Friday, September 2, 2011

Amazon's 7" Kindle Tablet-to-be, from a Hands-On at TechCrunch + some thoughts - UPDATE2


  UPDATE - I missed an important point TechCrunch added at the end.  See the Update (which leads to Update2)

It's a mockup done by Gizmodo after TechCrunch's MG Siegler wrote about having played with an early version of the coming 7" Amazon Tablet.

  Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz summed up what the TechCrunch article described, although even then there are things that are not certain and it's not even due (according to their obviously good sources) until November.

 This comes out on the day we also got the news that the Nook Color 2 may be due out "within weeks" even if the news came from Digitimes, responsible for so many other of the Taiwan-computer-industry sourced rumors we've had, but which have proved to be rather accurate, including their reports of  delays as they've gone on..  I had retweeted that NookColor2  rumor at 4am Friday morning and I did expect we'd hear something today about Amazon's own plans,

  What did interest me about the NC2 news was that the features promised were no different from what I see with the Barnes and Noble NookColor I do enjoy very much (it has a great screen but features that, for reading, are more limited than I have on the the Kindle 3 - the NC curiously has no zoom for images in its books,  no rotation to Landscape -- I expect those should be fixed, but who knows -- a lot of that was said to be due to Adobe's ePub restrictions), so I wonder what Amazon will be up against there in what should be an improved NookColor 2.

  While I've expected an Amazon 7" to be a walled garden too in the way an unrooted NookColor is (and the iPad, but with gazillion apps for the latter), it's more walled than even I expected, except that for some it'll be a rather attractive garden, as TechCrunch says that the $79/yr Prime program (with free 2-day shipping and more than 5000 free {older} videos on demand) will be included as an enticement, and everything will be centered around getting video/music streams from Amazon very easily.

  Prime IS an effective free-shipping program and the 5000 videos often include things that Netflix doesn't have, if you like things from BBC, and Netflix has just lost Starz.  No comparison, as I love me my Netflix Instant Queue, but very good as a supplmentary instant video, as I keep seeing videos I do want to stream and it's nice not to have to pay more for them.

  No word on whether it'll support Flash (which the Nook Color does and I love seeing youtube on it's small 7" screen) but I certainly hope so!

Gizmodo's summary of TechCrunch's description of its hands-on look:
' Hardware
• Full-colour 7-inch touchscreen.
• Unlike the iPad, it will probably only support two finger multitouch, not 10 fingers.
• It apparently has one single-core processor.
• Maybe only 6GB of storage — possibly more cloud oriented
• No physical buttons on the front
• No camera
• Rubberised back, like the BlackBerry PlayBook.

• It’s built on a forked version of Android (apparently older than 2.2), but there are no visible Google apps of any kind — you’ll be able to get Android apps through Amazon’s appstore
• It has Apple Cover Flow-ish user interface, with all the content—books, movies and music—showing in a carousel. The UI is “very responsive”, unlike the Nook Color.
• In portrait mode, it has a dock where users can add their favorites. It hides in landscape mode.
• The book reader app is much like the iOS and Android Kindle app.
• The music app connects to Amazon Cloud.
• Logically, the Amazon Kindle will provide a storefront for the whole of Amazon (I imagine this looks a lot like the Amazon Window Shopping application on the iPad). '

Diaz goes on to be very positive about it, so read why he is, at Gizmodo.

TechCrunch follow-up
  I was out all day and just got back and received a news alert from Edward Boyhan  -- and Twitter would have been abuzz about this for some hours now.

  In fact, TechCrunch has done its own mockup since then in a follow-up article by Greg Kumparak who based it on what Siegler shared with him.

  Kumparak thinks that a launch of the 10" model earlier would have indicated Amazon wanted the Kindle tablet to be the iPad when, from what he sees, "They want it to be everything the iPad is not."

  Small, and comfortable to read in bed (for those who want a backlit reader at night).  Cheap, at $250, but then, I say, the NookColor is already there, for a year.  What will be the price of the NookColor2?  I imagine that's where Prime comes in.

  Apple's Non-Cloud streaming
  I'll go find the article later, but I had read this week that Apple, while talking of letting people stream their own music from the Cloud (as Amazon has done smoothly earlier, to everyone's surprise), doesn't really do that.

  With Amazon, you can stream your music from your locker-space at Amazon from anywhere and the music files don't plop themselves on the small storage space that tablets (or even some computers) have available.  The first 5 gigs are basic and free for all Amazon users, though International ones can't stream the music.

  Apple doesn't really stream your music to you.   They actually DOWNLOAD it to your device and you can play it while the full music file is on its way to your tablet's storage area.  There's no real playing "from the cloud" with Apple.  Reporters have wondered why.  I really like being able to play my music for friends, on their computers, without worrying about downloading a permanent copy of any of my own files to their drives or installing an application on their computer.

Kumparak's summing up
As Kumparak puts it, Amazon's 7" tablet won't be a "be-all, do-all machine" but a "Kindle Tablet," kept focused for its target non-computer-focused consumer audience, who won't need to learn as much about Android use itself, when the "cover Flow-esque arrangement" makes the "entire experience all about your books, movies, and other media."  (It would also lessen the chances for android-targeted viruses that have been fairly prevalent lately.)

Being more positive than Gizmodo usually is about things Amazon, he ends his follow-up take with "Genius."

The Hands-On by TechCrunch's MG Siegler
He was able to play with a prototype.  Although he says it has a capacitive touch screen, he doesn't mention what the resolution is. (The NookColor has a 1024x600" screen and that's been what has delighted me.)

Siegler says:
'Well, not only have I heard about the device, I’ve seen it and used it. And I’m happy to report that it’s going to be a big deal. Huge, potentially. '

  He adds that from what he saw, the earlier reports that the screen is "two-finger multi-touch," instead of 10-finger as with the iPad, are correct.

  While acknowledging that the most current earlier reports suggested an October release for the 7-inch, he says that Amazon is now targeting "the end of November" for it.

  Siegler adds that the Kindle Tablet:
'... looks "nothing like the Android you're used to seeing.
  The interface is all Amazon and Kindle.  It’s black, dark blue, and a bunch of orange.  The main screen is a carousel that looks like Cover Flow in iTunes which displays all the content you have on the device.  This includes books, apps, movies, etc.  Below the main carousel is a dock to pin your favorite items in one easy-to-access place.  When you turn the device horizontally, the dock disappears below the fold '

See the article for all the details of course.

  SOME of the details that interested me
  There are no physical buttons on the surface of this tablet.  The "key" for Amazon, he says, is the deep integration of all of their services.  The e-book reader is the familiar Kindle app we see on so many other devices now, the music player is the already-familiar and effective Amazon Cloud Player and the movie player is their Instant Video player.  And then there's the Amazon Android Appstore.

  Amazon isn't working with Google, maker of Android, on this. They appear, he says, to be building this on top of an older version of Android.  Really??   And "will keep building on top of that over time."  I wonder about this one.

  The web browser appears to be the expected modified Android Webkit browser and it does have Tabs.  There's been a focus on the browser, he adds, but notes that the page-turning touch mechanics still needed "a bit of work" in the version he used.

  He is uncertain about the chips involved, and I hope he is wrong in details he does give, as other reports with details from Taiwan, have been consistent.  Despite references to an SD card expansion capability, he couldn't find a slot on the hardware.  The NookColor has one, and I personally think it's important.  But the news writers keep mentioning the "Cloud" content being the focus.

  It'll be WiFi-only although Amazon is "supposedly working with carriers to possibly produce 3G-enabled versions" but not at launch.

  I think his battery life estimate is very optimistic, but then there is no USB port mentioned.

  No camera, but the rumors have always said there'd be no camera.

  He specifically says, from obviously good sources, that "the plan right now is to give buyers a free subscription to Amazon Prime."

  The touchscreen Kindle expectations
  If "one" of his sources was right, it doesn't seem likely, he writes, that they'll release a touch-screen e-Ink Kindle -- but at Amazon one department does not seem to talk to another one, so I really doubt that this is true.

  I do remember that WSJ's earlier report from Amazon sources was that Amazon's Touchco was dealing with the usual problem of the reported and verified lighter screen contrast with touch screens like the NookColor, Kobo, and iRiver.

  However, from what I've seen, people do not really care about the screen contrast as much as they want a "simple touch" to result in an action these days, although my experience on the NookColor means to me that a touch can produce an action other than what I wanted, on a smaller screen, and I don't really have fat fingers but it can seem I do when I try to select something.

  This no-Kindle-touchscreen rumor by him is more likely based on a focus of his sources on the 7" Tablet.

Back to the 7" tablet
He goes on to say the tablet he tried is "solid" despite his description of the current page-turning when describing the browser. The "holiday wish-list this year" is a bigger delay than anyone had expected.  They'll be working against those expectations in a world where tablets are streaming in (and the new, smaller Galaxy is gaining interest), so it will have to be solid and then some.

UPDATE - Siegler added, at the end, "Amazon has been working on a multi-touch screen/e-ink hybrid tablet device.
  But that’s nowhere near completion, I’m told.  So for now, this new Kindle [tablet] will have to do.

  I added "[tablet]" to his quote because the "hybrid tablet" means e-ink/LCD tablet, and his wording could otherwise lead some to think he's talking about an e-Ink Kindle touchscreen reader, which he has already said that "ONE" source told him might not be coming, but I think that his one source is wrong, since David Carnoy of CNet has written at least 3 times about his own Amazon sources who mention the touchscreen Kindle being almost ready.

  Amazon Tablet sources are not the same as Amazon Kindle E-Reader Team sources.

  But, of more interest, that seemingly unlikely hybrid-tablet rumor IS apparently true, according to his Amazon tablet sources.

UPDATE2 - My prediction, in the first update, above, has already proved true, with CNet, AppleInsider and others already treating as Gospel that this 7" color tablet-reader is "the next and current Kindle" due to his unfortunate wording.  They carry on about Amazon "abandoning" e-Ink and that this small tablet is the 'new Amazon Kindle'...   No.

Outside of all that
You can match what Siegler describes, and his current speculation, against my log of the stronger rumors to date in a timeline-based series of articles here based on Taiwan-industry rumors, based on orders for parts.

A closing thought: I'd also read last week that Amazon sources were bent on making the 7" the best "reading-tablet" available, in keeping with their long emphasis on the Kindle and reading.  I still hope it's earlier than November.

Kindle 3's   (UK: Kindle 3's)   K3 Special ($114)   K3-3G Special ($139)   DX Graphite

Check often: Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published non-classics, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers

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  1. I hope Amazon does NOT do a Blackberry and leave out email. While I am quite anxious to replace my iPad with a smaller, lighter tablet, email is crucial to my consumption.

    I also think Flash is going to be a no-brainer unless Amazon plans on a complete site revamp. Much of their music/movie interfaces have Flash elements.

    I wonder if the Google market is accessible and apps installable via the browser? As much of an Amazon fangirl that I am, there are a few apps that I use regularly which are not yet available in their store.

    I am so excited about this and can't wait for the official announcement.

  2. Jazz!
    I was wondering what your reaction would be since you're a long time happy iPad user, for the most part.

    Email is complex (if not just doing webmail which I DO on both web Panix (normally unix shell) and on gmail, which is fine and I like my email in those places and not on yet another device. 6 gigs capacity means no device email.

    With you on the Flash. I SO like how smooth and beautiful Youtube is on the NC when you put it into 'Desktop' mode instead of 'mobile.'

    I don't think the Android Market will be doable on the ATab. Some will want to root it but maybe that's why the sources are putting out rumors it's a single chip! processor. No one has ever said that, so that has to be wrong.

    If Prime IS included, I think it'll sell no matter what, to those who like to do Amazon, etc.

  3. Jaz,
    I guess we'll be calling the first one the KTab :-)

  4. Well, I too would like email. Both of my email services are web-based -- so if the browser is decent, that should be good enough for me. I would also expect to see ports of various popular Android email clients to the Amazon app store.

    As to it being based on a forked earlier than 2.2 Android version, that doesn't bother me so much. Remember Amazon has done essentially the same thing with the existing kindles which are based on a Linux fork with a Java framework on top of that, and the kindle stuff written in that framework. It allows them to control their own destiny, precisely manage what their users see, and (most importantly) will dramatically reduce software support burdens. I'm not sure that there's anything in the underlying Android OS that is going to be all that useful to the presumed non-technical customer base this is targeted at.

  5. Ed,
    Yes, webmail is more than enough for me too and RIM probably didn't do it because of the added complexity of device-specific email and all the sync'g one would have to do to keep it useable with other devices and of course device storage space. The NC was starting something on it but I saw many complaints of problems so have not tried it and I don't want yet another space for mail.

    But between my really smooth web version of my unix mail and the add'l gmail capabilities (I autofwd email there for backup auto-delete or auto-file of certain items), it works for me.

    Re Android 2.2, the later versions have built-in optimizations for tablets. Since this is only 7" that won't be as much of a problem but Amazon programmers should be able to deal with that, maybe -- I don't see them putting much out until almost Christmas, so I'm not assuming much.

    That you feel it's not a biggie is reassuring, in any case.

  6. I hope he's wrong about the touch Kindle. I don't care about touch input as much as I just want a small Kindle that will fit in a pocket, and that would probably require touch to save space. I'd still use my full contrast/size Kindle at home, but slightly lighter contrast e-ink is better than the phone LCDs people are currently stuck with when not lugging the full-size Kindle around. I know it's not heavy but it does take up a hand if you don't have a bag.

  7. Brentus,
    Very good points you make. I hope his 'one' source was wrong and since they were a 7" tablet-focused team and Kindle Team keeps things close to the vest, I imagine that was really not correct.

  8. I really don't think Amazon will be abandoning the Kindle anytime soon for the Ktab. They seem to have a vision and a timeline--that despite screams from users, they keep to--delivering products and functionality on their terms.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the Ktab that was reviewed was a 'base' model without a few bells & whistles. *cough, cough* Like email? Nothing was mentioned about Twitter or even other Amazon arms. Don't they own Shelfari and Audible? Tie-ins to those will probably be pretty nice and I'm sure they've thought of other things. The TechCrunch article was mostly based upon hardware, which is understandable; I want to see what they do with the software.

    I have been enjoying my iPad, but there is room for improvement. One of my peeves is that everything on it is an app and seems separate from other apps. I contrast that to my Android phone where it seems as if more elements are part of the basic functionality of the device and work together a bit more seamlessly. (If that makes sense)

    As much as I love my iPad, after I got my G2 Android phone, I realized that all I need is a tablet version of my phone. While this is not what Amazon seems to be offering, my experiences with the Kindle 1, 2 and 3 give me enough faith in their vision to try it. At $250 it's less of a leap of faith that the $399 Kindle was!

  9. Another thought. If this was a 'final' product, I think other tech reporters would have gotten a look. There IS more coming...

  10. Jazz,
    Well said, that's what they do.

    Also, it's true it would be a base model although I'm surprised they'd at all want to put out info it has only 6 Gig of storage, considering all those enhanced Kindle books they and Vook have been doing. And then some of those CK-12 books are 500 megs :-) Videos add up.

    What you say does make sense, and it's that "integrated" experience they keep writing about.

    I'd totally forgotten we paid $399.95 for the Kindle 1. Wow. I remember even thinking at the time that it was sort of ugly :-) But I sure loved it.

    And, right, about it being a not-done-yet model.

  11. Depending on how long that free Prime subscription lasts, it could be an excellent deal for those who're paying for Prime anyway. Three years of free Prime and it's virtually paid for. Two years of Prime, and you've bought this tablet for about $90, which is less than a Kindle 3. And this leak may be a deliberate move on Amazon's part. Someone who's just paid for Prime would not be happy to see a neighbor get it for free with his Kindle tablet. This gives the better-informed public a warning without Amazon making any concrete promises. It also draws attention away from the upcoming Nook.

    Don't sweat what the media says. I gave up on the average reporter long ago. They live in a world where any sort of competition becomes a horse race with only one winner. No one can just make a tablet. It has to be an "iPad killer" or nothing.

    For technology reporters, one gadget iis almost seen as supplanting another, even if the two are radically different. Tablets get popular, so we live in a post-PC world. Laptops start to outsell desktops, so the desktop is doomed. The list goes on and on, including predictions of Apple imminent demise in the late 1990s simply because, for a time, Windows was doing well. For such simpletons, the success of a Amazon touch/LCD tablet has to mean doom for the epaper Kindle. For the rest of us, it means no such thing.


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