Amazon's Kindle Is On Fire

September 12, 2012

It's been an exciting, at times tumultuous, two weeks for tech fans and Amazon, producers of the popular Kindle tablet.

First, the company released the ominous proclamation that the Kindle Fire was "sold out forever" without releasing details, specs, release date, or even a mention of the Kindle Fire 2. Just days later there were teases and flashes of what looked like a new tablet or e-reader in a television commercial that aired during the NFL season opener between the Giants and the Cowboys.

The week of teases and speculation led to a huge announcement that took everyone by surprise and had the internet buzzing. Not only was there a new Kindle Fire, but also the new Kindle Fire HD, the Kindle Fire HD 4G, a new e-reader called the Kindle Paperwhite, and a DLC offering called Kindle Serial. Most surprising of all were the prices, which seemed too good to be true.

Then came reports that there would be ads in all versions of the Kindle Fire that you couldn't opt out of, not even on the higher end models.

One could almost hear the sound of tires screeching. Suddenly, Amazon had gone from making a big power play in the tablet and e-reader market to pariahs running a long con on consumers. The failure to disclose these ads had some accusing them of being duplicitous.

Amazon responded by noting that you could, in fact, opt out of the ads for $15 a month.The ads that had everyone up in arms are similar to the ones that already appear on lower end models of the Amazon Kindle. They come in the form of "special offers" that appear on screensavers, the lock screen, and the lower right hand corner of the home screen. They're not very invasive, barely noticeable, and arguably more than worth tolerating considering the relatively low price of Amazon's new offerings.

And yet at the same time that Amazon was receiving a backlash for these ads, two different news sources were reporting that students were being pulled out of schools in China in order to work shifts at the Foxconn plant to produce Apple's iPhone 5. This after the revelation earlier this year that the plant that produced Apple products such as the iPhone and the iPad had a troubling record littered with documented incidents of employing underage workers, excessive hours, poor treatment of its employees, and suicides at its work site. Now, after promises of improvements, rumors came that they had taken students out of classrooms and into their plants for twelve-hour shifts. Yet while American and Chinese news sites were unearthing more information that caused Foxconn to hastily scuttle what they described as an "internship," most of the energy, animosity, and snark from online publications and tech news outlets was reserved for the controversy over Amazon's ads on the new Kindle Fire. The Foxconn story involving Apple products was largely ignored while people raged over the accursed special offers that would appear on the far more modestly priced, but decidedly less hip, Amazon offerings.

Of course, it should be noted that most of the components for Amazon's Kindle products are produced overseas under what may be subpar working conditions. The point is that the outrage didn't just seem unnecessary and blown out of proportion, but offensively absurd given the relatively low stakes.

The problem, I suppose, is that we live in an age where we expect to pay next to nothing for entertainment. Attempts by the publishing, film, television, and music industries to recover profits lost by the transition to digital is often portrayed as a desperate cash grab by rich old men who don't "get it." Although there are arguments to be made that it sometimes goes too far, such as the extent of DRM protection on content one presumably owns, there's also nothing wrong or sinister about a company like Amazon proposing a trade-off like ads in exchange for affordable hardware and services.

Perhaps Amazon could have been more forthcoming about the "catch" of Special Offers on the Kindle Fire tablets. Could they have handled it better? Sure. But we could have, too.

That said, here's a brief rundown of the new offerings from Amazon that were announced last week.

The New Kindle Fire

The 2012 edition of the Kindle Fire, with 243 ppi and double the RAM or last year's model for $159.

The Kindle HD

The 7" is priced at $199 and comes out next Friday. The 8.9" comes out November 20th and is priced at $299. Also that same day they'll release the Kindle Fire HD 4G with LTE for $499 with a $50/year data plan.Features/specs:
  • Display: 1920 x 1200, 254 ppi
  • Laminated screen with 25% less glare
  • OMAP 4470 processor
  • Built on the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich platform
  • 2 Wi-Fi antennas with MIMO
  • 16 GB of storage on the Fire HD, 32 or 64 GB on the HD 4G
  • Front-facing HD camera
  • Stereo speakers
  • Whispersync for Voice, an upgrade from the current offering that syncs both your print and audiobook libraries.
  • X-Ray for Movies, which from what little was announced sounds like some sort of real-time IMDB lookup.

Kindle Paperwhite

Their new e-reader for $119, with 3G connectivity for $179.

  • 9.1mm thick, 7.8 ounces
  • 221 pixels/in resolution, a 62% bump
  • That new "X-Ray" feature mentioned previously, but for books
  • Improved contrast (25%)
  • 8-week battery life

Kindle Serials

A new service provided for Kindle users. Buy a text and you'll receive all future editions, as well as automatically receiving new content as it's added.

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Source: Amazon