Amazon Drops the Price of its S3 Cloud Storage Service


Amazon today announced that it is dropping the price of its Simple Storage Service (S3) for storing data in the cloud. On average, S3 users can expect savings somewhere between 12% and 13.5%, depending on how much data they store in the cloud. While Amazon only announced the price drop today, the new pricing actually went into effect on February 1st.

S3 pricesIn its announcement today, Amazon notes that "there's been a lot written lately about storage availability and prices." One of the benefits of Amazon's scale as a cloud provider is, in its own words, its ability to "lower prices again now." Amazon also points out that one advantage it has over on-site storage (which can often be cheaper), is that its price drops don't just apply to new data but to all the existing storage its users have on the service.

Just a week ago, Amazon announced that it now stores over 762 billion different object on S3 – up from 262 billion objects a year ago.

11:54 pm

Kindle for iPad Gets Updated Digital Magazine Experience, Support for Print Replica Textbooks


Amazon today launched a major update to its iOS Kindle apps. While the iPhone and iPod touch apps gets some interesting new features, though, the most important updates are for iPad owners. iPad owners now get access to an updated magazine experience that is also available on Amazon's own Kindle Fire tablet. In total, Amazon offers 400 of these magazines and newspapers, including Martha Stewart Living, Food Network Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and Popular Science. Most of these magazines also come with a free 14-day trial.

Kindle magazines ipad

Print Replica Textbooks

The iPad app is now also able to display "print replica textbooks." These feature the rich formatting and layout of their print editions and offer support for notes, highlights, zoom and pan, as well as a linked table of contents. For Amazon, this is a significant move, as it tries to get a stronger foothold in the lucrative textbook market – an area where the basic Kindle was supposed to shine but was never able to make a significant impact.

All iOS Devices: Send-to-Kindle

While these features aren't available on the smaller iOS devices, all of the current iOS Kindle apps (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) now offer support for Amazon's Send-to-Kindle service and the ability to open PDFs from Mail or Safari by transferring them from iTunes or by sending them to a Send-to-Kindle email address.


4:12 pm

Amazon Adds More Apps for Kindle Fire and Consumer Interest is High – Is It Time for Apple to Start Worrying?


Amazon today announced that its new $199 Kindle Fire, which will go on sale next week, will feature apps from Facebook, Netflix, Rhapsody, Pandora and Zynga. Several thousand more apps will follow next week. Until now, there really wasn’t much of a market for tablets, there was really only a market for the iPad. Clearly, that’s changing very quickly, though. With Amazon and Barnes & Noble getting into the market, their cheaper (and smaller) tablets could hurt Apple’s position as the dominant tablet player.

While Samsung, Acer, Blackberry, Toshiba and all the other manufacturers weren’t able to sell any appreciable numbers of their tablets, things are finally looking up for Android tablets – though none of the current manufacturers are likely to play a major role during this year’s holiday season.

Just two years ago, it didn’t seem as if consumers would ever warm up to tablets, but Apple clearly showed that there is a lot of interest in these devices. With the backing of major brands like Amazon and B&N, the $199 Fire and $249 Nook Android tablets now stand a chance to challenge Apple’s early lead. The new tablets are, after all, significantly cheaper than Apple’s iPad 2. More importantly, though, the fact that there is already an existing software ecosystem for these new tablets out there will give shoppers the confidence that they aren’t losing much by choosing Amazon or B&N over Apple.

iPadVsAndroidTablet69% of Holiday Shoppers are Interested in Buying a Tablet this Year – And They are Considering the Small Android Tablets

According to a new study by consumer electronics review site, 69% of U.S. consumers are interested in buying a tablet this holiday season (or are at least interested in learning more about them). Out of these, 44% would consider a 7” Android tablet and another 44% say they don’t know enough about Amazon’s tablet to make a decision yet. The Nook tablet was announced after this study ended, but chances are there will be similar interested in it as well.

In Retrevo’s study, slightly more respondents said they are planning to buy a Kindle Fire over the iPad (12% vs. 10%). That’s all very much within the margin of error and when it comes to making an actual purchase, these intentions often count for very little.

One interesting sidenote: a third of respondents in the Retrevo study thought the Kindle Fire was just another eReader from Amazon.

Given these numbers, I think Apple will have another great season for the iPad, but the cheaper, smaller Android tablets now stand a chance to take a major bite out of Apple’s market. Consumers who wouldn’t have considered a Samsung tablet will likely take a close look at the Fire or Nook tablets now and may just opt for these instead of paying more for an iPad.

6:48 pm

Catching Up: This Weekend’s Must-Read Tech Stories


Weekends tend to be rather slow when it comes to tech news, but thanks to the launch of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, even those sites that usually don’t cover Apple news in detail kept pumping out stories as more and more details from the book leaked before today’s release date. The book, in its various e-Book and hardcover editions currently dominates Amazon’s sales charts, just as it dominated the tech news over the weekend. Having read about a quarter through the book by now, I have to say that it’s definitely worth a read – not just for the insights into Jobs’ life and thoughts, but also because it’s a fascinating history of Silicon Valley and the players that made it what it is today.

Today’s list then mostly focuses on Jobs, but we also found a number of other interesting stories that aren’t directly related to Apple.

To read these stories (which we curate with the help of Pearltress), just click on any if the headlines in the embed below. An overlay will then pop up and allow you to read the story and easily navigate to all the other ones as well.

Catching Up (Weekend 10/22) in Best / Frederic Lardinois (fredericl)

3:44 pm

Amazon Announces $199 Kindle Fire Tablet, $149 Kindle touch 3G, $99 Kindle touch and $79 Kindle


Amazon today unveiled its long-rumored tablet: the Kindle Fire. Based on Android, but with a custom-designed user interface, the Kindle tablet will cost $199 and go on sale on November 15. It’s available for pre-order now. The company’s founder and CEO Jeff Bezos also announced a new version of the Kindle eReader: the Kindle Touch. This device uses the same E-Ink display as the regular Kindle, but uses some basic multi-touch capabilities instead of the regular Kindle’s keyboard and buttons.  Pricing for the Kindle touch will start at $99 with support for Amazon’s Special Offers. If you don’t want to see Amazon’s ads on the device, you will have to pay $139. The version with support for 3G will set you back $149 with Special Offers and $189 without. Finally, Amazon is also launching a very basic Kindle model without touch or keyboard for $79 with special offers and $109 without.

As far as we can see, the current Kindle models with keyboard will remain on the market for the time being.

Kindle Fire

kindle_fireAmazon’s tablet doesn’t quite rival the iPad in terms of basic features. There is no 3G, no camera and no microphone, for example. It does, however, come with a 7” multi-touch capable 1024×600 glass display, a dual-core processor and 8GB of built-in storage.

Amazon promises about  8 hours of battery life of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback (assuming the wireless is off). It should take about 4 hours to fully charge the device.

Amazon, of course, is also using its current library of books, magazines and videos to market the device. The Kindle Fire will have easy access to all of Amazon’s products. The company is also expecting to see special interactive editions of numerous magazines (including Vanity Fair, Wired, and GQ) for the Kindle Fire.

As far as standard Android apps go, the Kindle Fire will support Amazon’s own Android App Store, which currently has about 10,000 apps in it.

As far as the specs go, the Kindle Fire is comparable to the Nook Color in most respects (the screen size, weight and battery life are virtually identical, though the Nook only has a single-core processor). The $199 price point sets it apart from its competition, though. The Nook Color costs $249.

Browsing with Amazon Silk

silk_browserOne surprising feature of the Kindle Fire is the new built-in Silk browser. With Silk, Amazon is rethinking how a browser should work in the age of cloud computing (though one could argue that Opera Turbo already pioneered some of its technologies). Silk uses Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing network to offload a lot of the computing necessary to render a page. Amazon will also pre-load pages it feels sure you will visit next. The browser also keeps a persistent connection to the EC2 network open so that it can respond to new requests faster.

The New Kindle Lineup:

(click on image to see a larger version)


3:45 pm

Next Stop for Google Street View: The Amazon


Google has been taking its Street View cars and trikes to some interesting locations lately. You can already use it to get a close-up look at Stonehenge and meander through the National Museum of Iraq. The next project for Street View, though, looks like the most adventurous place Google has taken this technology so far: the Amazon. As part of this new project, Google will “pedal the Street View trike along the narrow dirt paths of the Amazon villages and maneuver it up close to where civilization meets the rainforest.” In addition, the Street View team will also take pictures from a boat as it travels down a part of the Rio Negro.

photo of the tumbira community

For now, none of these images are online yet. Once the project is complete, though, Google promises that you will be able to explore a 50km stretch of the Rio Negro River and the Tumbira community near the river. To do this, Google has partnered with the Foundation for a Sustainable Amazon (FAS), so there is obviously a strong educational component to this. Interestingly, the team also plans to teach some of the FAS’ representatives how to use the imagery equipment and plans to leave some of its tool behind so that they can continue the project after the Google team has left.


11:30 pm

Amazon Launches HTML5-Based Kindle Cloud Reader to Sidestep Apple’s Rules


Amazon launched Cloud Reader today, a browser-based eReading application that allows it to work around Apple’s rules for in-app purchases and subscriptions.

Apple has set strict rules for how vendors can use its platform to enable in-app sales and subscriptions. To work around these rules, Amazon and many other e-book vendors recently removed links to their websites from their native iOS apps, allowing them to skirt some of Apple’s rules and avoid paying extra fees to Apple. This, however, also degrades the user experience significantly. Thanks to Apple’s rules, though, we are now also seeing even more development efforts around HTML5-based web apps for offline reading of books, newspapers and magazines. As these apps run in the browsers, they don’t have to follow Apple’s rules and don’t have to go through the App Store approval process.

The Financial Times, for example, decided not to give Apple 30% of the money it makes from in-app subscriptions and launched an HTML5 app instead. Today, Amazon joined the fray by launching Cloud Reader, a web-based e-book reader that can also be used offline thanks to HTML5’s built-in caching mechanism. Cloud Reader works in Safari and Chrome, but not in Firefox. It looks especially good on the iPad, but doesn’t work on the iPhone (yet).


HTML5 vs. Native Apps

Cloud Reader is, without doubt, one of the finest examples of how a well-designed HTML5 app can easily compete with a native app. The fact that the focus here is on text, of course, helps, as an e-reader doesn’t need fancy animations to work well. The app does, however, feature some nice animations here and there and, most importantly, offers deep integration with Amazon’s Kindle store, something that is still missing from the company’s native apps.

Among the few things that don’t work in the web app are swipe gestures (to skip pages, you can only click on the edge of the screen), but otherwise, every feature you would expect from a Kindle app is here. Once you add a bookmark to the app to your iPad homescreen, you wouldn’t even know that you’re not using a native app if it wasn’t for the slower response time when you skip pages.

Right Now, Mostly Developed for iPad – Coming to Other Devices Soon

In the long run, Amazon will likely bring Cloud Reader to other platforms as well. Right now, it seems specifically targeted at iPad users, but the beauty of a web app is that it could allow developers to bring the same service to virtually every web-capable device.

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3:28 pm

Back to School for Less: Amazon Launches Textbook Rentals


Amazon today (finally) launched its textbook rental program for the Kindle ecosystem of apps and tablets. With the new Kindle Textbook Rental program, students can now rent textbooks from publishers like John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis for far less than the price of the physical textbook (with saving that can be as high as 80%). One nifty feature of Amazon’s program is that the pricing is flexible and based on how long you want to keep the book. Rental periods range from 30 days (for the highest savings) to 360 days (where the savings compared to a regular Kindle edition are often minimal).

kindle_rental_001Many students only need a specific book for a short period of time, so these short rental periods often make sense, especially given that Amazon now also syncs your notes to the cloud and keeps them available even after the rental period has ended.

Amazon, of course, is not the first company to enter this market. Indeed, it has actually taken the Seattle-based company quite a while to get into textbook rentals, which, given the popularity of its Kindle platform, is quite a surprise. Specialized startups like Chegg  and traditional book retailers like Barnes & Noble have long offered textbook rentals to students. Others, including Flat World Knowledge, are trying to make a dent in the market by offering customizable textbooks. Amazon argues that the fact that it’s saving your notes to the cloud and its availability on so many platforms gives it a leg up against the competition.


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3:26 pm

Google Takes On Amazon’s Cloud Player With Launch of Music Beta


Google today announced a new music service at its annual developer conference in San Francisco that goes head-to-head with Amazon’s recently launched Cloud Player and easily beats it in terms of both aesthetics and functionality. With Music Beta, users will be able to upload their music to the cloud, create playlists and sync their music to their mobile devices.

The launch of Google Music doesn’t come as a complete surprise, as rumors about it had been floating around the Internet for the last few months, but now we finally know more about the details and how it will work together with Android devices. While Google didn’t mention this specifically, it’s noteworthy that the company did not announce any partnerships with major record labels today.


As for the licensing issue, Google mostly sidestepped this question during a press Q&A after the keynote. While the company noted that it wants to work with the music industry, Google found their demands “unreasonable and unsustainable.” The service that launched today is, according to Google, perfectly legal and is “just the same as a backup hard drive.” Google obviously thinks that what it’s doing is completely legal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the music industry wouldn’t try to stop or cripple this service.

The Basics

Here are the basics: The beta is currently invite-only (all Google I/O attendees will receive access today – others will have to wait a bit longer). Google will provide uploaders for both Microsoft Windows and Apple’s OSX. For now, the service will be available for free (though this could change after the beta) and users will be able to upload up to 20,000 songs. Apps for Android 2.2+ phones and tablets will be available starting today.

google music beta on the webUnlike Amazon’s Cloud Player, Google Music will allow users to change the MP3 tags and other file information. Users will be able to download their songs to their devices from the cloud and playlists will sync wirelessly. Indeed, during the keynote, Google took a swipe at Apple and noted that it doesn’t just feature a better automatic playlist generation system based on the actual sound of the music, but that users will never have to plug in their phones to sync music.

Beating Amazon on All Counts – Except Music Purchasing

The user interface of Google Music both on the Web and on mobile devices is clearly superior to Amazon’s service (and any other current music locker service available today). With a focus on 3D graphics and easy syncing between devices, Google is clearly beating Amazon here. Where it can’t compete, though, is with regards to music purchasing. Without partnerships with major record labels, Google simply can’t offer this feature yet and users will have to continue to buy their music elsewhere.

10:39 am

Reactions to Amazon's Cloud Drive Music Locker Launch


Amazon just launched its online music locker last night and the topic is already dominating the discussion in the tech world this morning. Did Amazon get a jump on Apple and Google here in launching a service that these two tech giants don’t/can’t yet offer? Or is it really just a copycat product that quite a few other startups are already offering. What about the legalities of the service? Here are some of the most interesting reactions to the launch:

Hands on Reviews

Mashable’s Ben Parr: “Amazon has thrown down the gauntlet and set a high bar for cloud-based music streaming. Apple and Google, which are expected to launch their own cloud players sometime this year, will have to match Amazon on usability and price if they’re going to compete.”

GigaOm’s Kevin C. Tofel is generally positive about the service, likes the design and expects to continue to use the new MP3 streaming service, simply because of the convenience factor” (it’s worth noting that he was already a heavy Amazon MP3 customer).


MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka is skeptical that this represents a big shift for music fans: Amazon’s Cloud Drive/Cloud Player combo sounds cool, because it has the word ‘Cloud’ in it. It’s quite useful, too. But if you’re a music lover looking for a paradigm shift in the way you consume tunes, this won’t be it.”

ReadWriteWeb’s Sarah Perez, too, is not blown away by the service and argues that it’s not as innovative as some make it out to be: “To be impressed with Amazon’s offering, you have to ignore the numerous startups already serving this space.”

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler wonders if this move will force Apple’s and Google’s hands and make them launch their music locker services sooner: “Amazon has won the race of the big three to deliver a fully cloud-supported music option. Current whispers have Google launching something very similar at their I/O conference in May. And Apple is working on a similar concept as well — but it may not launch until this fall. At least that was the original plan, Amazon’s move may alter things, obviously.

Legal Issues?

The music industry is obviously not too happy about this move. In the Guardian, Amazon’s director of music Craig Pape argues that Amazon doesn’t “need a licence to store music. The functionality is the same as an external hard drive.”

A Sony spokesman, on the other hand, tells the Financial Times that his company is “disappointed that the locker service that Amazon is proposing is unlicensed by Sony Music.

11:05 am

AmazonTote Goes the Way of Webvan – Shutting Down in March


Last year, Amazon started a pilot project in one Seattle neighborhood that allowed its customers to order products online and have them delivered to their homes (in a reusable Amazon bag) twice a week. As TechFlash’s John Cook noted at the time, this service “conjured images of Webvan.” Indeed, just like Webvan, a poster child of all that was wrong with the first Web bubble, Amazon is now shutting this service down and is redirecting its customers to AmazonFresh instead. AmazonFresh, too, is only available in the company’s hometown of Seattle. Fresh offers users free delivery – either pre-dawn before 6am or later in the day – but unlike AmazonTote, it is focused solely on groceries.

amazon_toteAmazonTote delivered all your Amazon orders of the previous days in one go (and in a recyclable bag). As Gizmodo pointed out when the service first launched last July, this basically gave everybody in the Seattle area the equivalent of free two-day delivery service.

Just a few weeks ago, there were rumors that Amazon was actually planning to expand this program. Clearly, this expansion is not happening anytime soon now.

10:01 pm

Apple's Rejection of Sony Reader App Sows Confusion


To buy a Kindle or Nook eBook for your iOS device, you can’t use an in-app bookstore. Instead, you have to go to Amazon’s website to buy your book. The same holds true for virtually every other iOS e-book reader. Yesterday, however, Apple rejected Sony’s e-reader app for the iPhone, arguing that apps that offer users to buy content outside of the app also have to make their virtual goods available through in-app purchases (read: purchases that allow Apple to take its 30% cut).

Kindle for iPad

This is a very odd development – though, as Harry McCracken and John Paczkowski note – for the most part, it’s fully within the realm of Apple’s existing developer guidelines. Apple, however, never enforced these rules. Here is the statement Paczkowski received from Apple:

We have not changed our developer terms or guidelines. We are now requiring that if an app offers customers the ability to purchase books outside of the app, that the same option is also available to customers from within the app with in-app purchase.

The actual rules, however, say nothing about the need to offer the same content for in-app purchases that’s available outside the app.

11.2 Apps utilizing a system other than the In App Purchase API (IAP) to purchase content, functionality, or services in an app will be rejected

11.3 Apps using IAP to purchase physical goods or goods and services used outside of the application will be rejected

Based on this, it would also be hard for companies like Amazon, Google and B&N to let you buy books inside an app and then read the book on your Kindle, too. Assuming Apple follows through with the rules it outlined in its statement, we can expect some major changes in the way e-book vendors go about their business on the iOS platform. Also, giving Apple a 30% cut of all their e-book sales could potentially drive quite a few vendors away from the iOS platform as it would be almost impossible to make money from their books after Apple gets its cut.

This could have consequences for Apple itself as well, though. As Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told the L.A. Times, he “wouldn’t be surprised if phones were ringing at the FTC today about this.”

As of now, all of the current eBook apps are still available in the app store and none of the other vendors have received any notice from Apple about a change in its policies yet. It could just be that Apple didn’t do a good job at communicating the reasons why it rejected Sony’s app and the reasons for rejecting the app aren’t quite as drastic as it currently looks. It could also be, however, that Apple has simply gotten greedy and want to drive its users to the iBookstore instead of its competitors…

3:55 pm