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

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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)

new_kindle_lineup



3:45 pm


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

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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).

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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

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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.

kindle_rental

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3:26 pm


Apple's Rejection of Sony Reader App Sows Confusion

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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