Springtime for nerds

It’s spring and the mind of the geek turns to new hardware releases.

The iWatch is still the hot rumor, but I wouldn’t expect that to even be announced until September.  That is when Apple will, probably, announce the iPhone 6, and iOS 8.
I’ve seen rumors that Apple will include a range of fitness tracking options in the much debated iWatch.  If they do, then they have a chance to pounce on the market hole created by FitBit recalling their Force device.   This also puts a lot of pressure of FitBit to come up with a Force replacement (with a functional wrist band) PDQ.  If they wait too long, and the iWatch rumors get stronger, they will loose market share to Apple’s vaporware.
On the Amazon front, they have discounted their Kindle devices.  Given that they had razor thin margins at best at the retail price, I’m taking the discounting as a sign they want to dump inventory.  Flushing the channels of the current inventory in preparation for new model Kindles in the pipeline. I expect them to announce these well in advance of Apple’s big announcement in September.  Big retail sale days for consumer electronics include Graduation and Father’s Day (Dad loves his gadgets).  If they can make those dates, that would make up for the loss from discounting the current Kindles.   They count on the downstream sales on those devices anyway.
For the Android fans out there, take heart.  The Google I/O show is slated for June.  The rumor mill is expecting the next flavor of Android to come out as well as some new hardware.  A new Nexus and some more wearables to go with Google Glass are expected.
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Google enters the 7″ tablet market

Bladerunner may have given us the Nexus 6, but Google is delivering on the Nexus 7.

Before you get your hopes up, the Nexus 7 is a 7″ android based tablet.  Supposed to be available in July 2012.

There is a comparison chart over at gdgt that compares it to the other two important players in the 7″ tablet market, the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Color Nook.  There are some gaps in the data on that chart, most of which can be filled with a quick search.

For a more detailed peek under the hood of the Nexus 7, try the PCMag review.  Here are some key features. It will be running Android 4.1, not a feature reduced in house version of Android like the Fire or Nook.  It has a Quad core CPU with a 12 core GPU.  That is a lot more horse power than you get with the Kindle Fire.  The Nexus 7 screen resolution is a bit better, 1280 x 800 opposed to the Fire’s 1024 x 600 and it has double the RAM as well.  The Nexus 7 also has a built in camera in addition to Bluetooth, both features lacking in the Fire & Nook.  What the Nexus 7 doesn’t have is  speakers or a microphone.  It does have a 3.5mm audio jack, which is the only port besides the MicroUSB port.  That’s right, no SD slot.  The Nexus does come in two flavors, one with 8 Gig of storage for $199 and a 16 Gig version for $249.   For comparison, the Kindle Fire also has 8 Gig, and no SD slot.  The Color Nook is the only one that has a SD slot for additional storage.  Given that both Amazon & Google have extensive Cloud storage solutions, I’m not surprised by the lack of the SD slot.

I’ve used the Kindle Fire before, and I liked it.  However, if I had to put down $199 (plus tax) of my money for a 7″ tablet, I would go with the Google Nexus 7.

Update: The MIT Tech Review has their review of the Nexus 7 up.  According to them it does have a speaker.

Kindle Fire Review

I recently got my hands on a Kindle Fire, Amazon’s 7″ Android tablet. I can see why they are selling like the preverbal hotcakes. For $200 you get an Android tablet that is optimized for the Amazon eco-system.

The screen is sharp, and the text clear. It’s still not an e-ink display, so if all you want to do is read books, you are better off with one of the other Kindle devices. They are cheaper and easier on the eyes for prolonged reading.

The Fire is also WiFi only. No cell carrier based updates and also, no Bluetooth. So no add on keyboards or wireless headsets.  There is a headset jack, and stereo speakers.   You’ll probably want to use headphones or ear buds, but the audio is good enough through the speakers for casual use.

It has just one button, everything else, including volume/mute requires multiple touches to the screen to adjust. The screen is also a fingerprint magnet. Possibly worse than first gen iPads. Bad enough were I started carrying a stylus I had picked up to draw on the iPad with to use *all the time* on the Fire.  The screen is very crisp and the video quality is quite good, so I don’t want to be staring through fingerprints to see that picture quality.

I’ve heard one review consistently that I have to agree with. For content formatted for the 7″ screen, it looks great! Other content, not so much. Streaming video from Amazon in landscape is large and sharp! I’ve loaded some video content and the gallery player only plays it in portrait mode, so I’ve got landscape formatted video playing in the middle third of the portrait mode screen. Definitely sub-optimal. Browsing the web is not as clean as it is with a larger screen (an iPad for example). I found myself constantly having to drag the screen focus in order to read the end of a line.

The Amazon Android App store is ok, but definitely limited.

Bottom line, if you are already invested in the Amazon eco-system, and just want to read books & magazines, and watch videos from Amazon, then is a very well spent $200.

If you want more flexible device in order to see more of the Internet than what Amazon provides, then you are better off with a tablet with a 10″ screen, with either a more open version of Android or Apple iOS.

Barnes and Noble enters the e-book reader market

Barnes and Noble has announced the Nook, their e-book reader.

This is in direct competition to Amazon’s Kindle.  It’s a very similar bit of technology, the major difference being that the B&N Nook will allow users to “share” e-books with other Nook users.  It works this way.  You purchase an ebook from B&N on your Nook.  You like it.  You think your buddy, who also has a Nook, would like it. So you can “loan” that book to said buddy.  It will be available to be read on his Nook for two weeks.  My bet is that this will generate a lot a ebook sales.

Now, some may argue that Amazon already owns the  mind share for e-book readers, having crushed the Sony E-Reader in the market.  The Kindle took off because Amazon was already seen as a major e-retailer of books and they had the ability to buy books immediately on the Kindle using mobile Internet technology.  Sony wasn’t known as a book seller and they had no such “instant buy” option.  The Nook has a similar broadband connection to the Kindle and B&N is seen as a major retailer of books by the public.  The fact that B&N has a much larger ebook library than Amazon doesn’t hurt either.

There are two major flaws I can see with the Nook.  First, the whole DRM thing. Second is that it only supports three formats, EPUB, eReader and PDF.  A few more, including unencrypted Mobipocket, would be nice.

Amazon has responded, quietly, with the announcement that they will release free “Kindle software” for the PC platform, so people can read Amazon’s DRM crippled ebooks on their desktop or notebook computers.  MAC and LINUX users are not supported in this release.  Amazon is also selling refurbish (i.e. used) first gen Kindles for $150.

Bad PR for the Kindle

As I’ve noted before, it is my theory that Amazon does not actual sell e-books on it’s Kindle device, it leases the book to the reader.

Another point of evidence to support that theory has just come out. According to this New York Times story, Amazon can delete e-books off your Kindle, that you have “purchased” from them, without your knowledge or consent.

One of the books removed, George Orwell’s “1984

Keep in mind that Amazon was the first company to grab a noticable portion of Apple’s iTunes digital formated music business by offering MP3 files without copy protection.  Amazon is using it’s dominate position in the online bookselling business to force an ugly “DRM” scheme on its customers that assumes that they are thieves.

Amazon, and publishing companies, need to recognize that they make most of their money off avid readers who are willing to spend money to support their favorite authors.  Their fear driven reaction to the fear mongering of the RIAA is pushing them toward a business model that is hostile toward their best customers.  They would better serve their customers, and their stockholders, by working with the customer instead of treating them like criminals.

Portions of this post were first published on the Urbin Report.

You lease ebooks from Amazon, you don’t buy them.

I came to the conclusion a while ago that you don’t buy ebooks from Amazon, you are only leasing them.

First off, the highly restrictive Amazon DRM not only limits access to the ebook to their proprietary Kindle device, it restricts it to your specific device. Once you are done with the ebook, you can loan it to friend or sell it at used book store. If you want your friend to read the book, you have to give them your Kindle, because that is the only place that ebook will be displayed.

Second, Amazon doesn’t pay it’s associates a fee for any Kindle books “sold” through them. Why not? They pay the associates for just about everything else sold through their sites. Could it be that Kindle owners really are not “buying” the ebooks, but are just paying for a very restrictive lease in order to access the ebook?

Next, Megan McArdle just discovered a catch in the Amazon ebook fine print.

…there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it’s five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here’s the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.

I know people who buy paper books in both hardcover and paperback, but that is a different scenario. You have two separate versions of the book in different formats. One for the shelf and one to carry around and load to friends. Amazon wants its customers to buy the exact same content, in the exact same format, multiple times, because their business model assumes that their paying customer are thieves.

That is not a consumer friendly business model.

Also posted at the Urbin Report.

Update:  July 2011.  I’ve noticed for the past several months that I’m now getting associate fees from ebooks now. I don’t know if it is for all ebooks or only certain ones.  It is a change in the Amazon policy.  I do know the sale of ebooks is way, way up since this article was originally published.

Yet another etext reader

Another dedicated etext reader platform is due to join the ranks of the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle.

This one, put out by Plastic Logic, it is based on the e-Ink technology that has been out for years.  The drawo of this reader is that is larger (8.5″ x 11″) and more “rugged” than a Kindle or Sony Reader.  No buttons either, it uses a touch screen technology to flip pages.

No word yet on what formats it will support, how etext will be loaded on it or what kind of DRM it will have.