An Update on the Kindle Phone!

Image of Amazon tablet Press Conference announcement September 28th

I love my Kindle — but there’s now of fascinating rumors about new ebook-reading devices that will be coming from Amazon. We’ve already heard how Apple might be building a watch with an iPhone-like interface. But now there’s reports that seem to confirm that Amazon’s building its very own smartphone!

In December Amazon had already placed orders for 5 million Kindle-branded smartphones, according to one technology blog. It could be as cheap as $100, and no more than $200, according to the report — so you could get a Kindle-branded phone for about the cost of one of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets. And it’s being developed by the same people who have been producing Amazon’s Kindle e-readers (and their Kindle Fire tablets). That’s the good news — but unfortunately, Amazon “may not be able to release its first smartphone in the second quarter of 2013 as originally scheduled” (according to sources within the supply chain for Amazon’s electronic parts).

Right now they’re conducting “engineering verification testing” to work out some issues — which at least one hardware blog concludes must be related to porting the Kindle operating system to a phone. The theory is that Amazon is adapting the same version of the Android operating system that they’ve been using with their Kindle Fire tablets. Amazon’s smartphone is one of those in-demand products which has never actually been released. “The device was expected to be among the latest batch of Kindle Fire tablet refreshes last fall,” notes the hardware blog, “but that never happened.” In fact, Amazon may be less worried about Apple, and more about Microsoft. The blogger reports the general presumption at the time was that Amazon “was waiting to tackle Microsoft’s own Surface-branded offering until the first report of delays began to surface.”

Here’s my favorite part of his story. He notes that Amazon has never, ever actually said that they’re building a smartphone — “but it hasn’t denied its existence either.” In fact, on a recent interview on the Charlie Rose talk show, Amazon’s CEO was asked point-blank whether the rumors were true, and a he gave a less than convincing denial. “I agree that there are a bunch of rumors that we might do a phone,” Jeff Bezos replied.

“You’ll just have to wait and see.”

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?