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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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January 31, 2013 11:47 AM

Wow: Major Amazon.com site outage

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com is having a major site outage with the main storefront unavailable. I wonder if it will slow the recent gains in Amazon.com stock - Amazon's sales average over $100,000 per minute.

Here's what I'm getting at my office next door to Amazon:

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While Amazon.com's main site is down, the company's web services provided to other companies are up and running fine, according to the Amazon Web Services health dashboard.

I've asked the company what's happening and will update if or when I hear back.

Meanwhile the stock's down about 2.5 percent to $265.80, after opening at $271.17.

UPDATE: The site is apparently back up. The stock isn't - it's down around $8.50.

Sitedown.co suggest the site was out for about an hour. Apparently the outage affected Amazon P.R. as well.

UPDATE 2: Spokesman Ty Rogers provided a statement confirming that there was an outage but providing no details about what happened. The statement:

"The gateway page of Amazon.com was offline to some customers for approximately 49 minutes. Other pages of the site were accessible and AWS was not impacted."

A person with inside knowledge of the situation said it was "not related to any outside group."

I haven't seen any heads rolling down Terry Avenue yet.

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January 28, 2013 9:44 AM

Education taxes loom, will tech companies pay?

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you had to put a face on the tech industry in Olympia, perhaps it should be that of Dudley Dursley, the pudgy, spoiled cousin of Harry Potter.

In the books, you can't resent Dudley as much as his parents, who raised the boy to expect the world -- with extra whipped cream and a few cherries on top. They shower him with treats and gifts, and only begrudgingly toss skinny little Harry a bone now and then.

If you think I'm being harsh, take a look at the latest tax proposals in the Legislature and how lawmakers, amid the latest funding crisis, are treating the state's huge tech companies.

Microsoft, Amazon.com and others are in line for even more sweets at their annual Olympia lovefest, while ordinary companies and residents are being forced to clean up the mess.

People across the state are facing huge tax increases over the next few years to cover a shortfall in education funding.

Tech companies would be exempted from the proposed tax increases for education, but that wasn't enough. They're also lobbying to be sure they keep getting other tax breaks that ordinary business people can only dream about.

What makes this especially galling is that tech companies keep calling for the state to improve its education system, especially when it comes to training their future tech workers.

This pleading works. Despite funding problems in recent years, the state found ways to enlarge the University of Washington's computer-science and engineering departments, largely by cutting back on other departments.

How are the chief beneficiaries showing their gratitude? By sidestepping the proposed new education taxes.

Basic education is a primary responsibility of the state under the Washington constitution. But for decades, lawmakers have been short-shrifting kids in the state, while ensuring that favorite industries get plenty of goodies.

After school districts sued, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to cover its education-funding shortfall. It's the biggest issue facing lawmakers this year.

The education-funding proposal left on the table by former Gov. Gregoire would raise taxes on gas, beer and companies doing business in Washington. Not high-tech businesses, though; they would be exempt from the extra 0.3 percent business and occupation tax that builders, bakers, restaurants and most every other business would pay for the next three years.

Collectively, the nontech businesses of the state would pay $248 million more next year under Gregoire's proposal. Gov. Inslee hasn't proposed an alternative yet, but don't count on him pressuring the tech companies that he embraced during his campaign.

The proposed gas tax would start at about 2 percent per gallon and rise to about 5 percent over the next four years. At the high end, that could add perhaps 16 cents to a gallon.

Gregoire's proposal would also extend a special $15.50 per barrel tax on beer for another three years.

Dudley Dursley will do fine, though. Olympia giveth, as well as taketh. (image via Harry Potter Wiki)

Amid the education-funding debacle, lawmakers are offering another big gift to tech companies.

First up is House Bill 1303, a proposal to extend a B&O tax credit for tech companies researching and developing new products. Companies can use the credit to reduce their state tax bill by up to $2 million a year. Tech companies took $23.1 million worth of the credits in 2011, the most recent year for which a tally is available.

This deal expires in 2015 but, with HB 1303, a group of eight lawmakers has proposed extending the bill for 20 years -- through 2035. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday before the House Technology and Economic Development Committee. (Here's the bill:HB 1303.pdf.)

I learned about the hearing from an email sent by a tech lobbying group, urging members to testify in support of extending both the B&O credit and an even more generous sales-tax break for tech companies. The sales-tax break also expires in 2015, and it's a safe bet that someone will propose extending it out into the distant future.

Special tax treatment for "high-tech" companies dates back to the early 1990s, when the state's software industry was beginning to bloom.

Originally the idea was to help companies developing complicated new products by letting them hold off on paying some taxes until their products went on sale.

Back then Microsoft was still building Windows 95 ,and Jeff Bezos was a young Wall Street banker.

As these tech companies grew and soared, so did the state's generosity. The circa 1994 plan to let them defer sales tax on product-development expenses morphed into a sales-tax exemption, and the state extended the program decade by decade.

Whether these tax breaks made a difference is debatable. Although the cost to the state is significant -- enough to cover much of its education shortfall -- the tax savings are immaterial for the large recipients.

Public assistance makes sense for young companies that may be struggling to pay for product development, before they make their first sales. But after they've grown up, they should be embarrassed to be asking for these perpetual handouts.

The biggest beneficiaries of these breaks are now giants. They're among the most prosperous companies in the world.

Microsoft, the most vocal proponent of improving math and science education, last week reported profit of more than $2 billion per month despite the struggles of the PC industry.

Washington state is doing its part.

Its tech sales tax exemption helped Microsoft and other tech companies avoid paying $31 million in 2011, and $249.8 million in sales taxes over the past eight years.

It's funny -- that's almost exactly how much Gregoire's education-funding plan would collect next year from a higher tax on the less privileged companies across the state.

If only there were a friendly wizard to even things out.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , Education , Enterprise , Microsoft , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 2, 2013 3:32 PM

Bill Gates up $7 billion in 2012, world's second richest

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle's tech billionaires got richer in 2012, according to Bloomberg's billionaire index, which released a year-end report today.

Bill Gates gained $7 billion last year, bringing his estimated net worth to $62.7 billion, according to Bloomberg.

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Jeff Bezos also jumped up the list with a $6.9 billion gain last year as his company's stock jumped 45 percent.

Bezos is now worth an estimated $23.6 billion, putting him at 20th place globally. He's also ahead of the Google guys and his former landlord, Paul Allen.

Overall the world's billionaires added $241 billion to their collective worth, Bloomberg reported. Only 16 of the top 100 billionaires saw a net loss in 2012.

Gates benefited from Microsoft stock rising 2.9 percent last year, though his holdings in the company now account for less than 20 percent of his fortune.

The gains weren't enough for Gates to overtake Mexico's Carlos Slim, who remains the world's richest.

But Gates still is the richest tech billionaire. Four of the top 10 tech billionaires live in the Seattle area. Bezos is in third place and Allen is in seventh, just ahead of Steve Ballmer.

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November 6, 2012 10:49 AM

Amazon.com ignites holiday sales booster: $7.99 Prime

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com is pulling out the stops this month with a new monthly Prime membership.

The $7.99 monthly service includes access to Amazon.com's library of streaming video content. By adding a monthly option, Amazon's positioning it as more of a direct competitor to the video services of Netflix and Hulu Plus with similar monthly fees.

But access to a pool of online video is just one component of Amazon's Prime service. Prime is mostly designed to encourage frequent shopping at the site, by providing "free" two-day shipping to subscribers as well as the video service and access to Kindle loaner material.

booster.jpgSelling and shipping merchandise is still Amazon's biggest business and streaming video is minuscule by comparison.

Adding a more accessible monthly Prime option just before the busiest retail season of the year could substantially boost Amazon's merchandise sales.

It will especially appeal to careful shoppers who figure out that they can now pay just $7.99 and get free two-day shipping on all the gifts they buy at Amazon.com.

The strategy may be expensive for Amazon, though. The company assumes more shipping costs with Prime, but as an annual program, it enticed people to become more regular, long-term customers.

Amazon's still offering annual $79 Prime memberships, which works out to $6.58 per month.

Now, with the monthly program, Amazon's offering a lower barrier to entry. Customers who start with a monthly plan and get hooked will have to remember to switch to an annual plan or they'll end up paying more than annual subscribers.

A spokeswoman offered a typically limited comment:

"Thank you for reaching out. We are always looking at ways to improve the shopping experience for our customers. We are testing a monthly Amazon Prime subscription. Beyond that we don't have anything further to offer."

We'll have to see if Costco responds by testing a monthly membership to boost holiday traffic in its warehouses and on its web site.

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October 23, 2012 10:24 AM

Apple unveils thinner iMacs, new iPads, MacBook Pro

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple is trying to spoil the party in Seattle, announcing new PCs and a mini iPad ahead of Microsoft's launch of Windows 8 on Friday and Amazon.com's launch of its 10-inch Kindle Fire next month.

WIth the PC industry gearing up for a major refresh around Windows 8, Apple hopes hoping to lure buyers with new models of its desktop and portable computers. But while Apple's new hardware is gorgeous, it's also very expensive, which will limit its chances of taking over the desktop and laptop PC market that's still dominated by Microsoft.

A new version of the desktop iMac unveiled today is 80 percent thinner than the current model. Apple also is offering it with a hybrid hard drive -- combining a spinning hard drive with flash storage -- similar to what Windows PCs have been using to boost performance.

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(SAN JOSE, CA - OCTOBER 23: Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller announcing the new iMac during the event at the historic California Theater on October 23, 2012 in San Jose, California. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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The base model iMac with an i5 processor, traditional hard drive and 21.5-inch display costs $1,299 and ships next month. The base 27-inch model is $1,799 and ships in December. They no longer have DVD drives. (Apple is livestreaming the event to users of iOS, and it's being blogged by Apple's selected group of reporters.)

Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line by adding models with high resolutoin "Retina Display" technology. A 13-inch model with USB 3.0 ports, a Core i5 processor and 256 gigabytes of storage but no DVD drive starts at $1,699. A 15-inch model starts at $2,199.

The new version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro - the best-selling Mac - is 20 percent thinner (0.75 inches thick) and nearly a pound lighter, at 3.57 pounds.

Apple is aiming at Amazon.com with a new version of its iBooks store and reading app. Despite the hype of previous versions they failed to get much traction against Amazon's Kindle platform, which also runs on Apple devices.

Apple also is trying to deflect the new challenge of tablet computers running Microsoft's Windows RT software that will debut on Friday, including Surface models made by Microsoft.

Its biggest weapon here is an updated model of the iPad announced today -- its fourth-generation -- with the same exterior but a faster processor and wireless radios. It starts at $499 or $629 for a model that connects to wireless phone networks. The starting price of the previous-generation "iPad 2" remains at $399.

As widely expected, Apple also unveiled an entirely new, smaller iPad -- the iPad Mini with a 7.9-inch display -- that's a defensive move against the successful 7-inch Kindle Fire and Google's Nexus 7 tablet. It's about a fourth less heavy than the full-size iPad and has a slightly more squared-off design.

The iPad Mini is also less resolutionary than the bigger iPads, with less than HD 1024 by 768 resolution, but it still runs the same apps. Its case is 5.3 inches by 7.87 inches and 0.28 inches thick, and it weighs two-thirds of a pound.

Apple declined to compete on price, perhaps counting on its brand cachet and slightly bigger screen to lure buyers from competing pads in the space between smartphones and full-size tablets.

The iPad Mini will start at $329 -- which is $130 more than the starting Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7. The $329 model has 16 gigabytes of memory and Wi-Fi; a version that works on phone networks starts at $459. Wi-Fi versions ship starting Nov. 2.

Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs famously dismissed 7-inch tablets, saying they were destined to fail, but he's no longer running the company.

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(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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October 5, 2012 2:06 PM

Amazon buying Seattle campus from Paul Allen: The filing

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's the entire filing that Amazon submitted today, disclosing its plans to buy its current South Lake Union campus from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Allen originally amassed the land for a proposed urban park but turned it into a tech-focused commercial real estate zone after the park plan failed to win voter support.

Buying the land outright is a huge commitment by Amazon to Seattle, where it's also planning to develop another campus nearby in downtown.

ITEM 1.01 ENTRY INTO A MATERIAL DEFINITIVE AGREEMENT The Company entered into purchase and sale agreements to acquire 11 buildings comprising 1.8 million square feet of our currently leased corporate office space in Seattle, Washington, for approximately $1.16 billion. Subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions, the Company expects to close the purchase in Q4 2012, and has made a non-refundable deposit of approximately $23 million, which will increase to approximately $51 million on October 22 and will be forfeited if we do not close the transaction in Q4 2012.

It seems like only yesterday they were breaking ground on the campus:

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September 19, 2012 2:29 PM

Amazon gets colorful -- and green -- with new downtown towers

Posted by Brier Dudley

The new skyscrapers that Amazon.com is building for its new Seattle headquarters will be the greenest buildings in town - literally.

New renderings submitted to the city's design review board show that the buildings will get bold exterior colors, including a 500-foot-tall green slab of metal and glass rising above the north end of downtown.

Perhaps the green accents will help persuade Seattle to let Amazon bend its development rules a bit to accommodate the company's preferred design of its massive new campus. More colorful exteriors may also appease architecture enthusiasts who were hoping for a bolder statement.

Amazon may begin construction next year on the first building in the cluster, which includes three skyscrapers. It will be the company's first owned headquarters and the largest urban campus of any tech company in the nation.

The design board will discuss the project at its Sept. 25 meeting, the fifth and perhaps final review session before the project moves into the permitting process.

Here's a sample of the colorful new renderings:

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A view from Seventh:

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Looking to the north and east, from above:

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Looking to the south and east:

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One of the variations from design rules that Amazon's requesting:

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Kind of euro -- just in time for Oktoberfest:

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September 12, 2012 2:35 PM

New signs map Amazon's sprawling campus, restaurants

Posted by Brier Dudley

Among the finishing touches on Amazon's latest headquarters campus building is new signage that's striking if you remember what its neighborhood was like a few years ago.

The signs -- posted at the 207 Boren building, which is almost complete -- have maps listing dozens of restaurants now open around the cluster of Amazon buildings in South Lake Union. Not included is the fleet of food trucks and carts that appear at lunch.

Maybe the signage will help landlord Paul Allen sell the property to someone.

The map doesn't identify Amazon buildings, but they're the dark blocks in the upper right. It doesn't include all the offices the tech giant is occupying in the area. Nor does it mention other restaurants in the area that aren't leasing property from Allen, such as the 13 Coins across the street from this sign.

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Also new at the 207 Boren building is a vertical garden that looks neat, though I didn't see any paperwhites in the mix of plants:

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Here are a few pictures I took earlier of the 207 Boren building, which used to be a Seattle Times parking lot and the site of the Seattle bureau of the Associated Press:

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I'd been wondering what was going on that blank wall:

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September 10, 2012 9:43 AM

Thoughts on Amazon's new Kindles: Ads, phones and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- Here are six more thoughts on Amazon.com's Kindle launch -- one for every new model the ambitious Seattle tech giant introduced at Thursday's launch gala inside an airplane hangar here.

Don't dismiss the rumors of a Kindle smartphone just yet.

It's still early days for Amazon's Kindle business, which could release phones and other wireless devices next.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos dropped a huge clue when he described in detail the new 4G LTE modem Amazon developed for its Kindle devices.

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The modem is just 2.2 millimeters -- thin enough for a phone -- and works with multiple bands of 4G LTE, not just those used by AT&T.

Would Amazon invest in a modem like that and then use it in a single device with a single carrier? I don't think so, either.

Dave Limp, the vice president in charge of Amazon's Kindle business, told me the modem will work with other carriers but "we're starting with AT&T."

"We had a lot of things going on, so we thought we'd simplify and start first and foremost with AT&T," he said.

So does that mean the modem also will be used to make a phone? Limp sidestepped my question but didn't say no.

"If I had a dollar for every different rumor that came out over the last two weeks ... ," he said. "I'm flattered that people are paying attention, but I think the six products we announced today is pretty good. We're off to a good start."

Amazon's new Kindles may challenge the Apple iPad, but Google's a closer competitor.

Both Google and Amazon are building devices to draw people further into their online services, where the real money and customer connections are made.

The LTE service offered with the upper-end Kindle Fire HD reminds me of the wireless service bundled with Google's Chrome laptops.

Both Chrome and Kindle devices are built around online services. Connecting has to be cheap and easy to get people to embrace the concept. Google worked with Verizon Wireless to provide Chrome laptop users with 100 megabytes of free wireless access per month for two years, with additional data available for purchase a la carte.

Amazon worked with AT&T to provide 250 megabytes per month -- plus 20 gigabytes of online storage -- for $50 per year.

It's not as revolutionary as the free 3G wireless bundled with some Kindle e-readers, but it's an interesting new wireless option.

For data-hungry users, 250 megabytes seems pitiful. It's not enough to watch a single high-def movie. But it's probably fine if you mostly use the device at home or places with free Wi-Fi and want LTE service to occasionally check mail, maps or websites while on the go.

From the Kindle, you can sign up for additional data plans -- 3 gigs a month for $30, or 5 gigs for $50. Or AT&T will happily add the device to one of its new shared data plans for customers using multiple devices.

I'll bet more of these cheap-but-limited cloud-access plans are coming. Perhaps Microsoft will be next, offering access and cloud-storage bundles with Windows 8 systems.

Amazon doesn't seem too concerned about a nasty patent fight with Apple.

Apple is busy waging war on hardware companies using Google's Android software. The Kindle Fire line uses Android -- version 4.0, heavily modified -- but Amazon apparently hasn't been put on notice.

This is what Limp said when I asked if he expected a patent suit from Apple:

"We don't comment on unknown things."

All the new Kindles have ads by default.

Instead of selling versions of the Kindle with and without ads, at different prices, Amazon decided to have all new models display ads by default. Ads can be permanently removed by paying an extra $15 on Fire models or $20 on the black-and-white Kindles.

Amazon's stance evolved over the weekend. For a time it was going to make ads mandatory on the new Fires, but it decided Saturday to let buyers opt out, for a fee.

Amazon is reaching beyond consumers, aiming the Kindle Fire at business customers, too.

Company executives didn't push this last week because it could cloud perceptions of the device, but they didn't deny it's a priority.

"We've got a great new mail application with best-in-class Exchange integration. We have a new calendar application, we have a new contacts application," said Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon's Kindle tablet business.

"We also worked with third parties such as Cisco to make sure that their VPN [virtual private network] client is ready and waiting in our app store. Those are some examples of how we're making it better for enterprise."

There actually was a business reason for Amazon unveiling its new Kindles in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport.

Larsen told a Los Angeles Times reporter that the company wanted to change things up. Previous launches were in New York, the hub of book publishing.

The new tablets "are really about entertainment -- movies, apps, games, TV shows," he said, and L.A. is still the entertainment capital of the world.

That, or somebody at Amazon received a half-price coupon for hangar rental on a Kindle "with offers."

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Here's Amazon's video of its Kindle press conference last week:

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September 6, 2012 10:25 AM

Amazon unveils new Kindles, big Fire for $299, LTE for $499

Posted by Brier Dudley

SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- You couldn't miss the symbolism: In its latest push into Apple's territory, Amazon.com used a California airport hangar to launch its latest devices.

Or maybe it was just baiting the press with pun opportunities -- seeing how many "launch" and "take-off" headlines it could get for its new gadgets.

The array of new Kindles includes a new 9-inch version of the Kindle Fire directly challenging Apple's iPad and an illuminated Kindle e-reader to fend off the challenge from Barnes & Noble's Nook GlowLight.

Topping the lineup is a $499 Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE wireless service, available for $50 per year.

The arrival of higher-end, full-color media tablets shows how ambitious Amazon's plans are for its Kindle business and how far it's come since it began with a quirky, black-and-white e-reader back in 2007.

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"We love to invent. We love to pioneer. We even like going down alleys that turn out to be blind alleys," Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said, opening the event. " Of course, every once in a while one of those blind alleys opens up into a broad avenue and that's really fun."

Bezos set up the announcement by saying that people are tired of gadgets and that's why most tablets launched over the past year didn't succeed. In contrast, he characterized the Kindle as a service.


"People don't want gadgets anymore. They want services," he said, then played a video ad for the new Kindle "Paperwhite" with a new, illuminated screen.

Amazon's ads aired before the event, confirming months of speculative reports about today's announcement. Some expected the company to also announce a phone using the modified Android software that powers the Kindle Fire, but that didn't happen just yet.

Although the LTE version of the Fire is the new flagship, a bigger seller is likely to be the new Kindle Paperwhite with a black-and-white display that's higher contrast than previous models. It's 9.1 millimeters thick, weighs 7.5 ounces and has a battery that lasts eight weeks between charges.

The Paperwhite is now on sale for $119 with deliveries starting Oct. 1. A version with 3G wireless is $179.

To demonstrate its light, Amazon set up a tent at its press event. The screen lives up to its name, with pages having the appearance of white paper. Its LED lighting system -- which is on whenever the device is powered on -- evenly lights the page and is much brighter than the glowing effect of the illuminated Nook.

A new feature predicts the amount of time it will take to complete a chapter, based on the device's analysis of users' reading pace.

Also updated is Amazon's entry-level Kindle, which is dropping in price from $79 to $69. It's getting more fonts to choose from, and Amazon says its pages turn 15 percent faster, but I couldn't tell in a quick test at the press event.

Bezos then introduced two new versions of the color Kindle Fire. The basic model is getting improved processing power and a price drop, from $199 to $159.

He also unveiled entirely new Kindle Fire HD models, including a new, larger model with an 8.9 inch display, slightly smaller than the 9.7-inch display on Apple's iPad.

The 7-inch Fire HD version with 16 gigabytes of memory will cost $199 and ship Sept. 14. The 8.9-inch Fire HD with 16 gigs will cost $299 and ship Nov. 20.

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Amazon quietly made one significant change to the pricing and initial set-up of its Kindles. All models are now configured to display ads, by default, on their start screen.

Last year, Amazon began offering discounted Kindle models that came "with offers." Now they'll all come "with offers," but they can be permanently removed for an additional $20. So if you're looking for an ad-free Kindle, add $20 to the list price. (UPDATE: An Amazon spokeswoman clarified today that you can't opt-out of the ads on the Kindle Fire.)

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The new Fires have a more rounded case that feels smoother and less bulky than the first model that debuted a year ago. A nice addition is a photo gallery app that displays photos stored online with Amazon, in addition to those loaded directly onto the device.

New services available for the HD include "X-Ray for Movies," which offers up details, such as actor biographies when a movie is launched, drawing on Amazon's IMDb entertainment database.

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During a brief test of the tethered versions on display at the press event, the X-Ray window popped up in a matchbook-sized window in the upper left corner of the screen when a movie was launched. It disappeared when I tapped the "play" icon and resumed the movie.

The higher-end version with 4G LTE wireless, and 8.9-inch display and 32 gigs of memory will sell for $499 and ship Nov. 20.

Amazon is offering the LTE service directly, charging $50 per year for 250 megabytes per month plus 20 gigabytes of online storage. The wireless service is provided by AT&T, from which additional data plans will be offered.

Bezos is especially proud of the LTE model and explained in detail its features, which he characterized as a wish list of things that the company could include by offering a tablet at such a high price compared with other Kindles.

Those features include an LTE antenna that Amazon engineered itself because it found off-the-shelf version were too thick for its tablet.

"We have just built the best tablet at any price," he said.

Apple and Microsoft -- which is releasing its first tablets this fall -- declined to comment on that assertion.

Bezos said the company can offer low prices on the hardware because it makes money from the devices after they're sold.

"We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices. That is better alignment," he said, adding that the approach also avoids putting people on the "upgrade treadmill."

Features include stereo speakers and Dolby Digital Plus sound processing.

The new Fire also has improved email capabilities, including Exchange sync, and special apps built by Facebook and Skype. The Skype app uses the device's front-facing video camera for making free video calls.

Also new on the HD is "Whispersync" for voice and games, which lets people listen to audio books or play games and later resume where they left off.

Noting that he has four kids and there's tension between screen time and other activities, Bezos announced Kindle FreeTime, which lets users set up profiles for different users and add time limits and other parental controls. In "FreeTime" mode the screen turns blue so parents can see it's activated from across the room.

"I know, genius," Bezos joked.

To improve the wireless performance, Amazon gave the HD models dual antennas and MIMO Wi-Fi technology. Bezos spent awhile explaining this technology, with the punchline being that the Kindle Fire HD has 41 percent faster Wi-Fi than the iPad 3 and 54 percent faster Wi-Fi than Google's Nexus 7.

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Bezos didn't mention it during his presentation, but the new Fire models also have a new power switch that's flush with the case, unlike the protruding nub on the first model that's easy to accidently turn off.

Amazon is updating its hardware lineup ahead of a holiday season that will see intense competition among tablet devices, especially at the lower-end, 7-inch range that includes the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus. Amazon also is competing with Barnes & Noble's Nook, which already sells an illuminated e-reader.

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The hardware update comes as the market for dedicated e-readers such as the original Kindle is tapering, especially in the U.S., with consumers moving toward color media tablets such as Apple's dominant iPad.

A record 25 million full-featured media tablets were sold in the April-June quarter, up 77 percent over the previous year, according to ABI Research. The firm believes the e-reader market peaked with 15 million readers sold last year but will continue to grow at around 6 percent a year.

That doesn't mean Amazon's Kindle business has peaked, though. Bezos said it continues to make money from even the oldest Kindles as people use them to buy more books.

"What happens when you build a great service?" Bezos said. "People read more."

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August 15, 2012 1:13 PM

Salesforce lures Amazon techs with lumpia

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another tech company is trying to recruit Amazon.com engineers with the promise of free food in South Lake Union.

Salesforce.com today was giving away free lunches at the Lumpia World truck parked in the shadow of Amazon's current headquarters.

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The free lunches - or maybe the chicken adobo special - gave the truck one of the longest lines among the neighborhood's food truck armada.

A Salesforce rep said they were providing a limited number of free lunches today but will probably try again next week sometime.

The lumpia slingers are following in the steps of Microsoft's Kinect bacon cart - and occupying the same Harrison Street parking lot that the Redmond company used for its recruiting stunt last fall.

San Francisco-based Salesforce opened a satellite office in Seattle two years ago to tap into the local talent pool.

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August 14, 2012 9:24 AM

NEW: Street views of Amazon's skyscrapers

Posted by Brier Dudley

New renderings of the massive new Amazon.com headquarters complex provide the clearest view yet of how the company's proposed skyscrapers will change downtown Seattle.

The latest renderings include photorealistic views of the towers that may be under construction next year.

Altogether the project - the largest ever in downtown Seattle, and the largest metro campus of any tech company - may take four to eight years to complete.

Amazon's architect, NBBJ, provided the new renderings for a city design commission meeting tonight.

Less detailed images first surfaced in March, ahead of the first design review.

As the review progresses, NBBJ releases increasingly detailed images that provide a better sense of how the buildings will look from the outside.

The complex includes three skyscrapers and a cluster of smaller buildings connected by walkways and skybridges. Although the towers are all roughly similar box shapes, they'll use different types of glass and window patterns.

Here are new images from the filing, starting with the tower that's expected to be built first, along Westlake Avenue next to the McDonald's restaurant:

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A view from the other direction, looking north, along Westlake:

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The towers viewed from above:

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There are multiple decks planned for the first tower, with distinctive landscaping that will provide a visual treat to passing helicopters:

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Views of the second tower, at Lenora Street:

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A future view along Sixth Avenue:

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A future view along Seventh Avenue:

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The tower above will sit on what's now a Toyota dealership:

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June 26, 2012 10:44 AM

Report: New Kindles coming July 31

Posted by Brier Dudley

The latest whispers about new Kindles from Amazon.com are coming from CNET, which is reporting that the Seattle company will launch a new, higher-resolution version of the Kindle Fire on July 31.

Also planned are new Kindles with black-and-white displays and built-in lights, to compete with Barnes & Noble's new Nook with "GlowLight."

That's according to "a credible source" cited by CNET, which was unable to confirm the tidbits.

I spoke to an Amazon.com Kindle executive a few weeks ago. While he wouldn't say anything about new hardware, he said the company has been continuously upgrading the Fire software since its launch -- to the point that it's basically a new device inside the same shell.

Still, Amazon has to freshen the hardware line eventually.

Scuttlebutt about new Kindle comes amid expectations that Google will release a Nexus-branded tablet made by Asus this week. Gizmodo reported that it will have the same screen size and base price as the Fire -- 7-inches and $199.

Whether the rumors are true or not, there's clearly a scramble to line up back-to-school options in the lower end of the tablet market, ahead of Microsoft's debut in the upper end.

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May 9, 2012 4:30 PM

NEW: More views of Amazon's Seattle tower plans

Posted by Brier Dudley

New renderings of Amazon.com's huge headquarters campus plan were made available today -- without the big "DRAFT" labels on the batch that appeared last week.

The project was reviewed last night by Seattle's design commission, which is reviewing how the three towers will fit into the cityscape.

The renderings show additional views of the public spaces that will dramatically transform what's now mostly a collection of parking lots and a car dealer.

The buildings would be the first headquarters buildings owned by Amazon, which now leases space developed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in South Lake Union.

Amazon's own buildings would be on the north edge of downtown between Westlake Avenue and Blanchard Street and Sixth and Eighth avenues.

In their quest to receive city approval for the project, Amazon and architects NBBJ included plenty of bicycles and green spaces in the images, plus a public dog park shown below.

A sample of the new renderings, the first of which I believe is looking from 8th Avenue, between Blanchard and Lenora:

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The proposed public dog park on the site is shown here:

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Here's another from the proposal, identifying the buildings and uses; the names on the buildings are intended to describe the feel NBBJ is trying to create with the open space:

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April 26, 2012 12:20 PM

Amazon's Kindle Fire smokes Android tablet market

Posted by Brier Dudley

While we're waiting for Amazon.com to shed light on Kindle sales - perhaps during its earnings report today? - comScore will have to do.

The research firm today said that the Kindle Fire is absolutely dominating the rest of the market for Android-based Web tablets. It validates Amazon's decision to offer a basic tablet for $199, undercutting not just the iPad but the big-name Android tablets that had been in the $500 range.

From December through February - following the Kindle Fire's November launch - Amazon's color tablet surged to more than half the market. It was also the only Android tablet to show significant growth during that period, according to comScore's latest Device Essentials report.

The key chart:

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Also noted in comScore's report was the average page views per tablet in the U.S. based on screen size. Naturally bigger screens were used to view more pages - 10-inch devices were used to view n average of 125 pages during February, versus 116 views for 9-inch devices, 90 views for 7-inchers and 79 views for 5-inchers.

ComScore's device data smorgasbord also included a ranking of smartphone usage across the major carriers in the five largest states:

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March 29, 2012 3:02 PM

Google to make tablets, Amazon planning iPad-sized Fire?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get ready for even more tablet options this summer.

Google is working with Asian PC makers to produce a Google-branded Android tablet that will be priced at $199 to complete with Amazon's Kindle Fire, according to reports in Taiwan's DigiTimes and the Wall Street Journal.

The move could add to the downward pressure on the price of Android tablets made by other companies, which are competing with the $199 Fire at one end and the $399 entry-level iPad at the other.

They'll all be competing with new Windows 8-based tablets expected in fall. Windows 8 tablets are likely to be far more capable than the flood of cheap Android tablets -- and cost much more than $199. But perhaps consumers and business users will be willing to pay more for computers that aren't bound to the advertising, marketing and web-tracking systems of Google and Amazon.

Google's new device -- the Gpad? -- is expected to appear in time for the "dads and grads" sales season in early summer. DigiTimes said Asustek is working on a model with a 7-inch diagonal display.

The Journal's story followed up with a few new details, including word that Google will sell the Google-brand tablets directly from an online store, an approach that didn't work too well with its Nexus One phone.

DigiTimes is also reporting that Amazon is working on several new Kindle models to go on sale this summer, including an iPad-sized 10.1-inch model that will cost between $249 and $299.

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March 28, 2012 9:59 AM

Images: Amazon's tower plan, Seattle's new skyline

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here are renderings of the three towers and campus that Amazon wants to build in downtown Seattle, giving the company its first company-owned headquarters facility.

These images are renderings submitted to the city for design review yesterday.

The submission also lists special consideration the company's seeking to deviate from city design codes, but I'll bet the city will be fairly compliant given the rare prospect of a leading tech company creating a new downtown headquarters. Especially if there are plenty of bike racks.

The images, starting with a rendering of how the towers (shown in green) will change Seattle's skyline (you can click to enlarge the images):

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Looking east toward the city, from the bay:

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A cropped version:

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Amazon's preferred design scheme:

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A model of the preferred scheme's layout:

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The preferred layout:

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Considerations of the company's preferred layout, according to the company:

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A street view of an "identity plaza":

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Current images of the site, from the company's submission to the city:

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Just for fun, here's a phonecam shot of the latest tower in Amazon's current, leased campus in South Lake Union - rising on a former Seattle Times parking lot:

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February 6, 2012 10:12 AM

Lessons from TeachStreet, folding into Amazon

Posted by Brier Dudley

For every Mark Zuckerberg, there are thousands of entrepreneurs still waiting for their big prize.

Sometimes it's just the promise of a steady paycheck.

Consider the fate of Seattle's TeachStreet, an online education directory that's shutting down Feb. 15 after five years. Its breakout moment never came, but the company still had an outsized effect on the region's startup community and ended up teaching a few lessons itself.

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Chief Executive Dave Schappell, 43, left Amazon.com in 2004 to work for philanthropies and startups. The idea for TeachStreet crystallized over coffee with another Amazon vet, Jason Kilar, who now runs Hulu in Los Angeles.

With less than a dozen employees, TeachStreet built an online version of the community bulletin board for listing instructional services such as piano lessons and language teachers. Its listings grew to more than 400,000 local and online classes, and investors eventually put more than $3 million into the business.

While TeachStreet built up an audience and began expanding beyond Seattle, Schappell became a prominent member of the region's enthusiastic circle of Web entrepreneurs.

Schappell -- who earlier helped lead the humor website JibJab -- is a garrulous rainmaker who stood out in field of polished networkers.

Among his lasting contributions is the monthly "Hops and Chops" startup gathering at a Capitol Hill bar, where Schappell promised to pick up the tab last Thursday, the day TeachStreet announced its fate.

"He's one of those guys who has 40 hours a day somehow ... and he found lots of time to help out," said Scott Jacobson, a partner at Madrona Venture Group, which invested in TeachStreet, along with Kilar, Jeff Bezos and a handful of others from Seattle. "That's the hallmark of a guy who's not just a good entrepreneur, but cares a lot about the startup ecosystem."

Schappell said the turning point came a year ago.

After four years -- and a painful restructuring in 2009 -- TeachStreet became "essentially profitable" in January and February of 2011.

Then it was walloped -- by Google's notorious "Panda" revision to its search ranking system.

Google's goal was to improve the quality of its results and demote sites that used sketchy techniques to boost their search presence, but the casualties included scores of sites like TeachStreet's that were built largely around the flow of customers from Google.

"That was the point where we lost two-thirds of our traffic overnight," Schappell said. "We tried a lot of things to try to recover that traffic."

At that point TeachStreet had to decide whether to raise more money for a renewed push or "find a good transition," he said.

"That's when the expense shortfall or the net losses started piling up," he explained. "We looked at things and felt the better thing was to find a partner who already had a lot of traffic and matched our content."

It turned out the partner was right outside TeachStreet's office in South Lake Union, which is now dominated by Amazon's headquarters.

A month ago Schappell subleased TeachStreet's space to social-gaming startup Massively Fun. Then last Tuesday the TeachStreet team began working in its new offices at Amazon, where it's now part of the AmazonLocal team offering daily deals from local merchants.

At first, I wondered if AmazonLocal was going to draw on TeachStreet's directory to sell discounted lessons, but that apparently wasn't part of the deal. TeachStreet will delete all student and teacher customer data when it shuts down.

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako said via email that "the TeachStreet.com team will join us to work as part of the growing AmazonLocal team," but didn't provide more details.

So how did the investment turn out for Madrona?

The firm's "happy with the outcome," according to Jacobson, also an Amazon veteran.

"Dave's a really talented entrepreneur and we certainly enjoyed working with him, and Amazon's getting a great team," he said. "In all those senses, it's a great outcome."

Jacobson wouldn't discuss the terms or what intellectual property Amazon acquired.

But speaking generally, he said that companies wanting to quickly build a team may invest in "experiential IP" -- or an experienced group of developers.

"Sometimes you can accelerate that by having a coherent team that already works well together, has already seen all the challenges, knows what mistakes not to make," he said. "A well-oiled machine that can just hit the ground running and has the background and experience to not make the same mistakes is actually quite valuable."

It didn't get the blockbuster exit, but at least the TeachStreet crew ended up with good jobs at a leading tech company.

The real lesson may be that companies have to be careful about building too much of their business on a single, shifting platform. That's hard for Web startups, given the dominance of Google and Facebook. But Jacobson said new devices and services are giving companies more channels to reach customers now, compared to the early days when startups battled for play on AOL, Yahoo or the "carrier deck" of software that phone companies loaded on earlier cellphones.

"There's a lot of examples -- not just in Web -- where if you're not well-diversified, you run risk as a business," he said. "I don't think anybody says, 'We're going to hitch our wagon to one thing or another,' but in some cases they're more exposed to one source of traffic than others."

He pointed to other companies that did break through, such as Yelp and the Cheezburger network, which built brands strong enough that people navigate directly to their sites.

That may be what TeachStreet clients have to do after the site shuts down next week. One of the first users, Wedgwood art teacher Janet Lia, said TeachStreet was "vital to the growth of my art studio" and brought 90 percent of her students now taking private lessons.

"I'm feeling nervous and tenuous about not having that exposure on the Internet," she said.

Lia started her AWE Studio the same year as TeachStreet and used its free listing service. Later she paid monthly fees for premium services such as marketing templates.

"In this economy, to start a business five years ago and be successful has been pretty miraculous," she said. Now, "I'm going to have to do the work to complete this."

Here's Schappell demonstrating the TeachStreet just before its launch:

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November 21, 2011 11:25 AM

Microsoft Kinect bacon cart debuts in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

The bacon man cometh, to South Lake Union and Fremont.

Seriously, he's giving out free bacon to anyone who asks, courtesy of Microsoft.

To grease the skids for Kinect recruiting, Microsoft's operating a quirky bacon cart -- complete with a riddling bacon hawker -- in Seattle tech hubs.

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Microsoft is trying to double the size of its Kinect for Windows engineering team in Redmond, from 35 to 70, and it hired ad agency Wexley School for Girls to add some sizzle. Wexley dreamed up the campaign, with the tagline "Wake up and Smell the Future."

The promo made its debut today in the shadow of Amazon.com headquarters in South Lake Union, where a stream of bacon lovers braved the downpour for free strips of Swinery pepper bacon.

Also free were toppings, including spray cheese, Sriracha, peanut butter, maple syrup and chocolate sauce.

Serious candidates may even get a bacon air freshener.

"We thought it was a fun and cool idea to be around here," said Teddy Black, a producer at Wexley.

As of 11:15, about 15 to 20 people had stopped by, including a South Lake Union trolley driver on his lunch break. A few had picked up materials but there weren't any serious bites yet.

To drum up business, there's a hawker in a white suit decorated with bacon strips. He's called The Sizzler -- a play on The Riddler in Batman.

The bacon wagon -- a very slightly pimped out version of Dante's hot dog cart -- will be serving up slices at 1124 Harrison, across from Moka's Cafe on Fairview Avenue, until 1 p.m. today.

It will be in Fremont's tech gulch, near the canal, on Tuesday. Organizers haven't yet decided whether it will be on the Adobe or Google side of the bridge.

The cart will also be back in South Lake Union next Monday, same time and place, according to Black.

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November 14, 2011 11:15 AM

Kindle Fire: First take on Amazon's tablet (updated)

Posted by Brier Dudley

After months of hype and anticipation since its September unveiling, the Kindle Fire has arrived.

The $199, color Web tablet appearing in stores today is the boldest leap yet by Amazon.com into the world of consumer electronics, where people are expanding the range of devices they use to access the Internet and digital media.

The Fire broadens the potential reach of the Kindle line far beyond the core market of avid readers who have embraced Amazon's hardware since it debuted in 2007.

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It's a more ambitious business, but Amazon played it safe with the design of the Fire. Gone are the quirky design features that made the original Kindle stand out.

The Fire is a simple black slab, a tight, attractive tablet with a velvety backside that's nice to hold and looks better than most any $199 tablet you'll find.

It's surprisingly dense for something so slim -- under a half-inch thick, and about 5 inches wide by 7 inches tall, but weighs nearly a pound.

I think it's an exciting option for those looking for a digital accessory and who want something bigger than a smartphone and smaller than a 10-inch tablet or laptop.

The vivid color display, video capability and browser will be welcomed by Kindle users who want more out of their e-reading devices.

But the Fire's small size and fixation on shopping and other Amazon.com services may limit its ability to lure consumers already obsessed with Apple's iPad.

Then again, Amazon's not really trying to displace the iPad, just as the iPad isn't really intended to replace PCs. They're additional screens that give people more options to stay connected, access digital media and buy digital content.

They represent the fourth screen you'll spend time with, in addition to your computer, smartphone and TV.

The relatively low price of the Kindle Fire -- it's 60 percent less than the $499 entry-level iPad -- makes it an appealing option to people looking to add a fourth screen.

In affluent homes that already have four or more screens -- and competition over who gets to use the Web tablet -- a Kindle Fire is an intriguing addition to the mix.

In that situation, you'd grab the largest, most convenient screen for browsing the Web or watching a video. The Fire's screen is better than a smartphone for those activities, but I found it small for browsing Web pages, especially ones with small buttons that are hard to target on a 7-inch touch screen.

I'd suggest holding one before buying -- the Fire will be at major retailers everywhere soon -- because you can't really gauge the size from photos. Size-wise, it feels closer to some of the recent jumbo smartphones than to the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and other 10-inch tablets.

Until a larger version comes out, perhaps next year, the Fire's appeal may be limited for people who don't want to squint when viewing Web pages and don't care about watching videos on a waffle-sized screen. For books and periodicals, the size is fine.

I haven't had time to read a full book and decide whether the screen is better than the original Kindle's non-flickering display, but the color is, of course, a big improvement for illustrated books, magazines and newspapers with photos.

Amazon has touted the Silk browser as one of the Fire's killer features. The browser runs partly on Amazon servers, which predict pages you're likely to visit and fetch page components to speed load times.

I didn't notice the speed difference during my brief testing period, but the browser has a clean design, with tabbed windows, and it worked fine.

I haven't tested the music player features yet. To load music onto the Fire, you have to set up an account with Amazon's Cloud Player service, which stores your music files on

Amazon servers and streams them to connected devices. It's free for 5 gigabytes of storage; additional storage plans range from $20 to $1,000 CQ per year.

That's one of several media stores and services connected to the Fire, which can also be seen as a console to access Amazon.com. These services are needed to get the most value out of the Fire, and their cost will push its price beyond $199 over time.

Another highlight is Amazon's streaming-video service. It provides a collection of videos -- comparable to what's available for Netflix streaming -- that are free if you have a $79 per year Amazon Prime membership.

The best deal I found on the Fire was books from the public library using the new Kindle lending program. It took a few steps -- and some zooming in and out in the browser -- but in a few minutes I was able to reserve and download Seattle Public Library books over a Starbucks Wi-Fi connection. The Web buttons needed to complete the checkout process are hard to view on the small screen, but the capability makes the Kindle much more attractive.

There's no 3G or 4G wireless service with the Fire, only Wi-Fi, which limits its capability somewhat. But most Web tablet usage is in the home, office or other locations where Wi-Fi service should be available.

The software interface is so crisp, clear and intuitive, you'd never guess it's based on the same operating system as the last generation of Google Android tablets.

I had a few hiccups with the device. I was unable today to download several free apps until I had updated my credit-card information with Amazon, and there were places where I couldn't get to the touch-screen controls.

Still, the device is an interesting alternative to the Barnes & Noble Nook Color and the BlackBerry PlayBook, both of which have about the same sized screens.

The Fire has a slightly smaller case than those; it fits in a parka pocket and the back pocket of my khaki pants, but it's too heavy to carry there comfortably.

The industrial designers prevailed over the usability team that designed the "airplane flap" buttons on the first Kindle. There are no buttons other than the tiny one for power, giving the case a clean, elegant look.

I accidentally hit the power button a few times when holding the Fire. Perhaps the next version should be a slider switch or recessed, instead of a slightly protruding push-button.

All the controls are on the touch screen, where you call them up with a tap near the bottom of the display. That's fine, unless you frantically need to turn down the music and you can't get to the volume control.

That happened in my office when I played the trial sample of albums for sale at Amazon's MP3 store. When the samples were playing, I couldn't get the volume controls to surface. When I touched the lower half of the screen, it would only launch songs farther down the list.

Here are some images, including one of the cool screensavers on the Fire:

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The friendly walk-through the device provides when you Fire it up - the white annotations are on the touchscreen:

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There's a welcome note from Jeff, just like on other Kindles:

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Hey, what's he doing in there!

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To play music on the device, you've got to move into Amazon's cloud:

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The music store:

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A selection of the streaming movies available to people with $79 per year Prime subscriptions:

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A newspaper story on the Fire, shown with fire-starter:

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The Fire next to a BlackBerry PlayBook:

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The Fire next to an iPad:

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October 26, 2011 3:13 PM

Amazon.com growth: A Seattle perspective

Posted by Brier Dudley

Wall Street may not be impressed by Amazon.com's recent growth, but here on John Street it's hard to ignore.

The newest building on Amazon's humongous new headquarters campus is rising fast, and about to block our westward view.

Work began in 2007 on the 11 buildings -- totaling 1.7 million square feet -- that Amazon's leasing from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The latest building will rise 12 stories on former Seattle Times property, replacing a small, two-story building that was leased to The Associated Press for 30 years before it was sold to Allen.

Here are a few pictures of the disappearing view from the paper's 81-year-old office at Fairview and John. We'll have to ease the pain and raise a glass to progress at one of those fancy new pubs that Amazon lured to the neighborhood.

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October 24, 2011 10:31 AM

Kindle Fire's smoldering privacy issue

Posted by Brier Dudley

It looks like the privacy hullabaloo over Amazon.com's new Web tablet and exotic browser could end before the device goes on sale.

I hope consumers and watchdogs keep paying attention, though.

The Kindle Fire doesn't go on sale until Nov. 15 (though it can be pre-ordered now), but tech experts began questioning the privacy risks of its Silk browser shortly after the device was unveiled last month.

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Silk runs partly on the device and partly on Amazon's EC2 computing network, where the company will analyze browsing activity so it can preload bits of Web pages you're likely to visit.

Amazon anticipated privacy questions and was ready to discuss them at the Kindle Fire launch event in New York last month, but the media coverage focused largely on the new hardware.

Still, the question smoldered, then ignited Oct. 14 when a congressman big on privacy issues fired up. U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., asked the company to answer a list of questions about the browsing information it would collect and how it would be used. He asked Amazon to respond by Nov. 4.

A leading privacy watchdog, the Electronic Freedom Foundation, also weighed in. But after a phone briefing from Amazon last week, the EFF said Silk may not be as much of a privacy nightmare as it feared.

An analysis posted online by the EFF last week assuaged a number of browser and privacy experts, but they all said more analysis is needed. They also said that while Amazon is saying the right things now, diligence is needed to be sure the company doesn't misuse the vast amount of browsing information it will collect.

There are benefits to the hybrid approach Amazon is taking with Silk. It's been around for years, and millions of people now use the Opera Mini browser that has similar technology for accelerating page-load times.

"If it's done properly, there is no privacy issue with doing that," said Elie Bursztein, a researcher at the Stanford Security Lab. "It's actually sort of a good idea as you try to make things faster for the user."

It helps that Silk runs fine by itself on the device, with the online booster turned off, said Steve Gribble, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Washington.

He built a similar browser for the Palm Pilot in grad school, but it didn't have access to the huge, advanced network that's helping power the Silk.

Gribble said the technology is exciting and has all sorts of potential for computer science research, but the privacy concerns are real.

He said Amazon is taking the high road by pledging to not store personally identifiable information, and encrypting communication between the device browser and the cloud.

"They've done a good job so far addressing and being frank about the potential privacy concerns," Gribble said. "In the long run, people need to make sure they continue to do that and they don't slip down a slope toward misusing information they have access to."

The EFF's concerns were addressed in a call from Silk director Jon Jenkins.

"There were some major areas of concern that were abated by our conversation, but I'd say it's ultimately kind of a trade-off," said Dan Auerbach, a former Google engineer who is now an EFF staff technologist. "It's a lot better than we feared in some ways, and the user does get some benefits, notably the fact that their traffic will be encrypted. ... But on the other hand, you are trusting Amazon with an incredible amount of information."

Silk will anticipate pages you're likely to view, based on browsing activity that it's seeing and by analyzing in its data centers. Then it will start downloading components of those pages -- such as logos on a newspaper site -- so the pages load faster on the device.

Amazon won't index the whole Web, as Google does, Jenkins told me at the launch event in New York. But Silk's acceleration system will encompass "the vast majority of what I'll call the popular Web."

Amazon isn't crawling the Web like a search engine, he continued, "We're just using the information flowing through on the (Silk) Web requests to do that."

Before I could ask, he brought up the privacy issue.

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"Privacy is super important to us, so we don't store any personally identifiable information about users or what they're doing on the Web, all of it is completely anonymized," he said, adding that Amazon has "built a foundation of trust with its customers and we will not do anything to jeopardize that trust."

To me, the privacy debate around the Silk browser is a little funny.

If you're truly worried about that sort of thing, perhaps you shouldn't use a computing device that's powered by the world's biggest retailer and a company known for meticulously tracking and analyzing site visitors.

I also keep expecting consumers to rebel against the walled-garden design of Kindles, iPads and Android devices, which are tightly controlled and bound to the platform companies.

Yet consumers seem more than willing to accept the loss of control and privacy risks, because the devices are fun, compelling and useful for communication, productivity and media consumption.

"The truth is that there are risks all over the place," said Hank Levy, chairman of the UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

Levy noted that Internet service providers such as Comcast can see your interactions over the Internet, information is potentially visible to cloud service providers such as Gmail and Hotmail, and services such as Facebook can track your online behavior.

"There's all kinds of software running in your browser that can track your behavior and does track your behavior," he said. "At the end of the day a lot of the Internet is being paid for by advertising, and information has value when services are trying to find the best ads for people."

Gribble said these trade-offs are inevitable. Technology can address some of the concerns, but "in the end it's going to be law and contracts and responsible disclosure that will help these companies continue to behave well and not abuse the data that they're increasingly getting access to."

The big test with the Kindle Fire, at least, will come Nov. 15 when consumers get their first chance to buy Amazon's cool new tablet for $199 -- less than half the price of an iPad. It will be hard to resist a device that looks like a good deal, even for people nervous about how much they're disclosing nowadays to the big Internet companies.

"There's a risk that over time you'll give up too much of your privacy, but you're getting something in return for it," Gribble said. "You have to decide whether it's worth it."

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September 28, 2011 10:32 PM

Amazon enters tablet battle with Fire and Silk

Posted by Brier Dudley

My Kindle story for Thursday's paper:

NEW YORK -- It was widely known that Amazon.com was working on a color, touch-screen version of its popular Kindle, the gadget that established the market for e-readers.

But founder Jeff Bezos still surprised the world Wednesday by unveiling the Kindle Fire, a polished and potent 7-inch device with a $199 price that will disrupt the surging market for Web tablets and erode the dominance of Apple's iPad..

The Kindle Fire goes on sale Nov. 15, alongside a batch of redesigned black-and-white Kindles also debuting in time for the holidays. They include an entry-level model that starts at $79, a new Kindle Touch at $99 and a Kindle Touch with 3G wireless service at $149.

Electronics stores are littered with iPad challengers -- many running the same Google Android software that's inside the Fire -- but Amazon is entering the fray with a strong brand, the Kindle's reputation for quality and an array of online media content and services.

Amazon also has given the Fire an innovative new "split" browser called Amazon Silk, which runs partly on the device and partly on the EC2 cloud-computing network that Amazon operates.

Amazon is indexing commonly used images and files from websites and storing them on the cloud network, so they load faster on the browser and improve its performance. The system also anticipates the next page users are likely to view so it loads faster on the device.

Perhaps most important, Amazon is competing with a low-end price on high-end hardware. Bezos made this point over and over during the brief, Apple-esque launch event Wednesday in New York.

He began by displaying quotes by skeptics of the original Kindle, which Amazon launched four years ago.

"What we're doing is making premium products and offering them at non-premium prices," he said, repeatedly.

Apple is expected to hold its dominating lead in the market for Web tablets for the next few years but face growing competition from Amazon, other makers of Android tablets and systems running Microsoft's Windows 8, expected to debut in 2012.

Research firm Gartner this month predicted that 63.6 million tablets will be sold this year, up 261 percent over last year. Annual sales are expected to reach 326.3 million units in 2015.

The Kindle Fire runs applications built for Google's Android platform, which is inside the device, under a special interface resembling a bookshelf that displays recently viewed items.

Files can be loaded to the device via a USB cable, and there's a dual-core processor and 8 gigabytes of internal storage.

Yet this isn't a new PC and doesn't pretend to be one.

Amazon designed the Kindle Fire mostly for consuming -- and buying -- movies, TV shows, music, books and other media stored in and streamed from Amazon's network. In other words, it's a console plugged into the company's servers, where the heavy lifting is done.

Bezos described the Kindle Fire as a service, with the hardware representing just one element of a user's experience with the device, an experience that revolves around the company's online properties.

"We have Amazon Web Services, Amazon Prime, Kindle, Amazon Instant Video, our MP3 store and the app store for Android," Bezos said. "We asked ourselves, is there some way that we can bring all of these things together into a remarkable product offering that customers would love? The answer is yes -- it's called Kindle Fire."

Bezos didn't mention the iPad directly, but mocked its synchronization system, by displaying an iPad's USB cable on screen while talking about how Kindles sync wirelessly and automatically.

He also said Amazon is hoping consumers find the Kindle Fire and services are "a compelling reason to shop from Amazon instead of iTunes."

Questioned afterward, Amazon executives sidestepped questions about competing with the iPad, but noted that the Kindle Fire costs less than half as much as Apple's device, which starts at $499.

Amazon Vice President Dave Limp said consumers may buy multiple Kindles -- perhaps a Kindle Touch and a Kindle Fire -- for less than the $500 price range of popular tablets.

"I think that people that want to have a media experience, they want to have all their content front and center, they want a world-class Web-browsing experience -- they're going to come and flock to Kindle Fire," he said. "It's $199 and, as you see, it hides the complexity of these devices."

Limp and Bezos both said they expect the $79 Kindle to be a huge seller during the holiday season. At that price, it comes with advertising -- offers displayed on the home screen when the device is idle. A version without ads costs $109.

Similarly, the Kindle Touch without ads will cost $139 and the Kindle Touch 3G without ads will cost $189.

The $79 model is now on sale, and the Kindle Touch goes on sale Nov. 21.

Amazon isn't yet selling a version of the Kindle Fire with the advertising and lower price.

Executives wouldn't discuss plans beyond the launch for the Kindle Fire line, but it seems likely the company will add different models, including some with larger screens, similar to the way it expanded the Kindle line.

In the meantime, the Amazon Silk browser is what's wowing some observers.

Al Hilwa, program director at IDC research firm, said it may ease bandwidth challenges of mobile devices by letting Amazon servers handle some browsing.

"In one fell swoop, Amazon harnesses its commanding lead in cloud services, the content richness of a leading online retailer and its successful Kindle business strategy to deliver what might become one of [the] most effective antidotes to the mobile bandwidth crunch," he said in a note sent after the launch.

Given the big investment Amazon is making in the browser technology, it seems likely it will be extended to other devices, similar to the way the Kindle reading software was extended from Amazon's device to most computing platforms.

Amazon executives didn't deny this is a possibility.

"Stay tuned," said a smiling Jon Jenkins, director of Amazon Silk..

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September 27, 2011 12:01 AM

Video demo: IMBD's first game, trivia app for iPhone

Posted by Brier Dudley

After the wild success of its mobile application, IMDB is branching into games and releasing its first title, a trivia game that draws on the company's extensive movie and TV database.

Image_IMDb Trivia_Match Question.png

The Amazon.com subsidiary has seen its IMBD app downloaded more than 26 million times since it was first released in December 2009. That includes more than 15 million downloads on Apple's iOS platform, where it's launching the trivia game today.

Inspiration for the game came from trivia questions on IMBD's Web site. They generate more than 100 million page views a year, with visitors spending more than 4 million hours a year answering the trivia questions about movies, TV shows and actors.

"We thought 'let's provide the same content in a fun, entertaining way,'" said Kintan Brahmbhatt, head of mobile products at IMBD.

The app is available for free via iTunes. Expansion packs with additional questions are offered through the game for 99 cents.

Here is Brahmbatt providing a demo of the trivia game, including a leaderboard that's now topped by IMBD founder Col Needham:

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September 26, 2011 3:38 PM

Latest Amazon tablet clues: Called "Fire" and PlayBookish?

Posted by Brier Dudley

More details about the upcoming Amazon tablet device are being whispered, apparently.

Reports today say the chassis is similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook, made by the same supplier and using a dual-core Texas Instruments processor.

That's according to TechCrunch - which saw an early prototype and floated a $250 price tag a few weeks ago, but is now saying the price may be around $300.

TechCrunch is reporting that the device is called the Kindle Fire. Could that be a play on words, planted by Amazon to see who is chatting with TechCrunch? Does it use a song by The Doors as its start-up sound? Is Amazon just being saucy?

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Some background context also surfaced at Gdgt, which cited unnamed sources saying the device is being made by Quanta, the giant Taiwanese computer manufacturer that makes the PlayBook (and one out of three of the world's laptop computers ...).

Gdgt's sources are saying the Amazon device is a "stopgap" to get a color Kindle into the market for the 2011 holiday season, and TechCrunch said the rush is on because a new Nook Color will be introduced soon by Barnes & Noble.

We'll find out more on Wednesday morning when Amazon's expected to unveil its new device at a press event in New York.

Here's an image of a PlayBook:

PlayBook_front.jpg

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September 26, 2011 9:46 AM

Kindle library lending: good deal for everyone?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's great news for Kindle owners that they can finally get library books on their devices.

I always thought this was one of the biggest shortcomings of Amazon.com's device. It also highlighted the fact that Kindles are designed as much for buying books as for reading them.

But, while good for Kindle users, it may not be such a great deal for everyone else using public libraries.

I'll bet that last week's announcement that libraries across the country are working with Amazon to offer e-books for borrowing will come to be seen as a turning point, when libraries accelerated their shift toward digital content bound in content-protection software.

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The convenience of digital books is compelling, especially to public libraries struggling to manage costs, grow their collections and stay relevant.

At the same time, there are trade-offs that may be overlooked or downplayed as libraries rush to embrace new formats and satisfy the demands of gadget-toting patrons.

For starters, this transformation may erode the democratic nature of libraries.

To meet growing demand from owners of Kindles and other reading gadgets, libraries are shifting more of their budgets from physical books anyone can read to digital copies that require a computer or e-book to consume.

The King County Library System is working on its 2012 budget and expects to dramatically increase its spending on digital copies after digital circulation increased by 150 percent over the past year, according to Director Bill Ptacek.

It now spends about $800,000 of its $14 million material budget on digital and audio books.

"It's a delicate balance," Ptacek said. "We want to have a big enough collection and offering that people who do have the devices will come to the library. On the other hand, we don't want to go so far overboard."

This balancing act is tricky in part because Amazon -- the leading e-book company -- doesn't disclose how many Kindles it has sold. Libraries are constantly asked for Kindle material, but nobody knows the size of this audience.

Ptacek estimates 10 to 20 percent of its 900,000 cardholders have e-reader devices.

Seattle's library system has seen digital circulation double every year since it began working in 2005 with OverDrive, a Cleveland company that runs the digital lending websites of most U.S. libraries.

Last week, OverDrive added Kindle to the list of devices supported by its service.

Libraries don't have to buy special Kindle editions of digital books. They just buy a digital copy from OverDrive, which serves the copy in whatever format the patron chooses at checkout.

Amazon's arrangement also adds a new layer of commercialism into the public service that libraries provide.

Unlike digital books offered in other formats through library websites, Kindle versions require you to complete the checkout process at Amazon's website. The process ends with a pitch from Amazon to buy more books, and the system feeds Amazon's database of customer interests.

It's still early days for digital books. The next step will be applications that let library patrons borrow digital books directly from their e-reader, Web tablet or smartphone. This will appear on a Sony reader coming in October, and could be on the new color tablets that Amazon's expected to unveil Wednesday.

"There is a road map where we're going to be able to do more of the experience within the app," said David Burleigh, OverDrive director marketing.

At the Seattle library, digital consumption reached a "critical mass" in 2010 with the proliferation of e-readers, smartphones and tablets, said Kirk Blankenship, electronic-resources librarian.

Blankenship expects circulation of downloadable books to triple this year from 100,000 to 300,000 checkouts. Overall circulation has been steady at about 11 million.

That doesn't necessarily mean there's been a major shift in reading habits. Budget cuts forced Seattle to dramatically cut library hours, reducing access to printed books and skewing circulation patterns.

Blankenship and Ptacek both see digital copies as additions to the printed collection, rather than as a replacement. But they are having to make decisions about where to spend their limited budgets.

What will the mix looks like two or three years from now? "We'll have a much more robust e-book environment and alongside that we'll have the print collection we'll be doing just as well," Blankenship said. "When you get a little beyond that ... that's much more of a gray area."

In the meantime, I'd argue that libraries should be pushing for ways to share the gains that e-book companies are seeing.

For instance, Amazon pays commissions to websites that refer shoppers to its online store. Why doesn't this "affiliate" program extend to the 11,000 public and school libraries now channeling book lovers to Amazon.com.

The elephant in the room, though, is the tax question.

Amazon is not only the leading e-book company, it's also become the nation's most notorious evader of local sales-tax collections.

While it's fighting to avoid local taxes across the country, tax-funded libraries are going to extraordinary lengths and paying a premium for content to satisfy Amazon customers.

These public institutions are making the Kindle more appealing, and helping to usher in a transformation in which Amazon may be the largest beneficiary.

Maybe it's time to pay the fees.

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September 23, 2011 11:49 AM

Amazon tablet launch next week? Event planned ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

It looks like the long-awaited tablet computers from Amazon.com will launch next Wednesday.

The company has scheduled a press conference in New York that day, the same place it unveiled its Kindle e-reader.

Amazon is expected to begin selling color, touchscreen tablets bases on Google's Android platform but with a new interface. The tablets would connect directly to Amazon services such as it's streaming music and video services.

Amazon hasn't said much of anything about the device but a TechCrunch blogger spent time with an early version, according to a Sept. 2 report. It said the first tablet will cost $250, have a 7-inch screen and come bundled with Amazon Prime service that provides free shipping on products and streaming video.

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September 20, 2011 1:17 PM

Photo guide: How to check out Kindle library books

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a quick walk-through of loading a library book on to a Kindle, using the new service being tested at the Seattle Public Library.

First, you have to log in to the library site, then find a book. Most of the "popular" titles were already checked out today:

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After "adding to cart," you "proceed to checkout."

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Click to confirm:

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Then you click to really check out, clicking "Get for Kindle" takes you to Amazon.com:

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Here's the first step at Amazon, where you have to click again to check out, using the familiar Amazon purchase button. This is where you choose where you want to download the book if you have different devices running Kindle software:

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Then, you get the sales pitches:

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The USB mode is a bit tricky.

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Using Internet Explorer 9 on Windows 7, you've got to use the "Save As" option:

Kindle7-5.jpg

I made the mistake of not saving the book to the "documents" section of the Kindle and it didn't show up. Within Windows Explorer I moved the file to "documents."

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Then the book appears on the Kindle:

Kindle9.jpg

It saved me a trip to the library, but I miss the color pictures:

Kindle10.jpg

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September 20, 2011 11:38 AM

NEW: Kindle library lending starts in Seattle, goes national

Posted by Brier Dudley

Seattle-area libraries on Tuesday began testing the long-awaited Kindle feature that lets patrons transfer borrowed library books to the electronic device.

This morning (Wednesday), Amazon.com announced that the program is now available across the country, at more than 11,000 libraries.

Amazon agreed in April to work with OverDrive, a Cleveland company that provides electronic book lending services for numerous libraries, but the companies didn't provide many details of what to expect. Amazon's website had promised the service was coming to 11,000 libraries.

The beta test version of the service offered by the Seattle Public Library and King County Library System lets people select and place holds on Kindle versions of books.

Libraries have offered digital downloads of books and other materials to various devices for years, but the Kindle has been notably absent from the options.

"It's a big deal for us because so many of our patrons have purchased Kindles, and they've been asking for the longest time," said Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, which began offering the service Monday.

Ptacek said digital book lending has grown about 150 percent over the past year. Kindle lending is one of several digital lending services it offers, and additional partnerships are in the works.

But Ptacek is expecting Kindle usage in particular to proliferate after the company launches an expected color tablet version this fall. Checking out library books will apparently be relatively easy for buyers of those devices.

"We understand that the new Kindle that's coming out ... will make it possible for those folks to think of their library as their content provider in this arena, which is great," Ptacek said.

He said the county and Seattle library systems so far are the only ones testing the system, "which is an indication of where we are in regard to having Amazon in our community."

On Tuesday, Amazon's Kindle spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, and a Seattle library spokeswoman referred questions to OverDrive. They were apparently waiting for Amazon to issue its press release today.

"Libraries are a critical part of our communities and we're excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country," Jay Marine, Kindle director, said in the release. "We're even doing a little extra here - normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we're fixing this by extending our Whispersync technology to library books, so your notes, highlights and bookmarks are always backed up and available the next time you check out the book or if you decide to buy the book."

"We're thrilled that Amazon is offering such a new approach to library ebooks that enhances the reader experience," Seattle's city librarian, Marcellus Turner, said in Amazon's release.

While the service is a convenience and added benefit for owners of Kindles, users will sacrifice the privacy and direct service offered by their libraries.

To check out a Kindle book using the new service, you select the book from the library's website, then log in to an Amazon.com account. There you can "redeem" your loan, at which point the book is transferred into your Kindle library for the duration of the loan.
kindlelibe1.jpg

Amazon said the service lets people read books in their Kindle software which is available for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry and Windows Phone and through web browsers.

Amazon will email a message to you three days before the loan expires.

The arrangement doesn't mean there is an unlimited supply of digital copies of books available now. Libraries have a limited number of Kindle "copies" to lend, and popular books at Seattle's library are already checked.

"The Help," for instance, has 147 people on the waiting list for 91 Kindle copies.

Seattle's online catalog lists about 25,000 Kindle books, compared with 644,325 results for "book" presented by its online catalog. The county library lists 11,815 titles.

Libraries have made digital books available to other e-reader devices for some time, including Barnes & Noble's Nook and the Sony Reader, but the download procedures are more complicated than buying books from their built-in wireless stores.

Marsha Iverson, spokeswoman for the county library, noted that library patrons don't need a Kindle or Nook from Barnes & Noble to download electronic versions of their library books. Patrons can download the Kindle and Nook reading applications to a computer, smartphone or other device and use the digital lending services.

Libraries also offer electronic versions of books and periodicals without routing their lending through online retail systems. Seattle, for instance, lends books directly in OverDrive and Adobe formats. They can be read on a PC or device running free applications available here from the library's site.

The debut of Amazon's library program was first reported earlier today by AOL's TechCrunch site, which noted discussion of the service at Amazon forums, where there were complaints that the service requires Amazon's proprietary AZW format instead of Adobe's ePub format.

In a quick test of the service offered by the Seattle Public Library, I had to futz a bit to get a library book on to a Kindle DX.

You can't use the 3G wireless service to load library books, so you have to connect via Wi-Fi or a USB cable to a PC. The book I checked out was available on the device for 21 days, and I can check out a maximum of 25 books on my account.

The downside, from my perspective as a fan of public libraries, is that the process requires you to visit Amazon.com to borrow a book and have commercial offers interjected into the process. But then again, you're opting to consume a public library book via the world's largest e-commerce business, on a device optimized for selling books.

I hope libraries are getting a deal on the service and the Kindle editions they acquire, because Amazon will benefit from the traffic and profiling opportunities generated by the public libraries, not to mention the big improvement in the Kindle's utility and appeal that library lending brings.

At the last page of the checkout process, the bottom half of your PC screen is filled with pitches to buy various books related to the one you're checking out and others based on your history with the company.

Here's a walk-through of the process to check out a library book and get it onto a Kindle device.

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September 2, 2011 1:58 PM

Report: Amazon's 7" tablet to cost $250 + free Prime

Posted by Brier Dudley

A TechCrunch writer managed to get his hands on an early version of Amazon's upcoming Android tablet and provided some really interesting details about the product.

We'll see if the article pans out, but it says Amazon's aiming to release the tablet with a 7-inch color touchscreen by the end of November for $250.

The report says the tablets will come with free Amazon Prime service, which provide free shipping and free streaming of a limited library of movies and TV shows. I wonder if that's permanently free or a one- or two-year free trial.

It said Amazon designed its own Android interface, as expected, and it has a sort of carousel displaying content stored on the device.

Apps on the device include Amazon's Cloud Player for music and its Instant Video player, and the only Google app is the default search engine.

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September 2, 2011 1:06 PM

Bezos spacecraft has "major failure" (UPDATE, with photos)

Posted by Brier Dudley

An unmanned spacecraft that Amazon.com boss Jeff Bezos built in Kent and launched in Texas had a "major failure" during a test flight, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Apparently the craft went out of control of ground personnel and crashed, raising concerns as the government is shifting spacecraft development to private ventures such as Bezos' venture in Kent, Blue Origin.

The report says parts were recovered on the ground and are being analyzed. It cites government and industry officials familiar with the ultra secretive project.

Blue Origin told the paper the craft was destroyed as a precaution after control was lost at 45,000 feet.

After the Journal story, Bezos posted a brief description of the event and photos of the craft on a previous, successful test and right before last week's failure. The statement:

Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet. A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. Not the outcome any of us wanted, but we're signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job. We're already working on our next development vehicle.

Blue Origin's first test flight, in 2006, was a success. Here's an image of that craft from its Web site:

pic9.jpg

Here's the craft lost last week, in an earlier test:

m1pic1.png

Here's another picture that Bezos posted, showing the craft at Mach 1.2 and 45,000 feet "right before the thrust termination system activated":

m2pic1.png

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July 13, 2011 3:51 PM

More details of Amazon tablet, new Kindles

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's getting harder for Amazon.com to sidestep reports that it's going to release a color tablet device this fall.

Reports seem to surface every few weeks with new details about the devices, including stories about which manufacturers are producing the various components.

Today, the Wall Street Journal weighed in with a story saying that the color, Android-based tablet will go on sale in October with a "roughly" 9-in. diagonal screen.

It also reported that there will be two new Kindles, including a cheaper model and one with a touchscreen like that used on the new Kobo and Nook e-readers.

The Journal cited people familiar with the devices, including people who had seen the lower-priced Kindle. I wonder if the sources were book publishers or people developing news applications for the new hardware in advance of the launch.

Amazon didn't respond to a request for comment on the Journal story, but the company earlier announced a new ad-supported version of the Kindle with 3G wireless connectivity. AT&T is the device "sponsor." The "Kindle 3G with Special Offers" will cost $139. An ad-free version of the device will continue to sell for $189.

This follows the April launch of an ad-supported version of the WiFi-only Kindle that sells for $114, compared with the $139 ad-free version.

Amazon needs to do more to refresh the lineup. Barnes & Noble, which has color and touchscren versions of its Nook, overtook Amazon's Kindle for the first time in the first quarter, according to a recent report by research firm IDC.

IDC's release said Amazon's "lack of a color offering has clearly impacted the company's previous dominance in the eReader market." The firm expects e-reader sales to grow 24 percent this year to 16.2 million units.

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June 28, 2011 10:45 AM

Amazon's Bezos talks tablets

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com hasn't confirmed speculation that it's going to start selling tablet computers later this year, but founder Jeff Bezos has tablets on his mind, judging from an interview with France's Les Echos.

(I found this link to the interview via a tweet from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels.)

A few excerpts that could be read as hints of what's to come:

"Historically, our business has been built on top of people buying from their desktop computer and their laptop computer, which you can only use in a couple of postures. And the tablets and the smartphones open up a completely new posture. The tablet for example means you can lay back on your sofa and shop on Amazon. I love that and I encourage you to do it!"

Talking about Amazon's "willingness to invent," Bezos talks about its new hardware capabilities:

When we did Kindle, I'm going back seven years now, we had to learn how to design hardware, how to manage a supply chain for hardware. A bunch of new skills. Now we're going to hire sophisticated people, but still, we need to learn new skills institutionally as well, and so we're bringing that skills set into practice. I think it's essential for companies to be incremental learners, but also to be willing every once in a while to pick up a whole new skill set that you weren't previously focused on.

Asked about areas of focus, Bezos mentions video and video games -- things that can sold and consumed on a tablet or phone but not on the current Kindles:

"Our focused areas are on electronics, apparels, some consumable items. And in media, we really focus on digital, and that's true for books but also for video, music, audio books, video games... So we sort of have our media business undergoing a digital transformation that we're working very hard on."

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June 27, 2011 4:42 PM

E-reader ownership doubles, Hispanics lead

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ownership of e-reading devices doubled over the past six months, from 6 percent to 12 percent of U.S. adults, according to a Pew Research Center survey released today.

Pew found that adults age 50 and older are buying e-readers faster than the population in general, and Hispanics are buying them faster than other ethnic groups.

Its survey concluded that 15 percent of Hispanic adults own e-readers, compared with 11 percent of whites and 8 percent of African Americans.

The survey also found that wealthy people are far more likely to own an e-reader. The devices are owned by 24 percent of households with income over $75,000, 13 percent of homes bringing in $30,000 to $74,999 and 4 percent of those earning less than $30,000.

College graduates are also more likely to own an e-reader, with 22 percent of them owning one in the U.S.

So far, there's just a little overlap in households with just 3 percent now owning both e-readers and tablet devices such as the iPad, but I'll bet that will change over the next year or two.

Here are some charts from Pew's report, based on a survey of 2,277 adults in April and May:

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June 22, 2011 1:46 PM

Amazon media tablet specs, timing revealed?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Component manufacturers may have spilled the beans on the tablet computers that Amazon.com is expected to release later this year, giving the company an iPad-like gadget to sell alongside its Kindle.

The devices will launch in August or September, in time for the Black Friday holiday sales kickoff after Thanksgiving, according to a report from Taiwan's DigiTimes.

Amazon's device will be assembled by Quanta Computer and have processors from Texas Instruments, touch panels from Wintek, LCD drivers from ILI Technology, according to the report.

It said 700,000 to 800,000 units are expected to ship per month and noted that the device will play movies streamed by Amazon.

I've asked for comment from the company next door but haven't heard back yet. Most likely it will decline to say anything at this point.

Speculation about Amazon producing an Android-based tablet has increased since the company began operating an Android app store in March.

In Monday's column, I wrote about how Amazon is likely to take a path similar to Barnes & Noble, which started out trying to add computer-like features to its first e-reader but has now decided on a two-tiered approach with its Nook, offering a low-end black and white model and a higher-end color version that's morphed into an Android tablet.

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June 20, 2011 9:45 AM

Review: B&N's simplified new Nook

Posted by Brier Dudley

Newer, faster phones and tablets are appearing every month, even every week, it seems.

But if you spend too much time grazing through this multicore, high-def smorgasbord, everything blurs together on your plate. The phones look like tablets, the tablets look like each other, and they all have the same basic set of apps.

Maybe that's why I like the new Nook reader from Barnes & Noble, a squarish puck of an e-reader that went on sale earlier this month for $139.

For starters, it doesn't look like yet another touch-screen Web tablet.

02_NOOKHeroAngle.jpg
It's a single-purpose reading device with a stripped down interface, which is kind of refreshing. It also helps stratify the jumble of tablets available nowadays.

The Nook is among a batch of high-quality, $100 to $130 reading devices with 6-inch screens and Wi-Fi connections. Others include Amazon.com's latest Kindle and the Kobo eReader Touch that's allied with Borders.

From $180 to $380 are readers with larger screens and 3G wireless service. Then from $499 to $900 are color Web tablets like the Apple iPad and Android-based devices. By fall there should be more glimpses of tabletlike Windows 8 PCs that will probably cost $700 to $1,500 when they go on sale.

As these categories and device capabilities become clearer, people won't wonder as much about whether they need a Kindle or an iPad. They may decide they need both -- an e-reader for books on the go, and a color tablet for magazines, the Web and other digital media.

That's what Barnes & Noble is counting on, at least. Its lineup now includes the $139 Nook and a $249 color version that runs Web apps.

"We think people are going to have a Nook Color and a Nook," said Michelle Warvel, creative director at Barnes & Noble.

That influenced the design of the new Nook, which has fewer features than the original, which tried to do everything at once. Released in 2009, it was a hybrid with an e-Ink display above a narrow color touch-screen.

Now, "our goal is to have a portfolio of products," Warvel explained. She said the simpler Nook was designed for the "pure reader."

Amazon probably is going in the same direction. It's expected to release color Web tablets based on Google's Android software later this year. They'll tap its Kindle bookstore and online music and video services, and complement its black and white Kindles, which will continue to have superior battery life and readability.

This must be what it felt like to be car shopping 100 years ago. At first there were all sorts of crazy horseless carriages, but soon it settled into sedans, coupes, trucks and motorcycles.

The new Nook is a cycle in this lineup. It's about the size of an outstretched hand, weighs 7.5 ounces and has a ridged, rubberized back.

You turn pages by tapping a side of the screen, by using a swipe gesture or by pressing hard buttons on either side of its rubbery frame.

The Nook is easy to hold and feels tough enough to toss into a bag or a backseat. I found that it didn't suffer after I carried it in a back pocket and sat upon it repeatedly.

The trade-off for this portability is that the screen is pretty small. It displays only a few paragraphs at a time, which is OK for books but awful if you're trying to get through a newspaper or magazine.

For reading books, it's on par with the latest Kindle, which has the same e-Ink "Pearl" display technology and screen size. Both claim battery life of up to two months on a single charge.

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A key difference is the Nook's touch-screen. Amazon executives have said in the past that they haven't used touch-screens because they require extra layers of material, which obscures the text a bit. I bet, though, Amazon will eventually add it.

The Nook's text quality was fine, but sometimes letters seemed a bit raggedy, creating a pulp-fiction effect that I kind of liked.

Warvel said B&N extended the number of pages displayed before the screen refreshes itself, a process that creates a flashing effect.

Users of the first Nook were distracted by flashes between pages so the new model, with standard text, flashes every five or six pages.

Having a touch-screen means the Nook doesn't need a physical keypad like the Kindle -- it just displays one on the screen when needed -- and can have a smaller case.

But it takes a little getting used to the Nook's mix of controls. It's also not obvious that you can do things like tap the center of the screen to call up controls for font size.

It's also easy to hold or tap too long and zoom past multiple pages. A few times I also had trouble unlocking the device, which you do by sliding a finger across the bottom of the screen. During a week of testing the device froze once; I had to reboot by holding the power button on the back.

There's no browser, but the Nook has social-networking features so you can share quotes from books with friends on Twitter and Facebook. There's no camera, so it's probably safe for randy politicians. You can also "lend" certain books to friends with Nooks.

The device is compatible with digital books loaned by some libraries, including Seattle's. But it's a multistep process -- you connect the Nook to a PC and transfer books via a USB cable. I tried this with several books and never found them on the Nook.

Another concern with e-readers in general is how they lock you into a particular service. If you've bought digital books for the Kindle, you can't read them on the Nook and vice versa.

Frankly, I still prefer actual books. It's easier to flip back and forth through real pages, which are also more relaxing after working with a screen all day.

But the avid female readers in my house took to the Nook like none of the other tablets I've brought home. And pretty soon I was able to lose myself in a novel on the little gadget -- so I stopped wondering where the library books went.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Digital media , Kindle , Nook , Review , Tablets , e-readers , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 23, 2011 10:06 AM

Kobo launches touch reader, expanding in Seattle

Posted by Brier Dudley

Kobo today announced a new touchscreen version of its reader that will go on sale for $130 in June.

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The device uses an E Ink display like Amazon's Kindle, which has yet to introduce a touchscreen version, and has Kobo's "Reading Life" software with social sharing features and a gamelike reward system.

It has a 6-inch diagonal screen, a software keyboard, a quilted back and a single "home" button a la the iPad. It connects to the Web and Kobo's bookstore via WiFi or a USB cable.

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Kobo has been selling e-readers since May 2010 and initially allied itself with Borders. The company has extended its software platform, which is now bundled with tablets from Samsung and Research In Motion. It claims to have 3.6 million users in 100 countries.

Kobo is based in Toronto, Canada, but it established a Seattle presence in 2010 when it hired Todd Humphrey, a former Amazon.com director of business development, as its executive vice president of business development.

The company recently raised $50 million in funding and is now planning to open a full office in Seattle. Humphrey said it should be established by the end of the year.

"Whether it's five or 15 or 20 people, we'll see," he said.

Humphrey said the new Kobo eReader Touch Edition will be a serious competitor to e-reader made by his former co-workers at Amazon and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

"I think this device puts us ahead of them from a device standpoint," he said.

Humphrey said major retailers are very interested in selling the touch reader and it will help the company as it begins an expansion in Europe.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Entrepreneurs , Gadgets & products , Kindle , Startups , Tablets , e-readers |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 16, 2011 10:27 AM

Amazon sales tax spat: Time for new approach?

Posted by Brier Dudley

It may be time for Jeff Bezos to wander down the beach in Medina and ask his neighbor Bill Gates for some advice on damage control.

Perhaps Gates could tell him over a soda or two, as they watch the sun set over Seattle, that it's not worth being pushy or stubborn when you're on the hot seat and the nation's watching.

Amazon.com is facing a huge government battle that could approach the scale and long-lasting effect of Microsoft's epic antitrust challenge.

This fight is over whether Amazon -- the largest online retailer, by far -- should collect the same sales taxes as local retailers. Right now, it collects taxes in only five states, including Washington.

States have grumbled for years about people bypassing sales taxes by shopping at Amazon and other online stores. They're losing up to $12.6 billion a year this way, according to a University of Tennessee study.

Now the states are at a breaking point, struggling with huge deficits and declining revenues. On top of that, people are doing more shopping online, reducing local business activity and sales-tax receipts.

For their part, online stores claim they're exempt from collecting taxes in states where they have no physical presence. They're relying on a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, which favored a mail-order company that didn't want to collect sales taxes in North Dakota. That case built on a 1967 ruling in favor of another mail-order business.

Justices acknowledged the "physical presence" rule gave mail-order companies an advantage, but said it was important to clarify when and where states could collect taxes.

"Indeed, it is not unlikely that the mail-order industry's dramatic growth over the last quarter century is due in part to the bright line exemption from state taxation" created in the 1967 case, they wrote.

Since the nation began, there have been concerns about conflicting state tax laws interfering with interstate commerce. Clarity in this area helped keep the states united and prosperous.

But perhaps it's time for a more contemporary interpretation that takes into account the scale, effect and presence of online retail.

It seems reasonable to think of Amazon as establishing a storefront locally on your computer, where it uses the local infrastructure to conduct transactions and local roads to deliver merchandise.

It's silly nowadays to argue it's a burden for online companies to figure out the different tax rates.

It's a snap for Amazon to figure out how much tax each customer owes, based on their billing address. The company already calculates this in some states and on behalf of merchants that use its retail platform.

If Amazon can't figure this out, a Bainbridge Island company called Avalara offers software that does sales-tax calculations instantly for all sorts of companies.

The dissenting justices in the 1967 case said it best. Writing long before the PC arrived, they said fretting about the tax complexity facing interstate businesses "vastly underestimates the skill of contemporary man and his machines."

A coalition of 24 states, including Washington, is trying to take complexity out of the equation by streamlining and aligning their sales taxes. There's been talk in this group of pursuing a lawsuit to overturn the 1992 ruling, said Dan Schibley, a state-tax analyst at CCH, a publisher of tax research.

Some in Congress repeatedly have tried to introduce a federal rule setting a standard for collecting online-sales taxes. The latest was proposed last month by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., but he's yet to formally introduce his Main Street Fairness Act. His office said Friday the bill should be filed in a few days.

Amazon executives have said the company favors a nationwide approach. On Friday, spokeswoman Mary Osako reiterated this position with a statement: "We've long supported a truly simple, nationwide sales tax system, evenhandedly applied."

But this is kind of like saying you favor a blue moon. Amazon knows bills like Durbin's have a slim chance. Similar bills failed in the past five or six sessions of Congress, Schibley said.

"In Congress, the problem is that it's perceived as a tax increase, even though it's technically collecting a tax that's already owed," he said.

Amazon isn't acting like a company that's ready for progress on the tax front. It's fighting like a wolverine in states that have found ways to collect some taxes.

Six have passed laws to collect from local Amazon affiliates -- websites that get a commission for Amazon sales made through their sites. Amazon responded by cutting the affiliate program in Illinois and suing to block the legislation in New York.

At a conference last week, Bezos said the company will continue cutting affiliate programs in states where such laws are passed.

Amazon also is trying to get around the physical-presence rule in other states. In South Carolina, where Amazon was locating a distribution center, it demanded a special exemption from sales taxes. The company was given free land there for a center that would employ 1,249, but it abandoned the partly built facility after lawmakers voted against the tax exemption last month.

Earlier this year, Amazon decided to close a distribution center in Texas and drop plans for additional facilities there after the state tried to collect $269 million in unpaid sales taxes.

This seems like a million miles away from Washington state, where Amazon always has collected sales tax because it's based here. Washington is grateful for Amazon's presence and all the smart people it's bringing here.

Amazon is thriving in this climate, but I shudder to think what might happen if our state ever crosses its path.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , E-commerce , Public policy |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 3, 2011 11:05 AM

Report: Amazon tablet PCs coming, to challenge iPad 2

Posted by Brier Dudley

Taiwanese tech publication DigiTimes has a nice scoop today, if true: It's reporting that Amazon.com has hired a company to start building tablet PCs that will arrive in the second half of 2011.

It said Taiwan-based Quanta Computer will build up to 800,000 units per month for Amazon. Quanta's also building tablets for RIM and Sony and hoping to build the next "LePad" device for Lenovo.

DigiTimes didn't name its sources and said Quanta declined to comment. It reported that "Amazon internally plans to reduce Kindle's market price to attract consumer demand from the education and consumer market, while (it) will push tablet PC using its advantage in software and content resources to challenge iPad2."

The device will have touchscreens made by E-Ink, DigiTimes reported. E-Ink began showing its new color displays in November.

I've asked Amazon to clarify and will update if I get a response, but I'll bet my lunch money it will be some form of "no comment."

Perhaps Amazon is preparing to release a tablet based on Google's "Honeycomb" version of Android, preloaded with Kindle software and linked to Amazon's new Android application market.

Or maybe the report's terminology is off and Quanta will merely be building the next vesion of Kindle, which may have a color touchscreen and be more PC-like but still a limited-purpose reader with a screen optimized for reading and not Web apps.

Today Amazon's Zappos store announced that it now has an Android app, joining its iPhone and iPad apps, but that's surely a coincidence.

Meanwhile Barnes & Noble's Nook reader has morphed into an Android tablet and it's been awhile since we've heard about new Kindle hardware, other than the ad-subsidized entry-level model announced a few weeks ago.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Android , Apple , Gadgets & products , Kindle |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

May 2, 2011 11:55 AM

Kindle so-so for students, UW study concludes

Posted by Brier Dudley

Researchers at the University of Washington are about to present a report on a pilot project that had computer science students use a Kindle DX for their course reading.

College textbooks are a holy grail for the electronic book industry, but apparently they still have a ways to go, based on the UW study, conducted during the 2009-2010 school year.

"There is no e-reader that supports what we found these students doing," first author Alex Thayer, a UW doctoral student in design and engineering, said in a release. "It remains to be seen how to design one. It's a great space to get in to, there's a lot of opportunity."

Seven months into the study, more than 60 percent of the students had stopped using their Kindle regularly for academic reading -- and these were computer science students, who are presumably more sympathetic to an electronic book.

Although the device has note-taking capabilities, some students still tucked paper into the Kindle case to write notes and others would read near a computer that they could use for reference and other tasks that weren't easy on the device.

The study used the DX, which is the largest Kindle, a $379 model with a 9.7-inch diagonal screen. It involved 39 first-year graduate students in computer science and engineering, with ages ranging from 21 to 53.

Some conclusions, as listed in the release:

-- Students did most of the reading in fixed locations: 47 percent of reading was at home, 25 percent at school, 17 percent on a bus and 11 percent in a coffee shop or office.

-- The Kindle DX was more likely to replace students' paper-based reading than their computer-based reading.

-- Of the students who continued to use the device, some read near a computer so they could look up references or do other tasks that were easier to do on a computer. Others tucked a sheet of paper into the case so they could write notes.

-- With paper, three quarters of students marked up texts as they read. This included highlighting key passages, underlining, drawing pictures and writing notes in margins.

-- A drawback of the Kindle DX was the difficulty of switching between reading techniques, such as skimming an article's illustrations or references just before reading the complete text. Students frequently made such switches as they read course material.

-- The digital text also disrupted a technique called cognitive mapping, in which readers used physical cues, such as the location on the page and the position in the book to find a section of text or even to help retain and recall the information they had read.

The study will be presented at next week's Association for Computing Machinery conference on human factors in computing systems, taking place in Vancouver, B.C.

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April 13, 2011 4:55 PM

Q&A: Zynga founder on Seattle hiring spree, Amazon, Facebook

Posted by Brier Dudley

The line was out the door Tuesday night at the new Seattle office of Zynga, the red hot San Francisco social games company.

About 175 engineers and game developers crammed into the space in the Washington Shoe Building in Pioneer Square.

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Zynga called it a launch party, but it was really a recruiting event, the latest in a series of meet-and-greets hosted by California companies tapping into Seattle's deep reservoir of tech talent. Similar events were held earlier this year by Salesforce.com and Facebook, while Google, Amazon.com and Seattle startups have been talking up their hiring plans.

Tuesday's highlight was an appearance by Zynga founder Mark Pincus, who gave a quick speech and worked the room, shaking hands and getting his picture taken with fans.

Zynga has had amazing growth. Started in 2007, it now has around 250 million players for its games such as "FarmVille" and "CityVille." They're mostly played on Facebook, generating a staggering amount of information about players' activity that Zynga needs help sifting and analyzing.

Pincus, 45, told the crowd - including engineers from Cray, Amazon.com and RealNetworks - that Zynga is tracking 8 billion "neighbor connections" among between users, who generate 5 terabytes of click data per day, up 500 percent from the fall.

Managing this flood is a challenge but "what's more interesting is what you do with it," he said.

Also interesting to the audience is the chance to join Zynga before it goes public. Last month it was reportedly valued at $10 billion by investors and positioned for an IPO in 2012. It has raised more than $360 million and has nearly 2,000 employees.

In Seattle, Zynga set up enough room for 54 employees people initially. So far 10 seats are filled, mostly with early Amazon.com employees like Neil Roseman, who was hired last month as the vice president in charge of the office.

During an interview at the event, Pincus talked about Zynga's relationship with Facebook, its future and what he's looking for in Seattle. Here are edited excerpts:

Q: Why are you so interested in there so many Amazon.com employees here?

A: We are definitely not targeting Amazon or any other company.

It seems like there's a lot of affinity between the cultures of our companies. I have huge respect for Jeff Bezos and the way he builds his company - the idea that he took a simple concept like shopping and made it so much better, and created a vision that makes as much sense now as it did 10 years ago, and you know it will make as much sense in 10 years.

The way that company has built out, it's very technology-centric. It's about APIs and Web services. Really they were way ahead of their time in approaching e-commerce not as a compilation of Web pages, but as something with a much more powerful backend.
That's very similar to the approach that were taking to gaming. We want to have this very powerful backend that we've invested massively in, this real-time data store that may be the biggest in the game industry. I'm sure it's the biggest by the sheer quantity of data, and a culture inside the company that's very decentralized - everything is kind of an API service inside the company.

Q: Is your respect for Amazon why you're in Seattle?

A: No, we've been interested in Seattle for a long, long time. It really was more coincidental that Amazon's here and that we happen to have a bunch of former Amazon people.

It's more likely that the Microsoft influence on Seattle will impact us than Amazon in the sense that we're excited about the level of real hard-core engineering. When I think of the engineering horsepower here, I think in many ways it can be deeper than the Bay Area.

Q: The opening comments by you and Neil suggest Zynga is building a new foundation of services. Is that for running Zynga post-Facebook?

A: There are a couple of focuses where this talent pool will be really key for us. One is broadly in network products - consumer facing products that have value across all of our games - like Zynga message center, which is used by more than half of our players every day as a way to interact and be social with their friends. There's a whole layer that we're excited about, surfacing more social opportunities in any Zynga game.

Q: Independent of the platform?

A: Independent of the platform. That's one area of network products. Another area is game development. If we can find and recruit world-class game entrepreneurs from up here - they exist up here but we don't have them - we would love to build games here.
The third area is on mobile platforms -- going deeper on new technologies whether around HTML, whether it's rendering tools, development tools.

Q: Zynga has figured out ways to keep players around, offering them fresh content. That seems to make you voracious, acquiring talent so you keep getting new ideas.

A: Yeah, because we approach games as a service, it's more like a TV show - it's more like "Lost" or "Seinfeld." The users of those games have a voracious appetite for new content. The games are all about engagement - these are really some of the deepest engagement on the Internet.

If you think about your options to spend time on the Internet, you can look at a bunch of links and text pages or interact in a deeply rich, interactive environment like a game with your friends. Chances are the game is going to be a more compelling experience while you're engaged in it.

But in our kinds of games, as you go up the ladder, there's this always increasing appetite for new content - quests, in Farmville - decorations, new features. We're always trying to innovate around creating new ways for you to interact with your friends. Farmville just launched Farmville England. In Farmville England we came out with things like animal breeding, new kinds of buildings that matter. Cityville has every week or every other week, they just came out with new version of franchises, which is incredibly social.

Q: You also do a lot acquistions, to keep the machine going ...

A: Yeah, the acquisitions have been about bringing in new DNA. We like teams that have worked together for a long time. We love teams that have already brought products to market and have that battle hardened sense of what it takes really to get something out the door and take it to scale.

Q: Had you considered buying a Seattle company to get started here?

A: We've been interested in Seattle for a long time. It's surprising when you think that we're in 13 locations it's taken us this long to come to Seattle.

Q: What do you think about Seattle's Big Fish Games and PopCap?

A: I think they're great companies that are in slightly different businesses than we are. I have huge respect for both of them -- and I play and have been addicted to a bunch of PopCap's games.

Q: Where will you be in two years?

A: I hope that we have made many, many tens of millions of more people into daily social gamers. I hope that we've made "play" as big a verb on the Internet as "search" or "shop" or "share."

Q: What will happen to console networks like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network?

A: I probably have a counterintuitive or contrarian view on that. I actually think you're going to see a surprising upsurge in their business. I think that social gaming is teaching a lot more people about how fun games are and I think there will be people who graduate upwards. I think you'll see the two come closer together in the sense the console games probably will see the value in going more where the Nintendo Wii went or most recently Microsoft Kinect. I think you'll see them see the value in going more casual. It's kind of like movies versus TV - they'll always be in a position to deliver a much higher value, deeper, engaged experience than the web can.

Q: You're following Amazon, Google, Facebook, Salesforce.com and others that recently had big recruiting pushes and events in Seattle.

A: Is it inappropriate to ask if their CEO's came?

Q: No - they didn't.

A: So we're hungrier for Seattle talent.

Q: Is Seattle talent's hungrier for you, because Zynga is in position to go public?

A: I don't know about that but I hope that people wouldn't join us because they were hoping we'd go public. We want people to join us because they're excited about this mission. I think there's probably a great financial opportunity at all of these companies. I'm hopeful people are excited about games and they're excited about the kinds of products we want to build and the ways we want to innovate and they're excited about the kind of data that we're digging into and the kind of problems we're trying to solve. It's a very different environment and experience at our company than any of those companies, public or private.

Ours is more small teams that are more like startups that have their own missions and they're off doing them.

Q: Where will this office be in a few years?

A: I just don't know. If we're able to attract the game talent as well as engineering talent here, then Seattle could be one of our biggest if not second biggest location. It depends on how big social games gets and how big we get with it, but the remote studio model has been very successful for us.

Q: Your Facebook partnership expires in what, 2014 or 2015?

A: Gosh, we don't even think about that. I think the way that Mark [Zuckerberg] and I think about that is both of us hope that that is a partnership that lasts decades.

Q: I keep hearing that a huge amount of money generated on Facebook is by Zynga.

A: Neither company talks about it, but it's definitely a very important business relationship for both.

Q: How will your mix of global vs. U.S. players evolve? (Now 75 percent are outside of the U.S.)

A: I would assume it will eventually look more and more like the Internet. Our view in the future is there will be something like 4 billion devices connected to each other through a combination of the Internet and social networks on top of that, and that half of those people will engage in games.

Q: How many will be Zynga games?

A: Of course I hope the lion's share. We hope that we can be the Google or the Amazon -- what they are to their verbs, we want to be to "play."

Q: Who are your biggest competitors?

A: We don't think about it. We don't spend our time thinking about beating competition. For Google to build out search or Amazon to build out shop, they had to take it direct to the consumers and convince them this had value in their daily lives. So it's a much harder mission than just trying to take out a competitor or beat somebody else.
We have to innovate and prove to you that we're worthy of 15 minutes of your day every day, and we're a better way for you to play and relax and connect. It's probably like you're going to do that instead of TV or a conference call at work - or during a conference call.

I know in traditional media it's "what are you taking away from." Social gaming to me feels additive: I think people have these nooks and crannies of time that we haven't every been able to fill as a society before, and these mobile devices are starting to let us do that. We all want to multitask a little bit - we're really designing our games to fit in those nooks and crannies.

It's funny, we don't want them to be too engaging - they shouldn't compete for your attention too much. They should be just nice, in the background.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , Entrepreneurs , Facebook , Games & entertainment , Social networking , Zynga |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 31, 2011 10:17 AM

Cheezburger luring Amazonians with Dick's burgers

Posted by Brier Dudley

There is such a thing as a free lunch today for Amazon.com employees.

Seattle humor network Cheezburger is going to give Amazonians cheeseburgers from Dick's as they leave the Amazon company meeting at Key Arena today, in a blatant recruiting stunt.

Dick's is close to Cheezburger's Queen Anne office.

But it's an uphill battle against the array of restaurants opening alongside Amazon's new campus down in South Lake Union.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Startups , Tech work |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 7, 2011 2:09 PM

Amazon updates Kindle, adds real page numbers

Posted by Brier Dudley

A software update is adding some much-requested features to Amazon.com's latest Kindles.

A preview version of the software can now be downloaded manually (here's the link to the new Kindle software, version 3.1) before it's rolled out later to the latest-generation Kindles and Kindle 3G models.

New features include real page numbers that correspond to the pages in print editions. This will especially help Amazon in schools, where I've talked with teachers who gave up on Kindles in part because the device's odd page numbering system didn't track to printed books used in the classroom.

It may take awhile for real numbers to proliferate, though. Amazon said it's adding them to Kindle editions and so far has them in "tens of thousands" of volumes.
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Amazon is also adding a "public notes" feature that lets Kindle users choose to make their book notes and highlights public, sharing their thoughts "with friends, family members, colleagues and the greater Kindle community of people who love to read." I wonder how fine-grained the sharing feature will be -- for instance, can a teacher share highlights just with students in their class, or family members share only with each other?

That's one of several Web commerce features coming to Kindle. Amazon is also adding "Before You Go ...," a webby feature at the end of Kindle books designed to prompt users to rate the book, share a message about the book with a social network, get tailored suggestions of other books to buy and see more books by the same author.

The notes and "Before You Go" features may pull more Kindle readers back into Amazon's digital Web, but it could turn off some who just want to read books on the Kindle.

The update is also bringing a "new and improved" layout for newspapers and magazines. It will give readers a snapshot of news "and helps you decide what you want to read first," Amazon said in its release.

Here are screenshots of "Before You Go" and the paper layout:

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Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Kindle , iPad |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 31, 2011 11:19 AM

Geek grub alert: Biscuits in Amazonville

Posted by Brier Dudley

Enough about tech tax breaks. It's time for a tech biscuit break.

That's my opinion after checking out the new biscuit and espresso bar that Tom Douglas opened this morning on Westlake Avenue, in the shadow of Amazon.com's new headquarters and just down the street from the Tesla dealer and Microsoft's "touchdown space."

It's a little bar on the first floor below Serious Pie and next to the Soul Wine store. There are only a few small tables, but there's a row of hooks below the bar proper for hanging laptop bags.

The place sells coffee, baked goods and biscuits -- big, buttery square ones with jam, eggs or gravy. Or filled with fried green tomatoes, fried chicken or fennel sausage and pepper relish.

In other words, Douglas is putting the south in South Lake Union.

It's a refreshing break from cupcake mania, although you may need to work at Amazon.com to start each day with a $7 biscuit filled with a truffled frittata, tomato, caper and arugula.

I may have to spend more time there, hanging out watching for Jeff Bezos, who grew up in Texas and probably knows a thing or two about biscuits.

Here's the business end of the menu. I didn't take a picture of my biscuit because there will be thousands posted soon by smartphone-toting foodies, on Facebook, Flickr and everywhere else.

biscuits.jpg.

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December 27, 2010 11:13 AM

Amazon holiday recap: Kindle overtakes Harry Potter 7

Posted by Brier Dudley

After a crazy spurt of holiday sales, the Kindle is now the best-selling product in the history of Amazon.com, the company announced today.

The Seattle-based retail giant said sales of its Kindle digital book have now overtaken sales of "Harry Potter and the Dealthy Hallows."

But you've got to take Amazon's word for it - the company still isn't telling investors or anyone else how many Kindles have been sold.
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In a prepared statement, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos suggested the Kindle is holding its own against Apple's iPad and other tablet computing devices with color screens.

"We're seeing that many of the people who are buying Kindles also own an LCD tablet," Bezos said in the release. "Customers report using their LCD tablets for games, movies and web browsing and their Kindles for reading sessions."

Amazon provided lots of factoids in its holiday recap:

- The company's sales volume peaked on Nov. 29, when customers ordered more than 13.7 million items in all product categories, a record 158 items per second. On the same day, the company's fulfillment network shipped 9 million items.

- Products were shipped to 178 countries, and more than 350,000 items were shipped overseas to U.S. military personnel.

- The last "local express delivery" order delivered in time for Christmas was an Apple Mac Mini ordered at 1:41 p.m. Christmas Eve by someone in Woodinville. It was delivered at 8:04 p.m. that evening.

- Amazon sold enough tire chains to outfit the entire population of Aspen, Breckenridge and Sun Valley, and enough jeans to stack them to the top of Mount Everest.

- Customers bought more Philips Norelco shavers during the holiday season than the average beard hairs on a man's face.

- One of Amazon's most remote shipments went to the hamlet of Grise Fiord north of the Arctic Circle in Canada. It included "Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue," "Toy Story" DVDs, "Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul," and the video games "NHL 11," "Halo Reach" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops."

Here are company's best-selling items from Nov. 14 through Dec. 19, based on units ordered:

- Electronics: Kindle (Wi-Fi); Kindle 3G; and Apple iPod touch 8GB

- Toys: Scrabble Flash Cubes; Qwirkle Board Game; and LEGO Ultimate Building Set

- Video Games and Hardware: Call of Duty: Black Ops; Just Dance 2; and Donkey Kong Country Returns

- Sports & Outdoors: Zumba Fitness Total Body Transformation System DVD Set; Razor A Kick Scooter; and Power Balance Silicone Wristband

- Movies: "Inception"; "The Blind Side"; and "Toy Story 3"

- Kindle Books: "The Confession: A Novel" by John Grisham; "Decision Points" by George Bush; and "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

- Amazon MP3: "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" by Kanye West; "The 99 Most Essential Christmas Masterpieces" (Amazon Exclusive) by various artists; and "Born
Free" by Kid Rock

- Watches: Timex Women's Sports Digital Watch; Timex Kids' My First Outdoor Black Fast Wrap Watch; and Casio Men's G-Shock Classic Digital Watch

- Beauty: Philosophy Limited Edition Hope in a Jar; Philosophy Peppermint Bark Duo; and Burt's Bees Essential Body Kit

- Home, Garden & Pets: Swarovski 2010 Annual Edition Crystal Snowflake Ornament; Cuisinart SmartStick 200-Watt Immersion Hand Blender; and Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler

- Clothing & Accessories: Levi's Men's 501 Jean; Levi's Men 550 Relaxed Fit Jean; and Levi's Men's 505 Regular Straight Fit Jean

- Shoes and Handbags: UGG Australia Women's Classic Short Boots; Red Large Vicky Giraffe Print Faux Leather Satchel Bag; and BEARPAW Women's Eva 10" Boot

- Health & Personal Care: Philips Norelco Men's Shaving System; Omron Digital Pocket Pedometer; and Philips Sonicare Essence Power Toothbrush

- Home Improvement: Black & Decker Ratcheting ReadyWrench; Striker Magnetic LED Light-Mine Flashlight; and Rockwell Jawhorse

- Automotive Parts & Accessories: Battery Tender Junior; Wagan Heated Seat Cushion; and Michelin Digital Programmable Tire Gauge

- Baby: Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes; Cloud b Twilight Constellation Night Light, Turtle; and Baby Einstein Bendy Ball

- Software: Anime Studio Debut 7; Manga Studio Debut 4; and Adobe Photoshop Elements 9

- Grocery: Coffee People Donut Shop K-Cups for Keurig Brewers; Vita Coco 100% Pure Coconut Water; and Numi Tea Bamboo Flowering Tea Gift Set

- Wireless: Samsung Captivate Android Phone (AT&T); HTC DROID INCREDIBLE Android Phone (Verizon Wireless); and Motorola DROID X Android Phone (Verizon Wireless)

- Frustration-Free Packaging: Transcend 4 GB Class Flash Memory Card; Fujifilm FinePix 12.2 MP Digital Camera; and Coffee People Donut Shop K-Cups for Keurig Brewers

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December 2, 2010 5:04 PM

Amazon explains WikiLeaks cutoff: Not because of feds

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com is finally explaining why it stopped hosting the latest batch of WikiLeaks content, saying it wasn't because of pressure from the government.

The Seattle company was in a bind over the State Department files, which were moved to Amazon's self-service Web hosting service after WikiLeaks released them on Sunday.

Amazon tries to take a neutral stance toward content sold and stored on its infrastructure, but it removed the WikiLeaks material after complaints were raised, including protests by Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Today, Amazon Web Services posted an explanation, saying the material was removed not because of the government inquiry, but because it violated the company's terms of service.

Here's the key passage:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that "you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content... that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity." It's clear that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren't putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.

Amazon said hundreds of thousands of customers have used AWS services.

Some of this data is controversial, and that's perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn't rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won't injure others, it's a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.

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November 4, 2010 4:24 PM

Serious Pie 2.0 comes to Amazon.com-ville

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Neapolitan pizza oven in Amazon.com's new cafeteria is going to get some serious competition.

Seattle Met's reporting that Tom Douglas is putting a second Serious Pie just around the corner, on the second floor of a spot at Westlake and Harrison, where he's also setting up a second location for the Dahlia Bakery.

There's a pizza multiplier effect going on in South Lake Union. Every five new office buildings, roughly, spawns a new pizza joint -- Tutta Bella, Mad Pizza, Zaw.

I wonder if Douglas will offer a special SLUT pie, maybe a puttanesca?

amazapie.jpg

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September 16, 2010 10:28 AM

Hulu opening Seattle office, homecoming for team

Posted by Brier Dudley

Web video site Hulu announced today that it's opening a development office in Seattle by the end of the year to tap the city's engineering talent.

Hulu's based in the Los Angeles area but its management team is largely made up of former Seattle residents, including Chief Executive Jason Kilar, a former Amazon.com manager who still has a home in the city.

In a blog post announcing the new office, Hulu Vice President of Platform Technology Richard Tom - a former Microsoft lead - said nearly 50 of the company's developers in L.A. "were once Seattleites building enterprise database servers, operating systems and web frameworks."

You can really tell how much Tom misses the city. From his post:

Perhaps when you think of Seattle your taste buds prepare themselves for a freshly brewed espresso or a not-so-simple soy-decaf-single-shot-one-pump-vanilla-iced-latte. Or perhaps Seattle conjures images of the halls of Seattle Grace Hospital, where lives are saved and relationships flatline. Or maybe, if you're like me, your thoughts rush to Cuban sandwiches at Paseo, the inspiring view at Gasworks Park, and the incredible engineering and startup communities that thrive in this rainy Emerald City.

A spokesman declined to say how big the Seattle team will be but he noted that Hulu generally runs a lean operation, with just 230 employees now, at offices in Los Angeles, New York, Beijing and Chicago.

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September 7, 2010 11:04 AM

Amazon HQ housewarming for techies

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com is inviting the Seattle tech community to its first "technology open house" on Sept. 28.

Unlike Facebook's recent open house, there is no puzzle required for entry, although visitors are likely to get an AWS sales pitch.

It's billed as a chance to see the company's new South Lake Union campus, mingle and hear from Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, who will deliver a keynote at 6:15.

The doors open at 5:30 p.m. at the Van Vorst Building at 426 Terry Ave. N. Registration began today at Amazon Web Services site, and the company expects it will fill up quickly.

Here's a picture of the new campus taken a few minutes ago, from an upper floor of The Seattle Times main building. The Van Vorst building is the short building on the right with a brick facade.

amzn.jpg

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August 31, 2010 4:00 PM

More digital video news: Amazon pursuing subscription service

Posted by Brier Dudley

On the eve of Apple's fall product announcement Wednesday, Amazon.com is surfacing with plans for a subscription video service that could appear by the holidays.

Both The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press are reporting that Amazon is talking with studios about streaming their catalog of older content, perhaps through a monthly service affiliated with its $79 per year Amazon Prime service.

If nothing else, the reports could get Amazon mentioned in the wave of news coverage coming Wednesday when Apple is expected to announce a new version of its AppleTV device and a video subscription service.

Amazon already competes in the space, offering video rentals on demand to PCs and connected devices such as TiVo digital video recorders.

Next we'll be hearing about Microsoft's Zune Marketplace and the video it offers through Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox.

And don't forget Hulu and its pay service, or rumors that YouTube will offer a video rental service soon.

Just in case there's nothing to watch on TV.

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August 31, 2010 1:19 PM

Digg confirms new CEO from Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Digg founder Kevin Rose confirmed on his blog that the Web media site's new chief executive is Matt Williams, general manager of consumer payments at Amazon.com.

Williams joined Amazon in 1999 when the company acquired his startup, LiveBid.com.

Rose has been interim chief executive since an April shakeup and recently launched a major redesign of the site.

In Rose's blog post, he included a quote from Williams:

"The launch of version 4 was a big moment for Digg and I believe in the potential of this new platform. There is so much innovation yet to come -- being the best in the world at curating news means solving the information overload we all experience every day. The Digg team has already made great strides in this direction and there is much more ahead. I'm excited to join such a talented team and such a vibrant Digg community."

TechCrunch reported this morning that Williams was hired by Digg.

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August 17, 2010 10:14 AM

Report: Apple prepping smaller iPad -- the mini pad? -- for holiday

Posted by Brier Dudley

More reports are surfacing about a smaller iPad that Apple could launch by the end of the year.

The device will have a 7-inch diagonal touchscreen, potentially making the device small enough to fit into a purse or large coat pocket and closer in size to Amazon's standard Kindle, which has a 6-inch screen.

First generation iPads have a 9.7-inch diagonal screen.

Taiwan's Digitimes last week reported that the 7-inch iPad will be released in the first quarter of 2011, along with an improved version of the 9.7-inch model with a new processor.

A smaller iPad would be more portable and presumably cheaper and lighter, improving its odds of being chosen by people shopping for an electronic reading device.

Already the success of the iPad and the Kindle are snuffing out competition from other electronic reading books, Ars Technica noted in a story listing recently scuttled slates. They include the Hearst-backed Skiff and Plastic Logic's Que.

A new iPad screen size will add another complication for the application developers who were key to the iPhone's success, although it's nothing compared with the array of Android devices emerging this year.

In the meantime Apple's lined up a key iPad distributor. The company reached a new deal with China Unicom, the government-controlled phone conglomerate that's China's exclusive iPhone carrier, to sell the iPad as well.

I wonder if we'll start hearing gripes about Unicom's coverage and capacity, unless that's a capital offense.

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July 28, 2010 5:35 PM

Video: Amazon's Kindle boss demos new model

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's a video of Ian Freed, vice president of Kindle at Amazon.com, demonstrating the new version of the e-reader the company's announcing Thursday. He showed it yesterday at the company's new South Lake Union headquarters.

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July 28, 2010 5:30 PM

Amazon's new Kindle: Thinner, smaller, faster, cheaper

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amid growing competition from Apple's iPad and other e-readers, Amazon.com is launching a redesigned Kindle that's smaller, faster and has WiFi and twice the battery life.

The $189 price and 6-inch screen size are the same, but the new version has an improved navigation system that replaces the Kindle's quirky joystick with a more standard control pad. It also has the higher-contrast display that debuted last month on the larger Kindle DX.

Angle - graphite.jpg

But the blockbuster is likely to be a $139 WiFi-only version of the new Kindle - the first without 3G cellular service - that could help Amazon maintain its lead position as the market surges in coming years.

"We think that will make a significant impact on the number of multi-Kindle households and just broaden the overall ability for people to get it,'' said Ian Freed, vice president of Kindle at Seattle-based Amazon.

The company is announcing the new models and taking orders on Thursday. They'll be shipped starting on Aug. 27.

Amazon is not saying a lot about what's inside the new models, but it provided lots of specifications. They're 15 percent lighter at 8.7 ounces, 21 percent smaller and turn pages 20 percent faster. The battery charge lasts four weeks, up from two weeks, and the device holds 3,500 books, up from 1,500.

Amazon also has finally added a light to the Kindle, sort of. For the new model, the company is releasing a $60 book cover with a slide-out LED light that's powered by the Kindle battery.

The barebones Kindle is also priced $10 under a new WiFi-only version of the Nook e-reader that Barnes & Noble announced last month.

Freed with kindle.jpg

Yet Freed (left) insists the company's focused more on improving its reading device than on the competition.

"Our goal is to build the best possible reading experience in a device that we possibly can," he said in an interview in Amazon's new South Lake Union headquarters. "You've seen over three years, we just keep making improvements. This is a product that's very much designed for readers."

Still, the Kindle's competition now includes the iPad with its vivid color touchscreen and the Nook, which has a dual display with both color output and black and white for text.

Freed said the company considered adding a touchscreen but found it interferes too much with the display. It's also exploring options for color displays but they have to be high quality and "so far it's still in the lab."

In the meantime, Freed believes the Kindle can hold its own against the iPad, noting that "most books are black and white" and the Kindle's display is readable outdoors and in bright sunlight. At 8.7 ounces, it's nearly half the weight of an iPad.

"There are other products out there, general purpose products that are great for other things, but the iPad is a pound and a half - when you're reading for any period of time that becomes heavy very quickly," he said. "You can't read it in sunlight."

The iPad is "a great product for Amazon - we have a Kindle app on that product as well - but we envision that and other tablets as products people will use to surf the Web and buy at Amazon etcetera," he said. "But for readers, they really deserve a product that's designed for them."

Although the Kindle has become an important part of Amazon's business, with sales of Kindle books recently overtaking its sales of hardcovers, the company won't say exactly how many Kindle devices have sold since it debuted in November 2007.

Freed said Amazon has sold "millions" of Kindles and sales were up year-over-year in each of the last three months, especially after its price was cut to $189, from $259, in June.

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, estimates Amazon has sold about 4 million and will reach 6 million by the end of the year. He believes it has about two-thirds of the U.S. market for e-readers.

In a report last week, he predicted 29.4 million people in the U.S. will own e-readers by 2015, up from 3.7 million at the end of 2009. It cited surveys that found more people are still interested in e-readers than iPads.

Of the 20 percent of Americans thinking about buying an e-reader, 69 percent are eyeing a Kindle.

Here's Freed showing the new Kindle light:

kindle light.jpg

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June 30, 2010 3:23 PM

Amazon buys Woot! (check the rap video)

Posted by Brier Dudley

Funky online shopping site Woot.com, which offers single items daily through a handful of snarky Web sites, is being acquired by Amazon.com.

That's according to a characteristic letter posted by its chief executive, Matt Rutledge. An excerpt:

Today is a big day in Woot history. This morning, I woke up to find Jeff Bezos the Mighty had seized our magic sword. Using the Arthurian model as a corporate structure was something our CFO had warned against from the very beginning, but now that's water under the bridge. What is important is that our company is on the verge of becoming a part of the Amazon.com dynasty. And our plans for Grail.Woot are on indefinite hold.

Woot will remain autonomous and based in the Dallas area, according to Amazon.com. The purchase price isn't being disclosed and the deal should close in the third quarter.

"The acquisition will foster the long-term growth of Woot, allowing it to continue its passion for serving customers with low prices across a broad selection of products," spokesman Craig Berman said via email.

In addition to gadgets offered through Woot.com, Woot sells wine, toys and clothes through companion sites.

Rutledge provided a more expansive explanation of the deal:

Amazon is interested in us because they recognize the value of our people, our brand, and our unique style of deep-tissue, toxin-releasing massage. And they don't want to start changing things now. Amazon's hoping our nutty Woot steez continues to grow and develop (and perhaps even rubs off on them a little). They're not looking to have their folks come in and run Woot unless we ask them to, which incidentally you can do by turning off the bathroom lights and saying the word "Kindle" three times; a helpful Amazon employee will appear in the mirror. That said, Amazon clearly knows what they're doing in a lot of areas, so we're geeked about the opportunities to tap into that knowledge and those resources, especially on the technology side. This is about making the Woot brand, culture, and business even stronger than it is today, and we expect that any changes will be for the better or we wouldn't bother with this endless paperwork.

Better yet is the video in which Woot sings the news: "When we heard we were like 'that's some kind of scamazon' but it's true, we got acquired by aaamazon ... we're hooking up with the notorious crew."

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June 28, 2010 1:58 PM

Kindle for Android app released by Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com today announced an Android version of its popular app that continues to extend its Kindle reading and book-shopping software beyond its Kindle e-reader device.

The Android Kindle app comes as Amazon and Google, backer of the open-source device platform, are increasingly competing in digital media and cloud computing services, wooing the same consumers, publishers and developers.
Thumbnail image for DROID-by-Motorola_Kindle-Home-284x533_02__V190271719_.jpg

After you've registered with Amazon, you can use the Kindle Android app to search and browse around 620,000 books available in Kindle editions, sample the first chapter of books free, access your Kindle library online and synchronize the last page read between Kindles and other devices running the Kindle app.

The Android app uses touchscreen controls to turn pages with taps on the side of the screen or flicks.

Still to come, though, is the ability to purchase Kindle books from within the Android app and full text search.

Also not there yet apparently are multimedia features that Amazon.com on Sunday added to its iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch applications.

Those Kindle apps can now play digital books with embedded audio and video clips, such as "Bird Songs" and a special version of Rick Steves' "London by Rick Steves" that includes Steves narrating walking tours.

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June 23, 2010 3:47 PM

Ex-Amazon EC2 team starts cloud OS venture

Posted by Brier Dudley

A group of engineers who helped create Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud service announced plans today to build a new cloud operating system that could compete with offerings from Microsoft and IBM.

Their company, Nimbula, is based in Menlo Park, Calif.. It has 17 employees and $5.75 million in funding from Sequoia Capital and VMWare.

Chris Pinkham, co-founder and chief executive (below), said Nimbula doesn't compete with his former employer and will actually be "an on ramp for EC2."

NimbulaChrisPinkham.jpg

"We don't think this is directly competitive," he said. "We think this is complementary.''

Nimbula is developing software that runs within a company's network and directs where applications are run -- in-house or on various cloud services -- based on policies created by administrators. It's installed on top of an open-source hypervisor, and pitched as a way for companies to maintain the security of their information while taking advantage of cloud computing where appropriate.

The software is being tested by a set of unidentified companies in the finance, technology and healthcare fields. A beta version launches next quarter and it will be generally available in Q4.

Pinkham was vice president of Amazon's global infrastructure before managing development of EC2. To be closer to family, he left Seattle in 2005 for his native Cape Town, South Africa, where he set up an Amazon engineering office. He left the company in 2006, shortly before EC2 launched, and then started Nimbula in 2009.

Co-founder Willem van Biljon worked on EC2 product management and marketing. Nimbula's sales vice president, Martin Buhr, previously did EC2 business development and sales and before that worked at Microsoft.

"As the team leaders behind EC2, no one has a greater understanding of this emerging architecture and how to adapt it to enable large organizations to fully benefit from the co-existence of public and private cloud services," Sequoia general partner Roelof Botha said in a release.

Perhaps Botha's also enthusiastic because he, Pinkham and van Biljon all graduated from the University of Cape Town -- as did VMWare Chief Executive Paul Maritz.

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May 26, 2010 5:24 PM

Amazon plans for color Kindle: Sooner rather than later?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Jeff Bezos may have spoken too soon.

He told Amazon.com shareholders on Tuesday that a color Kindle is "still a long way out" and the displays he's seen aren't good enough yet.

But a few blocks away at the Society for Information Display conference, members of his Kindle team may have discovered what looks like a perfectly good color display material.

They liked LG's 9.7-inch electronic paper display material so much, according to an LG engineer, they asked the Korean company if Amazon's Kindle group could be the first customer..

"Amazon had so many people come to our booth," said David Park, team leader of LG Display's advanced color electronic display research group. They "said they want to be the first customer."

Also visiting the booth were people working on the competing Nook reader for Barnes & Noble, Park said.

Park said he's expecting products with the 9.7-inch display to appear on the market starting in October.

LG's material is brighter and weighs less than competing technologies, he said, and it outputs 65,000 colors.

Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said plans haven't changed since the shareholder meeting.

"We don't speculate on future plans, but nothing's changed from what Jeff said," he said.

LG's 9.7-inch color displays were created with textbooks and comic books in mind, Park said. He contends electronic books are better for textbooks than devices like the iPad because they are easier on the eyes for extended reading and they won't be used for playing games.

IMAG0043.jpg

LG also is making a similar sized black and white version that will be used on the Skiff reader coming to market later this year.

A 19-inch version that's designed for electronic newspapers was also being demonstrated, but Park said it won't come to market for a few years.

Here are two images of the 9.7-inch color electronic paper display and a shot of the 19-incher.

IMAG0045.jpg

19-inch electronic paper display.jpg

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March 18, 2010 3:58 PM

Early peek at Amazon's amazing new HQ: Pizza, pavilion and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

It was a lovely day to walk down the street and poke around Amazon.com's new headquarters campus that it will begin to occupy next month.

Builders working for developer Paul Allen are putting finishing touches on the centerpiece, a cluster of buildings around an open amphitheater built into the historic Van Vorst building, which used to be a stable for the Frederick & Nelson delivery horses.

Approaching the facade from Boren:

DSCN1552.JPG

A path to the amphitheater/courtyard:

DSCN1553.JPG

Looking the other direction (eastward):

DSCN1580.JPG

Continue reading this post ...


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February 12, 2010 10:45 AM

Amazon mum on free Kindle for Primers report

Posted by Brier Dudley

An Amazon.com spokeswoman said the company won't comment on a TechCrunch report saying the company's looking into giving Kindles away to people who subscribe to its $79 per year Prime membership program.

Sounds like a fun exercise for the number crunchers, who must have enough data now on Kindle usage to figure whether it's worthwhile. Especially if the standard price of e-books goes up to $15.

It also might be a way for Amazon to get early-generation, black and white Kindles into the hands of regular Amazon buyers, after Apple's iPad appears and Amazon follows with a color and/or touchscreen Kindle.

Newspapers have thought about a similar approach to e-readers, offering them to people who sign up for multi-year subscriptions, but the pricing and technology hasn't gelled yet.

Amazon's spokeswoman provided the usual: "We don't comment on rumors or speculation."

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January 21, 2010 9:34 AM

Amazon ups ante battling Apple tablet, calls for Kindle apps

Posted by Brier Dudley

Someone's taking all the rumors about Apple introducing a tablet/slate computer/digital reading device pretty seriously.

On Wednesday, Amazon.com more than doubled the royalties it offers authors and publishers using its Kindle self-publishing system.

Today, the Seattle company went after Apple developers and others building applications for mobile devices, opening up the Kindle to outside developers and providing them with a new Kindle software developer kit.

"We've heard from lots of developers over the past two years who are excited to build on top of Kindle," Ian Freed, Amazon Kindle vice president, said in a release. "The Kindle Development Kit opens many possibilities -- we look forward to being surprised by what developers invent."

Early participants include games giant Electronic Arts, which Apple has used in the past to show off the gaming capabilities of the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Other applications being developed now include a Zagat guide and casual games from Sonic Boom. Amazon said the applications will be available in the Kindle store "later this year."

Apple hasn't said anything yet about the tablet computing device it's expected to announce on Jan. 27, although its success would depend on Apple's ability to make it an attractive platform for software developers whose applications were key to the iPhone's success.

Among all the stories speculating on Apple's device, the definitive one so far is today's piece in the Wall Street Journal that describes how the company's been talking to book publishers, newspapers, magazine publishers and movie and TV companies about getting content onto the device (including media conglomerates such as News Corp., the WSJ's parent company ...). Its sources say the device will have about a 10-inch diagonal screen and cost around $1,000.

The device may also have some of the standard applications that come with touchscreen PCs such as "sticky notes" for posting messages on the shared device.

One tidbit in the WSJ story that stood out was Apple's plans to offer an online version of the iTunes store that it would proliferate with "buy this song" type buttons that could be added on all sorts of Web sites - replicating Amazon's online store and affiliate program.

Amazon has long worked with Web developers who use its commerce and online computing platforms, but it has been obsessive about controlling the Kindle and the experience it provides to users.

Today's announcement suggests the company's not opening up much -- it's limiting access to the Kindle developer kit and imposing various controls on its usage, which won't help woo iPhone developers. From Amazon's release:

Starting next month, participants in the limited beta will be able to download the Kindle Development Kit, access developer support, test content on Kindle, and submit finished content. Those wait-listed will be invited to participate as space becomes available. The Kindle Development Kit includes sample code, documentation, and the Kindle Simulator, which helps developers build and test their content by simulating the 6-inch Kindle and 9.7-inch Kindle DX on Mac, PC, and Linux desktops.

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January 20, 2010 10:01 AM

As Apple haggles with publishers on tablet, Amazon ups Kindle royalties

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple's reportedly haggling with book publishers over deals to put their content on the slate computing device the company's expected to announce next week.

But it's not the only "A" company that's hustling its book platform this week.

Amazon today announced new royalty rates for books distributed via its Kindle platform, offering authors and publishers a 70 percent royalty after distribution costs, as long as they keep their Kindle editions priced below $9.99 and 20 percent less than paper editions. The rates apply to authors and publishers using the company's self-service Digital Text Platform for self-publishing.

Whether that rebuffs Apple is unclear as the new royalties are aimed at smaller publishers using the self-publishing platform. The price limitations attached the royalties are also a sore spot for publishers, according to a Publisher's Marketplace story relayed by Bookseller.com's on Apple's talks with publishers:

"What is clear is that US publishers are desperate to combat the $10 Kindle price tag pushed by Amazon.com, and believe that if enough weight is given to it other retailers will be forced to follow. But PM notes that Amazon executives are also in New York meeting with publishers and agents this week with "simultaneous ebook release of new titles and pricing" foremost in their minds."

Apple would be the latest of many competitors challenging Amazon's nascent Kindle business, with more reading devices being introduced by startups with intriguing new technology and consumer electronics giants such as Sony and Samsung.

But with the hardware's evolution still in its early stage the real battle now is over whose standards and publishing tools will dominate the business. Will Amazon, Apple, Google or someone else run the iTunes of publishing?

Amazon's Digital Text Platform terms have offered a 35 percent royalty after various charges. Its press release suggests publishers generally receive about a 25 percent royalty for books

"Today, authors often receive royalties in the range of 7 to 15 percent of the list price that publishers set for their physical books, or 25 percent of the net that publishers receive from retailers for their digital books," Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle content, said in the release. "We're excited that the new 70 percent royalty option for the Kindle Digital Text Platform will help us pay authors higher royalties when readers choose their books."

All they need now is a color, touchscreen Kindle. Or maybe just a nice Kindle app for the Apple iTablet.

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November 30, 2009 11:51 AM

Cyber Monday madness: Web retail traffic up 39 percent

Posted by Brier Dudley

Akamai has fascinating dashboard showing how crazy the cyber Monday traffic has become: It's approaching 8 million visitors per minute -- 39 percent higher than normal -- at the company's sample of 270 global e-commerce sites:

akamai.JPG

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November 18, 2009 2:19 PM

Jeff Bezos dukes it out with Whole Foods boss

Posted by Brier Dudley

Not because Amazon.com is getting into the grocery business, but because both are tied in a poll running through Thursday for MarketWatch's CEO of the Year.

It's a dead heat between Webmeister Bezos and Whole Foods Chief Executive John Mackey, who also knows his way around an online forum ...

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November 10, 2009 9:08 AM

Amazon brings Kindle reader to PC

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com today announced a free version of its Kindle reader software for Windows PCs, a big step toward Jeff Bezos' goal of getting the software on all sorts of devices.

With the mini-bookstore loaded on your computer, you can buy Kindle versions of books from Amazon and access your Kindle collection from the Web. The software also keeps track of how far you've read and synchronizes your progress with your various Kindle devices.

There's also a feature that may be of interest to business and education Kindle users. Annotations and bookmarks created on a Kindle can be viewed on a PC directly through the application.

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The app also supports touch gestures on Windows 7 systems with touchscreen hardware. Users can "pinch" with fingers to zoom in and out of text and turn pages by swiping a finger across the screen.

A Mac version is "coming soon." The company earlier released a version for the iPhone.

PC users don't need a strong machine to download and run the software. Here are the minimum system requirements:

-- A PC with a 500MHz Intel or AMD processor or faster.
-- At least 128MB of RAM.
-- Screen resolution of 800 x 600 or greater.
-- Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later, or Windows Vista or Windows 7.
-- 100 MB of available disk space.

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October 19, 2009 10:17 AM

New Kindle competitors, one with Google juice

Posted by Brier Dudley

Companies releasing e-books seem to be telling people to hold off buying a Kindle this holiday, because cool options are coming soon.

Today's e-book teases include a new Google Android-powered model with dual displays, a new Irex reader with access to 1,200 newspapers, and a business-oriented touchscreen reader that Barnes & Noble partner Plastic Logic promises to show at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

The Android model will be available by year-end from Spring Design, a Fremont, Calif., company with engineering offices in Taiwan and China.

Spring calls its reader "Alex." The device has both a monochrome e-ink display and a smaller, color LCD display, plus WiFi and 3G Web access.

I wonder if the dual displays were inspired by the Nintendo DS. Either way the colorful LCD is a big departure from the minimalist, no-distractions design philosophy of the Kindle and other current e-books.

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The company's release said it's "currently in discussion and enlisting major content partners and plans to release the Alex device for selected strategic partners by the end of this year." I wonder if Google and its new e-bookstore is one of those partners; I was led to the release by Google guru Matt Cutts' Twitter feed.

A bit more from Spring's release:

Ideal for professional, educational and entertainment markets, Alex dynamically transforms the reader's experience with images, videos and notes inserted as 'Web grabs' or with custom text created by the user or other secondary authors pertaining to the subject being displayed. Users can create their own images and notes and capture them to augment the original text or just dynamically grab relevant content with Link Notes, Alex's innovative multimedia authoring tool to enhance multimedia publishing.

"This is the start of a whole new experience of reading content on e-books, potentially igniting a whole new industry in multimedia e-book publishing for secondary authors to create supplementary content that is hyper linked to the text. We are bringing life to books with audio, video, and annotations," said Dr. Priscilla Lu, CEO of Spring Design. "This gives readers the ability to fully leverage the resources on the Web, and the tools available in search engines to augment the reading experience."



Plastic Logic will release its "Que Reader" in 2010. It will be the first product from the Silicon Valley company developing a new plastic display technology.

The company didn't disclose pricing, but said the Que will connect to the Barnes & Noble e-bookstore. The device will be 8.5 by 11 inches, less than a third of an inch thick and connected via WiFi and AT&T 3G service.

As for the name, Plastic Logic Chief Executive Richard Archuletta said in the release that the "QUE brand stands for a premium reading experience. The QUE proReader enhances business performance and gives you a competitive edge. More than an eReader, QUE means business."

Plastic Logic's teaser image:

que.JPG

Irex is less vague about its new reader.

The DR800SG with an 8.1-inch diameter screen and leather cover is going on sale at Best Buy stores this fall for $400, which includes Verizon wireless Internet access.

Irex announced the device last month and today said it's partnering with LibreDigital and NewspaperDirect, which distribute electronic version of newspapers and magazines. Its device also points uses to the Barnes & Noble store.

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September 28, 2009 1:53 PM

Newegg -- Zappos for geeks -- seeks IPO; where's Amazon?

Posted by Brier Dudley

My first question after seeing that online computer store Newegg is going public was: How many geeks are going to think they deserve friends and family shares?

Then I wondered if Newegg tried selling to Amazon, or hopes to sell before the IPO goes through.

Newegg really is the geek's equivalent of Zappos, the online shoe store that Amazon bought in June for nearly $900 million. And Newegg is trying to raise only $175 million, according to Reuters.

City of Industry, Calif.-based Newegg claims to be the second-largest online-only retailer in the U.S. and reported sales of $2.1 billion last year. That's twice the purported volume of Zappos.

It also claims to have a sophisticated delivery system and a huge base of loyal customers, with 12 million registered users. In short, key attributes of Zappos, minus the latter's quirky, progressive culture.

What am I saying -- if Amazon bought them, Newegg customers around here would have to start paying sales tax ...

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August 25, 2009 11:09 AM

Sony's eBooks get app to work with libraries

Posted by Brier Dudley

Maybe now it's an actual competition between Amazon's Kindle and Sony's forlorn "Reader" e-book.

Sony today announced a new larger-screen model going on sale by Christmas for around $399. The Reader Daily Edition (aiming to deliver newspapers, perhaps?) has a seven-inch-wide touchscreen and includes 3G wireless service from AT&T.

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But it's Sony's new software and services that are going to change the dynamic.

Sony also said it's partnering with OverDrive, a company that distributes electronic books to libraries, so Reader users will be able to "check out" free digital library books that expire at the end of the lending period. That's a much bigger deal than the earlier announcement that Sony's working with Google to bring public domain material to the Reader.

If you're a heavy book buyer looking for a digital reader, Amazon's big selection may still pull you in.

But the Kindle will be marginalized if e-books from Sony and others get enough books from a wide variety of sources, especially free and current titles from libraries. Would Amazon ever make it easy to borrow instead of buy books on the Kindle?

Here's another picture from Sony, showing it's current Reader lineup, including the Daily at right:

Reader_Comparison_v2_F_lg.jpg

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July 27, 2009 11:08 AM

Amazon's Kindle gets the Nicholson Baker treatment

Posted by Brier Dudley

Nicholson Baker, the novelist who battled to save card catalogs from digitization in 1994, takes on Amazon.com's Kindle in the Aug. 3 New Yorker.

He's pretty skeptical, especially about the Kindle's promise for newspapers. His take after reading the New York Times on the device:

A century and a half of evolved beauty and informational expressiveness is all but entirely rinsed away in this digital reductio ... The Kindle DX ($489) doesn't save newspapers; it diminishes and undercuts them -- it kills their joy. It turns them into earnest but dispensable blogs.

Amen.

But my favorite line is his summation of the media buzz around the Kindle:

Everybody was saying that the new Kindle was terribly important -- that it was an alpenhorn blast of post-Gutenbergian revalorization.

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July 27, 2009 10:32 AM

FT: Apple tablet launching by Christmas; a Kindley 10-in. iPod Touch?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple is apparently sharing details of its long-rumored tablet device with media companies, including book publishers hoping to get their content on the Kindle competitor due to launch by the holidays, according to a big scoop in the Financial Times.

Continue reading this post ...


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July 20, 2009 3:31 PM

Look out, Amazon: Barnes & Noble launches Kindle throwdown

Posted by Brier Dudley

No wonder Amazon.com has been slow to respond to problems with cracking Kindles and abruptly deleted copies of electronic books:

The Kindle team's probably been in full freakout mode, bracing for the all-out attack on the electronic book business that Barnes & Noble announced today.

BN said it's partnering with Plastic Logic, the startup preparing to launch an 8.5 x 11-inch electronic reading device early next year.

But like Amazon, BN is doing more than a gadget. It's rolling out a whole electronic book strategy, including a catalog with 700,000-plus $9.99 titles that it calls "the world's largest selection of eBooks available in one place."

Also announced was a new e-reader application, connection to Google's open books collection and plans to bundle its reader with a handful of classics and reference books.

Among the sites covering the news, ZDnet reprinted a nifty Forrester chart showing the competitive landscape.

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July 15, 2009 1:18 PM

Amazon responds to Kindle cracks: Free replacements, lawsuit goes on

Posted by Brier Dudley

After countless calls and e-mails, Amazon.com finally responded to the story we broke Tuesday about a Seattle customer suing over Kindles being damaged by their protective cover.

Amazon will now replace Kindles cracked by the cover for free, instead of charging $200 and excluding this problem from warranty coverage, spokesman Andrew Herdener said.

Herdener would not comment specifically on the lawsuit, though. His statement:

We do not comment on active litigation. Nevertheless, we encourage anyone who has an issue with the cover attachment mechanism to return the cover and device for a free replacement so we can investigate further.

That won't stop the lawsuit, however:

Continue reading this post ...


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July 14, 2009 9:35 PM

Amazon sued for cracking Kindles, $5-plus million sought in class action

Posted by Brier Dudley

You've heard about cracking open a book, but how about cracking open a Kindle?

Apparently this is happening to some owners of Amazon.com's electronic book who also bought the optional, $30 protective cover, including one unhappy gadget lover who filed a federal lawsuit today in Seattle.

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Continue reading this post ...


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July 13, 2009 2:14 PM

Amazon.com buying Netflix? Some traders think so ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's still a wild rumor, but some are speculating that Amazon.com may buy Netflix.

Netflix closed up 5 percent at $42.19 and options trading soared on the stock, according to a Bloomberg report. AMZN closed up 5 percent to $81.47.

One analyst quoted in the story said it's unlikely, because Netflix distribution centers in different states could complicate Amazon's efforts to avoid sales taxes in different regions.

But the sales tax games are probably short term and Amazon probably overlaps in some of those states.

Long term, Netflix would give Amazon's digital download business a huge presence that it may never obtain otherwise.

Netflix has made deals with all sorts of TV, console and set-top box manufacturers, putting what are basically mini-storefronts in living rooms across the country. Amazon is doing the same thing with companies like TiVo but Netflix is way ahead.

Maybe the deal would expedite the development of Kindles that support streaming video ...

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June 19, 2009 10:48 AM

Google aims at Amazon and Bing with product ads, pics and prices

Posted by Brier Dudley

Get ready for a new kind of ad that may appear when you search with Google.

The company is inviting advertisers to help test new "product ads" that display photos and prices of products for sale, including specific offers based on your search. It's a new program that looks like a response to Microsoft and a challenge to Amazon.com.

These new ads could change the look of Google search results, if you're using the site to look for information about products. The testing is going to begin soon in just a few, unspecified areas of the U.S.

But the program is apparently designed not to change the consumer experience as much as give companies using Google's affiliate program more options to sell their wares.

It's probably been in the works for a while, but the timing is interesting, coming as Microsoft repositions its Web search service as a better tool for shopping. Microsoft's Bing search service includes a number of product shopping features for consumers and vendors, returning product images, prices and specific offers when you search for, say, an Apple iPod.

Google product ads may also increase tension with Amazon.com, by giving companies a new alternative to Amazon's affiliate product marketing program and a product search ad program the retailer started last year. (I wonder how commissions will be divvied up on Amazon product ads placed by Google?) It could also be a significant challenge to smaller, product-oriented ad networks such as Seattle's WidgetBucks.

Google Product Ads will appear as sponsored links, separate from the Google's AdWords text ads.

A company spokeswoman initially said the "experiment" began a few weeks ago, then clarified that it has not yet begun, and provided the following statement:

"At Google, we're constantly experimenting with new features, tools and visual representations to improve the user experience and usefulness of our ads. In accordance with that philosophy, we're planning a beta test to show richer product information in the ads for shopping-related queries. This test will only be visible to a small number of U.S. users."

Microsoft and Amazon declined to comment.

An invitation to the beta includes FAQs with this explanation of how product ads differ from Google's AdWords:

"Product ads represent individual offers with product information directly in the ad itself. Unlike keyword targeted text ads, product ads appear when the user's query matches information provided in your product feed. During the beta, product ads are shown independently from text ads."

Google is encouraging testers to be aggressive with the commissions they pay to sites that display their product ads. Its pricing advice:

You specify the commission rate for conversions that take place via clicks on Google product ads. Minimum pricing is your standard publisher rate, plus the network fee. To maximize your competitiveness among advertisers participating in product ads, we recommend a higher commission with the Google product ads relationship.

Google's affiliate program is based on the DoubleClick Performics Affiliate it acquired in March 2008.

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June 17, 2009 4:22 PM

A few thoughts on the Kindle DX

Posted by Brier Dudley

I was pretty excited about Amazon.com's supersized Kindle, the DX model it began selling last week.

But after spending a week fiddling with a test unit loaned by Amazon I'm not sure it's worth the extra $130 over the price of a standard Kindle. The DX costs $489 vs. the standard $359 model.

Amazon is aiming the DX particularly at college students. It's working with textbook companies and plans trials at universities around the country this fall.

I wonder if students would prefer the smaller Kindle, though, and not just because it's less expensive.

The DX screen is about the size of a hardback book, compared with the paperback-sized screen on the standard Kindle.The DX also has double the storage -- 4 gigabytes -- and on-board support for PDF documents. They both use 3G wireless service to download books, newspapers, blogs and other material.

But there are some tradeoffs for that bigger screen. For one thing, it seems to burden the processor more -- page refreshes seem slower. A spokeswoman said the DX uses the same processor as the smaller Kindle.

Amazon also added an auto-rotate feature, so the screen shifts to a horizontal mode when you turn the DX sideways. I found it maddening. It takes just a little too long to rotate, and you have to really tilt it upward sometimes to get the rotation going.

But the thing I missed the most was the compactness of the previous Kindle, which has a better blend of power and portability. It's small enough (8 x 5 inches) to stuff into a large pocket and easily hold with one hand. The DX, meanwhile, is like a thick clipboard that needs backpack or briefcase to conceal.

Even though it's more of a two-handed device, the DX only has page-turning buttons on the right side. The standard Kindle has page buttons on both sides of the screen, so you can read while holding it in either hand.

Maybe my problem is with other comparisons prompted by the larger device. The slim, standard Kindle is kind of a marvel. On such a little gadget, it's a surprise how readable the screen is and how much technology is stuffed inside.

The DX brings to mind slate-style PCs that are just a little bigger (the DX is 10.4 x 7.2 inches and 0.38-inch thick) but more powerful, with color screens that take pen and finger input. That may not be a fair comparison -- the Kindle is only trying to be a reading device and it's thinner -- but it's hard to shake the association.

If you're going to carry around something this big, and devote that much space in the backpack, you may expect more than a black-and-white reader with a rudimentary browser, a weak MP3 player and an oddly spaced keyboard.

Newspapers are especially interested in devices like the Kindle that can deliver their content to subscribers. Some readers say they like papers on the Kindle but I think it has a ways to go, and the DX isn't much better.

The problem for me is that you can't quickly scan and skim across a page -- the Kindle presents one story initially, or you can click a few times to see the first sentence and headlines from six stories at a time.

The built-in PDF software could help here, though. The DX can display the PDF of a full newspaper page, big enough to read everything, if you squint a bit.

Perhaps I'm jaded or too caught up in the handheld gadget thing.

I've got to say that when I showed the Kindle DX to a group of people who had never seen any Kindle before, they were impressed and excited by the possibilities of the device. They didn't mind the size or miss the left-side button.

Maybe there's demand for a whole lineup of Kindles -- coupes, sedans and pickups, whatever size you need -- but hopefully the big ones will get more powerful engines. And they all desperately need lights, so you can use them in the dark.

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June 15, 2009 4:00 PM

Q&A: IBM cloud exec on launch, competition and blueprints from UW-Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

After spending five years and billions on development -- including early research at the University of Washington -- IBM today announced its enterprise cloud computing services.

IBM is starting with three offerings that further stretch the definition of cloud computing, a term loosely applied to big, scalable computing systems accessed on demand via the Internet.

Now IBM is offering to install "private clouds" for companies in-house, behind their firewalls.

One version is a "test cloud" that enables companies to develop and test applications in-house, instead of renting time from companies such as Amazon.com, Microsoft or even startups such as Seattle's Skytap.

IBM is also offering a bundle of development and test tools that can be used on IBM's cloud -- a network running on 13 datacenters located around the globe.

Or companies may now order a turnkey cloud computing system from IBM, called "CloudBurst." It's a 42-unit server cabinet that comes preloaded with hardware, storage, virtualization, networking and service management software.

(Here's IBM Innovation Systems Engineer James Thoensen with a CloudBurst prototype -- Cloud in a Box? -- in an IBM-supplied image)

cloudburst.jpg

Some customers would prefer a more tailored, integrated cloud setup than a "smorgasboard of different siloed systems,'' said Dennis Quan, IBM's director of autonomic computing development in Raleigh, N.C..

"You have bunch of systems that co-exist in datacenters, but they don't act like a system, a single system, and enterprises spend a lot of time having to integrate the different software systems together,'' he said.

There's also going to be a need for more "fit to purpose" clouds, especially if datacenters are strained by the flood of new data. Some 15 petabytes (15 quadrillion bytes) of information are being created daily -- mostly by consumers -- but companies are responsible for maintaining 85 percent of it, according to IBM.

Blueprints for IBM's cloud offerings came from a joint research project with Google. It initially explored business intelligence at big schools and large-scale analytics, and led to the creation of a cloud computing cluster at the UW and two run by IBM in 2007.

"The work that was done as part of that project really informed how we can put together large cloud datacenters that can efficiently process terabytes, petabytes, of information across thousands of machines,'' he said.

The early clusters also "kind of provide the bluepints for the designs we base these new clouds on,'' he said.

What's crucial is the service management systems that make the cloud systems work -- Quan said it's like the orchestra conductor, or "an operating system for the 21st century datacenter."

Here's an edited excerpt from the interview with Quan:

Continue reading this post ...


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April 30, 2009 5:17 PM

Billionaire buddies: Bill Gates on Jeff Bezos

Posted by Brier Dudley

Writing for Time magazine, Bill Gates penned a glowing profile of the guy who lives a few mansions down in Medina, Jeff Bezos.

Gates wrote the piece for Time's listing of the 100 most influential people. (I found the link via Silicon Alley Insider).

Apparently Gates is pretty impressed with the Kindle. I hate to spoil the ending, but Gates said the device and its effect on books could put Bezos "in the same ranks as Johannes Gutenberg."

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April 20, 2009 1:40 PM

Annotation for social media rant

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here is some of the material that influenced today's column on Twitter and social media, plus a few other things.

Clay Shirky's blog on the failure of the Amazon.com gay-themed books protest:

I was wrong, because I believed things that weren't true. As bad as that was, though, far worse is the retrofitting of alternate rationales to continue to view Amazon with suspicion, rationales that would not have provoked the outrage we felt had they been all we were asked to react to in the first place.

The New York Times on "ghost twitterers":

In its short history, Twitter -- a microblogging tool that uses 140 characters in bursts of text -- has become an important marketing tool for celebrities, politicians and businesses, promising a level of intimacy never before approached online, as well as giving the public the ability to speak directly to people and institutions once comfortably on a pedestal.

But someone has to do all that writing, even if each entry is barely a sentence long. In many cases, celebrities and their handlers have turned to outside writers -- ghost Twitterers, if you will -- who keep fans updated on the latest twists and turns, often in the star's own voice.

Because Twitter is seen as an intimate link between celebrities and their fans, many performers are not willing to divulge the help they use to put their thoughts into cyberspace.

Bloomberg on Twitter users getting spammed by marketers, tells the story of new Twitter user Rachel Gard:

Gard, who was planning to paint her bedroom gray with red pinstripes, posted an update April 1 telling her friends that she needed to shop for paint at Home Depot, Lowe's or Ace Hardware. Within 15 minutes, Home Depot sent Gard a message on Twitter wishing her luck and telling her to let them know if she needed help.

Days later, when she complained about an ear infection, she got a message from Eardoc, which sells a device for treating ear ailments. The company sent Gard a message saying, "Fast and safe relief for ear infection is Eardoc."

"I was like, 'What?" Gard said. "I was really confused. I didn't even know businesses did that."

From a Los Angeles Times story today warning companies to start Twittering (or hire consultants and P.R. firms?) to protect their brands:

"There's a mob mentality to social tools where people quickly try to put fuel on the fire, really encouraging brand damage and damage to individuals," said Jeremiah Owyang, a senior analyst at Forrester Research.

A blog entry by Somerville, Mass., programmer Paul Lamere examining how a group of Web enthusiasts were able to precisely manipulate Time magazine's online poll of the world's most influential people. Instead of reflecting public sentiment, the poll, for a time, spelled "marblecake also the game":

It has always seemed to me that such coordinating manipulation was a blunt instrument. The commanded horde could push a specific item to the top of a poll faster than a Kansas school board could lose Darwin's notebook, but the horde lacked any subtlety or finesse. Sure you could promote or demote an individual or issue, but fine tuned manipulation would just be too difficult. Well, I've been proved wrong.

Don't feel too bad for Jeff Bezos getting Twitsmashed for the miscategorization snafu: The Amazon.com boss is hedged -- he's also an investor in Twitter.

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April 20, 2009 11:59 AM

Amazon.com, Paul Allen's Vulcan break ground at new HQ

Posted by Brier Dudley

Actually it was politicians and Paul Allen's development team that did the ceremonial shovel thing this morning at Amazon's immense new headquarters.

Construction started a year ago on the 10-building, 1.7-million-square-foot campus just south of Lake Union. Amazon employees will move into the first buildings next May and the whole thing will be done by 2012.

"This is what a community is about, this is what this community is all about,'' Gov. Chris Gregoire said before she, Mayor Greg Nickels and City Councilwoman Jan Drago wielded the golden shovels in a sandbox erected just for the show.

The campus takes up about a third of the 5 million square feet of space Paul Allen has amassed in the formerly blue collar area between downtown and the lake. Allen and Jeff Bezos didn't make the event; maybe they were toasting each other on a boat somewhere.

Look how fast those politicians dig! Here they are in the parking lot on the upper left:

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Another angle of the world's largest bookstore's new home, looking toward the lake:

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April 8, 2009 9:51 AM

Yikes: AT&T, Verizon use FBI raids to collect debt

Posted by Brier Dudley

I thought the new administration was going to tone down the jackboot attitude of federal agencies that blossomed during the perpetual war on terror.

But apparently word hasn't yet reached public servants at the FBI office in Dallas.

According to a shocking Wired story, the feds responded to a debt collection spat between AT&T, Verizon and VoIP customers by seizing hundreds of servers from multiple co-location facilities, as well as the iPods belonging to a debtor's kids and even the savings of a former comptroller's grandmother.

More than 300 companies were using servers at a facility owned by alleged debtor Mike Faulkner, the story reported:

Faulkner says the two telecoms have used the FBI to seize equipment to obtain evidence through a criminal investigation instead of pursuing the companies through civil litigation and the discovery process. And instead of targeting the investigation specifically at the VoIP companies, he says the FBI swept in everyone who had servers in the same place where the VoIP servers were located. As a result, all of Crydon Technology's equipment was seized, as was the equipment of numerous businesses that had the bad luck to own servers running out of Crydon's facility.

"They're destroying more and more customers and it just doesn't seem to make sense," Faulkner says. "They've done a horrible amount of damage and have been so barbaric in the way they've shut things down. If they just picked some random guy off the street to do this investigation, he could have done a better job than the FBI did."

When one of the affected companies, a credit card processor, "tried to explain to an FBI agent that some of the servers that were seized belonged to him and not to Faulkner, the FBI agent implied he was lying,'' the story reported:

"We were treated like we were criminals," he said. "They assumed there was no legitimate business in there."

Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels seized the opportunity to suggest, on Twitter, that this is another reason to consider using cloud servers such as those rented by Amazon Web Services. Does Amazon have protection from this kind of thing? What if the RIAA takes exception to the DRM free music Amazon's distributing from its servers and calls the feds?

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March 27, 2009 11:10 AM

Amazon boss Bezos on shipping line, what's next?

Posted by Brier Dudley

So Jeff Bezos is filling in on Amazon.com's distribution line, which just sacked 210 employees.

He's spending a week checking the pulse at a shipping facility in Kentucky, where the newspaper asked if readers had seen the billionaire leprechaun.

I wonder if he carries a special "inspected by Jeff" rubber stamp.

Maybe it's time to start paying more attention to who is driving those Amazon Fresh trucks around town. I thought I saw Brian Valentine behind the wheel the other day.

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March 25, 2009 3:19 PM

A Microsoft lament, from Amazon.com's Erik Selberg

Posted by Brier Dudley

Erik Selberg deosn't blog very often, but it's usually worth reading when he does.

Late last night, he gave Microsoft's search efforts a bittersweet raspberry. He also questioned why Microsoft isn't being bolder and more aggressive.

This isn't cross-town rivalry: Selberg was a senior engineer on Microsoft's search team and a founding member of its Live Search Labs before he left for Amazon.com in 2007.

Selberg starts off by saying that Microsoft's search product "is pretty much the same as when I left" and he's not too optimistic about the "Kumo" rebranding:

I admit, I'm a fan, and Microsoft's recent actions have left me feeling... well, let's just say the peanut gallery is unimpressed.

No, it's worse than that. The peanut gallery is disheartened, and disappointed.

Selberg hoped that Steve Ballmer "would come out fighting." Instead of laying people off, Microsoft should be investing heavily, gearing up for when the economy recovers, he said:

"Because of Microsoft's diverse, and somewhat inelastic, revenue streams, Microsoft could do this. Microsoft was not going to be just another company hunkering down, Microsoft was going to invest for the future. And when that future came, Microsoft would be in a prime position to take advantage of the situation.

At least, that's what I had hoped for. Ah well."

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March 18, 2009 3:54 PM

Watch out, Kindle: Fujitsu launches color, touch, 4 gig eBook

Posted by Brier Dudley

Fujitsu just introduced what may be the ultimate eBook.

Unfortunately, it's available only in Japan and costs $1,036. Fujitsu began taking orders today for deliveries starting April 29.

Called the FLEPia, the device is a smorgasbord of nearly every feature you can think of for a digital book.

flepia02-l.jpg

It has an 8-inch-diagonal screen that displays up to 260,000 colors in high definition. It loads books wirelessly -- via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or connections to multiple cell networks.

Books can be ordered from Japan's largest online bookstore, and up to 5,000 volumes can be stored on its 4 gigabyte SD memory card.

Like the Kindle, it has amazing battery life: up to 40 hours of continuous operation, and a screen that doesn't need power to hold an image, "consuming power only during re-draw,'' according to Fujitsu's release. Specifically, a single charge can display 2,400 pages at 1 page per minute with 64 colors shown.

"As the only color e-paper mobile terminal commercially available, FLEPia offers a convenient, paper-free and eco-conscious enriched innovative mobile reading experience to users,'' the release said.

Fujitsu Frontech and Fujitsu Laboratories developed the color "e-paper" material and announced it in April 2007.

The device that's now on sale has a scroll key, buttons, a touch screen, a digital pen and a software keyboard.

It runs on Windows -- CE version 5.0. Fujitsu said the software enables the device to run a browser, e-mail and applications.

"Microsoft's Office can also be used to generate text documents, spreadsheets, or presentations, making it possible to view a variety of documents -- including e-mail file attachments -- while in transit or in the field and away from an office environment, thus fully maximizing FLEPia's multiple functions as a mobile information terminal,'' the release said.

It sounds like a Tablet PC with a digital paper screen.

(I'm a little late on this -- saw it on Techmeme this morning, but I've been too busy reporting other stuff in person to post.)

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March 17, 2009 11:32 AM

Apple Kindlizes the iPhone, Amazon.com gets sued

Posted by Brier Dudley

Highlights from Apple's preview of the new iPhone software: It's finally getting cut-and-paste capability and MMS.

Apple's also offering new tools for companies to produce digital book stores for the iPhone and subscription services through the App Store, adding some of the key business capabilities in Amazon.com's Kindle.

I wonder if the New York Times and other papers will stop offering free news apps on the iPhone, now that Apple's giving them tools to charge for subscriptions.

The 3.0 software upgrade is coming this summer. A few of the features -- including MMS and A2DP Bluetooth -- won't work on the first generation iPhone. The upgrade is also available for the iPod Touch, for $10.

This is culled from live blogs from the Cupertino event include Engadget and Eric Savitz.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Amazon was sued today in Delaware by Discovery Communications, which alleges the Kindle infringes on Discovery's patented copy protection technology.

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March 13, 2009 10:31 AM

A delightful use of Google 20 percent time: Stevey's Story Time

Posted by Brier Dudley

If you've got 20 percent of your day to spare, check out the latest Stevey's Blog Rants.

The amazing blog is written by Steve Yegge, a developer at Google's Kirkland office who used to work at Amazon.com.

I'm being flip about his 20 percent time. The blog's not an official Google work product, but it must take 20 percent of his bandwidth to produce gems like last night's "Story Time" opus. No wonder he posts only about once or twice per lunar cycle.

Story Time has everything -- Pike Place druggies, submariners in Idaho, adventures in Chinatown and the hilarious El Gaucho pants incident.

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March 9, 2009 5:30 AM

Video: Public hands-on with the Kindle 2 at Seattle Times

Posted by Brier Dudley

It's impossible to see the Kindle 2 in person, unless you buy the device or know someone who has -- it's available only through Amazon.com's online store.

So last Thursday I invited people to come down to the paper and try the review unit Amazon loaned me.

The people who showed up ranged from Web entrepreneurs and a medical student, interested in reading journals on the device to retirees who love books.

One Amazon.com employee showed up. He's not on the Kindle team, but he brought his Kindle 2, which was great because it gave people more opportunities to see and try the device.

I was planning to collect people's comments and present them as a sort of crowdsourced review, but I was too busy answering questions and explaining the device to take many notes.

Instead, here's a nice video of the event, done by Times web producer Tiffany Campbell:

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March 4, 2009 10:12 AM

Bezos: iPhone App just the start for Kindle software

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Kindle iPhone application that Amazon.com released last night is just the start.

Amazon plans to extend its digital book software -- especially the Kindle's "Whispersync" technology -- to all sorts of phones and computers, according to Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.

It's more evidence that the Kindle was built not just for reading, but for buying books. It's part of a broader effort to extend Amazon's core franchise to mobile devices.

The iPhone application makes more sense when you think of it as an extension of the Kindle bookselling platform, as well as a bargain way for iPhone owners to get a barebones version of Amazon's reading device.

kindleiphoneapp.jpg
But it's still a neat application and the timing -- just a week after the Kindle 2 launch -- shows how aggressively Amazon is pushing ahead.

Bezos previewed the strategy -- and the vision for Kindle on the iPhone and other devices -- in this interview at the Kindle 2 launch event last month. He said the plan was to get the Kindle digital bookstore on "just about every device."

An excerpt:

Continue reading this post ...


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March 3, 2009 11:02 AM

Newspapers on the Kindle 2: Jeff Bezos loves it

Posted by Brier Dudley

In Monday's Kindle 2 review, I said the device isn't so great for reading newspapers.

Here's another perspective, from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

This is from a video I took of him at the Feb. 9 Kindle 2 launch event, showing how to read a paper on the device.

"This is a really dramatic improvement in newspaper navigation,'' he said at one point.

Love to have him drop by this paper on Thursday evening, when we'll have a Kindle 2 available for anyone come by and try in our auditorium starting at 5:30 p.m.

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March 2, 2009 9:55 AM

Amazon's Kindle 2 review, feedback and public viewing

Posted by Brier Dudley

There has been some great feedback to the Kindle 2 review published this morning.

I'd love to hear more about what people think about the device.

I'd also like to give people a chance to see the Kindle 2 in person, since you can't handle one before buying it from Amazon.com.

I'll have the Kindle 2 available for people to come see in person Thursday evening here at The Times. There's no schedule or presentation, just a sort of open house where you can come down and spend a few minutes trying it out. This starts at 5:30 at the main office at 1120 John St. (just a few blocks from the new Amazon.com headquarters campus that's under construction.)

Continue reading this post ...


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February 27, 2009 4:01 PM

Amazon bows to authors and publishers, tweaks Kindle text-to-speech

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com said it's tweaking the Kindle 2 software to let authors and publishers decide whether their works can be audibly played with the gadget's text-to-speech translator.

The company is responding to concerns that authors and publishers aren't getting compensated for auditory play of their material. It's going to modify the system so copyright owners can decide which titles will have the feature enabled or disabled.

Amazon didn't back down completely; its statement insists the feature is legal:

"Kindle 2's experimental text-to-speech feature is legal: no copy is made, no derivative work is created, and no performance is being given. Furthermore, we ourselves are a major participant in the professionally narrated audiobooks business through our subsidiaries Audible and Brilliance. We believe text-to-speech will introduce new customers to the convenience of listening to books and thereby grow the professionally narrated audiobooks business.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe many rightsholders will be more comfortable with the text-to-speech feature if they are in the driver's seat.

Therefore, we are modifying our systems so that rightsholders can decide on a title by title basis whether they want text-to-speech enabled or disabled for any particular title. We have already begun to work on the technical changes required to give authors and publishers that choice. With this new level of control, publishers and authors will be able to decide for themselves whether it is in their commercial interests to leave text-to-speech enabled. We believe many will decide that it is."

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February 24, 2009 3:09 PM

Early reviews lukewarm on Amazon.com's Kindle 2

Posted by Brier Dudley

Continuing its Apple-style marketing of the Kindle, Amazon.com gave four reporters early access to Kindle 2 and their reviews are surfacing today.

None raved, and they all said about the same thing: Some improvements, still a ways to go before the ideal e-book.

I'm still trying to figure out what to make of the one I picked up at Amazon HQ last night. (Here's the conversation I had with Jeff Bezos about the Kindle 2 a few weeks ago.)

Here are the first reviews from the chosen. Presumably Walt Mossberg's will run Wednesday:

Continue reading this post ...


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February 11, 2009 5:00 PM

Hookup with Amazon's Turk gives Smartsheet "Viagra moment"

Posted by Brier Dudley

Smartsheet.com co-founder Brent Frei said his Bellevue startup had its "Viagra moment" when it hooked its software to Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk Web service.

He wasn't referring to how excited Smartsheet is about the partnership. Frei was talking instead about the accidental discovery that its software was a wonderful front-end for Turk, a service that brokers projects to independent workers around the world. He equated this with Pfizer's chance discovery that a planned hypertension drug could treat erectile dysfunction.

Continue reading this post ...


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February 9, 2009 11:31 PM

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on Kindle 2.0, its cost, touch, business and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

NEW YORK - Here's a fuller, edited version of today's interview with Jeff Bezos during the Kindle 2.0 lauch event.

We talked in an ornate old parlor at the Morgan Library, built by industrialist J.P. Morgan and an appropriate setting for this century's e-commerce mogul.

Q: What's it going to take for this to really take off - lower price?

A: It is taking off. [laughs]. No, I mean it very sincerely. We have twice been sold out during the holiday season, which is a darn good plan, and it was not our plan. In both cases, we had made way more devices than we thought we would need a need we still sold out.

Q: Maybe I should rephrase that. When will it become a mainstream device?

A: Well, if you're a reader, it's a purpose-built reading device. So is it for everybody? Maybe not. Will it ever be for everybody? Maybe not.

But if you like to read - newspapers, books, magazines - this is a great device to have. If you're that person, I would say it is mainstream already for the right audience.

Q: I didn't want to bring up the iPod comparison, but I noticed the brushed metal back and curved edges. Do you guys have a little iPod envy?

A: Are you talking about the industrial design? Our view on this is - have you held it yet? It's beautiful. I can take no credit for it since I had nothing to do with it [laughs] but I can be a proud father [laughs again]. But the engineering team did a remarkable job on this device.

As you can see it's very, very thin - for a 3G wireless device. This is a difficult technical achievement. Our customers are the beneficiaries.

Q: Did you think about using touchscreen at all?

A: Touchscreen technology, it's not yet there for electronic ink. You can do it, but it significantly degrades the contrast and the visibility of the screen. The current touchscreen technologies are a layer that go on top. It's a thin, transparent layer that goes on top. Of course, it's not completely transparent. And with the reflective display like this, the light bounces through that transparent layer twice - once to get in and once to get out, back into your eye, and so you get significantly light degradation. Plus, it puts a reflective layer on top.

One of the reasons this screen is so pleasurable to look at, and doesn't create eye strain, is becauase the ink is almost right on the surface of the screen. It doesn't have any depth to it.

So there are touchscreen technologies that are starting to become available that go under the display and that might be something that someday could work. But right now it's still in the laboratory, it's still a bit of a science project. But someday, a number of years from now, you could imagine that.

Right now, you don't want a touchscreen on your reading device [if] the primary purpose of the device is reading.

Q: E-Ink plans to have some color displays out by the end of the year.

A: I've seen those in the laboratory and probably for volume production, they're still years away. But it's exciting technology.

Q: Will color be in Kindle 3.0 then?

A: I think it's actually multiple years away.

Q: Will you take the software you have on a Kindle and put it onto something like a netbook?

A: That's what Whispersync is about. We want to make Kindle a bookstore - the largest e-bookstore in the world, with 230,000 titles and growing. We want to make those titles also available on a bunch of different devices and then synchronize them with Kindle.

If you're in line at the grocery store and you want to read a few pages on your phone, you can go right where you left off, and then when you get back home, maybe you pick up your Kindle and keep reading there.

The best analogy I can give you would be a digital camera on your cellphone. I love having a digital camera on my cellphone because I always have my cellphone with me. but occasionally I want a real camera. If I'm going to take pictures of my kids or whatever, I want a real camera. If I want to read for two hours, I want my Kindle. If I'm going to read for a few minutes, then a bunch of options open up.

Q: It seems like there's a big opportunity for you if you don't require people to buy a Kindle to use the software and services.

A: The two things are separate. The Kindle e-book library will be available if you do want a device that's purpose-built for reading. You want to be able to synchronize it, that's what Whispersync is about. It's not a requirement.

Q: With the volume so big on netbooks and the devices having long battery life, I wonder if you'll develop some sort of Kindle reading application for them?

A: The way you should think about it is we're excited about making that library available on just about every device.

Q: So there will be a whole range of things that can use the Kindle software, and I'm guessing the Kindle will be the premium experience?

A: I think what you're going to find is that anybody who reads is going to want a Kindle because it's so much better for reading, but it's not either/or: Either people are going to read on their cellphones, or they're going to read on Kindle, and I don't think that's right. Just like I don't have to decide, am I going to have a real camera or am I going to have a cellphone camera?

The fact is I want both. In fact I have three cameras - I have a cellphone camera, I have a compact camera that's lightweight, if I go for a hike or something, And then I have an SLR camera that I mostly keep at home to take pictures of the kids because I want the highest quality I can get.

Q: Will you get to the point where you can read Kindle editions on other e-Books? People might be getting confused by the different devices and formats that are emerging. This might slow mainstream adoption of e-books. Will there be interoperability between them all?

A: We certainly haven't seen that.

Q: How can you overcome that confusion?

A: I wouldn't want to speculate on that.

Q: The device is nice but to me what's really interesting are the business innovations.

A: 3G wireless, bundling (wireless service fees) into the cost, making the books cost less.

I agree with you. A lot of this is about business innovation and a lot of it is about technology innovation. It's really bringing those two things together. You know when we started - now more than four years ago - only at that time could we see that the technologies were shortly going to be in place to make this possible: the combination of the electronic paper technology and fast 3G wireless being distributed, being in enough cities so it's basically everywhere today.

It's the combination of those technologies and the busienss model innovation that's making this.

I should add a third thing - which is the 230,000 titles. The best electronic reading device is useless without the books you want to read.

Q: What are you doing now to get more adoption with publishers?

A: It's been accelerating over the past 14 months. The past three months we added more than 40,000 titles to the selection so not only are we going to keep growing [it], we're going to keep accelerating the rate at which we're growing the selection. The vision is every book, ever printed, in any language, all available within 60 seconds. That's a big, long, multi=year vision to get every book ever printed, but it is possible and we will eventually do it. We'll just have to be relentless [laughs].

Q: What are you doing to make publishers speed up?

A: Publishers are excited about this - like us, they watched e=book sales go nowhere for 10 years. We kept trying to sell e-books and nobody bought them. You needed an electron microscope to find the sales.

Fourteen months ago, with the launch of Kindle 1, that changed. So I think publishers are as excited as we are about the future of e-books.

Q: Is there pressure on Amazon from publishers to price the Kindle at, say, $199 to increase the platform's reach?

A: We can't offer this for $199. If you look at the cost of this device - it has a sophisticated EVDO radio, it has the latest electronic display - if we could make this device cheaper we would. But we can't. There's a lot of technology pushed into this little tiny package. It is what it is.

When you buy a 3G phone, by the way, you're signing up for a two-year contract with a $60-a-month bill. They're subsidizing the cost of the hardware with the $60 a month or whatever it is you're paying.

[The Kindle] is sold with no annual contract and no monthly bill. You buy this device and whatever you buy -a newspaper subscription, you pay for that. You buy a book, you pay for that.

We're not asking people to sign up for a two-year contract.

Q: Will we see Kindle hardware subsidized through subscription deals, like, say, a book of the month club or a newspaper subscription?

A: Anything's possible. I think there is reason for optimism about newspapers on Kindle because if you look at the printing cost of newspapers, these are dramatically large expenses. There is an argument to be made that over time - and it will take some time - that printing infrastructure doesn't make as much sense as everybody having a device like this.

Q: How about the developer story - are you going to open this up more to outside software developers to write applications and load things on there?

A: I don't want to speculate on the future on that. You'll just have to stay tuned.

Q: So we might hear more about that?

A: It's possible. I don't want to foreshadow anything so you'll just have to stay tuned.

Q: Would the same go for the Kindle's browser?

A: The browser is very basic. It doesn't do Flash, for example. It's nice to have but it's not the primary reason, it's not the purpose of the device. The device is for reading. It does have a Web browser - people like the Web browser - but it's very basic functionality.

Q: How about a little more transparency with the sale numbers - are we going to start hearing how many units have been sold?

A: We're going to continue with our practice of not sharing those numbers.

Q: Wouldn't more disclosure help you sell the Kindle platform to publishers?

A: Publishers get to, at this piont, they get to see - we're sending them checks. The most important thing if you're a publisher is, are the books selling? You don't really care if the device is selling, and the books are selling.

Kindle books already are selling. If you take the 230,000 titles where we have Kindle editions - Kindle unit sales are already more than 10 percent of all our sales. For that to happen in 14 months is very surprising. It took us 14 years to build up our physical book business. Now when a title becomes available in Kindle format, it's immediately worth 10 percent of our unit sales on Kindle. That's pretty surprising.

Q: When we think about Amazon's phases of growth - first the bookstore, then the platformization of the store, then the multi-platform business with new services - where should we put the Kindle? Should we think of hardware as a new stack here, or is it an extension of the store?

A: It's a new skill. We've been working on it for four years. When you look at the engineering that is incorporated in this incredibly thin package, the team has acquired that ability.

Q: But it's more an extension of the Amazon store as opposed to an entirely new business, right?

A: The device is one thing; that's the new skill we had to learn. But the device is only a part of Kindle the service. So Kindle the service includes the largest e-bookstore in the world. Kindle as a service includes all the servers used to wirelessly deliver this content. We had all the skills that we needed to do those things. We had a lot of the pieces in place based on our 14 years of history but the one thing we needed to add to our skillset was the engineering for the hardware device itself. I'm just incredibly proud of that team.


Q: Did you have to build something like this to maintain Amazon's position as a bookseller?

A: To get this whole ecosystem to work, we had to build an integrated, seamless reading experience. Keep in mind we had tried the unintegrated, unseamless approach because we've been electronic books for years and it didn't work, nobody cared. So it's the seamlessness, of putting the whole thing together and making it really easy and clean for people, that's making it work.


Q: Did you think you had to have the hardware or somebody else would - and take from your book business?

A: We love being pioneers. We are always focused on looking down new alleys. Most of the alleys we look down turn out to be blind alleys, but every once in a while we go down one that turns into a big broad avenue. You can pursue the competitor strategy of close following - you don't have to spend all this money on those blind alleys. When you see somebody do something successful, you jump on it and copy it as quickly as possible. There's nothing wrong - that's a valid business strategy. It happens to not be ours.

We've been very customer focused for our history and we like inventing new things. The kind of people we've attracted over the years like to invent new things so for us this all about the future and all about optimism.

Q: It seems like your company's on a roll, especially after this last quarter.

A: Well, thank you.

Q: Is Amazon going to be the "it" company of 2009?

A: I've been asked by several people, what did you do special in Q4? The fact of the matter is we did nothing special in Q4. We did the same things that we've been doing for 14 years, which is working on lowering prices, increasing selection, speeding delivery. The accumulation of those things perhaps you saw in Q4.

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February 9, 2009 2:46 PM

Hands-on with Amazon's Kindle 2.0: Nice, but I miss the big flaps

Posted by Brier Dudley

NEW YORK -- I may be the only technology journalist who thinks so, but I miss the big airplane-flap style buttons on Kindle 1.0.

They're gone, replaced by sleek buttons that blend right into the smoother, sexier and more modern-looking Kindle 2.0.

Kindle 1.0 was quirky and took a little getting used to, but pretty soon it felt natural -- even fun -- to turn pages by slapping, bumping or flicking the huge flap controls.

I haven't had enough time with the Kindle 2.0 to really analyze the device, but the relatively small buttons stood out after a few brief minutes playing with the device at Amazon.com's launch event today. They're still relatively big buttons, but now they're approaching the size of shift key rather than a space bar.

Following a presentation by Jeff Bezos, a handful of Kindles were put out on tables in the lobby of the Morgan Library for journalists, publishers and others in the crowd to ogle and fondle. Here's a snapshot I took of the scene, with a Kindle 1.0 on the right and a 2.0 on the left:

The device feels more dense and less plastic than Kindle 1.0, thanks in part to its Apple-esque brushed metal back.

Flipping through a few pages, I felt as if I had to aim my fingers more precisely than before. The buttons also felt a little stiffer, but the device was brand-new. Kindle users may feel less like a book geek at the coffee shop or on the bus now that the device looks more like a super-sized iPod.

Perhaps the smaller, tighter buttons are a good thing -- the Kindle 1.0's flaps had a loose feel that made me wonder how they'd hold up to years of hard use. They were also easy to accidentally brush and change pages.

Although Kindle 2.0 has a better screen, I couldn't tell with a quick look, cheek to jowl with a crowd of reporters.

The new mini-joystick/toggle control gives you a lot more navigational control than the funky scroll wheel it replaces, and nobody is going to miss the confusing temperature-gauge-style progress indicator on 1.0, but the toggle will take some getting used to before it feels natural. (A touchscreen wouldn't work, Bezos said, because it would diminish readability too much.)

Again, Kindle 1.0 took a little time before it started to feel booklike. It's undoubtedly an improvement, but we'll have to see whether Amazon was able to make the device more stylish, powerful, simple and usable all at the same time.

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February 9, 2009 10:42 AM

Still waiting for your Kindle 1.0? Amazon's giving you a free upgrade

Posted by Brier Dudley

NEW YORK -- Amazon.com's giving a nice bonus to all the people who are still waiting to receive Kindles they ordered earlier.

Those people will get a free upgrade to the Kindle 2.0, Amazon representatives said today.

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said they were taken aback by the sellouts of Kindle 1.0 and have taken steps to increase production of 2.0 and avoid long periods of unavailability,

For those waiting since the holidays for the Kindles they ordered, it will still be a few more weeks: The Kindle 2.0 will start shipping on Feb. 24.

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February 9, 2009 7:30 AM

Amazon's Bezos unveils Kindle 2.0: Thinner than iPhone, but no color yet

Posted by Brier Dudley

NEW YORK -- Ending months of speculation about Amazon.com's electronic book project, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos just presented the Kindle 2.0 at an event at the Morgan Library in New York.

Amazon began taking orders for the $359 device this morning and plans to begin shipping them Feb. 24. Owners of Kindle 1.0 are getting front-of-the-line privileges if they order a new one within the next day.

Kindle 2.0 has the same industrial design that circulated in pictures on the Web a few months ago, with smaller buttons and curved corners that do away with the first version's unusual angular design:

Front_with_text.jpg

Unlike the all plastic first model, the new one also has a brushed metal back similar to the iPhone. It also continues to have a 6-inch grayscale display, though the 2.0 adds richer grays.

The surprises were in new features added to the system and details of the hardware. They include:

-- A five-way navigational control on the right side.

-- Lighter weight -- 10.2 ounces -- and longer battery life.

-- Thinner construction: It's 0.36 inches thick, compared to the 0.48 inch thick iPhone. (Bezos didn't mention Apple's device by name, but showed a picture for comparison).

-- A nifty text-to-speech converter that "reads" to you.

-- Battery life is 25 percent longer than Kindle 1.0; Bezos said the device runs two weeks on a single charge.

-- Still included with the device is free wireless access, using 3G cell networks, over which a novel can be downloaded in less than a minute.

-- Storage is seven times greater than the first version, enabling Kindle 2.0 to hold 1,500 books. Internal storage totals 2 gigabytes; 1.7 gigs are available to the user.

Amazon's goal with the design wasn't to create a snazzy gadget as much as a device that would add digital conveniences to reading without distracting the reader.

"The Kindle is designed to disappear so you can enter the author's world,'' Bezos said.

Amazon has 230,000 books available in Kindle format but that's just the start, he said.:

"Our vision is every book ever printed in every language, all available in less than 60 seconds," he said.

Adding some star power to the event was author Stephen King, who was invited by Amazon to participate in the launch. King wrote an exclusive story for the device. Called "Ur," it's about a boy whose Kindle has fantastic powers.

Here are a few comparisons between Kindle 1.0, which launched in November 2007, and Kindle 2.0:

-- Kindle 2.0 has 16 levels of gray scale in its display, vs. four levels in 1.0.
-- Kindle 2.0 uses the 5-way input, versus the scroll wheel in 1.0
-- Kindle 2.0 is slightly taller -- 8 inches vs. 7.5 inches" with Kindle 1.0.
-- Kindle 2.0 weighs 0.1 ounce less than than Kindle 1.0, which was twice as thick -- 0.7 inches.

Here's an image from Amazon's Kindle page. I'll post others later today:

kind.jpg

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February 2, 2009 12:00 AM

Laid-off tech workers get entrepreneurial for Valentine's Day

Posted by Brier Dudley

In case you missed Iamsaintnick.com, the fun Christmas gift referral service started by two laid-off Seattle techies - they're back with a Valentine's version launching today.

Continue reading this post ...


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January 27, 2009 9:56 AM

Feb. 9 looks like launch day for Amazon.com's Kindle 2.0

Posted by Brier Dudley

It looks like Amazon.com's finally going to release the second version of its Kindle electronic book.

Why else would the company be holding a big press conference with Chief Executive Jeff Bezos at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York on Feb. 9?

"We're not saying," spokesman Andrew Herdener said.

Maybe they'll say during Amazon.com's earnings call on Thursday.

The gadget has a fan base on Wall Street, where some analysts seem to have visions of the next iPod, so perhaps the release could offset a potentially chilly holiday earnings report.

Amazon has said its holiday sales were strong, despite an overall drop in Web retail during the season, but we'll see how expensive it was for the company to keep the boxes flowing with low prices and shipping deals.

So far word of the apparent Kindle launch hasn't helped AMZN stock much - it's down about 3 percent to $48.19 at last check.

I wonder how the company handle the transition from Kindle 1.0 to 2.0.

The first edition's still being sold at Amazon.com but it's sold out, with shipments expected in four to six weeks - after the Feb. 9 event.

Maybe they're just announcing the accessory light, although it sounds much higher profile.

Here's Jeff Bezos during the Nov. 19, 2007, press conference where he introduced Kindle 1.0:

kindlebezos.jpg
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

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November 25, 2008 1:27 PM

Early holiday e-commerce numbers ugly, comScore says

Posted by Brier Dudley

The holiday retail season is just revving up, but comScore's early read isn't promising.

After analyzing the first 23 days of the November-December retail season - which apparently begins Nov. 1 - the research firm found an "unprecedented" 4 percent decline in spending versus the same period last year.

Total e-commerce sales so far this month, according to comScore (which excludes auto, travel and corporate spending), were $8.2 billion.

Gian Fulgoni, comScore's chairman, said there are "dark clouds" hanging over consumers' heads this holiday season despite the reprive from lower gas prices. From its holiday sales update today:

"With consumer confidence low and disposable income tight, the first weeks of November have been very disappointing, with online retail spending declining versus year ago. It's also likely that some budget-conscious consumers are planning to wait to buy until later in the season to take advantage of retailers' even more aggressive discounting."

I wonder if consumers are also spending less online - and more offline - because going to the stores and shopping centers is a form of entertainment for people spending less on movies and travel. (As long as the shopping centers don't feel like real-life police dramas ...)

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November 20, 2008 8:22 PM

Amazon Web Services startup contest winner named: Yieldex

Posted by Brier Dudley

The winner of Amazon.com's second annual startup challenge, highlighting promising companies using its Amazon Web Services:

Yieldex, a service that helps online publishers do "accurate forecasting of overlapping online advertising inventory and optimal campaign allocation." The company's engineering office is in Boulder, Colo., and its sales office is in New York.

The company is trying to help large publishers (sites getting 1 billion to 10 billion impressions per month, such as CNN or the New York Times) get more sales from premium inventory attracting $10 to $30 CPM using its "proprietary yield index."

It's a nice enterprise showcase for the capabilities of Amazon: A single customer may send 20 gigabytes of data nightly for analysis, yet Yieldex uses one part-time system engineer to manage its services running on AWS.

Chief Executive Tom Shields -- who previously co-founded NetGravity, a company sold to DoubeClick in 1999 for more than $500 million -- said the cloud services gave Yieldex flexibility and scale on tap.

"We had no idea when we started this thing what kind of capacity we were going to need,'' he said.

The winner was announced tonight at an event at Bell Harbor after a year of Amazon traveling all over the place, pitching its Web services to developers.

Seven finalists were flown to Seattle to present their companies to a group of venture capitalists and Amazon managers who made the choice.

The prize is $50,000 cash and $50,000 worth of Amazon services.

Other finalists were:

Encoding.com, which "has transformed video encoding from a traditional software model to a software as a service (SaaS) platform," using Amazon elastic computing services. Chief Executive Greg Heil said that while YouTube has figured out encoding, but it continues to be a huge infrastructure challenge for second and third tier video sites.

When serving clients, Encoding activates Amazon server instances to handle their needs.

(Maybe Amazon will buy the company or add its own encoding service to its new content delivery service?)

Knewton, an educational content service with a "self-optimizing 'Darwinian' engine" that evolves as new students join its network and increase its dataset.

MedCommons, which provides "cloud-based Health 2.0 application services for patients and doctors, and enables third parties to customize and extend the MedCommons Platform for their own needs." It's a Boston-area competitor to Microsoft's HealthVault and Google Health that uses Amazon to store personal health record repositories.

Sonian, a "cloud compute e-mail productivity service" that archives and indexes electronic communications, files and unstructured content. After eight months in business it has more than 50 customers -- companies with 300 to 6,000 employees -- and white-label deals with vendors reselling its service.

Pixily, "an interactive document management service that organizes paper and electronic materials online." It's aiming to help consumers reduce paper clutter and better manage information, and provide businesses "an affordable on-demand document management service." The company scans receipts and other records for customers, who can then search them with a Googlesque search window at its Web site. Customers can scan documents themselves or take pictures of materials and e-mail them to Pixily, or send batches of documents to the company in prepaid envelopes.

Zephyr, which offers management tools for enterprise test departments. It aims to lower costs and increase productivity "with real-time visibility into all aspects of their software quality cycle." Founder Samir Shah said customers such as Accenture, Infosys and Cap Gemini are using its Amazon-powered services to provide service to their customers. He's a fan of Amazon's pay-as-you go computing.

"I love being nickel and dimed here -- it's really great," he said.

Last year's winner was a video ad service company called Ooyala, which was started by ex-Google employees. A few months after the Amazon.com award, it raised $8.5 million in its second round of funding.

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December 13, 2007 3:17 PM

Amazon buys J.K. Rowling fairy tales, posting them now

Posted by Brier Dudley

Talk about a big thank you: Amazon.com just spent about $4 million buying one of seven handmade copies of J.K. Rowling's "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" at a London auction.

Rowling auctioned the book of "wizarding fairy tales" that she mentioned in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to support The Children's Voice, a charitable campaign for institutionalized children.

Amazon's "incredibly excited" about the deal and has put a prominent link at the center of its homepage, directing visitors to scans of the book.

Here's Amazon's description of the book -- which it isn't selling:

"The Tales of Beedle the Bard is extensively illustrated and handwritten by the bard herself -- all 157 pages of it. It's bound in brown Moroccan leather and embellished with five hand-chased hallmarked sterling silver ornaments and mounted moonstones.

The company's adding reviews and more images right now.

When it's all scanned, perhaps it'll be put on public display somewhere in Seattle, like the Seattle Art Museum?

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December 11, 2007 9:37 AM

Amazon.com gets 90 days, same as cash

Posted by Brier Dudley

Just in time for the credit crunch, Amazon's investing in Bill Me Later, a payment service specializing in same-as-cash, deferred payment deals.

It seems like a response to eBay's PayPal and Google Checkout, but I think that's not exactly what's going on. Those services simplify checkout and create billing relationships with customers, which Amazon already does pretty well.

The partnership with Bill Me Later gives Amazon the ability to go further and offer deferred payments, such as 90 days or six months with no payments.

That sounds a little simple, but it's important for Amazon as the financial crisis tightens the screws on credit happy consumers.

If consumers start using credit cards less because they're suffering from higher mortgage rates, fuel prices and general inflation, they'll shop less at online merchants.

Bill Me Later may help fill the void. It's another way to keep the spending going with short-term credit and simplified online purchasing.

For card-wary consumers, it seems like a smaller commitment and a better deal. (It is, if you pay it off in time -- otherwise it starts charging high interest just like a credit card.)

The partnership also gives Amazon a way to offer financing deals similar to those offered by offline merchants, and it gives consumers living paycheck-to-paycheck another way to buy things they really can't afford.

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December 6, 2007 9:01 PM

Amazon's winning startup: Ooyala

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Mountain View video content management service started by three ex Googlers won the first Amazon Web Service challenge that concluded at a dinner event tonight at the Seattle W Hotel.

Ooyala also has another local connection. Co-founder Sean Knapp, who previously was a UI designer at Google and developer of iGoogle, is from Gig Harbor.

Ooyala and six other finalists endured a daylong series of presentations, first at Amazon HQ on Beacon Hill and then at the hotel with a passel of venture capitalists.

As the winner, it gets $50,000 in cash, $50,000 in Amazon Web Services credits and seed funding - in an amount to be determined - from Amazon.

Best of all, the winners received a gold-painted sledgehammer signed by Jeff Bezos and presented by AWS Senior Vice President Andy Jassy, who told them they "can take a hammer to your servers because you no longer need them using Amazon Web Services."

Then the three founders donned safety goggles and took turns whacking an old server that Jassy set on the dias.

Ooyala was one of the most polished companies and also the most secretive - it was the only finalist that insisted reporters not be allowed to listen to its presentation.

That may be because the company hasn't yet announced its second round of funding. It sounds like its getting around $7.6 million, following its initial $1.5 million. Plus whatever Amazon puts in.

Since they don't really need the $50k, maybe they'll share some with their former intern, Maneesh Sethi, who suggested three months ago that the company participate in the Amazon contest. Sethi's already back at Stanford, co-founder Belsasar Lepe said.

My early guess on the winner was off a bit - you really can't judge a book by the cover. In particular, I was too quick to write off the SEO and insurance companies which both seemed to fare well and turned out to have pretty interesting technologies.

Commerce360 is working with a math professor who earlier worked on Yahoo's search algorithms and Milemeter has submitted something like 50 patents for its pay-by-mile auto insurance concept.

Milemeter President Chris Gay told me the competition was a great opportunity and winning would be worth "millions," factoring in the Amazon investment and credibility it would bring to his company. He was also glad for the chance to pitch to the assembled venture capitalists, even though some of them were familiar.

"Ironically, more than half have already turned me down,'' he said.

Continue reading this post ...


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December 6, 2007 3:06 PM

Amazon's favorite Web startups, vying for $100K-plus

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com is hosting a shindig tonight at the W Hotel in Seattle where it will choose the best startup using its Web services.

Candidates were winnowed down to the seven that are presenting to a panel of judges this afternoon. A winner will be announced tonight and receive $50,000 cash, $50,000 in Amazon Web Services credits and the offer of an investment from Amazon.

Here are the finalists:

-- Brainscape is a free and open-source "database for resting state functional connectivity studies" developed by the Neuroinformatics Research Group at Washington University in St. Louis.

-- Commerce360 is a search-engine optimization company based outside of Philadelphia. Its key technology is "ClickEquations" software for optimizing search campaigns; clients include Comcast and The Franklin Mint.

-- Justin.tv is a live-video portal based in San Francisco but run by a group of former Seattlelites -- founder Justin Kan and pals Michael Seibel and Emmett Shear.

-- MileMeter is a Dallas auto insurance company preparing to offer insurance "buy the mile," selling miles in advance "so people who drive less pay less for insurance."

-- Ooyala is a high-definition Web video delivery and advertising platform started by a group of ex-Googlers, based in Mountain View, Calif., of course.

-- UserTesting.com offers inexpensive ($19) online usability testing of Web sites. It's also based in Mountain View.

-- WeoGeo is a Florida company building "a one-stop marketplace for mapping," giving surveyors, engineers, cartographers and scientists a place to store, search, exchange and sell map products.

I haven't heard their pitches yet, but here's my early, shoot-from-the-hip take.

Web video is getting crowded, but Justin.tv has hometown sympathy, the groovy factor and reaches the hot demographic. Ooyala has huge ambitions, polish and the Valley buzz factor, especially since everyone's been wanting to see what sort of companies rich ex-Googlers will start (do they even need the $100K?).

Brainscape is fascinating but it's not going to be as widely used as the others and won't use as many AWS services -- would you like an MP3 with that scientific paper? I wonder if Amazon will give a break to scientific/public interest projects built with its services.

Commerce360 may be the stuff, but SEO is getting crowded, it's nichey and the company seems a bit regional.

MileMeter is clever but is it a gimmick or a revolution? I can't imagine an insurance company would be able to replace traditional risk factors with mileage. I also wonder if consumers are ready to start buying auto insurance in blocks of time, like phone card minutes; the ones who want sporadic, bargain coverage may not be best customers for an insurance company.

UserTesting.com is a great idea. I wonder if it will be acquired (or imitated) and offered as a feature by a hosting service. OfficeLive, perhaps? But it probably won't showcase the huge scaling capabilities of AWS.

WeoGeo's the real standout to me, given the intense interest in location-based services and their underlying GIS technology. It also has really slick tools for searching and shopping that may catch the eye of Amazon executives doing the judging.

We'll see who wins in a few hours.

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November 28, 2007 4:27 PM

Amazon vet launches shopping valet service

Posted by Brier Dudley

I used to write about Microsoft employees who got so excited about the tools they were developing that they quit to build companies around them.

That's what happened with Mikhail Seregine at Amazon.com, where he helped develop Web services the company provides to software developers and startups.

One project he worked on from inception to launch was Mechanical Turk, a service that helps companies hire people willing to do various jobs that can be done online.

Seregine left to start ClayValet, a company that claims to simplify online shopping by "having someone else shop for them." The 2002 Stanford computer science graduate started building the service in January, received funding from undisclosed angel investors and launched on Friday, just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy.

ClayValet asks visitors to describe what they are looking for, then its "shoppers" analyze customer reviews, prices and other information then send them a report within 24 hours.

The site provides up to five free reports per week and its performance charts say 90 percent of the queries are answered in less than 13 hours.

I asked a little while ago for ClayValet to find me a Nintendo Wii for under $300 and haven't heard back yet. I'll post an update when I get a response.

ClayValet has four employees at its offices on Capitol Hill. They're supplemented with services provided by Mechanical Turk, and the company also uses Amazon's hosted storage and processing services.

Seregine also followed Amazon's quirky naming practice. When I asked spokeswoman Darcy Camden about the name she said it's "a name that encourages questions. It is also a literary reference to the Golem, a servant sculpted from clay who follows written instructions."

I guess that makes about as much sense as Mechanical Turk.

UPDATE: It was fast, for me at least. The report came back in just about an hour. Unsurprisingly, it couldn't find a reasonably priced Wii. It recommended that I buy the system from PriceGrabber.com for $364.89, including shipping, and provided some Cnet reviews and a summary of customer opinions.

It's kind of fun and might be useful for complicated product searches that don't work well with automated comparison shopping services.

I wonder how broadly ClayValet will go beyond Amazon, which seems to appear frequently in its results. If it mostly points people to Amazon, they may opt to just search the site themselves. I also wonder if it will ever direct users to sites that don't have a lower price yet don't offer referral commissions.

But I'm curious to watch the experiment and see whether consumers are willing to wait a bit longer for really detailed, human-processed results to their queries.

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November 19, 2007 10:58 AM

Kindle hacking, iPod parallels and a chat with the Kindle director

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm fascinated by Amazon.com's new Kindle electronic reading device, but I've got more questions than answers - even after interviewing Charlie Tritschler, director of Kindle.

Tritschler was one of the product specialists that Amazon started recruiting in late 2004 from companies such as Apple, Palm, Philips, Sony, RIM and Microsoft.

In early 2005 it hired Tritschler from PalmSource. Before that he was at Liberate Technologies and Apple, where he spent 10 years and worked on the PowerBook line.

Tritschler answered some questions about Kindle today in an interview from New York (where Amazon held a press event but didn't invite its hometown paper, one of 11 available on the Kindle, and recently ranking #42 in the Kindle Store).

He wouldn't say exactly how many people are working on the project, which buildings it emanated from in Seattle (turns out they were also developed in Cupertino, Calif.) or how they camoflauged Kindles when testing them here in town. Nor would he discuss future directions or details of the internal hardware.

On other topics, though, he provided some interesting details.

Is Kindle hackable? "It's not something we're opening up, but all devices can be hacked. That's something people can do."

Will there be APIs for software developers to write Kindle applications? "That's an important future direction for us."

Tritschler noted that Amazon also announced a "digital text platform" for authors to create content for Kindle.

Will this also be used as a music player? Kindle supports MP3, has headphone jacks and "the sound quality is really nice." Amazon will see what users want from Kindle, but "we really designed it to be a single purpose device" for reading.

How about a color display? Sounds likely. He noted that screen producers "have been showing some color prototypes."

How about video playback, once Kindle has color? "As the technology evolves to support faster refresh rates, that's something the market will look for."

Does it have a browser? Yes, in the "experimental" features area. But it doesn't work well with sites that are "heavily formatted." "Things that are text-based work very well,'' he said. (I wonder how it will work with free content formatted for mobile devices.)

How did Amazon recruit him? By asking him to come "change the world."

Tritschler believes Kindle will indeed change the world by improving the experience of reading, adding capabilities such as search and a built-in Oxford dictionary that can be used to check definitions of words as you read.

I've seen a lot of similar reading technologies over the years, from companies such as Microsoft and Sony, so it seems to me that while the device may be better than predecessors, Kindle's real advances are in its business model.

When Jeff Bezos refers to Kindle as the iPod of reading in the glowing Newsweek story where Amazon chose to debut the product, he's referring not just to a device for playing digital content but an iPod-like ecosystem with a device, service, store and content partnerships.

For one thing, it comes bundled with free wireless service and its own unique e-mail address. There are no monthly fees to pay and renew with wireless providers, you just turn it on and connect, just like a radio or a TV. Amazon covers the service cost with Kindle's price and content sales, although it must have been able to get a deal on wireless service because the device uses minimal bandwidth.

Novels in the Kindle format are typically 500 to 800 kilobytes, Tritschler said, explaining why they download in 10 to 15 seconds.

Can Amazon provide this free service forever, especially on future versions with color screens and video that use more bandwidth? Has it figured out a way to wrap bandwidth and access costs into the content? If so, why can't we get phones, computers or Tivos like this?

Amazon has made deals with book publishers and it's now selling digital "Kindle editions" of 90,000-plus books, but digital books have been around for awhile.

More intriguing (from my perspective) are the deals it forged with periodical publishers. It offered newspapers, magazines, blogs and wire services a new opportunity to sell digital subscriptions. Even though you can already get their content online, usually for free and in full color, they're hoping that people will pay for the convenience of their content arriving on Kindles.

If this works, and content owners find people are still willing to pay for their content in a useful format, maybe it will be the beginning of the end of the current Google era where publishers are encouraged to give it all away and hope for traffic and ads.

Speaking of giving it away, I wonder if Amazon will ever make Kindle work with digital books already available from public libraries.

The public buys those books, so it should be able to read them in the latest format without buying another copy from Amazon. Nor should libraries have to go out and buy "Kindle editions" of their collections.

Maybe I don't have all the details, but it seems that for Kindle to become the iPod of books, Amazon will have to let people put free content on the device. Can it do that and sustain the free services? Will people really pay $399 for a device that won't let them load content they already own or acquire content from sources other than Amazon?

Remember that less than 3 percent of the content on the average iPod was purchased from iTunes, according to Steve Jobs, who argued that a big reason for the iPod's success was the system's openness.

The openness of iPod and iTunes is pretty debatable, but for digital content consumers, it set the expectations of flexibility.

If Kindle doesn't have similar flexibility, and digital reading devices really are the books of tomorrow, maybe someone will have to come up with a gateless, open-source/public access version.

UPDATE: A reader pointed out that the Kindle was developed at Lab 126, an Amazon subsidiary developing gadgets in Cupertino, Calif. Details about Lab 126 are now posted at its Web site, including a mission statement that suggests Kindle is the first of multiple reading devices from the company. It's vision statement:

We envision wireless electronic reading devices that embrace a traditional book's simplicity, utility, and the ability to disappear as we read, but offer consumers capabilities that are only possible through digital technology and wireless connectivity. Starting with Kindle, which enables consumers to think of a book, newspaper or blog and be reading it in less than a minute, we will build tightly integrated products that bring together great devices, powerful software, Amazon services, and unmatched content selection.

UPDATE 2: I caught up with Steve Kessel, senior vice president of worldwide digital media at Amazon, who oversees the product and Lab 126. He said Amazon has teams around the world working on its design, software and interface.

When I asked if people will be able to load their own content, he noted you can email personal documents such as Word documents and jpeg images to Kindles. It also accepts PDF documents as part of the experimental section, although "some have fixed layout so they may not layout perfectly on the device."

Can people load their own books onto Kindle? "Books are purchased from the Kindle store."

But you can load your own music onto an iPod, I said.

"All the books for purchasing are from the Amazon store because to create this seamless experience of being able to download over the air, it would have to be built as an end-to-end experience."

Kessel left the door open a crack, though:

"I think we're open to different ideas in the future.''

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November 7, 2007 1:03 PM

Selberg scoops: Microsoft, UW departures to Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

I need to pay more attention to the blog of Erik Selberg, who left Microsoft's search team in September to join Amazon.com.

On Tuesday, Selberg wrote about how a friend on Microsoft's search team was escorted out of the building after deciding to join Google's Kirkland office. That led him to question why he received better treatment:

Other colleagues I knew from Microsoft that went to Google were shown the same treatment. So why was I shown the love and not my friend? Well, as near as I can tell, Microsoft doesn't want someone who has decided to leave for Google around so that other employees can ask all the obvious questions and think about going to Google themselves. Google is clearly the competition, and while it's OK to leave Microsoft and do something random (like work for Amazon), leaving to compete with Microsoft is an unforgivable offense, apparently up there with violating company policies.

Last Friday, he shared a chat he had with Yahoo's international search boss about why the company opted to locate in Bellevue rather than Seattle, and how the local team with work with Yahoo's mothership:

Microsoft isn't moving anytime soon, and Google opened up an office in Kirkland, also on the east side. So why not offer something different, like a nicer commute or better digs? He didn't know.

The second question also got a non-answer. He wasn't sure who else was going to be up in Seattle, so apart from having an office with a bunch of Yahoo! engineers, it wasn't clear that there'd be any synergy with the other teams. Seems... well, broken to me. Hey Yahoo!, is this really what's happening?

Selberg's Friday post also reported that Craig Chambers left the UW computer science department to lead Google's infrastructure engineering team in Fremont.

Chambers spent a sabbatical with Google last year and has been working there since the end of the summer, according to Ed Lazowska.

Two weeks ago Chambers was joined by Brian Bershad, another CSE professor, further boosting the search company's UW connections.

Is this some sort of payback from Larry and Sergey, who hatched Google while studying at the Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford?

Until mid-year, Bershad was also chief executive of Illumita, a virtualization company founded by a group of UW profs.

Selberg -- also a UW alum -- noted that Amazon is another option for big-company software jobs in Seattle, and it's "located in the heart of the I-District with much better locale and food!"

I'm looking forward to reading what he'll say about South Lake Union.

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October 17, 2007 12:37 PM

Amazon.com one-click patent may be nullified?

Posted by Brier Dudley

That's what a blogger/activist said may happen, leading to some chatter.

This could be a seismic event, now that patent reform is on the front burner.

Amazon's one-click patent was the prime example of the patent system gone awry.

I asked an Amazon spokeswoman for its side of the story and whether it's going to fight this and haven't heard back yet.

So much for old-school balanced reporting, here's a link to the original post.

Update: Amazon did respond to Out-Law.com and said it believes the patent will be upheld on the review granted the blogger, Peter Calveley.

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October 9, 2007 8:44 AM

With S3, Amazon calls out the fine print

Posted by Brier Dudley

The main shortcoming of Amazon's S3 online storage service - a cornerstone of its hot Web services platform - was that it didn't guarantee uptime through a service level agreement (SLA).

Companies used to such agreements were wary of storing crucial files with Amazon, limiting its appeal. The company hopes that will change with a new SLA, retroactive to Oct. 1, that services evangelist Jeff Barr announced on the Amazon Web Services blog:

We know that many of our customers, including a multitude of teams within Amazon, are using S3 in mission-critical ways and need a formal commitment from us in order to make commitments to their own users and customers.

The company will "commit to 99.9% uptime" and customers can apply for a 25 percent credit on their monthly bill if uptime falls below 99 percent. They can apply for 10 percent credit if uptime is between 99 percent and 99.9 percent.

Barr's advice:

As is the norm with agreements like this, there's some fine print and you should definitely read it yourself to learn more.

I wonder if the service assurance, combined with the cost and ease of use, will attract bigger companies to the service.

(I'm also waiting to see if Amazon blends S3 with its MP3 store somehow, giving consumers the option to buy and store music in an S3 vault that's accessible anywhere - and now most anytime - with a Web connection. The company wouldn't say if that's in the works when I asked while reporting Monday's column.)

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October 8, 2007 12:14 PM

Amazon's MP3 store, watermarks and fair use

Posted by Brier Dudley

I'm not the only one on a fair use jag today.

Jeff Atwood's "Coding Horror" has a great piece today on You Tube: The Big Copyright Lie. It goes much deeper on fair use than I did in today's column on Amazon's new MP3 store.

Channeling Viacom boss Philippe Dauman, Atwood rips YouTube/Google for its hypocrisy:

What I don't understand is why YouTube continues to get away with the big copyright lie they've perpetuated from day one. They pay lip service to copyright, while building their business on an empire of unauthorized, copyrighted content. It's so brazen -- so blatant.

I wonder if music stores are doing the same thing by offering DRM-free music that they know is likely to be used in ways that violate its licensing rules. But it's different, because YouTube is giving stuff away while music stores are charging for content, making contracts and linking buyers to content.

It could get interesting if those links are used for enforcement, and not just to cover the backsides of distributors.

Could a record company figure out it if you were the one who bought the copy of a song that was copied a few times and ended up being distributed to millions of people online?

Some, but not all, of the songs sold at Amazon's MP3 store are traceable by music studios even though they don't have DRM software.

Instead, some have digital watermarks that identify their origin. This is what Pete Baltaxe, Amazon's director of digital music, told me when I asked about watermarking last week:

"Amazon does not apply any watermarking so in some cases the labels have asked, or are interested in providing files that would indicate that Amazon was the retailer."

It seemed like a sensitive subject to Baltaxe, who stressed that Amazon isn't doing this, but record labels are:

To be clear, we don't apply any watermarking ... In some cases labels can deliver us sound files that have a watermark that indicates Amazon is the retailer. Amazon doesn't apply any watermarking.

Still, Amazon's music store is a leap ahead in useability. It's so good, consumers probably won't care about watermarking or terms of service.

It could inspire other music vendors to follow suit. At least that's the advice of Yahoo Music's Ian Rogers, who helped build the company's music store around Microsoft's DRM technology.

Amazon's MP3 store got it right, he said in a presentation ("Convenience wins, hubris loses ...") that he made to other music business-types and then posted on his blog. An excerpt:

But now, eight years later, Amazon's finally done what was clearly the right solution in 1999. Music in the format that people actually want it in, with a Web-based experience that's simple and works with any device. I bought tracks from Amazon (Kevin Drew and No Age), downloaded them, sync'd them to my new iPod Nano, and had them playing in my home audio system (Control 4) in less than five minutes. PRAISE JESUS. It only took 8 years.

8 years. How much opportunity have we lost in those 8 years? How much naivety and hubris did we have when we said, "If we build it they will come"? What did we spend? And what did we gain? We certainly didn't gain mass user adoption or trust, two prerequisites to success on the Internet.

Amen*.


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September 6, 2007 4:25 PM

Amazon.com remodels, losing that flea market feel

Posted by Brier Dudley

The megasite is changing its look and feel, adding more polish and toning down the bargain warehouse feel.

A new left-side navigation panel makes it easier to see and reach the different store categories. It also highlights just how broad the offerings have become.

But the site still screams deals! deals! deals!

It's a phased rollout, so not everyone's seeing the changes at first. Here's a screen grab: Download file.

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September 4, 2007 4:36 PM

Is Amazon the reason NBC dumped iTunes?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Just days after a fallout with Apple, ending its iTunes distribution deal, NBC Universal announced today that its video content will instead be sold through Amazon.com.

NBC shows such as "The Office" and "Heroes" are now available through Amazon's Unbox download service, the companies announced today. Episodes of "30 Rock," for instance, are available for $1.99 and a full season costs $32.49.

Starting Sept. 10, they'll also provide free downloads of pilot episodes of NBC's new shows such as "Bionic Woman."

Universal movies have been distributed via Unbox for a year now, the companies noted in the release, so the TV content deal builds on an existing relationship.

NBC's quote in the release sounds like a dig at iTunes:

"With the addition of NBC Universal TV content to Amazon Unbox, fans now have the ultimate convenience for enjoying their favorite shows whenever or wherever they want," said Jean-Briac Perrette, president, NBC Universal Digital Distribution. "This further expands our longstanding relationship to bring a robust content offering to the marketplace in a variety of ways that will benefit the consumer and, at the same time, protects our content."

I wonder if Amazon is luring content owners from iTunes, or if content owners are just shopping around for a better deal.

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August 21, 2007 2:44 PM

Amazon.com leaks Windows Home Server details

Posted by Brier Dudley

Once again, the Seattle e-tailer gave consumers an early peek at the price and specs for a hot new product: The first Windows Home Server units, from Hewlett-Packard, will cost $599 for a 500 gigabyte version and $749 for a terabyte.

Computerworld has a write-up of the gaffe.

If Amazon has it right, the servers will be available Sept. 15, putting to rest recent speculaton about an Aug. 27 launch date.

Microsoft's Home Server team blog clarified the Aug. 27 reports but hasn't said anything yet about the Amazon slip.

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August 3, 2007 10:38 AM

Amazon.com throws down gauntlet with payment service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels and services evangelist Jeff Barr used their blogs to announce Amazon Flexible Payment Service, or FPS, this morning.

FPS, the latest addition to Amazon's Web services, lets site developers use Amazon's payment system to charge customers for using their services.

It's dubbed flexible because it allows a variety of payment methods -- credit cards, bank account transfers and Amazon Payments -- and charges different merchant/developer fees depending on which method a customer uses.

In a particularly clever move, FPS will use Amazon's authentication system. That means customers registered with Amazon will use the same login and payment information at other Web sites using FPS. Vogels put it this way:

This helps Amazon customers keep their payment information secure while exploring new services and its helps developers by removing the typical friction associated with making a first-time or repeat purchase.

This works both ways. Web services that register new customers will add to the list of Amazon registered customers. Amazon's authentication/payment system is a long way from becoming universal, but this could nudge it that direction.

FPS also puts Amazon into direct competition with Microsoft, Google and eBay, all of which are trying to propagate their own online registration and payment systems. I wish they'd all work together so you'd only have to use a single sign-on for everything, but that's a fantasy.

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July 26, 2007 3:30 PM

More on Microsoft vs. Amazon's EC2

Posted by Brier Dudley

I wasn't the only one here who saw a challenge to Amazon.com's EC2 in Ray Ozzie's speech. One of the analysts just asked when Microsoft will start offering such a service.

Ozzie said he respects the Web services that Amazon is offering and appreciates how it has opened eyes to its potential. He basically confirmed Microsoft is going there, but he wouldn't say when.

"Directionally I think you could see in my presentation that we believe very heavily in this utility computing fabric,'' he said.

"Internally it's the only way we could get scale for the properties we run internally," he said. "It just makes sense to offer those services to developers and enterprises over time.''

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July 26, 2007 2:33 PM

Microsoft's challenge to Amazon.com's EC2 service

Posted by Brier Dudley

Ray Ozzie's telling analysts how Microsoft will provide a virtual computing platform similar to Amazon.com's elastic computing cloud.

Utility computing is one of the major services to be powered by Microsoft datacenters, such as the one in Quincy and a new one being developed in San Antonio. It's part of a platform Microsoft is building to position itself as the blend of local and online computing evolves.

Amazon's service is especially popular with startups because it's cheaper for new companies to rent computing capacity than to set up and manage services. But Amazon's service doesn't promise service levels that big established companies expect.

At the other end of the spectrum are premier utility computing services offered by companies such as IBM and Sun. It sounds as though Microsoft is trying to appeal to both ends.

Ozzie didn't promise service levels, but implied they'd be there. He said Microsoft's utility computing services will appeal to enterprises as they increasingly get used to services.

"Big companies will find this useful especially for their customer facing systems in handling demand spikes,'' he said.

Microsoft hosting is one of three options Microsoft is offering businesses, Ozzie said. Companies can also choose on-premises servers, which offer more control and customization, or choose hosted services offered by partners with vertical expertise, he said.

Services hosted in Microsoft's datacenters "will likely be much more horizontal in nature and where we'll take a paltform approach to it and offer the lowest possible cost that we can.''

Ozzie so far hasn't offered specifics about price or timing but utility computing was described as part of a group of services the company will introduce in the next 12 to 18 months.

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June 28, 2007 10:58 AM

AMZN vet to run News Corp/NBC YouTube killer

Posted by Brier Dudley

Jason Kilar, who launched Amazon.com's video business, will run the YouTube killer hatched by the old guard media companies.

NBC announced today that Kilar, 36, will be the Los Angeles-based venture's chief executive, reporting to NBC Universal President Jeff Zucker and News Corp. President Peter Chernin.

Chernin's quote in the release:

"Jason's product and consumer expertise in the world of e-commerce is arguably unrivaled in this business and gives him a great insight into what it takes to create a superior user interface. We already have access to world-class content and near ubiquitous distribution, and the next step is marrying it with the features and tools that will help define the ideal user experience for video content on the web. We think Jason is the ideal person to lead that effort."

From 1997 to 2006, Kilar rose to vice president and general manager of Amazon's North American media business that includes sales of books, music, video and DVDs. The release notes that Kilar "originally wrote the business plan for Amazon's entry into the video and DVD businesses."

NBC's release said the video service will debut later this year with "thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips from myriad networks and two major film studios and with an unparalleled reach. With distribution partners AOL, CNET, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo!, the new venture will have access to 98 percent of the monthly U.S. unique users on the Internet."


Jason Kilar.

Source: NBC Universal

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June 6, 2007 3:25 PM

Having fun with Amazon.com developer services

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com's latest developer newsletter called out Pictogame, a French company using S3 storage to host its "user-generated" game widget.

I had to try it out and build my own game:

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May 23, 2007 11:22 AM

Google can't Google: An Amazonian's hiring story

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon.com evangelist (and former Microsoft manager) Jeff Barr posted an amusing story about being recruited by Google. It fell through when he failed a crucial test -- he couldn't remember his college grade point average:

Given that I earned my degree in 1985 and have been earning a living by writing code since I was 15 or 16, this didn't seem all that essential.

The story keeps going, though:

Funny thing is, I now have several more e-mails in my inbox from other Google recruiters. After reading these e-mails it appears that they don't know that I interviewed there last year! Perhaps they don't have this data in searchable form. Could that be?

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May 16, 2007 3:37 PM

Jeff Bezos is a tease

Posted by Brier Dudley

Why is he announcing a hot new music store, but withholding juicy details?

I wonder if a bunch of other retailers are going to announce DRM-free music stores, and Amazon.com's getting ahead of the game, making sure people know that it's going to be a player.

The main unanswered questions about Amazon's music store are when it will launch and how much the songs will cost. It's a safe guess that the store will launch before the holiday retail season and the songs will cost the same or less than the $1.29 DRM-free tracks sold by Apple's iTunes store.

I'm also curious about the quality of the songs, since record companies may be more amenable to DRM-free downloads when they're in a compressed format that's of lower fidelity than a compact disc.

Amazon already provides some free music downloads as a promotional service to vendors and has a "free downloads" section at its music store. I downloaded a few songs as an experiment; one was compressed to 199 Kbps and another was 201 Kbps.

If that's the format for the upcoming store, Amazon may be upping the ante on quality as well as interoperability -- songs from iTunes are compressed further, to 128 Kbps, unless you pay an extra 30 cents apiece for "premium" 256 Kbps versions without DRM.

(Slate examined the premium bitrates last month, concluding it doesn't matter. I think CDs sound better so I'd rather buy discs and rip them myself.)

When I asked Amazon.com about the bitrates of the DRM-free downloads it will sell, I ended up on the phone with Bill Carr, vice president for digital media. The eight-year veteran is in charge of the new download business.

Carr didn't answer the question, but gave me some perspective on why Amazon is making this move.

He said DRM has been a big impediment to digital music sales because of interoperability problems it causes for consumers. Amazon has been talking to record companies for months, drawing on relationships that began when it launched its CD store in 1998, he said.

"We've been working within the record industry now for quite some time to help pave the way to a more customer-centric approach. That approach is to enable DRM-free music downloads, which we think will help drive customers toward legitimate forms of music downloads."

Details about bitrates won't be provided until the service launches:

"I wouldn't comment on the specific bitrate but rest assured that the product will be a high-quality product."

Carr said the store will have "an incredibly positive impact" in the music business. He wouldn't say whether he expects to leapfrog iTunes.

"We're one of the largest CD retailers not only in the U.S. but on a global basis. We're the only one that has had a growing business for several years in a row. ... We believe we can inject similar growth into this business by offering customers what they want."

I asked if Amazon had plans to sell a branded digital music player to complement the music store. He said there aren't plans for a device, and noted that Amazon sells other companies' digital music players at its electronics store.

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May 10, 2007 12:23 PM

Iconic design: Amazon.com?

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Seattle company's Web site is one of the "iconic objects of technology" discussed in the May-June edition of Technology Review.

Although the headline is "Objects of Desire," that doesn't quite mesh with the critique by Mark Rolston, vice president of creative at Frog Design. His take, from TR's nifty online slideshow:

"Amazon is iconic, but not necessarily good design," says Rolston. "A Jeep is iconic, but if you've ever ridden in a Jeep, it's crap. Amazon represents a basic approach to e-commerce. It's balanced cacophony: There's search, reviews, and comments swirling around these pages. With these tools, you almost serendipitously end up with a basket of things to buy. It's iconic because it nailed early on the basic approach of a vast catalogue."

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May 7, 2007 3:17 PM

Amazon's buzzy new services

Posted by Brier Dudley

I had a feeling I'd learn a lot from The Startup Project hosted by Amazon.com a few weeks ago in a funky loft on Capitol Hill. It was the first of several events the company is holding to introduce its services to developers and entrepreneurs.

The room had more startup buzz than a month of TechCrunch. Everywhere I turned there was somebody starting a cool new company, way more than I could include in today's column.

I ended up sitting next to Josh Juster, who had left Microsoft to start a new company three days earlier. Juster, who worked on Zune and MSN, said the company is tentatively called Nightify and will be like "evite meets CitySearch."

They weren't all using Amazon Web Services, but it sounds like they'll have to consider them if they're seeking venture funding. Apparently, VCs are becoming major evangelists for services like S3 storage and Elastic Computing on-demand processing, since they can dramatically cut the cost of launching a Web business.

Andrew Jassy told me VCs around the country have contacted Amazon, asking to be involved in startup projects in their cities. They haven't announced plans yet, but Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin, Texas, are likely locales.

One thing I'm still curious about is how AWS will affect Microsoft. Short-term, Microsoft has to be thinking about more hosted developer services to counter what AWS is offering to Web developers and startups.

I also wonder how much AWS and the like will affect Windows Server sales. Microsoft's selling point is lower cost. It managed to defend that position against Linux with the TCO arguments, but AWS seems to undercut them even further, trimming out the cost of open-source computing with EC2.

Could Microsoft offer an Elastic Longhorn Computing Cloud, or would that be too offensive to Dell and other server manufacturers?

I'm also curious to see whether Google responds with hosted services. That seems like a natural thing for it to announce later this month when it starts holding Google Developer Days conferences.

Also likely to be affected by AWS are traditional outsourcing firms. A few years ago I visited Wipro's headquarters in Bangalore and saw the room where it remotely manages datacenters for companies like GE.

That's the same concept, I think, but Amazon's trying to make outsourced infrastructure simple and self-service so it makes sense for smaller companies.

Another day, I'll have to explore whether we're going back to timeshare computing.

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April 25, 2007 1:48 PM

Blodget on Amazon.com: Still hoping for $400

Posted by Brier Dudley

Split adjusted, that is.

Henry Blodget probably helped make a lot of Amazonians in Seattle rich, if they sold after his upbeat forecast goosed the stock in the late 1990s.

Blodget bought himself Amazon.com stock at $50, as it headed down in 2000, and he's just now breaking even.

From the fallen analyst's blog today:

"Amazon hasn't become the company I hoped it would back when I put that $400 target on it ($67 in today's split) in December 1998. As you may recall, the stock blasted through the target in two weeks, soared to $600, and then, over the next 18 months, collapsed. Amazon's still a great franchise, and I'm still a happy customer. I don't own the stock because I expect it to soar. I own it because ... well, for old times' sake and because I'm going to own it until it breaks through $400 ($67) again or goes bust, whichever comes first. I don't even follow the company that closely anymore (too depressing). But last night's quarter, and today's 25% pop, certainly come as a breath of fresh air."

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March 28, 2007 12:43 PM

Amazon.com partners with Federation of the Blind

Posted by Brier Dudley

The e-commerce giant will work with the National Federation of the Blind "to promote and improve technology that enables blind people to access and use the World Wide Web,'' they announced today.

Amazon will "continue improving the accessibility of its Web site platform" and the NFB will contribute expertise in Web accessibility, the release said.

I asked for more specifics and was told one aspect of the partnership involves "screen access software" that enables blind people to independently navigate the Web, access site aurally or through Braille displays and interact with sites using keyboard commands. The software relies on features that can be built into Web sites such as "alt-tags" describing images and keyboard command equivalents to mouse actions.

Amazon will make changes to its site by Dec. 31, but the agreement is in place for six years, said John G. Paré Jr, spokesman for Baltimore-based NFB.

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March 22, 2007 11:03 AM

Smartsheet.com leveraging Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

Smartsheet.com, a Bellevue-based "Office 2.0" venture that provides online task management and spreadsheet services, launched version 2.0 yesterday with more features for users of the free version.

(I mentioned the company in a recent column on Google.)

The company also announced that its free online document management service is being powered by Amazon.com's S3 storage service.

Additionally, the company has plugged in Amazon's Mechanical Turk labor service, so Smartsheet.com customers can tap the Turks to build new business templates.

"We extended the document feature to all Smartsheet customers so that anyone, free or paying, may experience the speed and reliability of Amazon S3,'' Mark Mader, Smartsheet.com president, said in the release. "We've also expanded our use of Amazon Web Services to include Amazon Mechanical Turk. This is a great way for us to cost effectively tap into a diverse workforce for the identification of business and consumer content."

Maybe Amazon ought to buy Smartsheet and take the fight to Google Apps.

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February 6, 2007 11:42 AM

Jim Gray search: More than 12,000 volunteers

Posted by Brier Dudley

The volunteers searching for Jim Gray have completed more than 530,000 image-scanning tasks doled out by Amazon.com's Mechanical Turk service, according to Werner Vogels, the company's chief technology officer.

Volunteers pore over satellite images, searching for signs of Gray's boat.

"We need a little more of a push and then all the images will have been processed," Vogels said on his blog today. "A team of experts led by Alex Szalay of John Hopkins University has been working through the thousands of images marked for further investigation. They currently have a set of about 20 images that are being further scrutinized before they will be handed to Coast Guard for determining whether they can take action on them."

If you'd like to pitch in, details are at Mechanical Turk.

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January 17, 2007 2:52 PM

Sony vs. Amazon.com and bits from Sir Howard

Posted by Brier Dudley

CNet posted a great interview with Sony boss Howard Stringer and CFO Rob Wiesenthal. Among the highlights:

-- Sony may add Wi-Fi to it's e-book digital reader to compete with a similar product that Amazon.com is preparing to release. Images of the Amazon "Kindle" device surfaced last year, based on an FCC filing. I checked for an update today and was told Amazon.com won't "comment on speculation or rumor."

-- TV and music download services are planned for the PlayStation 3, cementing its position as an entertainment hub as well as a cutting-edge game console. Wiesenthal, in a hard-to-read quote, said online services will help make the business profitable by the end of 2007.

We're very happy with what we've seen so far, and we're hoping in the future to have their own content television and music. There is a third revenue stream to help you achieve your economics.

-- The high-def DVD format war is raging on, despite new hardware shown at CES that will play both Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs. Howard remains convinced Blu-ray will prevail, thanks to the PS3.

The people who like Blu-ray are the people who play PlayStation 3, just as people who play PS2s were the early proponents of the DVD format. It drove the DVD format.

-- It will take up to three years for Blu-ray DVD players to fall in price to around $300.

-- Software is key. Stringer talked about how Sony's made software development a top priority, and said further improvements are still in the works.

There are a number of people in their 40s instead of their 50s and 60s. I don't mean to downplay age, but we are pushing Sony first past the digital world and, for example, now we have software architects in every product lineup. We didn't used to. I don't think everybody really knew what a software architect was two years ago. So now we have a relationship between software engineering and product design from the beginning of products.

-- Sony wants to bypass the PC and bring Web content straight to the TV. Stringer played up the Bravia IPTV device that Sony unveiled at CES.

Basically, we've made the television the center of the Internet world instead of the computer, by bypassing the computer and taking the Internet direct to that television screen. Now, there are a lot of implications for what that will do inside the television set. It's a sea change for Sony to be the first to do that because two years ago you were all muttering at us for being software-illiterate.

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November 16, 2006 2:35 PM

Amazon.com has 100-plus customers for every Wii

Posted by Brier Dudley

Here's part of a note Amazon sent to customers on its Wii waiting list today:

We will be limiting purchases to one per household and we anticipate that we will sell through our inventory very quickly as we've received 100 times more Wii email sign-ups than consoles we'll have available for sale (i.e., for every Nintendo Wii we'll have for sale, over 100 people have signed up to be notified).

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November 9, 2006 5:04 PM

Console indecision at Amazon.com

Posted by Brier Dudley

What do customers ultimately buy after checking out the Sony PS3 listing at Amazon.com?

As of this afternoon, the site said 33 percent went on to buy an HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360. Another 33 percent bought "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess" for Nintendo's Wii, and the remaining 33 percent bought "Final Fantasy XII" for the PS2.

That was for the $499 core system. Of the people viewing the $599 premium system, half went on to buy the HD-DVD drive and half bought "Final Fantasy."

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November 3, 2006 11:38 AM

Jeff Bezos on another magazine cover

Posted by Brier Dudley

This time it's BusinessWeek's Nov. 13 issue, which looks at Amazon.com's Web services initiatives and that's getting a cool reception from investors.

At the very least, it's a better photo than this creepy cover shot.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.