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What to Expect on September 6: It Might Be Amazon’s Biggest Press Conference Ever, with Major Pyrotechnics for the Kindle Fire and Amazon Prime

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.

Based on what we’ve seen from Amazon in the last few weeks, combined with developments like the release of Google’s Nexus 7 tablet in July, we’re fully prepared for a blockbuster event that, among other things, should feature

  • the release of a brand new Kindle tablet (to succeed the suddenly sold out Kindle Fire 1),
  • 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.

Jeff Bezos

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.”

Better how?

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.”

So what about that exciting roadmap? We’ll certainly be paying close attention to see how much adoption Amazon announces of the ideas noted in our July 23 piece entitled 17 Features Amazon Must Add to the Next Kindle Fire, After Google Raises the Bar with the Nexus 7 Tablet. But even that list now seems so July 23 that we’ll expand on it a bit here and suggest the following killer feature set for a brand new Fire:

  • Slim it down
  • Lighten it up
  • Improve screen resolution
  • Speed up the processor
  • 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
  • Add Text-to-Speech
  • 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.

Stay tuned.

Exclusive: Our own Len Edgerly interviews Amazon’s Jeff Bezos live in the KND Kindle Chronicles Interview

Article of Faith: “If people read more, that is a better world”

(Ed. Note: For any publisher or journalist, there are few things that feel as good as a great “get.” So this week, as we join contributing editor Len Edgerly in celebrating four terrific years of podcast interviews, we congratulate him for this week’s “get” of Amazon and Kindle founder Jeff Bezos, and we congratulate ourselves for our “get” of the highly esteemed Mr. Edgerly. –Steve Windwalker)

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor
Bezos
I traveled to Seattle this week to sit down on July 26th with Jeff Bezos for an 18-minute conversation about the Kindle. We met in an unadorned conference room at Amazon’s fast-growing campus of nondescript buildings. He’d brought a dish of cottage cheese and a paper cup containing something to drink. As I tested the audio levels on my Olympus LS-10, Bezos offered this disarming advice: “Usually my laugh eventually blows out the microphone, so hopefully you’re set for that.”

In appreciation for this opportunity to better understand how the Kindle looks to the man who leads the team that created it, I am pleased to present the following complete transcript of the interview:

Len Edgerly: It’s been seven years since you did the early design for the Kindle.

Jeff Bezos: Yes.

LE: When you think back to what you saw then, what’s been the biggest surprise in how it’s all unfolded?

JB: The biggest surprise by far is how quickly it has grown. When we did this, we were very optimistic that Kindle would eventually be a success and that it would accelerate the adoption of eBooks. But what has actually happened, happened so much faster than any reasonable person would have expected.

Today eBooks have become a huge fraction of the books sold, and we wouldn’t have anticipated that. That’s a big surprise.

LE: It sold out in like the first hour and a half  [it was actually five and a half hours]. At that point was it evident that this was going to be a faster ride than you thought?

JB: Yeah. We were very surprised right from the beginning. And all throughout that first year actually, we continued to be surprised. So you may remember that not only were we out of stock in our first holiday season, but we were also out of stock in our second holiday selling season. That’s not a good time to be out of stock. And so we continued to be surprised by the adoption rates. That’s a good, high-quality problem, but it’s still something that I look back on and marvel at.

LE: How has the Kindle changed your own personal reading habits?

JB: I think like a lot of our Kindle customers, the biggest thing is that I end up reading more. So, it’s just easier to read more. I can have more books with me. I travel. When I’m traveling I don’t always know exactly what I’m going to be wanting to read from time to time. I can also get new things when I want to, when I hear about them. So if a friend tells me about something, I can get it right away, or if I read about something in a blog somewhere, I can get it right away. I just read more.

LE: I’ve been surprised by how much I read on the Fire, because I was such a lover of the E Ink. What’s your ratio between reading on the Fire versus with reading on the E Ink devices.

JB: Well, I carry both devices, and I really like to read periodicals on the Fire. So magazines and newspapers—I find the Fire experience to be preferable. When I get into a long-form book, reading a novel, I really prefer the E Ink device, I think in part because it weighs less, it’s lighter. It’s easier on my eyes. For extended reading sessions and right before bed, I find I gravitate towards my Kindle, and then for lots of other things I use my Fire.

LE: What do you think will be the same five to seven years or further out about the way we read, never mind how the technology advances?

JB: I think one thing that you can count on is that human nature doesn’t change. The human brain doesn’t change. And so one thing that seems to be very, very fundamental is that we like narrative. We like stories. So I don’t think that any amount of eBook technology is going to change the fact that we humans like narrative. And so I think that linear narrative, where somebody has really put a lot of work into guiding us along in a great story—a great storyteller, that’s what they do. I think that’s going to stay the same.

LE: Do you think that at some point the all-text story will be kind of an historical anomaly because the digital editions, the enhanced audio video and all that will just create a more compelling experience of a story than all text?

JB: I doubt it. We sort of have done that experiment in a way already, because sometimes really good books get made into movies. And even if the movie is a good movie—there’s also the case where they get made into bad movies. But even if they’re good movies, there are things about the book that never get replicated in the movie.
And I think the all-text story, as you put it, is its own medium, and I think that is likely to continue. I don’t think, for example, that audio snippets would make Hemingway better.  I’m not sure multimedia would make Hemingway better. So I think it’s its own thing.

Now will there be new kinds of things invented that take advantage of these new technologies? Yes. Just like movies, moving pictures, was a completely new medium. But you didn’t try to do books with moving pictures—they might be derived from a book. But it’s its own art form, and they had to invent all the things that make movies good—all the different ways from cutting from one scene to the next—and it didn’t displace books. And I think that’s what you’ll see happen here, too.  There’ll be new kinds of multimedia offerings that people can interact with on Kindles, but they won’t displace all-text stories.

LE: When you’re reading an all-text story, your mind is filling in so much, and that’s part of the pleasure.

JB: Exactly. Part of the pleasure is that you’re imagining your version of that story, all the details and all the richness.  And multimedia takes some of that away.

LE: Plus it’s kind of a distraction. There’s a thread that gets broken when you’re tempted to go somewhere.

JB: I totally agree. And I would also say that a lot of what makes long-form books such a good format is there’s a lot of inner dialog that can happen in a book that you can’t really capture in multimedia. It can’t just be a glance at somebody’s face. It has to actually be that whole thread of what’s happening inside their head.

LE: The two core features back in the early days of the design that you emphasized were keyboards for searching books easily and also the automatic 3G, so people wouldn’t have to mess with WiFi. And the two Kindles now don’t have either of those. So what changed there?

JB: The key thing about the keyboard is that the electronic ink display technology finally got fast enough and responsive enough that we could do a reasonable onscreen keyboard. That also ends up making the device lighter. But the big difference, the big change over time is that the electronic ink display technology has gotten faster and more responsive.

We do still offer our 3G version of the Kindle. And that is a very popular choice, in fact people who buy that Kindle are the people who read the most.

LE: Why do you think that is?

JB: I suspect it’s probably some that they are the more serious readers, so they want the very best Kindle. But we also see that their reading increases even more than people who buy the other Kindles. And the reason, I think, for that 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.

LE: It’s amazing how that small of an additional convenience would translate into more sales and reading.

JB: Exactly right, and we see this in everything. Many years ago we did this thing called One-Click Shopping, and tiny, little improvements can drive people to do more of something, just because you’re making it easier. And we’re all busy here in the early 21st Century.

LE: You’ve innovated with steady improvements to the Kindle platform  since the introduction in November of 2007. And, as you’ve said, not every experiment succeeds—otherwise it wouldn’t be an experiment. Which blind alley that you’ve gone down in the last seven years taught you the most about how your customers want to read?

JB: That’s a great question. I would say one example of that would be location numbers. So one of the things that we did early on is we looked very hard at page numbers and how should we deal with electronic books? How should we do page numbers? You have to keep in mind that when you change the font size, everything changes. So you can’t really just count pages or screenfuls. So we came up with location numbers, and location numbers are the same no matter what font size you set your Kindle to. And by the way, being able to change the font size is something customers love about Kindle. That, and looking up words—there are a bunch of little things that people really love. They seem like small things, but they’re actually big features that people use all the time.

So after working with location numbers for many years, we got lots of feedback from customers that there are a lot of use cases where they wished that they had page numbers that matched the page numbers in physical books. So, for example, if you’re having a book club, and some people have the physical book and you have the Kindle book, you still want to be able to refer people to the real page number. You can’t say to your friend, “Turn to Location, you know, 2015.” (Laughs)

And so we used our cloud-computing expertise and our machine-learning expertise, and we actually built a set of algorithms that can look at the scanned pages of physical books and match up the words and find with pretty high confidence when you’re on your Kindle, what is the real page number that you happen to be on? We’ve implemented that for many, many of the books now in the Kindle catalog.

LE: That was good, because even though I can’t feel the pages, to know I’m on page 200—there’s a reference to the way I used to read that’s helpful.

JB: Exactly. Because we’ve all grown up reading physical books, we have kind of an internal clock or something that keeps track in page numbers, and that’s much harder to translate into something like location numbers. Maybe it would be akin to trying to figure out how much something costs in Yen when you’re in Japan. You can eventually figure it out, but it’s not something that you can do with intuition.

LE: Do you think we’ll ever reach a time when 60 seconds just seems like too long to download a book?

JB: I can tell you that most of the downloads now take way less than that. So we advertise books in 60 seconds, but actually it’s much faster.

I can also tell you that one of the things that gets me up in the morning is knowing that customer expectations are always rising, and I find that very exciting. You know, this is a team of missionaries, and we like to rise to those kinds of challenges.

LE: You like to be a little bit ahead.

JB: Maybe it should be books in one second. (Laughs.)

LE: Whoah. I’d buy even more.

JB: Exactly. Very good.

LE: Now, Stephen King has been very future-leaning on eBooks. In fact he helped you launch the Kindle 2. I was disappointed, because his upcoming book, Joyland, is coming out in print only, and he was quoted in the press release saying, “folks who want to read it will have to buy the actual book.” Any idea what happened there?

JB: No, I don’t know what that’s about. I can tell you one thing, though. If you’re Stephen King, you can do what you want. (Laughs.) As you pointed out, he’s been a great friend of Kindle. He wrote some exclusive content for us and came to one of our press conferences, and he’s a very good guy.

LE: Compared with the Kindle Fire and the Kindle apps, the E Ink Kindles still maintain their role as kind of the Cadillac of purpose-built reading devices.  There are things you can do on the E Ink Kindles that you can’t do on the Fire. Do you think the appeal of purpose-driven eReaders is likely to diminish as the all-purpose devices get better and better at reading?

JB: No. I think that for serious readers, there will always be a place for a purpose-built reading device, because I think you’ll be able to build a device which is lighter, which matters a lot to people, has better readability if what you’re doing is reading text. You know, as soon as you have to make a device do a bunch of things, it becomes suboptimal for doing the one thing. And so while I think the tablet, LCD devices like Kindle Fire will continue to get better and better and better, I think that purpose-built reading devices, like our electronic ink Kindle will also continue to get better and better and better.

Can you go hiking in tennis shoes? Yes, but if you’re a real hiker you might want hiking boots. And so both things, I think, will continue to coexist.

LE: You’ve said your passions choose you and not the other way around. Can you trace back the passion that led to the creation of the Kindle in your life?

JB:  Well, I have been a lifelong reader. My wife is an author. We started Amazon with books. We are missionaries. All of our products here at Amazon, products and services, are built by missionaries. And I call it missionaries versus mercenaries. Missionaries build better products, because they’re not doing it just for the business results. They’re doing it because the love the product or they love the service.
And it turns out Kindle is a really easy product to attract missionaries, because a lot of people care about reading. A lot of people care about inventing the future of reading. And so it’s super-easy for me personally and for our whole team to be passionate missionaries about Kindle.

LE: Because of that love of reading.

JB: Yeah, absolutely! I think it’s the love of reading personally and it’s also that we on the Kindle team take it as an article of faith that reading is important for civilization. So we feel this powerful mission, and it’s exciting.

LE: Your mission is every book ever published in every language, available in 60 seconds anywhere in the world. How would the world be a better place if you achieve that?

JB: First and foremost, I would take it as an article of faith. I think if people read more, that is a better world. So I would posit that as an article of faith.

But, you know, we humans, we co-evolve with our tools. We change our tools, and then our tools change us. And if you look at the digital era, almost every kind of media as it’s gotten digitized, more people have been able to access it. And most of what has happened with the digitization of text has been on short-form, so it’s things like blog posts. It’s short articles, short newspaper articles and so on.

And really, until Kindle, nothing in the digital era really made it easier to read long-form. People didn’t want to read long-form on their laptop. We tried that actually. We offered eBooks to people to buy as PDFs and other ways. You needed an electron microscope to find sales. Nobody wanted that.

In that sense that we’re co-evolving with our tools, one of the things that Kindle does is make it easier for people to read long-form. I personally believe that that also means that people will have longer attention spans. You know, one of the reasons that people sense that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, a lot of it is because a lot of the digital media are shrinking the scale of the media. So YouTube videos are eight minutes long, and blog posts are two paragraphs long. So it’s not surprising. If that’s what you consume all day, that’s what your brain gets accustomed to consuming. And Kindle helps to push in the other direction.

LE: Which has got to be a good thing just for understanding and knowledge.

JB: That’s exactly what I think.

LE: Last question. When you spoke to the graduates at Princeton, you asked what convictions would enable them not to wilt under criticism. That interested me, and it made me think of your willingness to be misunderstood within the publishing industry. What conviction, personally for you, do you hold onto to avoid wilting under the criticism that comes your way, specifically in the publishing arena?

JB: What I hold onto and what I tell our folks here at Amazon is, if you’re going to invent, if you’re going to do anything at all in a new way there are going to be people who sincerely misunderstand, and there are going to be also self-interested critics who have a reason to misunderstand. You’ll get both types.

But if you can’t weather that misunderstanding for long periods of time, then you just have to hang up your hat as an inventor. It’s part and parcel with invention. Invention is by its very nature disruptive. And if you want to be understood, if it’s so important for you to be understood at all times, then don’t do anything new.

lenKindle Nation Weekender columnist and contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Jeff Bezos in its entirety at 11:45 of this week’s Kindle Chronicles episode 208.  

Great Expectations and Kindle Fire: What to Look Forward to with Wednesday’s Kindle Tablet Press Conference

“More and more, over time, people are going to be buying from tablet computers. They’ll lean back on their sofas…. That’s very exciting for us. It gives us a new environment to experiment and invent in. “

–Jeff Bezos

By Steve Windwalker

First, we’re very pleased and excited to announce that we’ve arranged for podcaster extraordinaire Len Edgerly of The Kindle Chronicles to live-blog Amazon’s 10 a.m. Wednesday press conference announcing the new Kindle Tablet, a.k.a. the Kindle Fire, for Kindle Nation readers at http://bit.ly/LEN-LIVE-FROM-NY-ON-KTAB. Len promises to start posting as he travels to New York via Amtrak later today, and the action will really heat up shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday, which is when we expect Jeff Bezos to take the stage at Stage 37 in New York.

So we’ll be covering the big announcement from multiple vantage points. You can follow Len’s live blog here, we’ll be gathering all the key information on our Kindle Nation Daily blog, and we’ll send out an email to our thousands of opt-in email subscribers when the Kindle Fire is available for pre-order.

Here are some of the questions we expect to see answered, and you can count on us to pass the answers on to you as soon as we have them. The “best guess” answers below come from a variety of sources and our own brain cells, but they will all be replaced with hard information tomorrow morning.

  • What is the new Kindle tablet called? Best guess: the Kindle Fire.
  • How much does the Kindle Fire cost? Best guess: $299, with a “Special Offers” version for $249.
  • When is the Kindle Fire available for pre-order? Best guess: at or about 10 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday.
  • When will the Kindle Fire ship? Best guess: Thursday, November 17.
  • Will it sell out before Christmas? Best guess: We won’t be surprised if it sells out this week, but if that happens it should be available again within a few weeks.
  • How should one balance one’s reservations about buying version 1.0 of the Kindle Fire with the fear that one may be left behind if it goes out of stock. Best guess: Amazon’s no-hassle, no-questions-asked 30-day return policy makes this a no-brainer. Grab it, test-drive it, and make your decision at the 25-day mark. We’ll be very surprised if you don’t want to keep it, but if you don’t want it and Amazon does sell out, you might even end up being able to decide whether to return it to Amazon or to sell it for a profit on eBay.
  • Is the tablet the only product that is being announced with this event? Best guess: No, Amazon may also announce a $189 e-Ink Kindle with a touch screen and a $99 base model e-Ink Kindle with Special Offers, but these might not be available for pre-order until later this fall.
  • How large is the Kindle Fire display? Best guess: 7 inches on the diagonal, and yes, it is color and backlit with capacitative touch.
  • How much does the Kindle Fire weigh? Best guess: 12.8 ounces.
  • What’s the battery life? Best guess: It may be a little hard to get a handle on this given the different effects on battery life of reading, listening to music, watching streaming video, websurfing, and other uses, but if you are going to get full enjoyment from the Kindle Fire you’ll probably find yourself charging the battery at least as often as you charge your cellphone.
  • Does it come with 3G? Best guess: Doubtful; it may be wifi-only this year, but we won’t be surprised to see a 3G or 4G option in 2012.
  • If Amazon is selling a tablet for $250, a touch Kindle for $189, and a base model Kindle for $99, how can it possibly make a profit? Best guess: Covers, content, e-commerce, and special offers sponsorships.
  • What are the most important accessories for the Kindle Fire? Best guess: a power adaptor and USB cable, a cover, and — if it is enabled — a micro SD card.
  • As a content delivery system, what are the Kindle Fire’s areas of strength? Best guess: the Kindle Fire will allow seamless, wireless delivery from the cloud of Kindle books and periodicals, Amazon MP3 music files, Audible.com books, streaming movies and television programs with Amazon Prime Instant Video, and a wide range of Android-compatible Apps available from Amazon’s own AppStore for Android.
  • What about YouTube, email, VOiP, Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, texting, web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, blog posting, gaming, Groupon, LivingSocial, Woot, Windowshop, Amazon Mobile, Amazon Local, Amazon Fresh, and everything else you’ll ever want to do on the Kindle Fire? Best guess: there’s an app for that.
  • Is the Kindle Fire essentially a closed environment controlled by its manufacturer, like the iPad and the Nook? Best guess: essentially yes, but operationally it may be far more open than those competitors, given selection and pricing in Amazon’s content platforms, the growing scale of Amazon’s AppStore for Android and the easy access that content providers have to platforms such as Kindle Digital Publishing and, ultimately, Amazon’s MP3 and video platforms. 
  • What’s the unlikeliest word that we can expect to hear repeated by Jeff Bezos as he describes the Kindle Fire? Best guess: “Sofa.” As in shopping on the sofa, reading on the sofa, watching movies on the sofa, etc. This is probably not a good thing for the future of laptops, notebooks, netbooks, and even some other tablets.
  • What special “value proposition” features might be bundled with the Kindle Fire to entice buyers. Best guess: free or cheap Amazon Prime, a $79 a year value that would underline importance of the Kindle Fire as the sofa shopper’s favorite gadget.
  • So which is it, a content delivery device or a sofa shopping portal? Best guess: both, but if the Kindle Fire’s primary uses list too much away from ebooks and toward shopping, a nice countervailing value proposition would involve the offering of some form of a Netflix-type bundling of free ebooks to steer folks toward reading.

But here’s the bottom line for the Kindle Fire:

There is an understandable tendency, when new products like the Kindle, the iPad, and the Kindle Fire are launched, for many of us to focus too narrowly at first on hardware specs and feature sets. It is important to remember that it wasn’t only hardware features that set the Kindle Revolution aflame, it was Amazon’s remarkable edge in each of the 4 C’s of customer base, catalog, convenience and connectivity. The Kindle capitalized dramatically on each of those unfair edges, and so will the Kindle Fire. 

No single competitor can touch Amazon in more than one of these areas.

What are some of the other questions you’d like to see covered?

Will Amazon Announce a $299 Color, Touch Kindle Tablet in Late July? “Stay Tuned”

Lately we’ve tried to stay out of the raw speculation game, saving our predictions for matters where we have great sources or great information, but for the past year it has been clear to us that Amazon would eventually launch a color touch tablet version of the Kindle. Of course calling it a “version of the Kindle” is kind of silly, because it is equally clear that an Android-based color touch tablet will never replace the Kindle. It’s far more likely that such a new device would merely “allow” the purchase and reading of Kindle reading content

Last Fall we said the Kindle tablet would probably come in March or April, and all we got in March and April was the $114 Kindeal, so Nostradamus can sleep soundly knowing that his job is not in danger. I do think that Amazon would like to have introduced a K-Tab in March or April, but they also know the importance of getting it right the first time around in the snarky world of tech product launches, so I’m not going to speculate about whether might see such a launch in June or July or any other specific month. Would I be shocked if we don’t see it well in advance of this year’s holiday season? Yes.

Why? Well, there have been plenty of “tea leaves” lately involving the roll-out of tablet-compatible services like the Amazon Cloud Drive and enhancements to Amazon Instant Video, supplier manufacturing orders, new and enhanced Kindle content meant for a tablet, and Amazon hiring for specific job descriptions that strongly suggest a tablet launch. And Amazon has certainly learned from its colossally successful Kindle 3 launch that a July-August timeframe for announcement and delivery can work very, very well.

Will the K-Tab be this big? Stay tuned!

But yesterday Jeff Bezos appeared at the headquarters of Consumer Reports and very carefully cut two little eyeholes in the bag to allow the long-suffering cat to look out at the great wide world.

When will the cat be liberated? He didn’t say. But Jeff Bezos is well-trained by his public relations and legal staff in how to say “I can’t answer that” or, even better, to respond to an unwanted and untimely question by emitting that lovely laugh of his just before changing the subject. Here’s the lead paragraph from CR Electronics Editor Paul Reynolds’ tantalizing report:

Asked today about the possibility of Amazon launching a multipurpose tablet device, the company’s president and CEO Jeff Bezos said to “stay tuned” on the company’s plans. In an interview at Consumer Reports’ offices, Bezos also signaled that any such device, should it come, is more likely to supplement than to supplant the Kindle, which he calls Amazon’s “purpose-built e-reading device.”

Every time anyone from Amazon has ever said “stay tuned” to me, it has been proven to mean that the item in question is coming in months, not years.

So, I’m not going to speculate that a $299 K-Tab — Android compatible with color and touch, manufactured by an Amazon partner like Samsung — will be announced the last week of July. And we’re not going to make a free K-Tab the give-away prize in our next Kindle Nation sweepstakes.

But stay tuned.

Find Thousands of Free and Bargain Kindle Books! Here’s an eBook Search & Browse Tool That Will Make You Glad You Have a Kindle … as if You Need Another Reason

If you’re a Kindle Nation reader, you are probably already aware that the Kindle outshines all the other so-called Kindle Killers when it comes to the selection and prices that are available in the Kindle Store catalog.

But now, thanks to some great folks at Inkmesh, we are able to offer you a free tool that will help you find the absolute best ebook price for any book you wish to read. Organized with elegant simplicity, Inkmesh allows you to search for free Kindle books and compare ebook prices for the Kindle, iPhone, Nook, Sony Reader and other ereaders.

Just click here to initiate any search and see a full set of results in a fraction of a second.

But that’s not all! Once you see a result page you’ll find an extremely useful set of fine-tuning aids in the left sidebar column that will allow you to drill down on results by price point (Free, Below $1, Below $5, and Below $10), content category, or device, and even to exclude public domain titles from your listings.

These same drill-down options are available to you when you click here (or click “Explore” from within Inkmesh) to browse ebooks by subject area, and the list of browsing subject areas is, in a word, magnificent. I never

thought I would say this about a third-party App, but Inkmesh has outdone Amazon itself when it comes to providing a useful tool for searching and browsing Amazon’s website, or at least the Kindle Store, and beyond. Click on any letter of the alphabet across the top row and you’ll be amazed at the array of browse categories.

Because Inkmesh hits the sweet spot when it comes to simplicity, it will actually work well directly from your Kindle, although Amazon still needs to improve its website and Kindle platform engineering so that we can use the Kindle’s browser to move directly from a Kindle book’s page on the Amazon website to the buy button on the Kindle’s version of the Kindle Store.

It only makes sense.

So this next point is only slightly off topic, but back in June 2008 I had a conversation on the air with Jeff Bezos when he appeared on a national NPR call-in program based here in the Boston area, and I asked him why it was not yet possible for Kindle owners to use their Kindles to synch up with the rest of the Amazon store to order other products from music to maple syrup.

Windwalker: Are you trying not to overdo it commercially or is that an engineering issue.

Bezos: Yeah, it’s an engineering issue. Those are the kinds of things we’re working on. We want complete integration between Kindle the device and Amazon.com the website.

It’s kind of hard for me to imagine any such task being too challenging for the wizards at Amazon, but if that’s the case, then I feel it is my duty to humbly suggest here that Amazon should offer whatever it takes as a purchase price to bring Inkmesh under its tent. If Amazon decides that it is time to provide Kindle users with a transparent, user-friendly way to search, browse and buy anywhere on the web including all the departments in Amazon’s main online store as well as the various departments of the Kindle Store, I feel confident that the Inkmesh team could nail it.

Meanwhile, while we wait for that development, here are tha main links you’ll need to get the most out of Inkmesh:


Why Did Amazon Launch the Kindle, and Which is More Important, the Chicken or the Egg?

I’m having some fun today putting the finishing touches on the FAQ appendix for the book, and in the process I’ve finally gotten around to transcribing this remarkable brief exchange between Chris Anderson and Jeff Bezos at the 2008 Book Expo America. You can check my transcription and listen to the entire podcast here, but in my view it is this exchange which states most clearly that the primary importance of the Kindle for Amazon lies in four things: (1) it jumpstarts significant electronic book sales; (2) it positions the books in the Kindle store as the primary source of e-reader content; (3) it sets the bar higher than it had previously been set for form factor, feature set, and delivery mode for electronic books; and (4) it gives Amazon a seat at the head of the table in shaping this area of book commerce going forward.

Q. “In Asia, [there are] cell phone serials, cell phone comics, cell phone mangas, etc. I guess, first question, what have you learned from the mobile reading experience in Asia? Secondly, does that in itself put the Kindle in competition with the cell phone down the line as cell phones have better screens, etc.”

–Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail

A. “Maybe the hardware device, yes, but not necessarily the Kindle books. The Kindle books, maybe they should be available on every device. We created Kindle because we’ve been selling e-Books for 10 years, but we needed an electron microscope to find the sales. And so, three years ago we said, ‘Look, what we need to do is create a perfect, integrated, streamlined customer experience all the way through, so we’ll build the device, we’ll build the back-end servers, we’ll digitize the content ourselves if we need to. Whatever it takes, we’re going to build a great customer experience, to get that thing started. If we can get other devices to also be able to buy Kindle books, through other devices, that’s great.’”

–Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon