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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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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."

hangar1.jpg

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

Comments | Category: 4G , AT&T , Amazon.com , Android , Apple , Billionaire techies , Chrome OS , Gadgets & products , Google , Kindle , Tablets , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Kindle , e-readers |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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:

IMG_2118.JPG

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:

IMG_2144.JPG

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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 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:

kindlelibe1.jpg

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:

kindle4.jpg

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:

Kindle5.jpg

Then, you get the sales pitches:

Kindle6.jpg

The USB mode is a bit tricky.

Kindle7.jpg

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:

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

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.

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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 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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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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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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October 26, 2010 2:43 PM

BN's Nook evolves into Android tablet

Posted by Brier Dudley

Another entry into the great holiday tablet battle came today from Barnes & Noble, which announced a color, touchscreen version of its Nook reading device.
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The bookseller expects to begin selling the "NOOKcolor" on Nov. 19 for $249. It has a 7-inch diagonal touchscreen that displays 16 million colors. Inside, the device has a Wi-Fi radio and 8 gigabytes of memory. It's 8 by 5 inches overall, 0.48 inches thick and weighs 15.8 ounces.

Although it's built around the Nook electronic bookstore, which competes with Amazon.com's Kindle business, the color Nook is also aiming up-market, at the iPad and upcoming Android tablets.

The device is being pitched as a media consumption tablet, with the ability to browse the Web, play games, send e-mail, participate in social networks and store and play digital music. Or read.

Barnes & Noble noted that the NOOKcolor is based on Google's Android operating system -- Version 2.1. The store is inviting Android developers to build Nook applications, although they won't be able to directly transfer Android apps to the Nook because it has a custom interface and controls.

The new Nook also syncs with Google's Gmail, so you can use Gmail contacts with social features, including a feature that lets you lend e-books to friends with Nooks.

The Nook's upgrade may get Amazon to speed up work on a color Kindle, or perhaps even push Apple to lower iPad prices.

But it could use a better name. Some might wonder if the NOOKcolor is radioactive.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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 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.
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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 2, 2010 11:16 AM

D8: Kno tablet for students unveiled

Posted by Brier Dudley

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Kno, a Santa Clara, Calif. startup, unveiled a dual screen tablet for students at the All Things Digital conference.

The Kno tablet weighs 5.5 pounds, has dual 14-inch color touchscreens and pairs with an online platform that's supported by higher education publishers, the founders said in their demonstration.
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The device looks like an Apple laptop without a keyboard, and it will function in laptop mode by using one of its screens as a touch keyboard. The two screens are connected by a fabric material similar to what's used for seatbelts, instead of a hinge.

It also has an iPad-like interface, displaying thumbnail-sized icons for applications and books on the device. It has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios but not 3G cell coverage, and the battery life is expected to be at least six hours.

Kno expects to begin selling its tablets this fall. It's not yet disclosing a price but it will be less than $1,000.

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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.

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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.

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19-inch electronic paper display.jpg

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May 24, 2010 10:42 AM

SID confab: 3D surging: iPad "cannibalizing" Kindle, netbooks

Posted by Brier Dudley

Apple's iPad is "cannibalizing" sales of e-readers like the Kindle and Nook and netbooks, DisplaySearch analyst John Jacobs said this morning at the SID conference in Seattle.

Jacobs predicted 10 million iPads and other slates will be sold in 2010.

The research firm expects "slates will take a healthy bite" out of the e-reader market.

But that's still just a fraction of the growing market for devices with displays in the range of 4" to 12.5" -- including slates, e-books, netbooks, mobile Internet devices, game players and portable DVD players. Jacobs said that market will see 40 million to 80 million units sold per quarter.

Jacobs followed Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow, who talked up the potential of 3-D in TVs and other devices, including Sony cameras and computers.

Sony surveys found that 38 percent of consumers will buy a 3-D TV within a year and 67 percent say their next TV will be 3-D, Glasgow said.

Content will be key to uptake, he said, noting Sony efforts such as its work with sports broadcasters (he played a 3'D clip from the Masters during the speech) and upcoming Sony 3-D movies, including "Spiderman 3D," "Men in Black III" and "Green Hornet." Glasgow said the 3-D business aims won't distort the movie's artistic development, saying that Sony's mantra is that the "technology must serve the story."

But a 3-D preview of "Resident Evil Afterlife" -- a movie coming out in September -- had all sorts of 3-D tricks like martial arts throwing stars spinning toward the viewer.

Glasgow called on the display industry, gathered in Seattle, to follow three principles:

-- "Don't let inferior quality own the marketplace."
-- Work together and with broadcasters and cable and satellite companies to adopt a set of 3-D standards "that makes sense for consumers."
-- Companies in the business are going to have to put effort into educating consumers about the benefits of 3-D.

Meanwhile, Sony expects the 3-D TV market to grow to 100 million units globally over the next three years.

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May 24, 2010 10:37 AM

Displays of the future: Smart, bendy, 3D and more

Posted by Brier Dudley

(Today's piece, keyed to the Society for Information Display conference in Seattle ...)

Talk about gazing into the future.

Imagine ultra high-definition TVs not much thicker than a millimeter.

How about electronic books made with plastic screens that flex like a magazine?

Or perhaps a display that lets you touch a virtual version of yourself on the other side of the glass?


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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February 4, 2010 4:13 PM

Feds: Google book settlement still bad, more work needed

Posted by Brier Dudley

Google and book publisher and authors have improved their class-action settlement but not enough to avoid antitrust troubles, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a filing and news release this afternoon.

The key quote in the filing:

"Although the United States believes the parties have approached this effort in good faith and the amended settlement agreement is more circumscribed in its sweep than the original proposed settlement, the amended settlement agreement suffers from the same core problem as the original agreement: it is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward-looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the court in this litigation."

The Justice Department liked changes that removed Google's "most favored nation" status but said the settlement as revised would still give the search company an unfair advantage.

It said in the release that "the amended settlement agreement still confers significant and possibly anticompetitive advantages on Google as a single entity, thereby enabling the company to be the only competitor in the digital marketplace with the rights to distribute and otherwise exploit a vast array of works in multiple formats."

Today's filing sets the stage for a Feb. 18 hearing before a federal judge considering whether to approve the agreement, which was originally reached in 2005 after a fight over Google's efforts to digitize the world's books.

Other critics of the agreement have lined up in recent months, giving the judge plenty to consider.

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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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January 4, 2010 1:34 PM

CES: A peek at Hearst's Skiff reader

Posted by Brier Dudley

Jumping ahead of the pack of e-readers expected to debut this week at CES, LG, Sprint and Skiff today previewed the Skiff Reader they'll be showing in Las Vegas this week.

The one-pound reader, designed for newspapers and magazines, measures 11.5 inches diagonally and a quarter inch thick, with a resolution of 1200 x 1600 pixels and a touchscreen. Skiff claims that it runs a full week without recharging.

The Hearst Corp. started the project, initially called "FirstPaper," and spun Skiff out as a separate company earlier this month.

skiff1.jpg

Pricing is not yet available, but Sprint plans to sell the devices through its stores later this year. Sprint's also providing 3G wireless connectivity to the devices, which also have Wi-Fi radios.

Skifflat.jpg

It's based on a display that LG has shown in recent years at CES, using a thin, flexible sheet of stainless steel foil.

Skiff, a venture based in New York and Palo Alto, Calif., hopes to get its technology and services for distributing content onto other companies' consumer electronic devices.

From today's release:

The Skiff Reader will feature the Skiff service and digital store, allowing consumers to wirelessly purchase and access a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, books, blogs and other content from multiple publishers. Newspaper and magazine content delivered by Skiff will feature visually appealing layouts, high-resolution graphics, rich typography and dynamic updates, supporting key design qualities that help publications differentiate themselves and attract subscribers and advertisers.

Full technical specs:

Continue reading this post ...


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January 4, 2010 11:30 AM

CES preview: Xbox Natal, Orb rings and more ...

Posted by Brier Dudley

(An illustrated version of the preview column that ran in today's paper ...)

Las Vegas always seems like it's in another dimension, but this week it will be even more so when the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show takes place.

More than 20,000 new products will be shown by 2,500 companies starting Thursday.

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They're expecting to sell $166 billion worth of TVs, phones, stereos and other gadgets in the U.S. alone next year.

You'd never guess the economy's limping and millions are out of work.

Continue reading this post ...


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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:

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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.

IREX_DR800_01.JPG

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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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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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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."

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Bill Gates , Billionaire techies , Kindle |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

April 10, 2009 10:42 AM

TechCrunch shows its "Crunchpad" netbook

Posted by Brier Dudley

Great to see TechCrunch's Michael Arrington putting money where his mouth is, building prototypes of the cheap Web tablet he's been wishing the tech industry would produce.

In a post officially taking the wraps off the project today, Arrington said the Atom-powered Linux "Crunchpad" device could be built for around $250. He gave much of the development credit to Singapore-based Fusion Garage. What's next is unclear, but he's apparently casting about for partners.

crunchpad.JPG

I wish newspapers were hacking like this, trying to build their own alternatives to the Kindle and bleeding edge e-paper devices. Couldn't cost much more than an executive trip to San Diego.

The Crunchpad reminds me of the "Mira" Web tablets that Microsoft unveiled in 2002. The concepts are similar but Mira was too early and constricted -- the $800 device came long before Atom chips, its wireless was complicated and Microsoft was focused on extending Windows XP PCs in the home more than building a standalone mobile browsing device.

Now there are all sorts of mobile browsing devices in the same price range and more coming as all sorts of companies -- even T-Mobile USA -- get creative with the low-cost mobile computing hardware that's available.

Comments | Category: Gadgets & products , Kindle |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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.)

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

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.

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

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:

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

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 ...


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

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.

Comments | Category: Amazon.com , Billionaire techies , Digital media , Gadgets & products , Kindle , Telecom |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

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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.