September 28th, 2011

Get In Line

To be fair, the actual wording on the detail page is:

"Pre-order now to reserve your place in line"

I remember, a little over a year ago, dithering a bit about whether I was going to order a kindle 3. I remember, vividly, the results of that dithering. I was fully prepared to Get In Line for whatever might be announced today. I honestly was _not_ prepared to Get In Line for quite that many products.

I did not order anything With Special Offers, nor did I order the _$79_ kindle (I haven't even looked at it). When the box for the lighted cover took forever to load, I gave up and Got In Line for the devices, because I figured that was more important. I Got In Line several times, because I bullied my sister hard into letting me buy the kids a tablet while we were at Cape Cod, and the kids dad is no Apple enthusiast so I told them I'd probably be getting them Amazon's tablet when it came out. Boy did I save some money by letting her talk me out of buying them iPads last Christmas.

I kept thinking that people were going to be disappointed by whatever was announced this morning. When I'm wrong, I'm _really_ wrong. It's important for me to remember this, when I'm feeling particularly smugly self-satisfied.

Chewing on the Fire's Detail Page

Specifically, the Fire has some elements designed to speed up browsing (which anyone who has
spent much time doing on a tablet knows is an Issue):

"Amazon EC2 is always connected to the backbone of the Internet where round-trip latency is 5 milliseconds or less to most web sites rather than the 100 milliseconds that’s typical over wireless connections. AWS also has peering relationships with major internet service providers, and many top sites are hosted on EC2. This means that many web requests will never leave the extended infrastructure of AWS, reducing transit times to only a few milliseconds."

That ought to set off some people -- this essentially says, hey, we know that all traffic is not created equal. We're more equal than others, by contract. On the one hand, anyone looking for an advantage is going to be happy (if possibly a little skeptical). On the other hand, anyone who thinks traffic being throttled in favor of other traffic is going to be saying very nasty things.

"Finally, Silk leverages the collaborative filtering techniques and machine learning algorithms Amazon has built over the last 15 years to power features such as “customers who bought this also bought…” As Silk serves up millions of page views every day, it learns more about the individual sites it renders and where users go next. By observing the aggregate traffic patterns on various web sites, it refines its heuristics, allowing for accurate predictions of the next page request. For example, Silk might observe that 85 percent of visitors to a leading news site next click on that site’s top headline. With that knowledge, EC2 and Silk together make intelligent decisions about pre-pushing content to the Kindle Fire. As a result, the next page a Kindle Fire customer is likely to visit will already be available locally in the device cache, enabling instant rendering to the screen."

And _this_ really ought to set off some privacy advocates. It's sort of creeping me out, actually.

ETA:

Sample coverage of privacy concerns will be added in dribs and drabs starting now:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/29/amazon_silk_looks_phormulaic/

http://news.cnet.com/8301-30685_3-20113387-264/amazon-silk-one-step-forward-two-steps-back/

Kindle Coverage

I used to have so much fun making fun of terrible ebook coverage. Whenever I felt procrastinate-y, I'd go search for ebook/kindle coverage. A day came, however, a few months ago, maybe a year, when the level of coverage reached the general level of news coverage: not amazingly insightful, a whole lot of me-tooing and repeating statistics not-entirely-accurately, but not stunningly boneheaded either.

For months now, there has been gossip about Amazon's tablet release: code names were bandied about, Digitimes coverage of difficulty rounding up enough supply of key parts, what the specs might be, what the price point might be, blah, blah, bleeping, blah. When several e-ink readers with touch interfaces (Sony, Nook and Kobo, IIRC) came out in spring/early summer, speculation rumbled about when a touch kindle might come out. And then a blogger came out saying he'd laid hands on the new tablet, said it would be 7", gave some detail about the screen and that the price point would be low.

When Amazon indicated there would be a press event this morning, the floodgates cut loose: everyone had a theory about what would be announced at that press event. I sort of figured that it was going to be a whole lot less exciting than what people were expecting. I don't think _anyone_ got the prediction right: _3_ new e-ink readers (one with no touch, one with touch and wifi, one with touch, wifi and 3g) and the 7" tablet at $199. The no-touch kindle is available now; the rest will be delivered in November and can be preordered now. There are two versions (with and without special offers) on many of them.

Most of the immediate coverage has, obviously, just been conveying to readers and viewers what the press were told at the press event. While the market as a whole trended down for the day, Amazon went way up and ended up (altho not as much as its intraday high) -- and it's not like the stock was priced cheap going in, and expectations were quite high (high enough to set off my, yeah, that's not gonna be fulfilled meter). BKS was not so fortunate: they _had_ a color reader sort-of tablet and a touch e-ink reader and are probably going to bring out one or more new color readers/sort-of tablets shortly. But AMZN's lineup will probably force them to drop their prices in a way that will cause serious margin problems. As usual, the assumption is that Amazon has priced the hardware at a loss to move the product (I used to _adore_ coverage that managed to simultaneously assume that Amazon was losing money on the content and the hardware.), which I _don't_ believe (but hey, I was sure wrong about today so I bet I could be wrong about this, too). What I do believe is that if BKS has to reduce their prices to be on parity with AMZN's products, BKS _will_ be losing money. Not a happy place to be.

The product announcement/launch today will be causing consternation in more places than BKS, however: Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader believes the kFire (<-- I kinda like this term) will wipe out the low-end tablet market and possibly the _entire_ android tablet market.

http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2011/09/28/the-kindle-fire-just-killed-off-the-android-tablet-market/

It almost makes me feel bad for RIM.

But what I really want to get at is the AAPL v. AMZN question. There were a lot of people who wanted an Apple e-reader, and it took a while to get one. The first prediction, of course, was that this would be the end of dedicated e-readers and the kindle in particular. That didn't exactly happen. Eventually, there was an understanding that the Nook in its two incarnations, the kindle, and the iPad could co-exist. What was always a little weird, to me anyway, was the construction most bloggers and journalists put on the audience for these devices. It took a long while for people to understand that the kindle had massive appeal to women (unlike most devices) and I'm still not sure people have fully grasped the number of preschoolers out there drooling on and smearing unspeakable things onto iPads (they are _remarkably_ durable), probably because twenty- and even thirty- something writers without children can't quite wrap their brains around the idea of letting anyone with sticky fingers touch their beautiful electronic toys.

We _all_ knew parents were letting kids play with their iPhones. It really should not have surprised _anyone_ that small children were being allowed relatively free rein with iPads.

In any event, Jobs was on the record (_after_ people were reading books and watching youtube and playing games on the iPhone) that a 7" tablet was too small (how _that_ made sense to anyone is beyond me, but this is Jobs, after all), and there are people out there repeating that nugget relatively unmodified _today_ as an explanation for why the kFire won't do any real damage to the iPad market.

I'm not sure how to get where I want to go with this, so I'll just jump over the intervening connections: I've bought family and friends iPads for Christmas presents (including children). I've bought family and friends kindles for Christmas presents (including a few, older children). But despite having more than one iPad in the house already, and -really-really-liking-them-, I had Gotten In Line for several kFires -- overwhelmingly for children, but there's one in there for me, too -- before the press event was over (and just for the record, I didn't know when the press event was and was shopping for EarthScience's Pure Essentials Fragrance Free Conditioner when I spotted the home page announcement).

There is no Apple vs. Amazon, no iPad vs. kFire, any more than there was a kindle vs. Nook. I have no idea what the reality is -- and no one else seems to, either -- but there is a huge overlap between households that own any one of these devices and households that own any other of these devices. We are currently a Honda household, but we've owned Subarus and Toyotas and Audis and Mazdas and probably something else I'm forgetting. If you can own more than one car in a household by more than one maker, you can sure as hell have more than one electronic device by more than one maker.

Video! Or the real reason I'm salivating over the Kindle Fire

I've mentioned before my downloadable video conundrum: if I buy through iTunes, I can watch it on the iPads or my computer; if I (can) get it through Netflix, I can watch it on anything -- but that doesn't include a lot of recent TV episodes; if I get it through Amazon, I can watch it on the Tivo or on my computer, but not on the iPads.

Now, I can get it through Amazon, and watch it on either TV screen, my computer and a bunch of portable devices. Well, up to the device limit, anyway. (Which is one of the reasons I keep thinking there's space for more than one system. If you're going to have to buy a second license anyway, do you care whether you have to buy one on each system versus two on the same system?)

ETA: The kFire does not play HD videos, but if you buy an HD episode on Amazon, you get access to the SD episode included (the reverse is not the case -- there's usually a dollar or so difference on TV episodes -- I haven't bought enough movies to have a sense of the difference there). I had sort of wondered why buying the HD version got you access to the SD version (nice, but not necessary as near as I could tell) -- but definitely necessary to make a Tivo/kFire household make sense.