Monday, August 20, 2012

Why the new State Department RFI for management of its reader devices and comprehensive and continuous content management and distribution platform is still Amazon-centric and what it may mean for coming Kindle devices

We saw last week that the U.S. State Dept had formally withdrawn and cancelled its announced plan to sole source a contract to Amazon for Kindle devices and centralized management of a global project for the State dept..

I saw Paul Biba's tweet today about InfoDocket's detailed report by Gary Price, Aug 18, on the U.S. State Department's issuing, this week, a Request for Information (RFI ) on vendors who can "provide e-reader devices and a secure, comprehensive and continuous content management and distribution platform.”

Price links us to the complete RFI, which has a Sept. 21, 2012 deadline for responding to the RFI.

After reading just the highlights quoted on the Infodocket page, it's pretty clear to me that the State Dept's withdrawal and new RFI are partially in response to many who had wondered aloud why (despite the DOS documents that detailed how far-ranging and unique the requirements were) they had chosen Amazon for sole negotiations before the sudden cancellation.

  But it seems to me they are now also focusing on tablet e-readers rather than only e-Ink readers, which would definitely require a cancellation or withdrawal of the previous proposal.

  The requirements of that proposed contract have changed in a few ways.  A minor one that looks new (or I didn't notice it earlier) is  that the DoS (Department of State) be guaranteed any specific lower pricing granted the vendor by third-party content providers for distribution to the DoS's "Deployment Locations" and that the vendor should "also reduce its commission charged to the third party content providers by an equitable percentage."

   Also, it's still clear that other e-reader vendors can't supply what the State demands per this RFI.

KEY differences between the earlier contract requirements and the new one.  (Bracketed text is added by me.]
  The new RFI states that the device should be equal to or less than 15 oz and the display can be larger than 6", but most interesting is that the battery requirement has been lowered to fit in LCD e-readers, which give only 8 hours~ of continuous reading instead of the 3 weeks earlier expected.  The key paragraph:
' The device shall be light, compact, portable, durable with reinforced screens, and have extended battery life.  Preferred [not required] specifications:  weight equal to or less than 15 ounces, and approximate dimensions of  8" by 5" by 0.5". The battery life shall be no less than 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback. '

This would now fit 7" to 8" tablets.

  Note the Key difference that would knock out e-Ink devices at this point 
    -  Video playback.

  E-Ink devices don't play video.  At least not the current e-Ink readers.

  I'd think that the rumored Apple Mini 7 to 8" tablet would be a contender, but the book format requirements include Mobi/Prc files.  (That means Amazon, yes - Apple, no) and they don't mention ePub format.)

So, is it that the DoS is now looking at the coming Kindle Fire 2 rather than the e-Ink devices they seemed to be concentrating on earlier?  Dollar-wise, there'd be not that much difference -- well, double the cost of an e-Ink device but not 4 times the cost;  however, definitely more flexible and in today's world that's important.

  What is KEY also is that the contract mentions managing "multiple Kindle models."  That stands out.

 The current Kindle Fire doesn't have text to speech as the e-Ink Kindles do.  Will this feature finally, then, be included in the new Kindle Fire expected any edition?  It would have to be.

  Would all of this have something to do with delays of new Kindle devices?

  The current Kindle Fire also does not have 3G capability and that would be required.  Something else we may see?

  I'm also not that sure that Amazon would necessarily want to provide all this without some kind of cap on the expenses Amazon would need to pay to run such a labor-intensive project with open-ended requirements, internationally.

  The latter will include quite-costly 3G wireless to be provided "to download content globally, including all costs associated with content delivery via 3G services globally."  Currently that content does not include, in most countries outside the U.S., the many photos for newspapers or even any informational blogs that are included in U.S. deliveries, due to the overseas cost of downloading material with heavy graphics involved.  Textbooks or even newsletter-style documents today can be very photo-intensive, for instance.

Larger files for some (free) K12 textbooks on Amazon, as an example (tangential)
  For instance, there are still free books that most Amazon Kindle owners aren't aware of unless we mention it often, which are by the CK-12 Foundation and are "customizable, standards-aligned, free digital textbooks for K-12" on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics."

Some of the books are very photo-intensive and result in files about 30 times larger than your average Kindle novel, so this type of book will incur heavier 3G wireless costs for Amazon outside the U.S. and of course take more room on a device.

 I downloaded the ones on Earth Sciences and also Biology, and when you don't want them taking up room on your Kindle device, you can remove books from the Kindle but they remain available to you on your Kindle management page at Amazon (UK mgmt page here) for download as wanted at any time.

  (CK-12’s FlexBooks earned perfect scores in Phase Two of  former California Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative.)

  While this is tangential, this kind of information should be useful for readers of the blog who are new to the various Amazon features.  To read how to get these free K12 textbooks and some tips on those, see my earlier article on them.  In that article, also, is information on the useful free eBookMaps.

Back to the State Dept Request for Information on the e-Reader Initiative
This involves providing all this for 190 countries and at "over 800 embassies, consulates, American spaces and schools overseas."  (The initial proposed contract was to be for a "Mobile Learning Initiative.")

Note the actual wording in the 'Content Distribution' portion of the Request for Information:
  "The vendor must provide a cloud-based secure distribution and management platform to centrally manage content across a variety and limitless number of e-readers and tablet devices located in over 190 countries"

For Kindle Blog subscribers especially, I'll add some of Infodocket's highlights (Under Content Requirements) here, but to see the rest of it, follow the links above to infodocket and, most of all, to the actual complete RFI.  Again, bracketed comments are by me.
' ... the DoS has produced, procured and/or curated increasing amounts of digital content to meet the changing consumption patterns of citizens around the world.
This platform must provide the ability to centrally manage, procure, and wirelessly distribute USG and 3rd party content across a multitude of devices located in over 190 countries. The platform must support the registration of new devices as well as provide continuing support for existing DoS devices, which number over 6,000.  The more than 6,000 existing devices include multiple Amazon Kindle models, multiple Apple iPad models, and a variety of Android devices currently in use at over 800 embassies, consulates, American Spaces and schools overseas.

[ Notice the mention of all those Kindle models?]

The vendor must provide 3G services to download content globally, including all costs associated with content delivery via 3G services globally.   [ No e-reader but Amazon's currently provides 3G services for download of content...and especially globally.]

The vendor must provide a large and comprehensive public-facing, online bookstore of third party content.  [Also, Amazon has set up an unusually flexible structure with "personal documents" for its Kindle owners and gives them annotation and sync'g features that Kindle books have.]
The vendor must wirelessly disseminate content to the DoS’s existing devices, including Amazon Kindles, Apple iOS, Android, PC, and MAC.

  The vendor must provide centralized content purchases, management and dissemination for all numbers of or subsets of DoS devices (e.g., Apple iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle, PC, and MAC) deployed around the world.

The vendor shall deliver devices meeting the following specifications: must provide at least a 6″ diagonal display... [could be larger] ... must include a front light feature or include backlight technology.

  [That last was a clue when they sole-sourced Amazon, based on their requirements, that they felt or, more likely, had been told Amazon was going to provide this on e-Ink devices at the time.]

The device shall have a text-to-speech capability in English so that users are able to listen to content on the device.

The device shall support the display of a variety of file formats, including PDF, TXT, MOBI, PRC, HTML, DOC(X), JPEG, PNG, GIF, and BMP.

  [That last is glaring also.  Among American-based "name" e-readers, only the Kindle e-reader supports MOBI/PRC format, as that is the basic format for the Kindle (Amazon acquired Mobipocket years ago), AND DOC(X).
  There's nothing said about ePub in the formats specification.]  '

  And while Amazon supports Apple and Android devices involving Kindle content, Apple does not support Kindle devices and so would not likely be interested in providing support for them globally.

As before,
' The vendor must provide a dedicated 24/7 help desk to support inquires from DoS embassies, American Spaces and its partner organizations located in countries specified '
Does another e-reader vendor provide anything resembling this direct international support?

Why the DoS RFI requirements can be important enough for Kindle or prospective Kindle owners to know .
The DoS requirements actually highlight the kind of support behind the Kindles as well as many of the features provided, globally --  in fact, not found with the other e-reader models -- and are reasons not often seen in gadget site e-reader reviews which often focus on only one feature which appeals to the reviewer and the habit of just focusing on one device "killing" another, based on 'coolest' look and feel, which is not always the best way to decide.

  Functionality and the ability to provide good customer support can be key with new technology that changes quickly.

  I welcome any thoughts on this, as I found the new RFI requirements very intriguing.

Kindle Fire  7" tablet - $199
Kindle NoTouch ("Kindle") - $79/$109
Kindle Touch, WiFi
- $99/$139
Kindle Touch, 3G/WiFi - $149/$189
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189, Free, slow web
Kindle DX - $379, Free, slow web
Kindle Basic, NoTouch - £89
Kindle Touch WiFi, UK - £109
Kindle Touch 3G/WiFi, UK - £169
Kindle Keyboard 3G, UK - £149
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB
OTHER International
Kindle NoTouch Basic - $109
Kindle Touch WiFi - $139
Kindle Touch 3G/WiFi - $189
Kindle Keybd 3G - $189
  Keybd: w/ Free, slow 3G WEB

  For daily free ebooks, check the following links:
Temporarily-free books - Non-classics
USA: by:
   Publication Date  
   Bestselling   High-ratings

UK: PubDate   Popular
The Kindle Daily Deal
What is 3G? and "WiFi"?       Battery Care
Highly-rated under $1,  Newest: $1-$2, $2-$3
Most Popular Free K-Books
U.S. & Int'l (NOT UK):
   Top 100 free
   Top 100 free
USEFUL for your Kindle Keyboard(U.S. only, currently):
  99c Notepad 1.1,   99c Calculator,
  99c Calendar,   99c Converter

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  1. Terrific, informative blog you have. I am amazed by the amount of information you have been able to put together, must be a labor of love? You must be a truly incredible woman to have so many interests and be able to be so thorough in your writings.
    Love the blog keep the Kindle info coming! Thanks!

  2. Creative, thanks for letting me know you enjoy the blog. It's often just labor but I'm interested in the context of these things, so I can definitely overdo it sometimes :-) As some friends have said, "Too much information!" :-)


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