Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kindle News: Reaction to Amazon's main-page ad comparing Kindle Fire HD 7" to iPad mini 7.9" - Update#2 on Nov. 2.

This is about Amazon's 2-day, much-discussed main-page ad.

See Update for Nov. 2

It was a challenge to the iPad Mini, and it's been the focus of the news since then.

  While I thought I'd not editorialize on the iPad mini on launch day and let the numbers speak for themselves with a features-comparison table, Amazon came out punching, pointing out the precise differences in features and pricing that would be of most interest to those not already invested in the high-quality Apple ecosystem.

When the iPad Mini was announced, I put together that quick comparison table of the basic features of main interest to buyers, for the Kindle Fire HD, the Google Nexus, and the iPad Mini.

I was startled at the time by the price of the iPad Mini when Apple chose to use resolution standards and technology now two years old (openly stating the mini was more or less equal to iPad 2), against the high-definition features of the Google Nexus, the B&N Nook Tablet HD, and the Kindle Fire HD, in a market Apple finally decided to join after seeing the popularity of the competition's smaller sized offerings.

  First, people who have bought iPads and iPhones will want to be able to run their Apple apps on any alternate-sized iPad, so the iPad Mini would be a no-brainer best-choice for those buyers.
  I just didn't think Apple would charge them that much for a model offering features below Apple's own standards.
  And within a week, many others are having a similar reaction.

  Initially, everyone was relieved that Apple finally released a smaller version of the iPad (the current one released in March 2012 with the beautiful Retina feature and already being replaced by a faster iPad 4 with more features), and some have been pleased that the smaller iPad is larger, at 7.9 inches, than market-leading 7-inch tablets, while being lighter and thinner than those smaller ones, at that.

  But, do most people really want a larger-sized portable version with screen resolution that produces a less-clear image, especially for reading?  Apple set the screen clarity standard with Retina early this year.  Yet, they decided to offer a smaller sibling device that will be harder to read with smaller fonts and which cannot do high-definition video while the competing devices and its older siblings can, in an HD world -- AND Apple is charging 65% more than the price of the more technologically advanced 7" models.
  This did take analysts by surprise.  Many who did expect that pricing also expected it would include the high-resolution Retina feature.

  True, tablet quality is not just about hardware, but the major apps are now available also in Android.  How many will find 50,000 (Kindle Fire) or 600,000 (Google Android) apps, too few to plow through?  Apple, Google, Amazon all have strong ecosystems.

Sales of Kindle Fire HD 7" and iPad Mini since the launch
These tablets have different audiences.
  As a result of the iPad Mini launch and probably because of it -- as people had been waiting to see what Apple would offer for whatever price -- Amazon had its highest Kindle Fire HD sales since the launch of that device.

  Even then, Apple is selling out its first batch of iPad mini's ahead of time, since it's a natural buy when 100 million iPads have already been sold and when in the recently completed quarter alone, 26.9 million iPhones were sold.

  Many iDevice owners will want a more portable tablet to carry out and will naturally gravitate toward this one, mainly because it provides the specially curated Apple apps they know and enjoy and a smooth interface they don't have to learn.

Small-tablet shoppers not already iPad owners
 For those not already wed to Apple's app system, things have been less clear.

And for the first time, Apple is offering a device that's behind the pack when it comes to capability rather than looks.  Sleekness counts for a lot, for many.  And Apple management team felt $329 was an apt price.  It had to be pricier than the equivalent iPod and not so inexpensive it would cannibalize iPad 4 sales.  Also, their understandable policy is to make profits on the hardware rather than on the ecosystem where it's closer to break-even from what I've read.

  Another important factor for them was that the resolution be kept the same as for the old iPad2 so that iPad2 apps will run on it without having to be redone.

  Excerpts of media reactions as they set in this last week:
The Inquisitr's James Johnson:
 "...As potential buyers have discovered, the iPad Mini features one of the worst displays among 2012′s high-end 7-inch tablets, offering a low-resolution count compared to the HD-quality video found on the Kindle Fire HD, Google Nexus 7 tablet and other comparable devices.
...Amazon was quick to point out the 216 pixels per inch verses 163 pixels per inch advantage it holds over the much higher priced device.

  Amazon also noted that its device features dual stereo speakers while the iPad Mini offers on a Mono speaker." *[Footnote]
[NOTE: Amazon has an HDMI-out port. Attach a microHDMI cable from it to your HDTV and whatever HD video you're streaming or playing will show up on your HDTV so that more can watch it.  The iPad mini doesn't have HD capability.]
Computerworld's Jonny Evans headlines "Pride: Apple's biggest weakness gives Amazon Kindle easy fire in the iPad mini war."
  [Evans points out that that Apple's marketing chief, Phil Schiller lay down the gauntlet when he said, about the Android devices that offer more advanced features, "Others have tried to make tablets smaller than the iPad, and they've failed miserably."

  That's a statement that presumes or hopes for ignorance on the part of his audience.]
Evans writes, about the Apple event's tricky comparisons and assessments of the other small tablets:
", in the new truth economy of product comparisons,the company has actually hurt its argument claiming the iPad mini to be the best smaller tablet in the world, it has undermined its credibility just a little more."

All Things D's Tricia Duryee discusses the iPad mini's cost and how it may have led many to decide against it after the announcement and head toward Amazon.
  "In addition to being $130 cheaper, the Kindle Fire HD is also slightly smaller than the 7.9-inch iPad mini and comes with a high-definition display, unlike the iPad mini’s display, which is standard definition."

TechCrunch's Chris Velazco adds that the Kindle Fire also has a "smarter speaker layout than the mini."
  [NOTE: That would be two stereo speakers in Dolby Plus, that are louder and clearer than any heard in tablets so far, with good spatial separation for casual watching of movies w/o needing external speakers or headphones.  The iPad mini is listed on the Apple specs page under input/output as having a "Built-in speaker." *]
Velazco also points out what Amazon left out from Gizmodo's statement by Brent Rose "on Apple's perceived hypocrisy when it came to crafting a smaller tablet"
…Your [Apple’s] 7.9-inch tablet has far fewer pixels than the competing 7-inch tablets!  You’re cramming a worse screen in there, charging more, and accusing others of compromise? Ballsy.
Well, the sentence that preceded that quote wouldn't have worked on Amazon's family pages :-)  He also recommends that TechCrunch's comment section is "pure gold" for anyone from Amazon needing a 'feisty anti-iPad quote or five.'  Apple's diss'g of other tablets while entering the smaller-tablet field is causing strong, not generous reactions from commenters on almost every news-site I read the last couple of days.

Gizmodo's actual article by Brent Rose.

Wall St. Journal's Walt Mosserg reminds us that the mini has a back-camera to take photos.  I do wonder how many buyers who can afford a more expensive tablet don't already carry a camera in their cellphone though or, like many of us, a smaller, yet powerful, pocketable one these days.  Mossberg really likes the look and the "sturdier aluminum and glass body."

  I've begun to think that the venerable Walt Mossberg was not at the Kindle Fire HD launch or lost attention during it, judging from his review that mainly ragged on the $199 7-inch model not being as good as a $499 iPad because he apparently felt he heard Bezos say that this lowest-priced KFHD model was "the best tablet" rather than the 8.9" LTE model.

  Here, he talks about the iPad mini having an option for LTE while the Kindle Fire HD doesn't.
  But during the KFHD launch, the audience saw that the 8.9" model (not notably farther from the 7.9" size than the 7" size is) was launched as part of the line with a ship date of Nov. 20 and the 8.9" model HAS an LTE option and sells for $499 (vs the mini's $559 price with LTE option included) AND comes with a $50/yr plan for the limited 250MB of data per month that would be useful mainly for brief email and book reading when needing 3G/4G access.

  That same $50/yr plan with AT&T the first year costs $230/yr with the iPad.

  The screen resolution differences are larger with the larger Kindle Fire HD.
  ADD that the screen resolution for the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" is 1920x1200 at 254 pixels per inch (ppi) vs the iPad mini's 1024x768 and 163 ppi and it's even more clear that the latter has mediocre resolution for a smaller sized tablet in today's HDTV world.
 I don't understand why Walt Mossberg doesn't mention this 8.9" model being pre-orderable if he is interested in LTE as an option.

  Add *further* that the 8.9" HIGH-resolution KFHD starts at only $299 for the 16GB that will cost $329 for the 7.9" mini with the much lower-res screen.

  The smaller Kindle Fire HD 7-inch model has a screen resolution of "only" 1200x800 at 216 ppi.   About the 163-ppi iPad mini, Mossberg does write,

"My only complaints were that it's a tad too wide to fit in most of my pockets, and the screen resolution is a big step backwards from the Retina display on the current large iPad...
  "Unlike its closest competitors, the Mini can't play video in high definition.
 Apple insists the device does better than standard definition, if you are obtaining the video from its iTunes service, since iTunes scales the video for the device, so it will render somewhere between standard definition and HD.  It says some other services will do the same.  But the lack of true HD gives the Nexus and Fire HD an advantage for video fans."

He really likes it though, so read the rest of his report.

BGR's headline by Zach Epstein is that the mini display "is 'terrible'" because what he's seeing with the early reviews is that "basically all say the same thing..." that the hardware and software are great but "the screen is terrible."

BloombergBusinessweek's Rich Jaroslovsky has no problem holding the somewhat larger mini with just one hand and says it's "Crazy thin and crazy light."

"Besides the size and price tag...the most notable thing about the mini is the quality of its display, which can be best described as adequate.  Unlike the big iPad...the iPad mini lacks Apple’s ultra-sharp Retina display.  His caveat:
"Fine Print
  I didn’t see a huge difference in some uses, such as watching videos or reading e-books.  But I found it noticeably harder to read some Web pages, particularly those with fine print. If you’ve got eyesight at all like mine, be prepared to do a lot of pinching and zooming."
  He points out the GPS the mini has but the Kindle Fire HD doesn't - at least not in the $199 model (it's included in the 8.9" KFHD model with LTE).

  Despite it being hard on his eyes with webpages with small print (so many of them too), Jaroslovsky feels it's "the best small tablet you can buy" but you'll have to answer for yourself, he says, "whether it's that much better."
[NOTE: I don't know about others, but if I can't play an HD streaming video in HD because the tablet isn't capable of that, I really don't see how it's worth $130 more except to iOS device owners who most prize the unmodified iOS apps in lower resolution, in which case that's everything so it can be worth it to that specific audience.  But, the 'best' when it won't run HD videos and the less-expensive devices will?]

CNET Asia's Jacqueline Seng posted a specs comparison and wrote that, like a colleague from that site, who was "giving the iPad mini a miss" due to the low-resolution screen, she considers it out of contention, due to "the low-res screen, which doesn't justify its high price tag" but does see that many will want it for its "sleek, aluminum" look and of course those who are already loving their iOS apps will too.  On this site, Apple stalwarts are up in arms in the comments area.

Upshot, the iPad mini is worth the extra money to many as a beautiful accessory that is also VERY light.  Just don't expect too much otherwise, as I've said, even for an HD world, which the iPad mini avoids.

  But would you buy a standard definition TV today for a 65% higher price, instead of a high definition one, because the older resolution model is a prettier piece and lighter?  The answer would be Yes, if it has the programs or content you like to run or play and you don't care about high definition video or reading small print on web pages more easily.  For everyone, it comes down to personal taste and what gives you the most pleasure.

EARLIER posts on Kindle Fire HD
  . Basic Features Comparison Table for iPad mini, Google Nexus 7", Kindle Fire HD 7"
  . Comparison reviews of the Kindle Fire HD 7" and Google Nexus 7" tablets
  . Step-by-step guide for installing a working Adobe Flash player when needed.
  . KFHD Tips - Flash video, Using the camera and Video, Panorama mode,
      App for WiFi file transfers w/o cable.

* There is currently some controversy over whether the iPad mini has one or two speakers or speaker baffles.  As I tweeted to Joshua Topolsky and Jay Yarow, here's what I've found out so far.  (At the detailed and interesting MacRumors forum discussions linked to in my posting there, it's still up in the air.)

  Am adding the discussion at 9to5Forums, landing you at the last post so far, asking what I asked too.
' Here in "Input/Output" they say "Built In Speaker" singular, and above, "3.5-mm stereo headphone minijack". Why would they forget to say that it is stereo, when they did not forget to mention it for the minijack and they also wrote "speaker" and not "speakers"? '

  Others mention that the terse email statement by Phil Schiller being quoted that goes against the Apple specs info (which should at least be corrected if his emailed "It is stereo" refers to the question of whether the speakerS -- only one grille is identified as a speaker in the diagram -- are stereo or whether the 'it' (the unit) actually refers to the unit having a stereo headphone minijack).  The double-grille configuration is similar to a 'pair' used in an iPhone but one of those in the latter doesn't hold a speaker inside.  Mainly, Apple needs to be clear and not blame it on readers of their specs page.

  Phil Schiller is SVP of WorldWide Marketing (Sales), so he can see that the technical info is changed on the official specs page if his email response is correct, which would mean a brand new iPad feature not seen in the other iPad models and strangely not mentioned in all the announcements.  I emailed him also, and he may be inundated at this point.

Update Nov. 2 - After I also tweeted to ask if Apple would be correcting their iPad mini specs page (instead of having their fans accuse others of 'lying' when merely quoting the specs Apple posted) -- to match Phil Schiller's "It's in stereo" email-reply that seemed to reply re speakers, "It's in" rather than the headphones minijack -- Apple finally updated their iPad-Mini specs page to show "Built-in speakers" instead of "Built-in speaker"... without comment.

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  1. Great article. I made the point about the 8.9 Fire HD being comparable to the Ipad mini in terms of size while being cheaper with MUCH higher resolution in a reply to an earlier blog post you made.

    1. Junior Yearwood,
      Yes. And I also put the 8.9" KFHD info into the features comparison table on iPad mini launch day for the same reason. We're in total agreement. On the other hand, the 8.9" starts to go toward 10" land and further away from the easy portability I like about the 7" KFHD but I'm getting one :-) I like my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 but seldom use it, relative to the smaller tablet.

  2. Your TV analogy is spot on. Next time they announce, I hope Amazon goes for a shorter lead time. The excitement of ordering has turned into plain old tiredness of waiting for my 8.9" Fire.

    1. What helped me wait was I wanted the 32GB KFHD 7" and that finally arrived this last week. It acted like a stepping stone :-)

      Magazines on the KFHD 7" are amazing but I think I'd enjoy them more on the 8.9"

  3. Ha ha... I was just surfing around and took a look at these reviews. I can't believe there's still this much fascination. Thanks for writing about this.

  4. It does turn out the the iPad mini does have stereo speakers. I think it's the only Apple tablet with them.


    1. Gary, that page merely points to the same specs page that I pointed to in my footnote. Am wondering if you read the footnote and the link to my posting on the forum discussions about this.

      The iPad mini specs page has an input/output category in which they describe a stereo headphone minijack (which could qualify as "it is stereo") but clearly refers to "Built-in speaker" (singular) in each of two different versions of the model.

      I've updated the footnote with more info and am asking that Phil Schiller or team change their own webpage specs page if he's referring to speakers that they've not mentioned before. I also reference the two-grille combo seen in an iPhone also, noted by another forum poster, where only one houses a speaker, so they need to be clear.

      You can go direct to the footnote and updated section of the blog entry at

      Thanks for sending what you found.

  5. Note iPad mini does not have GPS in the wifi models. I think the lack of HD-ness is really not that big a deal. but then I don't like to watch 2 hour movies on a tablet. You can stream 1080p video to AppleTV and probably using a cable, direct to HDTV.

    Apple must have changed the specs page. It now says 'speakers' (plural), though the picture only points to one (but has a second similar grill 2 on the other side of the Lightening port). And just because there is more than one speaker, does not necessarily mean 'stereo'. With such close proximity there isn't likely to be much stereo effect, and in landscape viewing all the sound is going to come out of one side anyway.

    1. Tom. Just got back. It makes sense there'd be no GPS in the wifi-only models but they leave the option for all of those to get instead the 7.9" version with 3G/4G in which case they can claim the option.
      The Kindle HD 7" doesn't have that option although the 8.9" one does.

      Re HD and movies, I watch a LOT of this on the KFHD because I have Prime, Netflix and Hulu Plus and love watching them this way (while doing other things), and I also watch shows I missed, on Network TV re-run sites, and the HD makes a big difference for me. Just more pleasure. What a world :-)

      Where it makes a real difference or one that's more meaningful is in the small font areas of webpages as read on a small 7" though.

      So, Apple actually finally changed the specs page? Good, because they can't blame Amazon or any of us for depending on their specs page in the first place. Which they tried to do by allowing adherents to act as if Amazon had 'lied' or had just 'assumed' for no reason that they had only 'a speaker' as the other iPads all do.

      And of course they said nothing about it during the announcements because there's not enough to say since, as one commenter put it, if your nostrils were your ears you'd be able to appreciate the stereo speakers that are an inch apart :-)

      Yes, re ineffectiveness during landscape viewing, which is how the movies are viewed.

      This was true of the original Kindle Fire too. What a waste, to have them both on one short side. Thanks for the heads up - will modify the table page, while leaving in the history.

      I did ask via Twitter, twice, if Apple/Schiller would be changing their own Specs page if what Schiller said in a casual 3-word email was true re the 'speaker.' Nice quiet change!

    2. Interesting they don't say stereo speakers after all that brouhaha.

      Re Apple TV -- I had, in my features comparison table, that you could use Airplay to mirror video to an Apple TV.

      I did that because it was NOT particularly equivalent to a direct HDMI output to any old HDTV set by anyone, of course. Also, if you have a TV on a local network that's set up to use the WiFi, then you can use that also. But that was just too If If If to be equated with a simple, direct, microHDMI-out on the table.

      Amazon has such an emphasis on Prime and so much of its Prime now has HD versions of each movie or tv show, it figures that they put that feature in (which the Google Nexus doesn't have either). I love travel documentaries so it's been a boon for my own eyes. It's disappointing to see the SD versions. We can get so easily spoiled...

    3. I'd like to respond to a bunch of comments here in total.

      The speakers. Yes, the specs don't say stereo. However from a hardware standpoint if you've got two speakers, I see absolutely no reason to not make them stereo. Even with the lack of channel separation, it will sound better. And yes there really are two speakers in there. Arstechnica reported on a teardown of it here:

      The screen. I actually don't have a problem with it, but that's a matter of personal requirements. Design choices are all about compromise. Note that the mini, like other iPads, has 10-hour battery life (and it really can last that long or longer depending on use). Given that the battery in the mini is much smaller than the regular iPad, and given that the screen is the major power draw, I'm quite sure they used the screen they used so as not to compromise battery life. Mobile usability is all about battery life, and if I had to choose between a higher-resolution screen or a longer-lasting battery, I'd take the battery. That's why I read on a Kindle and not a Fire or iPad. If you doubt what I've said about the screen and battery life, consider this. I have a first-generation iPad and I do heavy audio streaming with it via Airplay. I'll fire up Pandora on the weekend when I'm working around the house and use Airplay to send it to my sound system. I also stream radio stations this way, and the iPad is like a remote control for me. So when it's doing this, the screen is off except for when I'm interacting with it for the audio, or I hear a piece of music I like and want to hop over to Amazon to throw it in the cart. It's taking an incoming wifi stream, processing it, then sending it back out the wifi for Airplay. Not an insubstantial amount of work. 5 hours of this will only use 10% of the battery, and the drain is linear. After 10 hours I've used 20% according to the battery indicator. This means I can continuously stream audio for 50 hours. I don't think I have to convince anyone that if I have the screen on, it won't last that long. So I reiterate, I'm quite sure the screen choice was a power tradeoff.

      About the spec comparisons to other tablets. I think this is the wrong approach. As we've seen in the publishing market, the choice of ecosystem is just as important, if not more important, than the choice of device. Each of the brands has their own take on operating model. Amazon has very clearly stated that their product is a content consumption device for Amazon content. They have also made clear that they have very low margin on the Kindles as a result, since they expect to make up the difference in content sales. This is not the operating model for the iPad, and the price reflects this. I never buy books or movies or music from Apple, yet I do use it for those things (except books) and get a tremendous amount of use out of the iPad, and therefore think the price under this operating model is perfectly reasonable. With that in mind, considering the mini within Apple's product lineup, it's priced right. Those who want an iPad but don't need a larger screen or a the Retina display can now save some money.

    4. Blackbeard, thanks for taking the time for your thoughts on this.

      I did a longish post on all this just awhile ago. You'll find parts of it interesting and disagree with other parts. But it's interesting to see that many of those who really love the look and feel of it are nevertheless not "at home" with the compromise (though it was probably necessary for timing's sake) and are recommending people wait until the next one.

      I still feel that those who love the apps and the general look and feel of Apple products really have no choice but to get this or wait for the next one...


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