First Thoughts on Amazon's New Kindle Family

Today Amazon announced a new line up of Kindles.  Every member of the Kindle family was updated, from the e-Ink based Kindles, to the Kindle Fire.  An all new Kindle was announced as well: the Kindle Fire HD.  Amazon is supporting these products with some innovative data plans and parental controls.  More than any other contender in the post-PC market, Amazon is showing that there are other go-to-market strategies than copying Apple.  I love it.

The New Kindle Paperwhite

I love my iPad, and I take it with me everywhere.  With the right workflow and apps, I can do most of what I do on a MacBook but without the weight, heat and lower battery life.  The iPad is a great consumption device, but I also find it to be a good email and writing (prose and code) experience too.  Even basic presentation work is possible.  Amazon's Kindle app offers the best reading experience on the iPad, and the retina display makes for very sharp text.  What's not to love about the iPad as an e-reader?  Size and weight.

The new Kindle Paperwhite

The new Kindle Paperwhite

Longer reading sessions can become cumbersome on the iPad, and if they are late in the day you may find your battery nearly depleted.  Any e-reader built on eInk doesn't share these limitations.  E-Ink devices have battery lives measured in weeks, and also can be made very thin and light.  For all it's advantages for reading, eInk isn't perfect.  The screens are lower contrast and lower resolution that LCD displays, and they also don't glow.  Amazon has addressed both of these issues with the new Kindle Paperwhite.  It's available in for $119 as a WiFi product, or $179 with 3G networking too. Both editions include a screen light for low light situations.  Amazon also slashed the price of the basic Kindle to $69.

Even though I own an iPad, I'm going to get one of the paperwhite Kindles.  My whole reading library is on the Amazon ecosystem already, and my reading habits stress even the long lasting batter of the iPad.  These devices are a no-brainer for avid readers, and in my mind this refresh pushes Amazon back in front of Banes & Nobel's Nook.

The New Kindle Fire

Don't call it the Kindle 2.  Like Apple's iPad line, Amazon is eschewing version numbers for its Kindle products.  I think that's smart–outside technology products very few consumer brands use version numbers.  Can you imagine hoping over to the GM dealer to pick up a new Tacoma 17?  This is a more human friendly way to market tech products.

Amazon's new Kindle Fire will ship September 14 for $159.  It has twice the RAM of the original Fire, a faster processor, and a longer lasting battery.  Hopefully the additional RAM will address some of the issues with responsiveness seen with the original Kindle Fire.  Google has put a lot of effort into UI performance with Android 4.1, and the Nexus 7 is reported to be a very responsive device.  If Amazon fails to address this issue, they're going to have a hard time gaining traction against Apple and Google.

The new Kindle Fire

The new Kindle Fire

Although Apple is rumored to be near the release of a smaller iPad, today Amazon's main competition in this smaller/cheaper tablet market is Google.  The Nexus 7 is an impressive device, but Amazon is really putting pressure in terms of price.  Amazon has an industry leading library of content, so if the new Kindle Fire is responsive it could be a real success in the market.

Introducing the Kindle Fire HD

Amazon's entry into the full size tablet market is interesting.  Instead of going with a 9.7 inch screen, the Kindle HD is 8.9.  Interestingly, the display 254 DPI, rather close to the Retina iPad's 264.  At $299, it's priced the same as Apple's iPad 2.  Amazon is clearly encouraging customers to keep their data on its servers–the Kindle HD only has 16 GB of flash storage.  That's a solid strategy when Internet connectivity is available and fast.  Anyone who has tried to consumer music or movies on a plane or in the airport will tell you that assuming consistent Internet connectivity isn't always safe.

The Kindle Fire HD

The Kindle Fire HD

The specifications on the device are impressive, and the price is great.  I withhold judgement on the form factor until I can get my hands on one.  I've never had a great experience with a 7" tablet so far, but I'm interested to see what 8.9" is like compared to 9.7" in terms of usability on a touch screen.

More concerning is the tool set for developers when creating Kindle apps.  The diversity of the Android product ecosystem means that developers can't make the same assumptions about display resolutions on these devices that they can make on iOS.  The result is that Android apps are often blurry, pixelated or scaled oddly.  I don't see how the Kindle Fire HD does anything but contribute to this problem.  This is not a purely aesthetic issue.  App usability can suffer as UI elements are dynamically resized in ways the developer could not predict.

The most interesting thing to me is the pricing for the 4G LTE equipped Kindle Fire HD.: $499. This is a larger price increase that you would see on the iPad, but the data plan for the Kindle Fire HD is $49 a year.  Now that's only for 250 MB per month, but the same plan on an iPad is $15 a month.  If you restrict media streaming to WiFi networks, 250 MB per month is not an unreasonable amount of data for many people.

As usual, Amazon is working to disrupt the revenue model of their competitors and suppliers.  I'm not sure how they convinced a carrier partner to go along with this–it could affect consumer's psychological evaluation of data pricing.

I hope the Kindle Fire HD succeeds.  I can't see giving up my iPad, but for people who are mainly looking for web browsing and content consumption the Kindle Fire HD seems to be a credible alternative.

FreeTime and X-Ray

Perhaps more than any other device, tablets get handed around the family.  Children are drawn to the touch interaction model.  There are many quality educational and game app available for both iOS and Android.  While iOS offers good parental controls, enabling and disabling them is not easy.  Apple's subtext is clear: use one device per family member.

Amazon is adding user profiles and corresponding parental controls to the Fire.  The idea is to make it easy to pass a device around the household, and make sure that all the apps and media are age-appropriate.  Amazon also wants to make this intuitive.  Based on the number of calls I get, it is neither obvious nor intuitive. to setup individual iCloud accounts with shared store accounts across iOS devices.  Many families will be won over if Amazon nails this.

Amazon also added a technology called X-Ray designed to help you discover new content, easily.  One of my my gripes with Amazon is discovery.  It's easy to order something from Amazon if you know what you want, but traditional retailers offer a much better browsing experience.  The write ups on Xray don't tell me much, so I'm looking forward to seeing this in action.

Standing Out

I wish more device makers would emulate Amazon's approach to the post PC market.  Amazon is going after the value segment without trying to copy Apple's work.  Microsoft is similarly original, but so far they haven't had the same success in the market place.  I hope the new Kindles inspire some of the Android partners to break new ground an innovate for their customers.  Nicely done, Amazon.

Finally, here are some spots released by Amazon to promote their new products.