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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.

17 Features Amazon Must Add to the Next Kindle Fire, After Google Raises the Bar with the Nexus 7 Tablet

If you happened to read my post earlier this week on Google’s new Nexus 7 tablet, you know that it’s probably the biggest rave review I have ever given to a Kindle competitor. Not to go all Oldies on you, but when it comes to the basic value proposition of hardware design and initial cost, the new kid on the block is now the leader of the pack. We like it. We like it a lot. You get the picture?

If tablet development were frozen at this point (unlikely) and every consumer shopping for a tablet had the opportunity to test drive a $499 iPad, a $199 Kindle Fire, and a $199 Nexus 7 before making a purchase (very unlikely), the Nexus 7 would quickly take a dominant position in sales. It’s certainly off to a good start — currently sold out on Google Play, just as the original Kindle was sold out for over half of its first 15 months of existence.

So why not just change the name over the door to Nexus Nation Daily? (I mean, aside from the fact that it sounds bad?)

Because the real winner in this new stage of the tablet wars will be us, as readers, viewers, listeners, players, and consumers. We may let Google, Apple and others fill up our dance card, but it says here that our best move will be to save the last dance for a brand new Kindle Fire sometime between now and November. Amazon is a big winner every time someone buys any tablet or smartphone that can run its free Kindle apps, but the company is continuing to make huge investments in building its video, music, and apps catalogs, and for those sectors it needs to hold onto its position as the leader in non-Apple tablet sales.
We won’t get swept up in every rumor about price, drop date, and features between now and November, but based on the early success of the Nexus 7, we’ll focus here on the improvements that Amazon must bring to a new Kindle Fire 2.0 to maintain its current strong position among Android* tablets.

  • Slim It Down: Someone on the web called the Fire “beefy,” and that seems an apt description now although it’s only about 2.6 ounces heavier than the Nexus 7 and over half a pound lighter than the iPad. The Nexus 7 form factor, slimness, density and weight distribution feels ideal in my hands.
  • Higher Screen Resolution: The Kindle Fire screen display and resolution is terrific, and I for one believe that Apple may be fudging the science in support of slightly exaggerated claims for the iPad’s “retina display” resolution. But the Nexus 7’s 1280×800 display (216 ppi) is gorgeous across a 7-inch screen, and Amazon should at least match that with its next Fire release.
  • Faster Processor: Google’s video presentation for the Nexus 7 clearly takes aim at the Fire when it says pointedly that “we’ve declared war on lagginess,” and for now at least they have certainly won a pivotal battle with its fast, crisp Quad-core Tegra 3 processor. That’s where the bar is set now for a $199 tablet.
  • Improved Web Functionality: The Fire may be almost everything it should be when it comes to running Amazon’s content consumption channels for ebooks, music, video, and apps, but despite the company’s claims for its Silk web browser the Fire is often laggy and clunky on the web. A big part of the problem is that Silk often pushes users into truncated, feature-limited, mobile versions of websites so that, for instance, you can’t use pinch and pan gestures to zoom in and out on many sites. For readers who have been drawn to the Kindle platform because they can adjust font sizes for easier reading, the tiny font sizes on many Silk-rendered sites is a big fail. On the Nexus 7, for instance, it’s easy to use an email service such as Gmail from within the Chrome browser (rather than from within the Gmail app) and thus to be able to pinch, swipe, pan, etc. to personalize the experience to suit one’s eyes. Similarly, Google Docs/Google Drive documents have very close to full input/output functionality on the Nexus 7, and that’s where the bar should be set for a new Kindle Fire.
  • Curb Appeal: The Fire doesn’t look bad, and it has a nice personality, but the Nexus 7’s combination of chrome, faux leather and scratch-resistant Corning glass is the new standard for sleek design. It looks a lot like what I expect we’ll see with a mini-iPad, and may inspire a similar level of gadget lust.
  • External Volume Button: The Nexus 7 volume buttons are ideally located on the upper right edge, and that’s just where they should be on the Fire.
  • Camera(s). The Nexus 7 has a relatively low-resolution front-facing camera, which frankly is not much of a plus unless you really want to take pictures of yourself. Amazon should go further and give the next Fire a camera capability similar to that on the iPhone. If the camera could shoot a brief video it could have the further virtue of being able to sync up with Amazon’s invitation for its customers to create video reviews.
  • Siri/Iris Capability: Do people really use Apple’s Siri and Google’s Iris beyond making joke videos about them and asking them “sexual” questions? I imagine many people do, and I’ll absolutely grant that they constitute a cool feature when you first try them. I suspect Amazon — the company that brings us shopping-enhanced Wikipedia — could actually improve on Siri and Iris by tying a service both to information and to commerce.
  • Microphone: If a new Fire is going to have a camera and a Siri-like service, of course, it will need a functional microphone.
  • Text-to-Speech: One of the reasons I prefer my Kindle DX to my Kindle Fire for reading is that I can easily switch to text-to-speech on most books, periodicals, and personal documents. There’s no good reason why the Kindle Fire shouldn’t offer text-to-speech, and now that the Nexus 7’s rudimentary text-to-speech shows that it can be done, Amazon should prove that it can be done well.
  • Power Switch Placement: Many Fire owners find the bottom-edge placement of the power switch a bit counter-intuitive, and it would make sense to move it so that it is above the volume buttons (that we suggest should be) on the upper right edge.
  • Greater Personalization and Customization: The desire for this kind of thing may vary widely among users, but my teenage son Danny (who was a great help to me in developing this list) tells me that the Fire display is “boring” because he can’t easily create his own wallpaper and he has to look at “those ugly shelves.” So some customization would be nice for some users, it seems.
  • GPS. Why not? It’s in there somewhere anyway, so it might as well be fully functional.

For the most part, the list above is composed of items where the Nexus 7 has raised the bar and the next Kindle Fire must match or better the new standard. But here are several additional items where Amazon could regain the advantage by raising the bar on its own initiative.

  • True Android Compatibility and Access to Google’s Android Market: It’s all well and good for Amazon and Google to be running competing app stores, but in keeping with the big tent retail strategy espoused by both companies (when they care to espouse it), we would like to see open access to each other’s app stores, maximum Android platform compatibility (so that, for instance, a new Kindle Fire could run Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) rather than a skinned version of the platform, and maximum access to all content stores. The Nexus 7 runs Kindle, Amazon MP3/Cloud Player, Audible.com, and Netflix, so it’s not clear what the rules are that are (for now at least) keeping Amazon Instant Video off the Nexus 7. We expect to see tremendous ebook price wars between the Kindle and Google ebook sales later this year, so it may be silly to even suggest that Amazon should allow Google Play content stores on the Kindle Fire, but, well, can’t we all get along? We are approaching the point where these tablets could really replace portable/laptop/notebook/netbook personal computers, and nobody in this day and age would suggest that personal computers should come with built-in barriers to certain digital retailers’ content, would they?
  • 3G or 4G Option for Free, Cheap, or Not: Part of the reason Amazon gained such a foothold with the original Kindle was that it came with free 3G connectivity, something that seemed truly amazing in November 2007. While few of us complained when the original Kindle Fire arrived with wi-fi only, because there were few initial Fire uses where 3G would really make a difference, the uses of the Nexus 7 (or a Fire with the features suggested above such as GPS and a Siri-workalike) is such that an affordable plan for 3G or 4G coverage could be a huge boost to a new Fire’s market share.
  • SD Card Slot: As the cloud becomes more important, storage becomes somewhat less important, but any device that depends on wi-fi for content consumption needs to have sufficient storage so that it can be stocked with content prior to travel, and an SD card slot would be helpful there.
  • Price: It’s one thing for Amazon to get into an ebook price war with Barnes & Noble, and quite another to get into a device price war with deep-pocketed Google, but Amazon has shown great willingness to be aggressive on pricing, and a move into the $149-$189 territory for the Kindle Fire might be worthwhile. That said, it is also worth repeating a point made in last week’s review, that the true cost for the Google tablet is about $225, not $199, because of sales tax and a rather expensive shipping charge levied by Google.

How great would all these enhancements be? Well, I think they could be pretty great, but it’s always important to remember that, just as it is not all about the hardware, it’s also not all about the sheer quantity of features so much as how they fit together and how intuitive, user-friendly and elegantly simple a gadget is.

After all, it’s a device that should be meant to improve quality of life.

It’s not a pizza.

Which reminds me of something I heard the other day….

The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop … and says …

“Can you make me one with everything?”

Price and Feature Wars Ahead for Kindle eBooks and Tablets as Google Hits a Home Run with the New $199 Google Nexus 7 Tablet

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.