfed in scale by Apple’s front-door production and retail power.
But Amazon knows better than anybody the effects that its Amazon
Marketplace secondary market for new and used books had on competing
booksellers and publishers over the past decade. Some in the publishing
industry believe that Amazon’s customer-friendly innovations actually
destroyed billions of dollars in corporate wealth, even if it also
fueled tens of thousands of small and often home-based businesses.
“Some companies,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is fond of saying, “do everything they can to raise prices for their customers. Other companies do everything they can to lower prices for their customers.”
It is clear that Amazon has always been the latter kind of company, and equally clear that Bezos feels that Apple has been the former kind of company both generally and in its activities with the Big Six publishers to create the “agency model” to fix ebook prices at higher levels than Amazon wanted to charge.
If Apple now seems to be in a state of transition from the former kind of company to the latter kind of company, it remains to be seen whether the transition is “all part of Apple’s plan” or, at least in some significant part, the result of an impressive array of economic pressures that Amazon’s innovations are bringing to bear on Apple.
Note: it happens every 90 days or so, and this afternoon Amazon will report its quarterly earnings after the close of the markets, with the usual conference call scheduled at 5 pm Eastern. Apple reported its earnings last week and apparently disappointed investors. Amazon may well do the same in the short term, but the company’s commitment to low margins could well be leading it to a promised land in which it could gain as much as 50% of the U.S. trade book market by 2013.
Earlier this week — as we sat around waiting for Amazon to come clean and announce a Kindle tablet — we conducted a little experiment here at Kindle Nation.
In the midst of considerable internet fanfare, Apple forced a change in the Kindle App for the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod Touch. Basically, the result is that there’s no longer a link to the Kindle Store within the Kindle App.
Our experiment? We thought we would see what would happen if we didn’t have anything to say about it. More of those kinds of news items appear these days on our BookGorilla.com sister blog anyway, so we didn’t feel we’d be letting you down by staying mum.
Why? Well, this is the kind of “issue” that gets a lot of attention from tech bloggers and partisans who believe the world will soon end in a conflagration ensuing from global thermonuclear war between Apple and Amazon. We were curious to see if the change really mattered much to anyone among the thousands of serious readers who visit Kindle Nation each day.
The results are in. We didn’t receive a single email, blog comment, tweet, or Facebook comment or message about the change. We know that a small but significant percentage of our readers read Kindle books on their iPads and other iOs devices, so it’s actually pretty remarkable that there wasn’t a peep or a tweet.
But now that the dust has settled, or now that the dust continues to just sit there, we’ll briefly review what has happened here.
In January 2008, shortly after the launch of the Kindle, Apple’s Steve Jobs commented that the Kindle was “a failed concept from the top” because “nobody reads any more.”
In January of 2010, at the event announcing the launch of the iPad, Jobs said that “Amazon has done a good job with Kindle” but that Apple was “going to stand on their shoulders” and the the successful ebook concept even further with iBooks. Several ebook platforms including Kindle, Nook, and Kobo created free Kindle Apps, all with better selection and better features than the iBooks platform, and it quickly became obvious both that Kindle would be the leading iOs ereading platform and also that Apple was either ill-prepared or unmotivated, or both, to make much of the iBooks platform.
Early this year, Apple said it was going to change the rules for other reading apps on its iOs devices so that users would no longer be able to click on an in-app link to be taken directly, for instance, to the Kindle Store. (Well, that’s not exactly what Apple said. What Apple actually said was that it would grab 30 percent of gross proceeds from all sales generated by in-app ebook sales on platforms such as the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. 30 percent, of course, constitutes 100 percent of Amazon’s standard share of Kindle ebook sales.)
So it is no surprise that neither Amazon nor the other players would go along with this kind of greedy power play. If there was a surprise, it was
first, that Apple actually followed through and brought this to a head; and
second, that anyone thought it would really be an effective use of Apple’s power.
Instead, it seems like Apple is doing all it can to make itself irrelevant to the serious readers who do most of the buying when it comes to ebooks. And Amazon, obviously recognizing that Apple’s power play changed very little, has played its hand in a very calm, understated way. The company sent the following message Wednesday to Kindle customers who have registered an iOs device for Kindle App use:
Dear Amazon.com Customer,
We’d like to update you on a change to the Kindle application that affects the way that you access the Kindle Store. In order to comply with recent policy changes by Apple, we’ve removed the “Kindle Store” link from within the app that opened Safari and took you to the Kindle Store.
You can still shop on iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch–just open the Safari web browser and go to Amazon.com. (For quick access, we recommend creating a bookmark in your web browser.) Your Kindle books will be delivered to your Kindle application and automatically downloaded when you open the app. Thanks for being a Kindle customer.
Exactly. But perhaps out of an overabundance of politeness, Amazon didn’t take things one step further. Sure, you can “bookmark” the Kindle Store on your iOs device’s browser. But you can also add the Kindle Store to your iOs Home screen, right alongside your Kindle App, just as you see them in the second row of the screenshot at the right. Here’s how:
Just open your iPad’s Safari browser and click on or enter this link – http://amzn.to/Kindle-on-iOs
When the Kindle Store page opens on your iPad browser, just click on the little icon just to the left of the browser’s URL entry field, and select “Add to Home Screen” from the pulldown menu that pops up, as in the screenshot at right.
Then just find the new Kindle Store icon on your iPad’s Home display, tap it twice so you can move it, and use your fingertip to move it next to your Kindle App. (Note: While you’re at it, you may also want to move the iBooks icon to the same general area, for days when you want to buy expensive books at the prices Steve Jobs feels you should pay for them.)
Over at the Atlantic Wire, blogger Rebecca Greenfield’s view of the Apple power play seems well-considered, if a little more glum than ours: “It looks like everyone involved loses something in the e-reader app store battle,” she writes. She says it is “far more inconvenient for iPad users to get reads on their devices,” but I have to admit that I am not feeling her pain. What’s so hard about tapping the Kindle Store icon and buying a book. You’ll seal the deal and arrive back in your Kindle App a few seconds before the new book downloads. Shazam.
But Wired Epicenter’s Tim Carmody concludes that “Apple’s new rules haven’t knee-capped Amazon in the slightest. Far from it. In fact, Apple’s given them a gift….”
Whatever the case, it is certainly hard to imagine that Apple could make any kind of plausible case that their power play was undertaken for the benefit of iPad or other iOs users. And the more of these silly missteps we see from Apple, the more likely it is that ultimately they will begin to drive even some of their own loyal fans off in the direction of some other tablet from some other company, perhaps a company that already has a stake in the ebook business.
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, Publetariat founder/Editor in Chief and indie author April L. Hamilton explains her reservations about interactive novels, such as those offered for the iPad.
I love books, but I am not a particular lover of paper. For years now, most of my "reading" (where fiction is concerned, at least) has been done via audiobooks. I am also receptive to ebooks, and feel that certain books actually offer much more functionality in electronic form than in hard copy: travel guides, tech books, pretty much anything where the ability to easily jump to a specific topic of interest is desirable. With the advent of the Vook and book apps for the iPad and iPhone, I’ve looked forward to seeing what an "enhanced" novel might have to offer. The answer to that question—at the present time, at least—is disappointment.
For my first foray into the world of book apps, I decided to go with an award-winning, best-of-breed title: Dracula: The Official Stoker Family Edition, produced by Padworx Digital Media, Inc. I’d read many glowing reviews of this book app online, and since I’ve also read the book in the old-fashioned, paper-pulp format, it was an ideal candidate for comparison and evaluation.
First off, let me say the book app is beautiful to look at and the music is both lovely and entirely suitable for the subject matter. There are interactive elements on many pages. In one instance, you must move a virtual lantern around over a darkened page to read it. In another, you can bring a background illustration into better and brighter focus by touching it. In yet another, you must move a crucifix necklace about where it hangs over the page in order to see the text beneath it. Sounds cool, right? Well, these interactive features ARE cool, but they also pulled me right out of the story.
The experience of reading the book very quickly devolved into an exercise of hunting for "easter eggs", the term used for hidden bonus features in computer programs, on DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. You can’t always tell by looking at a given page of the app whether or not it contains interactive elements, so I found myself reading the text and then tapping all around on the screen to check for those elements. On the pages that don’t have them, all the tapping is for naught.
The experience ends up falling somewhere between playing a video game and reading an ebook, but it’s not a very good experience of either one. If the app were a full-fledged video game, I’d want interactivity on every page and I’d want it to be more extensive in terms of controlling my experience of the content. When I play a video game, I want my choices and actions to have consequences beyond causing formerly hidden images to display and being able to move objects around on a screen. Conversely, in an ebook, I want to feel immersed in the story world, to lose my awareness of the device on which the ebook is displayed; if you must tap or click all around on each screen to expose and enjoy the interactive elements, this is impossible.
I thought this might be a case of this specific book app not being my cup of tea, so I also decided to check out another much-lauded title, the War of the Worlds book app from Smashing Ideas, Inc. Again, as a literary classic I’d read previously, it seemed a terrific pick. And again, I was disappointed.
With the WotW app, the interactive illustrations are not as numerous as in the Dracula app, though they are just as beautiful. However, I still had to tap around on them to find the hidden goodies, which was kind of annoying and again, took me right out of the story.
I’ve pondered how this issue might be overcome, and I’m stumped. Even if some sort of indication were given as to the location of the interactive elements (as is the case for some of the Dracula app content), the moment you’re tapping the screen and thinking, "Cool!" at whatever happens, you’re no longer gripped in the terror of Castle Dracula or an alien invasion, you’re admiring the technology.
The good news is, I think the book app is still very much in its infancy and publishers and developers just don’t know quite what to do with the capabilities of the technology yet. My prediction is that where novels are concerned, the book app will find its full flower in a sort of purposeful hybrid of book and video game. And yes, the words will no longer be the stars of the show in most cases, much as it is with movies. Every year there are those few, standout examples of films that are worth seeing for the sake of the whip-smart and insightful script alone. The Social Network is an example of that type of film. But most often, moviegoers are satisfied to be thrilled by action, wowed by special effects, or cracked up by comedy.
Such entertainments are largely disposable, and while it pains me to say so, I’m afraid this may prove to be the future of literature. Every year there will be a handful of new books that are worth actually reading, simply as words on the page, and for these the experience will be one of good, old-fashioned theater of the mind. But for the rest, consumers will come to expect the play to be delivered not only pre-scripted, but with the cast, costumes, sets, stunts and special effects already in place, with the reader empowered to act as director of the entire production via its interactive elements.
But this raises another, and I think thornier issue: in the case of a completely original interactive book app (as opposed to the re-imaginings of literary classics examined here), assuming a team of people were involved in creation and production of the app, who is actually the Author? I’m not sure that title will be apt for anyone involved in such a project, since the consumer’s eventual experience of the content will not be limited to the written words, but driven just as substantially by the multimedia and interactivity of the app. I suspect it’s more likely that the person we used to think of as the author will be given a "Written By" and/or "Story By" name check in the credits of the app.
If I’m right about that, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there should be more and better opportunities for writers to see their works produced and brought to an audience; maybe aspiring authors should start querying book app companies like Smashing Ideas and Padworx right alongside agents and publishers. But on the other hand, those writers won’t get quite the same level of recognition and prestige as in the past. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? As of yet, I’m uncertain.
By Paul Biba There are numbers, and then there are numbers that mean something. Engadget has reported that 1.5 million ebooks were downloaded to the iPad in the first 28 days after its introduction. Wow! the press says. “It shows that the iBookstore will rule the world”.
I picked up a Tweet from Hardrien Gardeur of Feedbooks, the site that specializes in public domain and original books from new authors. Get ready ….. here it comes ….
Feedbooks distributed 2.6 million books during the same period!!
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