On Thursday, Amazon released not one, not two, but FIVE new Kindles.
With sharper (and larger) displays, enhanced battery life, and new aggressive price points, the new Kindles don't just take aim at recently released and soon to be released "mini-tablets" from Apple and Google, they also raise a provocative question: Can Apple still be considered the unquestioned "king of media content" as far as internet is concerned?
Before we get to that though, consider the new devices.
The newest e-ink, the Kindle “Paperwhite,” features a front-lit screen with 62% more pixels for better resolution and new, more accurate "capacitive" touch screen technology. Depending on your wireless needs (Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi +3G), prices ranges $119 to $179. The real kicker? Battery life; this year's model lasts for 8 weeks with the light on.
The much-loved and lightly upgraded previous model receives a $10 entry level price cut, down to $69.
The new Kindle Fire, the full color tablet powered in part by Google’s Android operating system,starts at an almost unheard of $159.
A more upmarket Kindle Fire HD model featuring a high definition display and front facing camera is for sale at $199 and a larger 8.9" version available for $100 more. An even higher end $499 model offers limited 4G LTE internet for $49 annually.
For comparison, Google’s 7- inch Nexus Tablet starts at $199. Apple’s older 9.7-inch iPad 2 starts at $399 and its current model $499.
However, the real story isn't the hardware. It's Amazon's enhancements to its already robust content:
- Thanks to IMDB you can now identify actors onscreen simply by tapping their face.
- New “Whispersync Audio” technology allows you to sync audio and e-books so you can read along with a human narrator (Samuel L Jackson was used in a demo).
- Games purchased in the Amazon App store automatically save where you stop playing them, regardless of whether you delete them and reinstall.
- New X-Ray features allow you to connect to more easily access relevant Wikipedia and YouTube content related to your purchases.
-Parental Controls can now limit kids usage time by feature. 4 hours of reading but only 2 hours of games? No problem.
Perhaps the best summation of the import of these new features was the philosophy espoused by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during the big reveal. According to Bezos, "We want to make money when people use our Devices not when they buy them."
Like Amazon, Apple offers movie, TV, and e-textbook rentals and purchases, music albums, games, and powerful productivity tools through its groundbreaking iTunes service, as well as its App Store. They both also offer useful remote storage or "Cloud" features.
Unlike Apple, Amazon is willing to go to extreme lengths to draw people into its online store and indeed its ecosystem.By undercutting Apple's tablets by price and size, offering album and e-book deals at severe discounts (ex. $9.99 for new ebooks), and most importantly, selling its wares through apps available on any phone or tablet operating system, Amazon is aiming for a ubiquity that directly challenges the more platform-locked exclusivity of Apple's selection.
It's also important to remember that unlike Apple, Amazon doesn't just sell media content, it also sells well, everything. A purchaser of a $79 Amazon Prime membership (the first month of which is free with a Kindle purchase) doesn't just receive access to free streaming movies, TV shows, and book rentals on a Kindle or computer, it also grants the consumer steeply discounted two-day shipping on everything from shoes and electronics to food. There are even discounts for students and "moms."
With owners of 3G E-ink Kindles receiving free internet access to Amazon's store, the combined inertial effect of these cross-purchase discounts can draw in consumers of video service Netflix, electronics retailer Best Buy, and bookseller Barnes and Noble, in addition to users of Apple's iTunes.
In fact, there’s ample evidence of the impact of this competitive shift. Apple and several publishers’ response to Amazon’s e-book pricing led to accusations of collusion by the Justice Department. A settlement between the department and several publishers (excluding Apple) was approved by a federal judge today.
It's likely that Apple's new iPhone and long rumored “iPad mini” will alter this competitive equation somewhat, but probably not by much.
The fact of the matter is, with its new tablets and even more compelling content, Amazon isn't just seeking a “feature by feature“ battle in terms of hardware and media, it's raising the stakes in the cross platform battle for customer loyalty in general.
Did you know that you can borrow ebooks (not just Kindle ebooks) from your local library? And you don’t even need an e-reader? Check out the New York Public Library’s selection at ebooks.nypl.org.