Thoughts on the Kindle Fire and eBooks

Is the new Kindle Fire for reading? Maybe, but it doesn’t really seem so. Now, a lot of this is still informed speculation until we see what people actually use the device for in the coming months. But, we do have a slew of information to go from already.

Just check out one of the promotional images to the left here. It’s telling that other types of media (TV, music, games) are featured prominently, and that the only book in the image, The Girl Who Played with Fire, has to take a backseat to Mad Men.

The Huffington Post has a nice article arguing about all of the things the Kindle Fire tablet is intended for; not for reading: “Amazon Kindle Fire Is Not for Reading — It’s For Challenging the iPad” — maybe this is simply an attempt to broaden the definition of the Kindle brand name beyond “reading” and into “media consumption”?

  • “It’s not for reading — the screen glows, meaning that bookworms including the author should scoop up a non-glowing Kindle if they want something that’s good for poring over extended texts as if they were paper. That’s why Jeff Bezos took care to give readers two other attractive options, both with non-glowing screens. Amazon dropped the price on the old one to $80 and released a new touchscreen version today, Kindle Touch, for $100 ($150 with 3G).
  • It’s not for reading — it’s for shopping on Amazon (it comes with a one-month trial of Amazon Prime, the company’s shopping club) and consuming non-book forms of entertainment including movies, magazines and music from the Amazon MP3 store, and of course, the biggest app of them all, the web.
  • It’s not for reading — it’s for web browsing. Amazon plans to accelerate web browsing on the device with its EC2 cloud computing processors and a new browser called Silk. Faster browsing = better browsing. Oh, and it also runs Flash, which means it will play more of the web’s music than the iPad can.”

To be fair, Amazon has never said the Kindle Fire was going to be an e-reading device. It sure isn’t being positioned as one right now. Check out this image from “Movies, apps, games, music” are listed as the main attractions — with books as something of an afterthought.

PC World (“Amazon Kindle Fire First Impressions: Solid but Limited”) wonders along the same lines about the curious lack of reading from a device which shares the Kindle name:

“I also was surprised by Amazon’s lack of emphasis on the quality of the reading experience on an LCD screen. I’ve seen the lengths to which some tablet makers go in an effort to minimize glare (applying coatings, for instance, or closing or eliminating the air gap between the glass and LCD), and to optimize the tablet for reading. Again, I received mixed answers from Kindle Fire representatives when I asked this question. One couldn’t point to anything in particular that the company had done; the other noted that Amazon had optimized its fonts (though you could have fooled me, judging from the pixelated text I saw in today’s demos).”

Some hands-off demo time isn’t really much to go on, so I’m not overly worried that e-reading won’t be decent. It just won’t be geared towards the long-term, E Ink experience we’re accustomed to on the Kindle. More and more, it seems clear the Kindle Fire tablet is aimed at a certain audience — and after all, there’s so many other choices when it comes to Kindle e-reading — that maybe this is the whole point.

NPR “Amazon Unveils Its Tablet, The Kindle Fire: Can It Compete?” has quite a helpful general rundown of the Kindle Fire, along with some key questions. Other than the price (which is actually pretty great compared to other tablet devices), the Kindle Fire does not compare favorably to the wow-ness of the iPad, but perhaps Amazon’s intention are simply to market this as a Kindle Plus. What’s in a name, anyhow? Should it still be called a Kindle?”Amazon Tablet,” would have made more sense to me, personally. And that’s also because I think “Fire” is a dumb name.

But strictly in terms of the Kindle, the most important differentiation from what set the Kindle apart from other e-reading type devices is, after all, the screen:

“Farewell to e-ink. One of the things that many Kindle users like about their Kindles is that it has a grayscale e-ink display, rather than a backlit screen like smartphones and computers have. (The disadvantage, of course, is that it can’t be read in the dark without an external light source.) The Fire will — typically for a tablet — have a backlit screen and not e-ink. On an existing Kindle, the display looks surprisingly like a paper page; here, it will look like reading on a computer screen. Kindle enthusiasts may not uniformly embrace that backlit display. And, Sydell reminds me, you may not want to take the fancy tablet and its glass screen to the beach. An old-school Kindle will look better in the sun.”

In lieu of hands-on experience, you can check some images of the Kindle Fire screen to form your own impressions, at: “Kindle Fire IPS display vs Kindle Touch E-Ink

ZD Net “12 reasons you might NOT want to buy a Kindle Fire” offers some reasons to think carefully before rushing off to pre-order a device we haven’t seen in person yet. The two reasons that are mostly likely to give us some pause:

“Reason 5: This may be a “placeholder” device

We’re also seeing indications that the Fire is being brought to market so Amazon has a tablet play — not because this is the best design or hardware they could field.

If you’ve looked at how the Kindle itself has evolved, the original Kindle is a substantially more primitive machine than the current e-ink Kindle.

Most likely, Amazon is working on a far better device than the one they’re announcing today — and when they ship that, you’ll feel bad that you bought this one.

Reason 6: A new Nook is coming out soon

We’re also hearing rumors that there’s a new, faster, better, cheaper color Nook coming out in the next month or so, and that Amazon is announcing the Fire as a way of pre-empting that announcement.

The thing is, the Nook color has been something of a pleasant surprise, and it’s likely that the new Nook color would be a substantial improvement on an already fine product.

Once you get a look at the new Nook color, you may regret your purchase of the Kindle Fire.”

Just like the first Kindle wasn’t exactly the slickest device in the world (link: “Why was the first Kindle so ugly?”), maybe the Kindle Fire isn’t the tablet device you’re looking for. Who knows. In terms of other species of ebooks, the Kindle Fire does seem to moving in the direction of the digital comic book area (Comics Alliance: “Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Has Digital Comic Readers In Mind”). Although, this too seems to not be without its problems, as a result of a digital content partnership with Amazon and DC Comics. From the New York Times: “Barnes & Noble in Graphic Novel Dispute” —

“Barnes & Noble said Friday that it was pulling 100 graphic novels from its shelves after the publisher of the books made a deal with Amazon to sell the digital editions exclusively.

“Barnes & Noble works with thousands of publishers to bring customers the world’s largest selection of physical and digital reading content … However, regardless of the publisher, we will not stock physical books in our stores if we are not offered the available digital format. To sell and promote the physical book in our store showrooms and not have the e-book available for sale would undermine our promise to Barnes & Noble customers to make available any book, anywhere, anytime.”

The Guardian (“Amazon’s Kindle Fire: Will it stoke enthusiasm for e-reading?”) also offers a few other perspectives — instead of focusing on what the new device doesn’t do, as tech bloggers are somewhat wont to do — perhaps it’s productive to think about what Kindle Fire might do for books, such as increased attractiveness of color book covers and a general appeal to younger readers:

“As you may know by now, the new Kindle hardware is foresaking e-ink in favour of a colour LCD screen. With much of Amazon’s previous Kindle PR revolving around the benefits of e-ink and its paper-like qualities this is an interesting choice.

What does a transition from black and white to colour mean for Kindle users and authors?

My personal opinion is that the introduction of a colour Kindle has an enormous potential to stimulate the younger generation’s interest in reading, as the absence of colour has always been a drawback among young readers brought up on gadgets.”

Good point. If compared to the Nook Color, the Kindle Fire (and at a similar price point) isn’t meant to replace the Kindle reading experience — but perhaps to go after a different type of reading audience.

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And finally — file this one under Interesting Trivia. This bit of information was tucked away in a wrap-up from a conference on ereaders — Publishers Weekly: “Kindle Fire and the Future of E-reading

“IDC research director Tom Mainelli said the notion that consumers will settle on one device has been discarded. In the U.S., consumers average 6.6 devices/person, while the rest of the world averages 4.8 devices per person. “Multiple devices per person is the new reality; dedicated e-readers remain relevant thanks to lower prices and improved reader experiences”

6.6 devices per person? Really?


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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