Amazon Celebrates Pac-Man’s Anniversary!

Pac-Man on Amazon's home page

Friday Amazon surprised their customers by featuring a game of Pac-Man on their home page. “Happy 35th Anniversary, Pac-Man!” flashed their cheery message, below a row of golden pixels being eaten by Pac-man, as he turned a corner to avoid the blue-eyed “ghosts” chasing him. It was fun seeing all those familiar colors from the classic video game — the red, green, and orange ghosts — and Amazon even snuck in a pixelized version of the Amazon logo! And they’re also offering discounts on Pac-man games today — including a free version of Pac-man for Android phones and tablets!

For a shortcut to the free Pac-man app, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/FreePacmanApp

Amazon’s also offering a 75% discount on “Pac-Man Museum,” an app which officially collects together what it promises are “the greatest PAC-MAN games of all time.” Normally this collection costs $19.95, but today it’s been slashed to just $4.99. There’s also 75% discounts on “Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures,” a game based on the popular new Pac-Man TV show, and on a new game called “Pac-Man Championship Edition DX+”. (“There are plenty of different level designs,” writes one reviewer on Amazon,” adding “you can alter the visual style for each map, everything around you changes on the fly, you can be chased by dozens of ghosts at a time. It’s intense!”)

Google’s also celebrating Pacman’s birthday, but of course, you’ll have to search for it. If you type “Pacman” into Google’s search bar, the first result is their own online version of the game, which Google featured on their front page back in 2010 (celebrating Pacman’s 30th anniversary). And they’re also distributing the same free version of Pacman for Android devices in Google’s app “Play Store”.

I commemorated this anniversary by reading some fascinating trivia about Pac-man’s creator, Toru Iwatani (who was just 24 when he created the game!) According to Wikipedia, Toru maintained for years that his inspiration for the yellow character came from a pizza with a slice missing, but in 1986 he qualified this, saying that Pac-man actually was also designed to look like the Japanese character for the word mouth. Pac-man gets powerful when he eats an energizer button, which he says was inspired by Popeye, and he also wanted to encourage more girls to join in the fun of playing video games.

And by 1990, the game had earned more that $2.5 billion — one quarter at a time.

Remember, for a shortcut to the free and discounted Pac-man apps, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/FreePacmanApp

A Free $10 Credit from Amazon!

1000 Free Amazon Coins

I spotted a surprise in Amazon’s app store today. They’re giving away a free $10 credit! Of course, they’re paying you in “Amazon money,” but it’s still a $10 value!

For a shortcut to Amazon’s deal, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/10AmazonDollars

There’s five free apps at that URL — but for each one that you download, Amazon will add a $2 credit to your account. (The credit comes in the form of “Amazon Coins”, the virtual currency Amazon issues for in-app purchases, which can also be redeemed when buying an app). One “Amazon Coin” equals one penny, and if you download all five of these apps, Amazon will give you 1,000 of ’em. But ignore that extra layer of “abstraction” and just focus on the bottom line. If you download the apps, you get a $10 credit.

One of the five free apps is actually from the Food Network. It offers thousands of recipes, and lets you search based on a specific ingredient you want to use — or even for your favorite chef! And I was really intrigued by the second free app — which is called iHeartRadio. It lets you listen to radio stations live on your Kindle Fire or Android smartphone!

But why are they issuing these credits in Amazon coins? The strategy is to make it seem less like you’re spending real money and more like it’s just fun play pretend money. Forcing people to do this conversion in their head — from Amazon money to real money — makes it harder for people to remember their budget! But if you just download these five free apps, you’re already starting out ahead.

And you’ll end up with $10 worth of free credits to spend in Amazon’s Android app store!

Remember, for a shortcut to Amazon’s deal, point your browser to
tinyurl.com/10AmazonDollars

Is the Kindle Fire Conquering the World?

global-android-tablet-share

Who’s winning the tablet wars? Forbes magazine uncovered some interesting statistics. If you buy a tablet, and it’s not an iPad, chances are it’s running the Android operating system. And Amazon has apparently sold one-third of all the Android tablets in the world!

But wait, there’s an even more impressive statistic. The Kindle Fire isn’t available in every country. In fact, 89% of all Kindle Fire tablets are in either the United States or England, according to the statistics from a company called Localyties, which notes that the Kindle Fire currently isn’t even available in Canada. But if you look at the United States, where the Kindle Fire has always been available, Amazon has already sold more than half of all the Android tablets currently in use. There’s lots of competition, including Google’s Nexus 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy S, but in America the Kindle Fire has already claimed 56% of the market for Android tablets!

“Their US success suggests they could quickly dominate the Android tablet market worldwide,” reports Localytics — assuming Amazon can come up with the right kind of distribution — and they add that Amazon seems poised to bring their success in the U.S. to the rest of the world. “[A]t an event launching the Kindle Paperwhite to Canada, Amazon’s VP in charge of the Kindle noted that they are working hard to launch the Fire lineup worldwide.” Localytics gathered information from more than half a billion devices, so they’re working with a pretty good snapshot of the “universe” of tablet devices today.

By comparison, the Nook from Barnes and Noble seems to have just 16% of the U.S. market — and just 10% of the market around the world. And the figures from Localytics also show that the market share is even smaller for Amazon’s other competitors in the Android tablet market. The Samsung Galaxy accounts for just 15% of the U.S. market, and 9% of the world market for Android tablets — and the Nexus 7’s U.S. market share is just 13.5%, with an 8% share around the globe.

Interestingly, Localytics also found that 59% of the Android tablets in the world were located in the United States, so it’s a great place for Amazon to launch its global conquest of the tablet market. (“Kindle Fire Dominates US Android Market,” wrote Forbes in their headline, “but Seemingly Non-existent Outside the US.”) At the bottom of the article, their reporter offers a disclaimer that his family actually owns shares of Apple’s stock, but he still seems pretty bullish on Amazon.

“When the Kindle Fires become available in more countries they could take a significant amount of market share in the international Android market,” he writes, “and put some pressure on Apple’s iPad!”

Free Halloween Kindle Fire/Android app – with Charlie Brown!

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown Halloween Kindle Fire Android app

Here’s a Halloween surprise! Amazon’s giving away a free app today for both Kindle Fire and Android devices. And it’s a special Halloween app that’s sure to bring back some fond memories of hallowed evenings past. The name of the free app they’re giving away?

“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

You can download the free app today in Amazon’s app store. (For a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween .) It’s an interactive version of the famous TV special that finds Linus spending Halloween night in a pumpkin patch. You can actually poke your fingers into the drawings, to make all the Peanuts characters jiggle around. And it’s narrated by Peter Robbins, who provided the voice for Charlie Brown in the original 1966 TV special!

Because it’s an Android app, you can play it on your Kindle Fire or any Android phone. And I was impressed by the smooth interface, which includes an old vinyl record on the game’s menu page to represent the narration (which you can turn on and off). It’s got all the sequences you remember from the TV special, with some of the artwork laid out like a newspaper comic strip. It was a real thrill to see Charlie Brown’s pile of autumn leaves again — and then to see Linus trying to jump into it while holding a wet lollipop!

If you don’t have a Kindle Fire, there’s still some other Halloween games available at Amazon. Yesterday I wrote about “Futoshiki Halloween Edition, and there’s also a Halloween version of the game Blossom. There’s even a Halloween version of Mahjong Solitaire, and if you’re looking for something scarier, there’s also a text adventure “Choice of the Zombies”.

But I have fond childhood memories of watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”. So if you’ve always wanted a free app that revives this Halloween tradition…there’s a special treat waiting for you tonight in Amazon’s appstore.


Remember, for a shortcut, just point your web browser to tinyurl.com/CharlieHalloween

The Kindle 4 Will Be Released within 10 Weeks!

Dog licking a Kindle from Amazon TV ad

Some time in the next 10 weeks, Amazon will release two new versions of the Kindle. That’s according to The Wall Street Journal, which cites “people familiar with the matter.”

And the even bigger news is their sources confirmed what everybody already suspected. Amazon’s also going to release an iPad-style color touchscreen device, and it’s going to happen before the end of September!

One new Kindle will have a touch-screen, according to the article — while the other Kindle will be “improved and cheaper,” according to the Journal‘s sources. Neither one of the two Kindles will have a color screen, which is kind of a relief. They’ll both still have the familiar e-ink screens that we’ve all gotten so comfortable with.

The tablet will have a nine-inch screen — smaller than the iPad — and I’m assuming it will run the apps that Amazon’s selling in their Android app store. The tablet won’t have a camera, but it will be optimized for the content you can buy at Amazon — like music files, movies and video downloads, and, of course, e-books from the Kindle store. Without a camera, someone suggested in the comments on the article, the device will probably be much cheaper.

“…if i were to guess it feels like Amazon is trying to strip it down and bring it in at the lowest cost possible. They’re more concerned with their core businesses (e-books, video, and a web store) than they are with creating a video chat tool.

The Wall Street Journal didn’t have any more details, but it’s still very exciting news. And I think that excitement bodes well for the prospects for this new Android tablet. I’m not the only one who thinks so, judging by the comments on the article.

“If Amazon can streamline the device and bring it in under $300, I think it’ll sell like hotcakes.”

Click here to read this blog on your Kindle
in a free two-week trial!

Nook vs. Kindle – the Battle Heats Up

Amazon two-screen Kindle Android tablet

Blogger Dave Katz imagines Amazon’s next device


The Nook outsold the Kindle in the first three months of 2011.

That’s according to the research firm IDC — though there’s more to the story. Sales for all digital readers dropped dramatically — by nearly 50% — in the first three months of 2011, according to their analysis, from 6.5 million readers to just 3.3 million. And apparently, it’s normal for sales to drop after the big spike in buying before Christmas.

“IDC analysts blamed the shipment drops on a normal first-quarter seasonality,” notes one article, which also cites “slow economic conditions and supply constraints” as a possible reason for the slow-down in sales. But the research firm is still predicting 16.2 million readers will be shipped in 2011 — 24% more than the year before. “IDC sees the first quarter as an aberration, with e-reader sales picking up during the remainder of the year.”

There’s two things that make this really interesting. First, IDC says the Nook outsold the Kindle partly because they have a color version of their digital reader. And second, they note that tablets with an Android operating system actually increased their share of the tablet market to 34% — more than 8.2% higher than it was just three months earlier. Does this suggest Amazon’s future should be a color, Android tablet? If these statistics are true, Amazon’s facing real pressure to deliver an exciting new product when they release their next device.

It’s an anxious environment — filled with eager anticipating, and the delicious mystery of what Amazon will do — and it’s led to new whispers about how the next Amazon device will look. One blogger heard it will have two different screens, an e-ink screen on one side and a color/LCD screen on the other. “File this one under unsubstantiated rumor,” joked blogger Dave Zatz — and reactions to the idea were mixed, judging by the comments left on his site. “This is awesome!” wrote one reader. ” Essentially, it is a hybrid ereader tablet. Perfect for the Amazon brand.”

“Sounds absurd,” wrote a second reader. “If Amazon’s first tablet is dual screen monstrosity, there won’t be a second Amazon tablet.” And another commenter even dubbed it the Franken-Kindle. “This seems like a bad idea and/or hoax. There is no need for Amazon to mess with a good thing…”

“This is a rumor that you can write off as an impossibility…” read a post at another blog called The Kindle Reader. “I’m sure Amazon played with the concept, but I don’t see how they could plan to release one.” But on that site, another comment offered a theory that was even more interesting. “It may simply be that Amazon is developing a tablet that can in fact drive an e-ink panel and an LCD using the same motherboard, firmware, battery, etc.” Of course, they also proposed a third theory. “It may also be that someone at Amazon (Bezos?) is having a bit of fun off the rumormongers.

“I know I would if I were him.”

Inside Jeff Bezos’s Head: Amazon’s Android Tablet?

Inside the head of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos - what is he thinking

I think I’ve learned a secret about Amazon. On June 7, Amazon held its annual shareholder’s meeting, and I just took a closer look at my notes. They offer a fascinating peek inside the mind of Jeff Bezos. But can they answer the question about what’s in Amazon’s future?

It seemed like the shareholder’s had one question on their mind: is Amazon building an iPad-style tablet? No one asked the question directly, but several seemed to ask it indirectly. For example, one shareholder asked Bezos how Amazon’s online retail business would look in 10 years. And it seemed like Bezos took the bait.

“One thing that I think will change is that we will see way better mobile devices, even than we have today,” he told the crowd. And then he switched to a historical perspective. “If you look back five years — try using the web on a mobile device five years ago. It was an extraordinarily painful experience. “Today it’s still a marginal experience, in many cases,” he said significantly. “If you have a good WiFi connection and a very good, you know, uh, smartphone or tablet, it’s now getting to be a pretty good situation. But with the average phone that people have and the average cellular connection that people have, the mobile browsing experience is still a pretty marginal one.

“That is going to change.”

Maybe he was just talking generally about the progress of handheld devices, since he also predicted that “we’re going to continue to have pervasive wireless bandwidth that’s going to continue to increase. And the form factors of the phones — the displays, the battery life — smart phones are going to get smarter. They’re going to get better. They’re going to be unbelievably good as web browsing devices.” And then he hit on Amazon’s real stake in the creation of better mobile devices. “That is a huge tailwind for Amazon in our retail business, and so we’re very excited about that.”

But sure enough, next he stopped talking about smartphones and started talking about tablets — while still focusing on its impact on Amazon’s retail business. “I feel the same way about tablets. Most of our customers shop with us from laptops or desktop computers. But people have a different posture with tablets — like, lean back on their sofa. And people leaning back on their sofa, buying things from Amazon, is another tailwind for our business. I’m very excited about that.”

There was a similar moment when another shareholder asked a question about Yahoo’s new “cloud” service (where digital music and video are stored online for access through multiple devices). Maybe that’s all Bezos was talking about — but I wondered if he was thinking about the possibility of playing music and video on Amazon tablet devices. Bezos said that “integrating those consumer experiences, those digital media experiences, into the cloud is something that will be very helpful — for consumers.” Whether it’s consumer-facing or developer-facing, “these are big markets that can support lots of winners,” Bezos said. “And so as has been our practice from the very beginning, we will stay heads-down, focus on the customer experience, and…expect that there will be other winners as well.”

I could be seeing what I want to see in everything that Jeff Bezos said — but Amazon’s other shareholders seemed curious too. The next question raised some of the same issues in more general terms, asking simply “Should we think of you as a technology company, an infrastructure company, an e-commerce company?”

Yes,” Bezos replied. And of course, if you’re reading between the lines, it’s easy to see the same pattern in his answer.

“In the last six years, as we’ve built Amazon Web services, we’ve also become a company that provides technology. Now we sell technology, which really we hadn’t done. We’d been users of our own proprietary technology, and now we’re on both sides of that.

“And I like both sides of that….”

What’s Behind Amazon’s New Hiring Spree?

help_wanted sign

Amazon is suddenly hiring new employees for customer service centers in six different states. Is this yet-another clue that Amazon’s planning to release a tablet-sized computer soon?

Just Wednesday Amazon announced they were building a new customer fulfillment center in Washington — 500,000-square-foot facility creating “several hundred” new full-time jobs. But last week Amazon also tucked six different press releases onto their web site, each one advertising a new hiring campaign at Amazon’s order fulfillment centers in one of six different states. (“Candidates should be highly motivated with drive, ambition and a passion for providing customers a first-class shopping experience.”) The press releases cite new hiring in each of the following regions.

Phoenix, Arizona
Goodyear Arizona
Coffeyville, Kansas
New Castle, Delaware
Fernley, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Kentucky
Pennyslvania

The press releases are identical, except that there’s no mention of any technical support openings in the press release for Kentucky. And in addition, according to the Seattle Times “Amazon is looking for hundreds of additional technology workers for its expanding headquarters complex in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

It’s hard to imagine why Amazon suddenly needs so many new employees all across the country — unless they’re anticipating a sudden spike in purchasing. And it seems to me that that “trigger” could be the release of a tablet-sized computing device. Amazon would pre-load the devices with a slick shopping application, and would probably offer ways to connect the devices into their discount shipping program. If Amazon were planning the release of such a device, they’d definitely want to build up their ability to fulfill the extra orders!

And there’s one reason why Amazon would need service centers all across the country. Amazon’s “Prime” shipping program specifically promises free two-day shipping on orders — and a discount on the even speedier one-day shipping. Maybe Amazon anticipates a flood of new tablet owners signing up for the Prime” program, making it even more important to fill orders from a nearby state, ensuring the speedy delivery times while reducing Amazon’s own shipping costs.

Of course, it’s possible that Amazon.com is just expanding beyond its current capability. “Many years ago, Amazon’s requirements reached a point where many of our systems could no longer be served by any commercial solution,” Jeff Bezos revealed Wednesday in a letter to shareholders, because “our key data services store many petabytes of data and handle millions of requests per second.” Maybe he’s learned a lesson — especially since this year Amazon’s sales have been 38% higher than they were for the same period a year ago. But it’s also possible that he’s learned a different lesson from Amazon’s experience with the Kindle.

Namely, the value of selling consumers a really cool device which lets them buy things from Amazon.com.

Will the iPad kill the Kindle?

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle

There was some controversy when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a new book-reading Kindle application for the iPad. “Is Amazon Killing the Kindle?” asked The Motley Fool, noting that Amazon offered extra video and audio features in their Kindle applications for both the iPad and iPhone.

It’s possible to embed multimedia clips directly into the ebooks, so they can then be played back in the Kindle applications for these devices – though not, ironically, on a Kindle. The Motley Fool noted that Amazon was making an effort to support Kindle applications not only on Apple’s mobile devices, but also on Google’s Android platform and Droid phones. (And there’s also a Kindle app available for the Blackberry.) “But will that support come at the expense of the Kindle itself?” Noting that Amazon is now “putting out a better product for the non-Kindle owning crowd,” they wondered if Amazon was refocusing its energy on the sale of ebooks — rather than on their own ebook-reading device!

For an answer, let’s go to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. Interviewed by Fortune magazine, he was first asked point-blank about the iPad, and, basically, whether Amazon felt doomed by Apple’s entry into the marketplace for tablet-sized reading devices. Was the threat of competition what pushed Amazon into dramatically lowering the Kindle’s price last month?

“No. The iPad… It’s really a different product category. The Kindle is for readers.”

But the interview also offers an interesting statistic — last year, 80% of all ebook sales came through Amazon’s store. (Bezos jokes that “It’s hard even for us to remember internally that we only launched Kindle a little over 30 months ago.”) So it still stands to reason that Amazon is just as interested in protecting their book-selling business as they are in their secondary business of selling Kindles. That’s the secret subtext when Bezos answers a question about whether Amazon can hang onto its share of the ebook market.

“We want people to be able to read their books anywhere they want to read them. That’s the PC, that’s the Macintosh. It’s the iPad, it’s the iPhone. It’s the Kindle. So you have this whole multitude of devices and whatever’s most convenient for you at the moment.

“We think of it as a mission. I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it’s not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.”

It’s a fascinating interview, because you get the idea that Bezos really, really loves books. At the same time, he also admits that “I think the definition of a book is changing.” He defines that change specifically in areas where the Kindle is strong, saying that the book is now “getting more convenient. Now you can get a book in less than 60 seconds.” But in the end, he still never answers the big question of whether Amazon sees its future in the sale of Kindles — or in the sale of ebooks, to all devices.

Fortunately, there’s one more piece of data. You may have seen Amazon’s new television ad, where they emphasize that you can read your Kindle at the beach, in direct sunlight. (Which would obviously be nearly impossible with the back-lit screen of an iPad.) If Amazon were surrendering to the iPad, then they wouldn’t be wasting their money on an expensive TV ad campaign. To me, this strongly suggests that Amazon is still serious about staying in the market for tablet-shaped devices.

But ironically, back in January — before the iPad had even been released — I’d already written an article asking Could Apple’s iPad Kill the Kindle? Maybe it’s ultimately just a perpetually trendy question — and an indicator that Kindle users feel overly protective of their beloved device!