Friday, November 5, 2010

That Amazon Android Tablet May be a Reality - UPDATE

  In a column I overlooked yesterday because the title wasn't designed to grab you by the throat, Computerworld's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka cybercinic, writes that "The forthcoming Nook Color and the rumored Amazon Kindle Tablet will bring good Linux-powered tablets to users this year after all."   Then he adds:
' "Sources at Amazon tell me that the company will indeed produce a mass-market Android tablet.  I can't tell you its size, pricing, when it's expected to ship, or anything else of substance.  The one thing I do know is that, like the Kindle, it will run Linux with a Java-based interface.  In short, this new tablet Kindle, let's call it "KinTablet," will run Android. '

This is a follow-up to the Tablet story a couple of days ago.

  The Amazon "Welcome Packet" to prospective apps store developers, described in Engadget's story by Chris Ziegler, contains wording that indicates to Vaughan-Nichols that what he calls a "KinTablet" may be ready in time for the holiday season. [It wasn't.]  That would surprise me, but it may be that they've worked on this intensely for some time already.  He even bets that it will be announced on the day B&N is set to launch their NookColor or the day after.

  Part of that Welcome Packet story by Engadget: "Developer-submitted videos will be supported in the app product pages, which is kind of nice -- neither the Android Market nor the iOS App Store support that."  They felt that the apps store would be "ready in time for the holidays" but where does the item "developer-submitted videos will be supported" fit with a Kindle reader? Would that be like the Enhanced Kindle books that only Apple products are able to use?

  And there was the Kindle World story here in January, 10 months ago, citing Clayton Morris' quote of a reply from a Qualcomm spokesman:
' When pressed about who its partner might be in 2010, a company spokesman asked me, "You know that device that everyone reads books on?  Well, it's going to be a game changer on a device we all know." '

  Now that's a way to halt e-reader buying for 2 weeks, isn't it.  With two online 'zines suggesting strongly that Amazon is about to release an Android tablet and this particular columnist at Computerworld citing sources at Amazon confirming a "mass-market Android tablet," it now looks as if Amazon is actually leaking the news.

  Is it to staunch the flow of orders going Barnes and Noble's way?  And even if it is, would they even talk about it to Computerworld if there wasn't a good deal of truth to it?  Is it about timing? Effect? NO hint of what kind of screen.  Did they ask the sources? Is there a reason nothing's being said about that rather important 'area' ?

  He feels that this would be a more expensive model, as the LCD NookColor is, and was a reason that the pricing for the Kindle 3 was dropped.  And what's happening with the Kindle DX Graphite? Why hasn't the software to it been upgraded to match the Kindle 3's since they are sharing the same higher-contrast and faster screen technology?

  The Computerworld story is written by someone who feels he knew "dedicated e-readers would die off" so there is also a whiff of wishful dynamics going on here too.  First, this means he doesn't value, himself, a dedicated e-reader, and while people like me might look forward to a GOOD e-reader tablet, in no way would I want to give up my *primary* dedicated e-book reading device.

  There are too many columnists who don't understand that and are puzzled by the extreme interest in these small, portable, HIGHLY-readable devices (something I think of everytime I pick up my Kindle 3 or DXG).

  In his previous column, in June, he felt that interest in e-readers would die off in a year because a dedicated e-reader cannot compete with an iPad. That's been shown to be nonsense.  That he doesn't even mention the differing screen technologies in EITHER column makes me wonder about his perspective and his interpretation of what was said to him.

  There is a flood of buyers for dedicated e-readers at their currently decent pricing, WHILE the iPad is doing well, and he is at a loss to explain it, seeing NO reason whatsoever for that.  Here are his stated reasons, which show his blindness to the attraction of paper-like screens:
' Everything a Nook or a Kindle can do an Apple iPad can do better.  And, what's far more important, an iPad can do far, far more.

Why should I buy a Nook or Kindle to read a book, when I can read the same books, from the same vendors, on an iPad?  Or, for that matter, an iPod Touch?  As Jason Perlow pointed out in his great overview of iPad e-reader applications, anything you can read on one of those devices, you can read on an iPad. '

  He probably never goes outdoor with his 'reader' and his eyes are probably never in need of adjustment when reading whole books on an LCD device.  Therefore the rest of the world couldn't possibly value e-paper type screens.

  Of course, everyone would prefer to spend that kind of money for screens that do irritate the eyes of many who like to read novels.  I'm not talking about surfing the web (see my story yesterday on that), since I can surf the web for an entire day without eye-difficulty, as it presents eye-relief in many ways that reading a book on an LCD screen does not do for me and for many others.
  And I guess some do believe that everyone would prefer to play bird-games or surf the web on their reader.

  The e-reader world is a niche area -- most books are still bought (heavily so) by those choosing e-Ink readers because that's their 'focus.'

  He wrote, in June, before the recent explosion of e-reader and e-book buying, that dedicated readers ... "They're history."

  For months, other columnists have been baffled by the popularity of the dedicated devices and discovered that the iPad and dedicated e-readers seem to be complementary rather than one 'killing' interest in the other.

  He views the idea of a supplementary device filling the needs of another target audience (one that wouldn't want a B&W reader (and only about 10% of households make up the avid reader population, per Bezos) or who would like a *secondary* reader for magazines, travel books, children's books) and it matches his core belief that others are like he is, wholly disinterested in reading in eye-soothing e-Ink (he doesn't mention the technology at all which is really bizarre, since most columnists now acknowledge its attractions).

  So, while I think the rumor is being dropped by Amazon intentionally, I also am sure he is misinterpreting the long-term meaning of it. Where he and I meet is if e-readers are built with screens that are usable for fast video AND for eye-pleasing e-paper (as Mirasol is), only then would people who love the new Pearl screen technology (and I am not exaggerating how much e-reader owners "love" these screens as shown in all kinds of general forums these days) move toward a tablet.

 It would have to be as light, portable, and *clear* -- not anything like the iPad is when it comes to reading of entire books. I know too many people who have given up reading on the iPad and gone (or returned) to dedicated e-Ink readers, and we've also seen the tremendous interest currently in dedicated e-readers during the height of interest in the iPad.

I was intrigued a couple of months ago that an E Ink, Inc. demo of its newer technology involving color discussed the need for making higher-contrast screens because whatever is needed to produce color e-Ink will *decrease* screen contrast.  Now that I'm used to the Kindle 3 and the DX Graphite, I find it harder to use my older Kindle 2 U.S., which just looks very light, though it beats any laptop LCD screen or trying to read a book (not surf) on an iPad in daylight for any length of time.

  I don't think the answer will include E-Ink color; it'd still be too slow.  It would have to be something like Qualcomm Mirasol, Pixel Qi's dual screen capability, or one of the other emerging color screen technologies.

Interesting times.

UPDATE at 9:48 AM (Original posting was 7:36 AM )
Commenter and NookColor enthusiast Peter delighted in the Qualcomm earnings call this morning that verified Mirasol won't be ready until next year. I replied:
' I'm reporting a bubble blown by someone who hopes for the death of
dedicated e-readers, and I didn't express huge interest in the tablet
itself, only in the dynamics of possible leaking and what it might mean.

In both columns (one saying Mirasol wouldn't be ready in time), I give
other possibilities, and the downside for many of us would be if they
chose LCD but there IS a market for that... '

Kindle 3's   (UK: Kindle 3's),   DX Graphite

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  1. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Qualcomm just verified in their earnings call that mirasol won't be available until the first half of next year, and at that time it will only be a "limited commercial launch", i.e. it won't be on Kindle in the U.S. right away.

    Nook Color for me!

  2. I'm reporting a bubble blown by someone who hopes for the death of dedicated e-readers, and I did not express huge interest in the tablet itself, only in the dynamics of possible leaking and what it might mean.

    In both columns (one saying Mirasol wouldn't be ready in time), I give other possibilities, and the downside for many of us would be if they chose LCD but there IS a market for that.

    I see you're a rah rah kind of guy. That can be fun too, like the bird games. So it follows. :-)

  3. Peter, thanks for the quick advisory. As I said the other day, I'm interested in NookColor as a Secondary reader for certain types of books, if it functions well. Big question when used to the Kindle functioning of dictionary, search, and annotations-finding.

    (And no, not library-loan-interested. Not patient enough but I love the online library's free Safari books.)

  4. Andrys- You still didn't address why the DXG doesn't have the software upgrades, and whether you expect it (I do by the end of the year). I am not convinced that the Mirasol screen will have vibrant enough color for such publications as National Graphic and Marvel comics.

    But waiting until next year to make sure that the screen is the best possible is the only sensible solution for Amazon., They will only get one real shot at a color kindle (NOT LDC) and can't blow it.
    Rick Askenase

  5. Rick,
    I certainly did address it, by asking WHERE is it :-) Did you really expect me to know the answer too?

    I asked because it is near the time when the DX will be in the stores, and it's my personal feeling that it only makes sense to have one at that time, but coming only from my own head I didn't want to add more predictions when the main one is really vague enough already and somewhat thin. Certainly for this holiday season, but you never know, since so many hints are being dropped at this time.

    No timing, or anything of substance, but that 'sources' at Amazon were said to confirm an Android tablet is coming eventually was definitely worth reporting and then speculating on.

    I can't imagine they won't update the software for the more-expensive (for one thing) DX Graphite before it hits the stores for the holiday season. They'd also be wise to drop the price.

    I actually think they CAN go for a lower-cost LCD screen for half a year or so for those who can't LIVE without color in e-books because there IS a big call for it and because some of us will actually go for that for our travel and photograph books and then of course families with their kids. If it's cheaper as these things go, then not as much pain if the kids break it.

    Mirasol would be good enough for me. I want to see definition of material in the non-fiction stuff I read (diagrams and other illustrations) and an idea of what a photograph looks like in color. Mirasol is not only capable of video, and reads like e-Ink, it is relatively INEXPENSIVE and uses almost as little battery time as e-Ink. Those two things are very important. Not as much razzle dazzle knock your socks off color, as that should be saved for expensive color screens.

    The Galaxy Tab for all its features, gorgeous color, excellent resolution, 2 cams, 8 open windows in a browser, micro SD slot, is getting some lukewarm reviews and that costs more than the ipad. A smaller e-reader (where text readability is SO important) needs to be kept relatively inexpensive.

    When did we fall into the has to be really-beautiful high-contrast, smooth, fast color for an e-reader? If I saw technology like that coming up, sure, if it didn't cost too much, but where? Does even Pixel Qi look that great? And it would be heavy! Do people want the Kindle to suddenly be an iPad ?

    Even if that's what they want, an LCD screen would do for them. And maybe for me for only a a couple of types of books, but not for my main reading.

    So interim color if the demand is there (seems to be) to increase READERSHIP may be a focus. We like the e-Ink but the market they'd need to be after are the ones who are not interested unless something is in color and moves...

  6. No problem.

    We are now seeing rumors that there will be some sort of Amazon android tablet announced on November 10. These are very weak rumors released by a single post on the message board, but it maybe possible they will launch one soon - using the same LCD touchscreens currently in the nook and ipad.

    As far as mirasol goes, though- I think Amazon will get it, non-exclusively, in 2012 when the second announced factory is up and running. I believe Qualcomm will put the technology in lesser known e-readers- the pocketbook in Europe, the nook or kobo in the U.S., some random Japanese OEM - first.

    This strategy makes a lot more sense from Qualcomm's perspective.

    First- the logistics work out better. Mirasol won't be able to crank out a high volume of screens until they get their second factory built, so Kindle may be too popular for it's own good.

    Second- Qualcomm would prefer to keep the marketplace more competitive for branding purposes, and also to help move more units. If the Kindle is the first device to use Mirasol, then people will associate the technology with Amazon, who uses it, rather than Qualcomm, who actually makes it. Think about the current situation with Kindle and E ink. E-ink holdings does all the heavy innovating, researching, and manufacturing and Amazon is taking all the credit.

    E-ink doesn't really had a choice, though- they're a small company and Amazon is their biggest customer, they can't get away with telling them they have to wait in line. Qualcomm, however, is a huge corporation that absolutely can.

  7. Peter,
    Apologies - your note somehow was stuck in the moderation queue and I didn't see it.

    Thanks for the added info and thoughts.

    I hadn't seen the rumors about an Amazon announcement on Nov. 10 but you mention it's pretty weak. I can use any kind of new announcements from any of them - changes never come fast enough.

    Wouldn't it be funny if they made a new tv ad about an Amazon tablet and showed readers viewing their own faces sharing space with the text ? :-)

    Re Mirasol, I agree with timing except that if Amazon does go with it, and signs have been pretty positive, I'm pretty sure it'd be 2011 because the factories are to be in full production by March, from what I read. The early ones could be for Amazon.

    I had wondered if that big new production facility and others announced a couple of months ago were for the rest of the e-reader world or for all of it, but from you said about the earnings call info, it must be for all of it.

    I think the Qualcomm rep at the show went out of the way to hint about Amazon having it and its being a "gamechanger."

    Probably the only reason it might not happen is if Jeff Bezos finds or has found something better in the meantime... He's pretty aggressive that way.

    Re Qualcomm and credit, E-Ink (from my perspective) has been from early days been on Sony and Kindle, with the former the first to have it and sell it.

    The Sony PRS-500 was released (and using E-Ink) September 2006.

    The Kindle 1 was released November 2007.

    I never associated e-Ink only with Kindle because what MADE the Kindle a breakthrough was not that but the Whispernet and air delivery almost anywhere in the U.S. It was pretty heady and still is.

    They made the screen and portable reading more popular because of the 3G delivery. They were way first on that. So people later thought that Amazon had made E-Ink only because Sony did not get the reader into people's minds nor did the other e-readers do well, until that Whispernet feature. And it's what everyone was writing about in 2007 - Whispernet.

    Add the Free 3G website text-lookups (if one is into text-mainly) since 2007, and that was quite a combo. No other ereader maker has gotten close to allowing free 3G for anything but the company store, much less thought of letting people slowly access the web with it.

    Gotta hand it to Amazon for that one, even if it was slow. I used it a lot because I'm patient when things are free. And it's always a bit like magic to me still, whoever provides it.


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