Inside The Launch Of Amazon's New Kindles

Big Splash At The Santa Monica Airport

Amazon last week unveiled its new Kindle Fire HD Wi-Fi and 4G LTE tablet PCs, the new versions of its Kindle e-reader, including the new Kindle Paperwhite, and the new services to go with the hardware at an event held in a hanger of the tiny Santa Monica, Calif., airport.

Why Santa Monica? There were no solid reasons offered. speculated that the small Santa Monica airport may have been more convenient for Bezos than LAX might have been, or perhaps the location was chosen in order to be close to Hollywood, which is the source of much of the content expected to be run over the Amazon devices.

Regardless of locale, the announcement made a big splash. Here's a look from inside the event.

Small Airport, But Big Gathering

Despite the venue, Amazon still managed to attract the kind of press and analyst crowd normally reserved for larger venues in San Francisco or Las Vegas, where such major product rollouts are normally held.

Some folks were waiting for well over an hour for the doors to open with nothing to do except drink coffee, eat mini-muffins and work on their smartphones and tablet PCs.

Preparing For The Big Event

With all the press at the event, including broadcast and Web reporters, one quickly got the impression that the Amazon Kindle rollout was a "big deal."

Not bad, considering that no one other than the Amazon folks knew what was going to be unveiled. Most speculation centered on what was originally known as the "Kindle Fire 2," while others speculated that Amazon might unveil new smartphones.

In the end, Amazon unveiled a couple versions of the Kindle HD as well as the Kindle e-readers. But, alas, no smartphones.

Bezos On-Stage

The event opened with Bezos walking on stage. Bezos monopolized the stage for over an hour, handling the product introductions and demonstrations by himself.

Bezos said that there were a couple dozen different tablet PCs introduced to the market in the last year, but few were purchased.

"Nobody bought them," Bezos said. "Why? Because they were gadgets. And nobody wants gadgets. They want services."

Those services -- which include new self-publishing capabilities, the ability to get more information about a character in a book or an actor in a movie with a touch of the screen, and enhanced time limiters for children -- are key to the philosophy of Amazon, Bezos said.

Kindle Paperwhite E-Reader

Bezos introduced new versions of the Kindle e-book readers, including the Kindle Paperwhite, which features a patented light guide screen that distributes light evenly across the display and reflects it down on the screen for high contrast and easy readability in any light conditions.

The new Kindle Paperwhite also features an 8-week battery life because, as Bezos said, users may not want to turn it off. "You won't need to recharge your Paperwhite until Halloween," he said.

Not Just Hardware

The Kindle Paperwhite lets readers adjust the font style and font size of their e-books, and it displays how much time is left to read a chapter based on their reading speed.

Bezos also demonstrated Whispersync for Voice, a new service that allows users to switch between audio and written versions of Kindle e-books without losing their place, and X-Ray, which allows users to touch the name of a character in a book to automatically pull up details about the character and all other references to the character in the book.

The Kindle Paperwhite is expected to ship on Oct. 1. The price is set at $119, or $179 for a 3G wireless version. Amazon also dropped the price of its existing Kindle e-reader to $69 while giving it new fonts and crisper text than before.

Big Reception For The Kindle Fire HD Tablet

In an event that was filled with spontaneous eruptions of applause, the loudest applause was reserved for when Bezos unveiled the Kindle Fire HD Wi-Fi and Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE tablet PCs.

The Kindle Fire HD tablet, commonly referred to prior to the launch as the Kindle Fire 2, features a high-definition 1,900-by-1,200 display, a wide viewing angle and a 25-percent reduction in glare over previous models, in which the glare reduction ability stems from the lamination of the touch panel directly on the display to eliminate the air gap. It includes an HDMI port for connecting to larger displays.

The Kindle Fire HD also features the Texas OMAP4470 processor with 50 percent more IOPS and 40 percent more bandwidth than the Tegra 3 processor commonly used in other tablet PCs. It also includes both 2.4-GHz and 5.0-GHz Wi-Fi with dual antennas.

Kindle Fire HD Speeds And Feeds

The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE model includes 4G LTE wireless technology, which supports all 10 4G bands.

The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE model will be matched to a data plan that provides for 250 MB of data per month and 20 GB of cloud storage for a price of $49.99 per year.

With 16 GB of local storage, the 7-inch model of the Kindle Fire HD Wi-Fi is expected to ship on Sept. 14 with a price of $199, while the 8.9-inch model is expected to ship on Nov. 20 priced at $299.

The Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE, with an 8.9-inch screen and 32 GB of storage, will list for $499 when it ships on Nov. 20.

Demoing The Services

The Kindle Fire HD and its 4G LTE cousin will be launched with a number of applications customized to take advantage of the new mobile platform, including Facebook, Skype and a version of Microsoft Exchange.

Bezos personally demonstrated many of those services, including advanced versions of the Whispersync and X-Ray features in the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.

He also showed Kindle FreeTime, which lets parents set different time limits for different applications used by their children. With FreeTime, for instance, parents could allow unlimited time for reading but a 30-minute limit for playing games, he said.

Bezos also demonstrated X-Ray for Textbooks, which allows students to touch the screen to highlight a term or concept and get access to a wide range of multimedia information, including YouTube videos, to better understand what is being read.

Apples-To-Amazon: Comparing Wi-Fi Speeds

Bezos said that the Kindle Fire HD has dual-band wireless and dual antennas, which provides good Wi-Fi performance. However, it also has MIMO technology, which eliminates noise from echoes caused by radio signals bouncing off walls or other objects, actually using those echoes to improve the signal.

As a result, he said, the Kindle Fire HD has better performance than Apple's new iPad or Google's Nexus 7.

Apples-To-Amazon: Comparing Costs

Bezos also compared the cost of the Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE to that of Apple's new iPad, noting that the first-year cost to own the new iPad, including purchasing the device and paying for data service, totaled $959, compared to only $549 for the Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE.

"We've not just built the best tablet at that price," he said. "We've built the best tablet at any price."

Bezos said the prices for the new Kindle Fire HD tablets and Kindle Paperwhite e-readers reflect Amazon's philosophy of making money on the services that go with the devices and not on the devices themselves.

"We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices. ... If somebody buys our device and puts it in a desk drawer, we don't deserve their money."

Checking Out The Look And Feel

After Bezos left the stage, attendees exited the conference area to find several tables with Kindle Fire HDs and Kindle Paperwhites, as well as enhanced versions of existing Kindle Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers, available to try.

However, security was tight and the devices were connected to the tables by steel cables. Despite best efforts to take a table full of Kindle Fire HD 4G LTEs home to test, the table was too heavy and in any case did not fit in a standard backpack.

Answering Questions

While Bezos disappeared from view immediately after his time on stage concluded, that was only a queue for other Amazon folks that their time had come.

Several Amazon vice presidents and other personnel were on hand to demonstrate the new products' capabilities. For instance, Dave Limp, vice president for the Amazon Kindle, showed off the capabilities of the new Amazon Kindle HD.

More Amazon Kindle HD Coverage From CRN

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Kindle Fire HD Vs. Nexus 7 Vs. The New iPad
Kindle Fire HD Focuses On Services, Not Devices
Amazon Unveils Kindle Fire HD To Rival iPad