Amazon isn’t releasing hard numbers but have said that the Kindle is now the highest selling item at Amazon. Industry estimates are that they sold about five to six million units last year and that so far this year it is actually outpacing projections so might well top ten million units in 2011. Those rather nebulous numbers mean that we will probably see Amazon sell almost half as many “tablets” as the much hyped Apple this year.
That is with a device that is pretty much relegated to e-reading only; what would happen if Amazon’s next generation Kindle is a full on Android tablet? How about one that is sized between the Kindle 3 and the DX while dropping the physical keyboard and thinning the bezel to allow it a 10“ screen?
First off, why would they want to do that?
Well, Apple is being a real dick with their new “if you want to sell anything through your own app, you need to give us a cut” policy. In the future, when Amazon sells an eBook through their own Kindle app, without ever sending an electron through Apple’s App Store, Apple wants a kickback because… uhhh… ummm… they want more money? It is probably a combination of an overt money grab and a covert herding of iOS users away from Amazon and to iBooks.
Extorting money from our customers? There’s an app for that.
So Amazon doesn’t want to gouge their customers for Apple or lose money if they stick to a level pricing for all devices. They won’t abandon the iOS field but they should want to give a viable option to the iPad.
Another reason is that, while the Kindle is selling well enough right now, it will start to lose sales as full featured tablets gain on it in price, readability and battery life while maintaining a large edge in utility. As more and more people get used to carrying tablets around with them all the time it becomes annoying to carry around a second device just for reading – although a few hundred thousand people do just that, they would probably prefer not to.
Then there is the rich media consumption, you can’t watch video on the Kindle and Amazon really wants to stream you video.
What do they need to add for a KindleDroid?
The primary bit of gear that is holding them back is the display. The Kindle uses a reflective, gray scale E Ink display that is really easy on the eyes and sips power at a tiny fraction of what an LCD does. The same company that makes the current display has recently introduced the “E Ink Triton Imaging Film” display… that is not adequate for motion of touch control. Amazon would have to switch to another source and that would be Qualcomm with their Mirasol technology. It does motion closer to LCDs and they are touting even lower power consumption than the greyscale e-ink displays.
The processor also needs to be bumped up. The current CPU is inadequate for some of the more demanding apps and that needs to be addressed. They can stay inside the same processor family and simply move up from the Freescale i.MX353 to something from the i.MX 6 series… they don’t even have to go to the top, the i.MX6Solo should be able to do everything they need.
The Kindle uses a custom Linux OS so it shouldn’t take much to transition to the likewise custom Linux called Android.
Having only 4GB of memory is not a problem when it can hold thousands of books. It is a problem when you want to load up a few dozen apps and store a few full length videos on it. It needs at least 16GB built in and an SDHC card reader to let you bump that up to whatever level you need and/or can afford.
The “nice to have” items like gyroscopic sensors, GPS, front and back facing cameras… if they can get them in there while keeping the price down then I say go for it. If it pushes the price well above the iPad then drop them until the next generation.
What can’t it lose?
There are a lot of people who own both an iPad or Android Tablet and a Kindle. They use the tablets for all the browsing, games, videos and the creativity-lite that they can handle while using the Kindle for reading. They prefer that the batteries last for days and that it is easier on the eyes for extended reading- especially outside.
People praise the iPad for lasting ten hours on a charge… the Kindle DX will run for well over a hundred hours and that means you don’t have to constantly be looking for an outlet to charge your ereader. I’m not saying that the KindleDroid needs to last 150 hours on a charge… but it can’t only last 10 hours. The closer it gets to 50 hours the better. The Mirasol display and the i.MX6Solo have a real shot at deliver an adequate user experience while getting it into that ballpark. Video playback and games will erode most of that battery life down from the Kindle DX’s 170 hours but there is hope that it can still last several times longer than the iPad.
The Kindle 3 sells for only $139 while the Kindle DX costs $379… they don’t want to lose the pricing edge over the iPad but it can’t stay as wide when you are adding a lot of new hardware. The iPad starts at $499 and it would be great if the KindleDroid could come out at $399… but I would buy it if it was the same $499 (or even a bit above) but came with a near 50 hour battery life.
What signs are there for KindleDroid development?
As of March 21, 2011, a search at Lab126 (Amazon’s eReader development team) with the keyword “android” returns job openings for seven software engineers and three managers. I think that ten job openings are seven or eight too many for just an Android app.
Last year, they bought a small company called Touchco that was developing multi-touch screens… and folded it into Lab126. I really like that this technology has multiple levels of pressure sensitivity and can use styli for accurate touch as well as our clumsy big fingers for general interface control. A Manga Studio app would be great but is not possible without a pressure sensitive stylus.
Amazon Studios and Instant Video for Premium Members means there will be a pile of content that needs a place to go. What with Netflix getting into the content creation racket with House of Cards, how long will it take for Amazon to do the same?* Once they have a series in production, not being able to play the show on their own tablet would be problematic.
Also, how can you own the Internet Movie Database without taking advantage of deep linking content streaming right from the site? You have people looking up movies, television shows, actors, directors and… don’t you need a one click button to watch it on your Amazon Premium account enable tablet as well as you desktop/laptop/TV?
Within the next few days, Amazon will be opening the Amazon Appstore to deliver apps to the Android platform. Now would you do that if you didn’t have any device that actually ran the Android OS? That would be like selling ebooks without an ereader.
So they have tons of content to sell through a more capable tablet and they are hiring engineers who know the Android platform… I may be getting a KindleDroid for next Christmas.
||*Jeff- we need to sit down with Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman to talk about a dramatic series set in the current civilian space race as Amazon’s first original series. I’ve got a first draft of the pilot done and we can get it into development for this fall if we get right on it… just puttin’ it out there.