A Kindle that never needs charging?

Kindle display system never needs to be recharged

Here’s a new rumor about a truly amazing possibility, like something straight out of a science fiction story about futuristic new technology. Amazon may be working on a super-light Kindle — which may never, ever need to be charged — and which could even be incorporated into transparent surfaces like the windshield of your car! And crazy as it sounds, at least part of the story has already been confirmed. You can actually read Amazon’s description for this new technology online in a patent application that they’ve filed with the U.S. government.

The magic happens by transforming the Kindles that you’d hold into your hand into a simplified “portable display” device, according to the patent. These lighter hand-held Kindles would just need to communicate with another larger “station” which would handle all the heavy computational tasks (like transmitting the text of your Kindle ebooks). This ultimately means your hand wouldn’t have to hold up all the extra computer circuitry that’s required now for displaying ebooks on your Kindle’s screen. But besides transmitting data to your Kindle, these stations might even be able to transmit electricity to your Kindle, meaning that while it’s receiving the text of an ebook, it’s also receiving the power to display it!

But Amazon may have some even bigger ideas besides making lighter Kindles that never need to be charged. The patent was first discovered by the technology blog GeekWire, which first pointed out another big advantage of moving the extra processing power away from the hand-held Kindle devices. “It goes unmentioned in the filing, but another benefit of this approach would be to drive down device costs and prices – a topic near and dear to the heart of Bezos and Amazon.” There’s still a question about who’d pay for those larger stations that transmit the ebooks and electricity, but Amazon’s patent provides the example of a college with “multiple primary stations” installed, so that all across their campus, students could access digital text books, “and may no longer need to carry multiple, heavy books around campus.”

And there’s some even crazier ideas further down into Amazon’s patent — like transmitting data directly into the windshield of your car! The display would be “at least partially transparent or opaque, such that no portion of the windshield is completely blocked and…complies with local traffic laws.” I’d been thinking Amazon would transmit the text of ebooks to the passenger side of the window, but they’re thinking of other kinds of information, according to their patent, including “caller ID information, the temperature outside the vehicle, traffic alerts or any other appropriate information (e.g., nearest gas station, hotel)…”

Even your eyeglasses could start receiving data transmitted from Amazon’s system, according to their patent application. Having a light, simplified device means that “the user can utilize the glasses as a display screen when desired,” Amazon writes. And since that display is receiving data, Amazon’s imagining more than just ebooks being transmitted, and suggests that their devices could ultimately become “an earpiece that allows a user to hear audio information and/or provide audio input.” That sounds like a new kind of phone/Kindle combination that doesn’t even require a phone or a Kindle. And Amazon points out that the station could also transmit power to these devices — possibly creating a new mutant kind of phone which would never need to be re-charged.

It’s a fascinating reminder of just how quickly our world has been changing. (One technology blog speculates that Kindles might even become “as thin as the paper they replaced”.) But it’s even possible that Kindles might disappear altogether, leaving nothing behind but the words from your ebooks, being transmitted into your eyeglasses, your watch, or the windows of your car. I love these “what if” moments, where you wonder what new technologies might be coming in the future.

And it looks like someone else is wondering very seriously about that too. The multi-billion dollar company that invented the Kindle….

Amazon Denies Rumors of a $99 Kindle Fire HD

kindle-fire (via Reuters)

Wow! Wouldn’t it be awesome if you got a color, touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet — with an HD screen — for just $99? And one well-respected technology blog reported just that possibility on Wednesday. “We’re now hearing that a $99 Kindle Fire 7″ tablet is in production, and will be shipping this year,” wrote Sarah Perez at the technology blog TechCrunch.

But just hours later, a business news blog was reporting that Amazon had already issued an official denial of that report. “It’s not happening,” BusinessInsider quotes Amazon as saying. “We are already at the lowest price points possible for that hardware.” Of course, BusinessInsider had already run their own story about the possibility of a $99 high-definition Kindle Fire Tablet — citing as their source that first blog post which appeared on TechCrunch. It now appears below Amazon’s official denial, and BusinessInsider is probably glad they’d added a few skeptical sentences (noting, for example, that TechCrunch had called the story a “rumor” that she was “hearing”.)

It’s a really fun idea, though, so I enjoyed reading the rest of the analysis from BusinessInsider. (“It’s a stunning price point, but it’s not totally crazy from Amazon…”) They note that TechCrunch reported Amazon may have gotten a discount on the chips for their tablets, and adds that “it’s not hard to envision Amazon selling a Kindle Fire tablet at or just below its manufacturing cost.” BusinessInsider‘s best estimates are that Amazon spends $174 to build the 7-inch version of their tablets, but their reporter also notes that Amazon’s CEO “says he wants to make money when people use a Kindle, not when they buy one.

“This makes Amazon completely different than Apple, which makes money on hardware, and picks up some additional revenue from apps and content…”

It’s almost obligatory for articles like this to ask who wins and who loses. Microsoft and Google would both be threatened by a $99 tablet, BusinessInsider concludes, because neither company has significant traction yet in the market for selling tablets. Apple wouldn’t be threatened now, but “In the long run, like in five years, it will be a problem for Apple because the price of an Amazon tablet isn’t going up. The software and hardware aren’t going to get worse, they’re only getting better.” And what’s fascinating is that all of that is absolutely true, even if Amazon isn’t releasing a $99 version of their high-definition Kindle Fire tablets.

Inevitably, reporters have to play these elaborate games of “What if…?”, because it’s all part of sorting out whether the rumor really is plausible. But it’s also a fun exercise on its own, reminding us that we do indeed living in interesting times, where you really never know what’s coming next. Wow! Wouldn’t it be awesome if you got a color, touchscreen Kindle Fire tablet — with an HD screen — for just $99?

Yes, it would….

Why Amazon’s Discontinued the Kindle Fire – Three Great Theories

Kindle Fire 1

Amazon’s made two big announcements in the last week – both about their Kindle Fire tablets. And now technology watchers are trying to put the pieces together, offering up their best guess about what Amazon is really up to!

Earlier this month, Amazon was temporarily sold out of their Kindle Touch – and bloggers took it as a sign that Amazon was about to release a new model within a week. Instead, Amazon announced a big press event for September 6th — exactly one week from today. And this morning, the anticipation continued to build as Amazon offered another tantalizing piece of information: that they’d sold every last one of their current Kindle Fire tablets, and they apparently weren’t going to make any more of this model.

“We’re grateful to the millions of customers who have made Kindle Fire the most successful product launch in the history of Amazon…” Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement, confirming Amazon was “sold out” of their current Kindle Fire, but adding that “we have an exciting roadmap ahead…” If you visit the current Kindle Fire’s page on Amazon, you’re now told that they’re available from “these sellers”. Amazon’s basically pointing to people who are selling used Kindle Fire tablets.

But why did Amazon discontinue sales of their original Kindle Fire tablets? Here’s some of the best theories.

Amazon Misjudged Their Own Launch Date
You can’t just stop the production of a technology product with one phone call. Amazon has to scheduled the delivery of all the necessary electronic components well in advance, and the Associated Press seems to think that today’s just the day that the parts ran out. (“Thursday’s announcement that the first model is ‘sold out’ suggests that Amazon halted production a while ago to retool for a new model.”) Unfortunately, this leaves Amazon with no tablets to sell for the next seven days. But maybe Amazon actually has something to gain by halting production…

Amazon’s Deliberately Raising Expectations
Amazon’s comment about an exciting upcoming “road map” seems like a not-so-coy hint that next week’s press conference will be about the next generation of Kindle Fire tablets. And at the technology site Slashdot, at least one poster thinks this is all part of a very deliberate campaign by Amazon. “This development strikes me as a classic ‘Build anticipation for KF2’ thing, not a ‘Phew, we got rid of the things. They were taking up space’ type complaint. ” Next week, when Amazon announces a new tablet, there’ll now be a full week of pent-up demand for a color Kindle tablets.

Amazon’s saving money
I stumbled across an interesting statistic this week. In November, Time magazine’s “Moneyland” site calculated that Amazon was actually losing money with its Amazon Prime shipping service — and that on average, Amazon was losing $11 for each Prime customer. “They must have been subsidizing the Kindle Fire,” argues another commenter at Slashdot. “That’s the only reason I can think of that they would stop making money [by ending Kindle Fire sales early]. It’s like how Microsoft used to lose money on every Xbox sold, or Sony and the PS3. They wanted a foot in the door of the market, and their next offering will be something that makes them money for each unit sold, rather than losing them money.”

What’s the real story? Who knows. But Amazon is obviously planning something big, . And if their plan was to increase the curiousity among Kindle owner — it’s working!

Will Amazon Lower Prices for Kindle Fire Tablets?

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet plays apps

What would you say if Amazon lowered the price on their Kindle Fire tablets, to just $149? I’d say “Wow! That’s a 25% discount! And it’ll probably help the tablets attract a huge, new audience…” Well, Amazon actually is considering a new $149 price-tag for the Kindle Fire. At least, according to a rumor that’s being reported on several technology blogs…

Digitimes cites sources “from the upstream supply chain” who expect Amazon to release a new Kindle Fire tablet in July with a higher screen resolution (1280 x 800). And since the new tablets will cost $199, Amazon will offer a discount on the earlier models (which have a slightly lower screen resolution of 1024 x 600). According to Digitimes, Amazon sold less than 800,000 Kindle Fire tablets in the first three months of 2012, after racking up sales of close to 5 million when it was first launched at the end of 2011. So Amazon’s hoping to grow the user base for the Kindle Fire by offering a big drop in the price!

That might help Amazon’s tablet fight off some new competitors, according to a technology blog at ZDNet. They noted that Google may even be planning to release a tablet of their own soon to compete with the Kindle Fire, and in May they cited another threat after Apple reduced the price of an iPad 2 to just $399. To remain competitive, Amazon may soon lower the price of the Kindle Fire to just $149. “The strategy is straight out of Apple’s playbook: dropping the price of the previous generation’s hardware in order to expand its market share. It worked with the iPod and iPhone…”

Of course, Amazon hasn’t forgotten their other Kindles, and the “upstream sources” also shared their thoughts about the next generation of devices. Later this year, they expect Amazon to release some brand new versions of the black-and-white Kindle e-readers too, possibly in different sizes. And towards the end of this year, they even expect Amazon to release a larger Kindle Fire, with a 10.1-inch screen.

So if you’re shopping for a new Kindle this year, it looks like Amazon will have some exciting announcements for you soon!

Amazon’s Releasing a New Kindle by July?

Finger on Kindle Touch

Believe it or not, now there’s even more rumors about Amazon’s next Kindle. Within 10 weeks, Amazon will release a “front-lit” touchscreen Kindle, according to Reuters. They cite a source “who has seen the prototype” and has “direct knowledge” of Amazon’s plans. Yes, it’ll probably drain your battery a little faster, but there’s a real demand for it, a technology analyst tells the news organization. And it’s just one of many interesting new rumors emering about Amazon’s next Kindles

Ironically, their source also contradicts an earlier rumor. Just last weekend the technology blogs claimed that Amazon was already ordering parts for a color E-Ink Kindle — but the article from Reuters is reporting very different information. “The source said that there was very little chance of Amazon launching one this year. Though Amazon has held can talks with E Ink, the companies haven’t reached any concrete decisions yet, he said.” And they’ve tracked down another on-the-record source — an analyst who tracks the supply chains for electronic components — who had doubts about the last color E-ink parts that they’d seen in October. To be used on a mass scale, they’d require more refinements, he told the news organization on Tuesday, adding pointedly that “I doubt if the color Kindle is ready for a launch.”

Besides, Amazon already has their color, touchscreen tablets, the Kindle Fire, and Amazon also has some new plans for that product line, according to Reuters. According to their source, Amazon is planning a larger version of the tablet — its screen will measure 8.9 inches diagonally — but they won’t release it until later in 2012, when it’s closer to the big Christmas shopping season. Of course, it’s hard to know where the Kindle is really going just from reading predictions in newspapers. Each one seems to have small bits of information — which sometimes contradict each other!

For example, the sales of the Kindle Fire are actually slumping, according to one source. “Amazon wasn’t able to sustain its tablet sales momentum during the first quarter…” reports eWeek, noting that after the big burst of Christmas sales, Amazon’s share of the tablet market for the next three months “fell from nearly 17 percent…to just above 4 percent.” The statistics come from the technology analysts at IDC, whose figures suggest that in the first three months of 2012, where Apple sold 11.8 million iPads, Amazon sold about 700,000 Kindle Fire tablets.

Of course, maybe the larger screen will improve the sales of Amazon’s color tablets. Or maybe there’ll be a surge in new owners for the E-Ink Kindles, if the front-lighting turns out to be surprisingly popular. A columnist at Forbes magazine even suggests that Amazon might eventually end up selling their ebooks to Nook owners! When you’re talking about the future, anything is possible.

That’s one of the fun things about being part of the Kindle revolution…

Amazon Offers $30 Discount on Kindle Fire!

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

Amazon “just took the gloves off,” begins an article at C|Net. Only days after Barnes and Noble discounted their color touchscreen tablets — to just $199 — Amazon announced an even cheaper price for their own Kindle Fire tablets. “Save $30 with a Certified Refurbished Kindle Fire,” Amazon now advertises on the device’s web page. “Each Certified Refurbished Kindle Fire is tested, certified, and repackaged like new…

For a shortcut to the special offer, just point your computer’s web browser to tinyurl.com/169KindleFire (“Comes with the same one-year limited warranty as a brand-new Kindle Fire…” Amazon is reminding potential buyers.) “[T]his deal first went live on Saturday,” C|Net‘s reporter notes, “and I’ve been checking all weekend to make sure they’re still in stock.

“As of this morning, they are.”

C}Net’s reporter doesn’t even own a Kindle Fire tablet, but writes that “for $169 I’m extremely tempted — especially considering that Amazon backs it with a full one-year warranty, same as new Fires…For all intents and purposes, this refurbished Fire should be the same as a new one — just $30 less. Who’s in?”

I’ve been intrigued by the extra capabilities in Amazon’s color, touchscreen tablets, and yes, they’re more appealing now that the price is cheaper. But is the discount just a hint at an even more interesting possibility? Just hours after C|Net‘s article, a reporter at PC magazine asked an even more intriguing question. Was the Kindle Fire tablet just a beta release?

“Last summer, I was one of the first to write in detail about Amazon’s Kindle Fire, expected in the fall of 2011,” writes Tim Bajarin. “My sources on this were impeccable and early on I got a good idea of what Amazon had up its sleeves. However, during my discussion with my sources on this, one interesting tidbit came up that I have not written about until now…” He reports that even while Amazon was building their 7-inch Kindle tablet, they were already thinking about a much larger tablet, and writes that he now believes “that the larger tablet will be its marquee product and the hopeful cornerstone of its tablet strategy.”

He estimates a larger tablet would cost Amazon around $300 to build, which suggests its ultimate price could come in around $299. Besides the obvious popularity of the iPad, he considers other clues that Amazon’s first tablet device was basically just a trial run. (For example, there’s the odd placement for the on-off switch, and the way that the volume controls are currently available only on the screen of the device.) “In no way was Amazon being dishonest with its customers — rather, the opposite,” writes the reporter. “For a low price, Amazon delivered a solid tablet experience… To be truly fair, many people may never want a screen larger than seven inches because of the associated weight and bulk.”

But his article still left me very excited about the possibility of a larger Kindle Fire tablet. “[U]sers must realize that the Kindle Fire is an important stepping stone for Amazon. It has allowed the company to garner key consumer feedback so it can create an even better product that can compete with the iPad and, in the end, deliver an even better user experience for its customers.

“After all, as industry insiders joke, all first-generation products, whether hardware or software, are really ‘beta’ programs disguised as initial launches.”

And remember: you can still buy my newly-released word game for the Kindle, “Throw in the Vowel,” for just $1.99!

Is Amazon Building a Kindle Smartphone?

Will Amazon build a Kindle smartphone instead of an app

It was almost a year ago that we listened to all those rumors about an upcoming color Kindle from Amazon. When Amazon finally announced the Kindle Fire this September, everyone already knew what to expect — an iPad-style tablet with a touchscreen that could also play videos. Now a few months later, there’s a brand new rumor in town. The next Kindle-riffic device coming from Amazon may be a smartphone!

“Amazon will try to compete on price, like it does with the Fire,” reports one business analyst, suggesting Amazon could reduce the smartphone’s price until they’re just breaking even. Amazon would produce smartphones for around $170 — and then try to earn money by selling “media” (like music files, videos, apps, and of course, ebooks). The device would be cheaper than “high-end” phones, but Amazon still faces a lot of competition.

“This seems totally crazy,” responds a technology reporter in San Francisco. “Amazon doesn’t do anything significantly better than other smartphone vendors…” But Amazon’s mastered the art of selling, and they’ve fine-tuned it over more than a decade. So the reporter also identifies what may be Amazon’s secret weapon: they know all about your shopping habits.

“If you’re an Amazon customer, it knows what you buy, when you bought it, who you bought it for, and how often you return. It also has a bunch of other customer buying habits which it could use to predict what you might be interested in.” Instead of just selling media files from Amazon’s web site, Amazon could sell you real-world items from the stores in your neighborhood. And because they know your purchasing patterns, Amazon could tie the “special offers” to your known interests – and, to your location!

The phones could include a “digital wallet” that’s tied to your Amazon account, the reporter speculates, which might communicate with a special Amazon kiosk that retailers could install, taking e-commerce off the web, and creating “mobile commerce”. (Like the Kindle Fire tablet, it’s not just a handheld device – it’s also a shopping platform!) And the reporter also points out that Amazon has already invested in “Living Social”, a service which offers Daily Deals to share among your digital friends. Could Amazon tie this all together into a new way to shop?

I’m excited about the possibility, but for an entirely different reason. I’ve always wanted a Kindle “Mini” — an iPod-sized screen that just displays ebooks, so the cost still stays nice and low. I like using the Kindle app on my smartphone, because then there’s always something for me to read waiting in my pocket. It almost feels like a “cute” technology – reading ebooks on an adorable miniature screen.

Amazon’s probably realized that a lot of people are already reading their Kindle books with a smartphone app. The only question now may be what to call Amazon’s new Kindle phone. The KPhone? The Phindle?

The Kindle Spark?

When is Amazon Releasing the Kindle 4?

shh - finger to lips - secret rumor

I think I’ve discovered a secret. The source for a big rumor about Amazon’s next Kindle now appears to have changed their story!

It’s something I stumbled across while reviewing all the articles about what Amazon is planning next for the Kindle. Strong rumors suggest that Amazon is planning to release a new iPad-style tablet — but three weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal also reported two additional rumors. Citing people “familiar with Amazon’s thinking,” the Journal reported that Amazon also planned to release two new versions of the Kindle. One of these Kindles would have a touchscreen (like the newest version of the Nook that was recently released by Barnes and Noble). And the Journal also reported that by the end of September, Amazon would release an “improved and cheaper” version of the Kindle.

But strangely, the second claim is no longer appearing in the Journal’s article!

You can still see that original claim being quoted in articles around the web — even though the Journal has now removed it from its site. (For example, this article from PC Magazine quotes the Journal article as saying Amazon would release “an improved and cheaper adaptation of the current Kindle.”) Does this mean Amazon won’t be releasing a cheaper version of the Kindle along with the touch-screen version? My guess is the newspaper’s source later contacted them with a correction, or with updated information — and the Journal quietly edited their original piece to reflect the new information.

I could be wrong about the significance of this change, so consider it a new rumor about an old rumor. But an even more important question is when will Amazon release the next version of the Kindle. And I also have my own theory about that.

It’s easy to see if you check the dates for when Amazon’s released past upgrades to their Kindle. In November of 2007, Amazon released their first Kindle — and then released a newer version just 15 months later (the Kindle 2). That was in February of 2009, and nearly the same amount of time then elapsed before the release of the Kindle 3 in August of 2010. (The total time between the two Kindles was now 18 months.) Of course, Amazon released a slight upgrade in May of 2011 — the cheaper Kindle with Special Offers. But if Amazon sticks to their original pattern, they’ll release “the Kindle 4” within 15 to 18 months from the time that they released the last Kindle. That would mean we’d seen the Kindle 4 between November and February.

But of course, Amazon would want to release their new Kindle before the big pre-Christmas shopping season. (Once an analyst calculated that 47% of the people who owned a Kindle actually received it as a gift!) So to catch the big wave of shoppers, Amazon would almost certainly move up the release date of the Kindle 4 so it’s available for the big “Black Friday” sales that happen on the day after Thanksgiving. The only real question is whether they’d release the Kindle on that crucial November shopping day — or a few weeks earlier, so that shoppers could hear about it first in a big wave of pre-Thanksgiving publicity. And it turns out that my estimate is within eight weeks of what the Wall Street Journal predicted — that the next version of the Kindle would be released before the end of September.

But then again, the Journal also reported — and then apparently retracted — a claim that Amazon would release a new Kindle which was “improved and cheaper”.