Kindle & Kindle Paperwhite under pressure from Kobo & Kobo Aura

The hard times B&N is facing with its Nook HD and Nook HD+ tablets seem like they will greatly strengthen Amazon’s position as the #1 eBook, eReader, and Reading Tablet seller. Good times for Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite and the Kindle Store.

Well, not so fast.

It seems Kobo is growing rapidly. Additionally, Kobo’s new Kobo Aura HD eReader is doing well. This puts pressure on Amazon to really deliver with Kindle Paperwhite 2.

Kobo morphing into the type of Competitor B&N should have been

Nate at The Digital Reader shares some figures from Kobo’s Strong Growth Press Release

  1. Kobo’s revenue was up 143% in 2012. In Q1, 2013 it’s up 98%.
  2. Kobo now has 14.5 million customers worldwide. That’s pretty impressive. Perhaps even more impressive is that Kobo added 2.5 million customers just in the last 3 months.
  3. Hardware sales increased 145%.
  4. Half of the new Kobo Aura HD sales were to new customers. No details on precise numbers, but Kobo Aura HD accounted for 27% of Kobo devices sold at retail.
  5. Rakuten is Kobo’s Parent Company and it’s very strong. Rakuten’s Internet Services Division generated $3 billion in revenue in 2012. Rakuten’s Internet Finances Division generated $1.5 billion.
  6. Rakuten has very strong international presence and solid partnerships. As opposed to B&N, which is US-centric, Kobo is World-centric.
  7. Indie Author titles now account for 10% of Kobo sales (by unit sales, not revenue).

It’s really interesting to see these figures. Keep in mind that B&N’s Nook division sales were actually down in Q4, 2012. While a lot of that is due to poor device sales, it still makes Kobo’s 143% growth last year, and its 98% growth in Q1, 2013, really, really impressive.

Adding 2.5 million new customers in the last 3 months is very impressive too. Of course, these are registrations, so we don’t know how many are paying customers.

Nevertheless, a 14.5 million customer market makes Kobo an important eReader and eBook seller.

Does this really put pressure on Amazon and Kindle?

Yes.

Normally, B&N would have been the one to raise the bar by releasing a HD screen eReader. This year, perhaps because of its disastrous holiday season, B&N wasn’t able to.

That would normally have meant big gains for Amazon. It can keep selling Kindle Paperwhite while preparing a solid Kindle Paperwhite 2 for the Holiday Season.

However, Kobo stepped up and shipped the Kobo Aura HD.

This does a few things –

  1. The ‘new shiny thing’ in eReaders is now a HD resolution eInk screen. Kindle Paperwhite is now seen as ‘last year’s model’.
  2. People start assuming a Kindle Paperwhite 2 is around the corner. Lots of them delay their purchases. Regardless of when Amazon planned on releasing Kindle Paperwhite 2, it’ll have to revisit those plans.
  3. New customers to eReaders hear about Kobo Aura HD. If Kindle Paperwhite 2 were available, new customers would just gravitate to it because ‘Kindle = eReader’. But they hear ‘HD’ and want to check out the Kobo Aura HD.
  4. Internationally, it puts a lot of pressure on Amazon because Kobo has strong presence internationally. Amazon is well aware of the HUGE advantage of becoming the ‘default’ eReader and ‘default’ eBook Store in a country.
  5. Amazon now has to anticipate moves by both B&N and Kobo. Amazon’s strategy so far has been to let B&N take a shot, and then counter. That’s what it’s done with the Nook Color, the Nook Simple Touch, and the Nook Glowlight. If it suddenly starts seeing 1 release a year from B&N, and 1 release a year from Kobo, Amazon will have to adjust its strategy. Things become especially difficult if Kobo does spring releases and B&N switches to Summer or Fall releases.
  6. It ensures there is at least one strong contender left standing. If B&N were to quit the eReader market in 2013 or 2014 or 2015, Amazon would be left with no competition if Kobo weren’t around. Amazon might see a strong #2 fall away, and be promptly replaced by a stronger and more dangerous #2.
  7. It helps Kobo capture more market share. This will become very important in the long run. A strong #2 with 20% market share and a strong #3 with 10% market share is much more dangerous than having just a strong #2 with 20% market share. Things like economies of scale and word of mouth and network effects really come into play once you get to tens of millions of customers.
  8. Kobo can push harder worldwide. Outside of the US and UK, people are neither in love with Amazon to an incredible extent, nor are they already invested in the Kindle ecosystem. For those people, it comes down to better device and better ebook store and better service. While Kobo’s service is supposedly atrocious, their device is now shiny and pretty and HD. Kobo also has a good ebook store in most countries.

Kindle Paperwhite is no longer the ‘newest and best and default’ eReader. Well, it might still be best. We don’t know how well Kobo Aura HD works.

However, Kindle Paperwhite definitely isn’t ‘newest’ and it definitely doesn’t have a HD screen which can be used as a marketing differentiator. If enough people start thinking ‘HD’ eInk screens are a big deal, then Kindle begins to slip from its status as ‘the first eReader you think of when someone says eReader’.

What could make Kobo even more dangerous?

Buying Nook Media. That’s what.

If Kobo can get Nook Media for $1 billion or so, it would instantly go from approximately 10% market share to 25% to 30% market share. It would also give it a brand that’s strong in the US.

Worldwide, Kobo could leverage the larger economies of scale to really push for market share.

Finally, you can be pretty sure that a LOT of Nook owners would choose Kobo over Kindle. Kobo can read their existing Nook Books. Kobo supports ePub. Kobo isn’t Amazon.

Could B&N remain a strong #2 based on just Reading Apps?

It’s very unlikely.

B&N might exit Reading Tablets and eReaders. The former seems likely, and the latter seems a possibility.

It’s quite conceivable that B&N stops making devices altogether. That it tries to fight the Book Wars using Reading Apps. There are a few problems with this approach –

  1. Users of a device tend to go with the ‘default’ Reading App. Kindle Fire owners use the in-built reading app. Apple users tend to use the iBooks App. And so forth.
  2. When users don’t go with the ‘default’ reading app, they go with the ‘Best’ or the ‘Most Well-Known’ Reading App. Best Reading App varies wildly by platform. B&N isn’t ‘best’ on any platform except Nook devices. ‘Most Well-Known’ tends to be Kindle.
  3. Outside the US, B&N has no mind share. Most people won’t even know B&N’s Nook Reading Apps exist, or for that matter B&N. On the other hand, if B&N were able to sell devices internationally, users would gravitate to the in-built default reading app (which would be B&N’s own).
  4. Serious Readers want a device focused on reading. The more focused a device is on reading, the less likely it is to have ‘lots of Reading Apps’ and/or the option to ‘choose a Reading App from another ebook seller’. Kindles don’t have reading apps from other stores. Kindle Fire allows sideloading, but Kindle doesn’t allow anything.
  5. On another company’s device, you get taxed and/or get treated like a third class citizen. Apple forced Reading Apps to remove their ebook stores from the app, and also to remove their ‘buy’ buttons. It wanted a 30% cut. Amazon would simply never allow B&N’s Reading App in its Kindle Fire Store. Google could simply hide the B&N Reading App by making it hard to find.

Unfortunately for B&N, there’s only one way to keep fighting the Book Wars – to have both reading apps for other devices and your own devices (both Reading Tablets and eReaders).

It seems inevitable that Kobo will become the Pepsi to Kindle’s Coca Cola

Kobo is making a lot of good aggressive moves. It is fighting in Reading Tablets and eReaders. Its first few efforts have been terrible – However, it has been improving gradually, and at some point of time it’ll catch up. With the Kobo Aura HD it has really put the pressure on Kindle and Nook. Now Kindle Paperwhite 2 and Nook Glowlight 2 have to deliver.

As it grows likelier and likelier that B&N is going to leave Reading Tablets and eReaders. As Kobo keeps improving and pushing and expanding worldwide aggressively. It becomes more and more likely that Kobo will become the #2 eBook seller and the #2 eReader seller worldwide.

Once that happens, Amazon will find that Kindle vs Kobo is a much more dangerous fight for it than Kindle vs Nook. Rakuten is an Internet giant conglomerate (much like Amazon), and knows how to fight the Digital Book Wars much better than B&N.

By 2015 we might have Amazon wishing B&N had done better with Nook, and stayed around as an annoying but contained #2. Kindle vs Kobo is going to make Kindle vs Nook seem like a walk in the park.

Kindle Watch? Kindle Phone? What’s Next for Kindle?

Mary Meeker has her annual Internet Trends report up. It instantly made me think of Amazon releasing a Kindle Phone, and perhaps even a Kindle Watch.

Basically, Mary Meeker points out some amazing things –

  1. There are 2.4 billion Global Internet users. US has 78% population penetration. On the other hand, China has just 48% population penetration and India has a measly 11% population penetration. Amazon obviously recognizes this as it’s made Kindle Fire HD and its App Store available in China. It even added support for paid apps in China before Google did.
  2. The population penetration of the Top 14 Markets is just 34%. That suggests a doubling in the number of people who have Internet access isn’t inconceivable. The new growth is likely to come from smart phones and phones and tablets.
  3. Mobile OSes made in the US (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) have 88% market share. Six years ago they had 5% market share.
  4. The Mobile Market is so big that Amazon has to get into it. Kindle Phone isn’t an IF, it’s a WHEN.
  5. The rate at which companies and businesses can grow is unprecedented. What does that mean for Kindle? That a hit Kindle Phone or a hit Kindle Watch could reach tens of millions of users really fast. Perhaps even cross 100 million users in their first 2 years of existence.
  6. Mobile Traffic is 15% of Total Internet Traffic. In China, the percentage of users accessing the Internet via their phone or smart phone is LARGER than the percentage accessing the Internet via their PC.
  7. 45% of Groupon’s Transactions are via Mobile.
  8. There are 1.5 billion smart phone subscribers worldwide. China is the largest market by number of users. US is second.
  9. Smartphone penetration is just 21%. That’s a great opportunity for Amazon. Kindle Phone has 79% of the market that hasn’t even bought a smart phone yet. There are 1.5 billion smart phone users and 5 billion mobile phone users. So, it’s a GIANT market that’s going to grow A LOT (3-4 times).
  10. Apple is growing at 1.4 times (It now has 22% market share). Samsung has grown 7 times in the last 2 years (it has 29% market share). Amazon with Kindle Phone is starting off at zero market share. It could take off and could capture a large part of the market. The smart phone market itself has grown from 55 million units in Q1, 2010 to 219 million units in Q4, 2012 (4 times).
  11. Kindle Watch would be an opportunity to move from smartphones to wearable computing. And that would be a new market. There would be competitors (Google, pretty sure Apple has something for end 2013, Microsoft, Samsung). However, if Kindle Watch comes out by 2014 then it has a shot at being a market leader.
  12. Tablets are growing faster than smartphones. iPad sold at 3 times the rate of iPhone. Note: This is an unfair comparison in some ways. iPad rode on the App Store and the branding and the customer base that iPhone created.
  13. 3 years after introduction, Tablets, in Q4 2012, sold more than desktops and laptops (separately, not combined).
  14. Kindle Fire HD is a hit. Tablet Market Share, according to Mary Meeker, is – iPad at 51%, Samsung at 13%, Amazon at 8%, Asus at 5%.
  15. Mary Meeker thinks the third cycle (after Smartphones and Tablets) will be Wearables (and Drivables and Flyables and Scannables).
  16. Smartphone users check their phones 150 times a day. Wow! That figure seems absurdly high.
  17. A lot about wearable computing. It’s very difficult to take out incumbents. Much easier to create a new market and/or to establish yourself as one of the leaders in an emerging market. That’s why a ‘Kindle Watch’ or ‘Kindle Goggles’ would have a much higher chance of success than a Kindle Phone. The downside is that the wearable computing marketing might never become very big.
  18. Mary Meeker thinks we have a lot to learn from China. She also thinks that China is pointing to what the future of computing will be. Well, everyone’s paying attention. The sheer size of the Chinese market makes it hard to ignore.

The incredible strength of Mobile, the incredible growth of Mobile (which is continuing), and the huge market (billions of users), mean that Amazon has to make a Kindle Phone. It just doesn’t have any other option.

The exceedingly fast rate at which things take off, in our new world, means that Amazon just has to get things right once. If it does, it could displace the existing incumbents in the Phone and/or Tablet markets in just a few years. 7 years ago, neither Android nor iPhone had significant market share. Tablets didn’t really exist 3.25 years ago.

If Amazon can create a new niche, and use that to displace Tablets and/or smartphones, that would be the most elegant path forwared. Unfortunately, it seems like Apple and Google will perhaps release wearable computing devices first.

Kindle Phone – Chances of Amazon releasing a Kindle Phone, When it would arrive, Pros of releasing Kindle Phone

Well, let’s see –

  1. Kindle Phone Probability – 100%.
  2. Arrival – See my Kindle Phone Release Date post.
  3. Pros – Market is absolutely huge. Lots of opportunity to disrupt the existing players. Market that tends to cycle through leaders (remember RIMM, Nokia, Motorola). Trends based Market and therefore easier to capture (comparatively). Amazon already has a huge customer base in the US (the second most important smart phone market). Amazon already has an App Store.
  4. Cons – Well entrenched competitors (but Market shifts a lot). Apple has very strong customer loyalty. Samsung is very dangerous and very flexible. Amazon doesn’t have a good OS (it just skins Android) limiting differentiability. Hardware isn’t exactly Amazon’s strong suit.

Kindle Phone would be the logical successor to eInk Kindles and Kindle Tablets. Perhaps the third time’s the charm. Perhaps Amazon really blows away everyone with the Kindle Phone.

Kindle Watch – Chances of Amazon releasing a Kindle Watch, When it would Arrive, Pros of releasing Kindle Watch

Well, this is more difficult.

  1. Kindle Watch Probability – 100% if iWatch and/or SWatch (Samsung) and/or Google Glass take off. 25% otherwise. Amazon might wait to see how wearable computing does, before jumping in.
  2. Arrival – Perhaps end of 2014. Perhaps end of 2015. On the one hand, Amazon likes to wait and see. So it might wait to get a year’s worth of data on wearable computing sales. On the other hand, Amazon knows that being too late to the market makes things really difficult. Amazon might gamble on wearable computing sooner rather than later. I’d predict Amazon is cautious and Kindle Watch ships in early 2015.
  3. Pros – Brand New Market. No one has released anything yet. If Amazon can release by November 2014, it’ll be just 6 to 12 months late to the party. Amazon is gathering hardware customers and a lot of these will give Kindle Watch a chance.
  4. Cons – No one know if the market for wearable computing will take off. There will be an incredible amount of competition.

Kindle Watch would be more of a gamble. But it’s a gamble worth making. Perhaps even more so than Kindle Phone.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review

Kindle Fire HD comes with a lot of different features. I’ve wanted to do a Kindle Fire HD Features Review that focuses on what things you can do with the device. In particular, what things each feature allows you to do, and how well. As opposed to a Kindle Fire HD Review that talks about technical specifications and hard-to-understand things.

Well, here’s my Kindle Fire HD Features Review.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – HD Screen

The Kindle Fire HD Screen is a big advantage over iPad Mini and Nexus 7. Kindle Fire HD screen is roughly equivalent to the Nook HD+ screen. There are some Samsung Tablets with better screens, but not in this price range (to the best of my knowledge).

The Kindle Fire HD has a 1200 by 800 HD display that is 7″ in size. It has In-Plane Switching technology to ensure good viewing from any viewing angle. It supports 720p HD video.

It also comes with a polarizing filter and anti-glare technology. Note: The anti-glare doesn’t work with sunlight. LCD screens in general are not suited to reading in sunlight. Amazon makes  a big deal of this but I don’t see how this is noticeably better than any other Tablet screen in sunlight. All LCD Tablet screens have glare.

The screen is also a 10 point capacitive touch screen. So, if you do find any app or webpage that requires using more than 2-3 fingers at a time, the 10 point touch screen would be handy.

What things does the 1200 by 800 HD display help with –

  1. Watching Movies. Movies are very sharp and crisp.
  2. Watching Photos. Photos look amazing on the Kindle Fire HD screen.
  3. Reading. A very high screen resolution means text can be very sharp.
  4. Reading Magazines. The Kindle Fire HD screen makes for great photos and magazines look great.
  5. Playing Games. Lots of games now come in HD versions. The Kindle Fire HD screen suits these HD versions perfectly.
  6. Pretty much anything that requires a high-definition screen. Nearly anything you do on a Tablet will require one or both of sharp, crisp graphics and sharp, crisp text. Since Kindle Fire HD screen ensures both, it greatly enhances your overall experience.

There is also a downside – Apps and Games and Movies and Photos that are of lower graphic/image quality look terrible.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Kindle Fire HD Dolby Speakers

Amazon put a lot of focus on making great speakers for the Kindle Fire HD. It succeeded. Kindle Fire HD speakers are better than all other Tablet speakers (7″ and 10″). They are even better than many laptop speakers.

Kindle Fire HD has custom Dolby Digital Audio. This automatically adapts to whatever you are doing, and optimizes sound accordingly. It also adapts when headphones are on.

Kindle Fire HD has dual driver stereo speakers on both sides of the Kindle Fire HD display. This creates a wider sound-field and really delivers great sound.

The Kindle Fire HD product page has additional detail.

Kindle Fire HD Speakers are best in class, and they help with –

  1. Movies. A much better experience as the sound is great. Combined with the excellent screen, this makes Kindle Fire HD the best 7″ Tablet to watch movies on.
  2. Music. Kindle Fire HD is the best tablet for listening to music. The sound is good and strong even without headphones.
  3. Games. Some games have excellent music and game sounds. Having a good pair of stereo speakers really enhances the experience.
  4. Audiobooks. Kindle Fire HD is the best tablet for audiobooks. The Speakers are great. Since Amazon owns Audible you get easy access to a wide range of audiobooks. You also get integration features like Immersion Reading. Finally, you get special offers on audiobooks when you buy the eBook from the Kindle store.
  5. TV Shows. As with movies, Kindle Fire HD is the best 7″ Tablet to watch TV.

The screen and the speakers are two big Kindle Fire HD strengths. They affect most of the things you’ll do with a tablet (especially the screen), so it’s a smart move by Amazon to invest heavily in them.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Ease of Use

Kindle Fire HD is much simpler to use than Tablets that come with stock Android (the original, untouched Android OS). It, however, isn’t as simple as iPad.

Here are some things that make Kindle Fire HD easy to use –

  1. It’s simple and intuitive. Amazon makes everything simple and straightforward.
  2. All the complexity of Android is hidden. If too much technology overwhelms you, then Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD is great. All the features are easy to access. Most of the complexity and settings are hidden away (they are available, for the most part – just hidden away to avoid overwhelming you).
  3. There is no setup required. Kindle Fire HD comes pre-registered to your Amazon account. Definitely a good thing since lots of new Tablet buyers run into problems at the registration stage.
  4. Intuitive Interface. Well, the interface is definitely easy to use. One downside is that Amazon focuses too much on ‘Recommendations to buy other things from Amazon’.
  5. 1-Click Shopping. Surprise, Surprise. If you want to buy stuff from Amazon, it’s very easy. To be fair, a lot of retailers make it hard and/or inconvenient for you to buy things you want to buy. Amazon doesn’t.
  6. Read-To-Me. For books where Publishers haven’t turned off the feature, you can have Kindle Fire HD read you books (only for English language books).
  7. Recommendations. This is actually a negative as they are almost like Ads.
  8. Bluetooth support. You can connect wireless accessories like stereo headphones and speakers and keyboards. At the same time, there are not many Kindle Fire optimized Bluetooth accessories.
  9. HDMI out. There’s a built in HDMI port that lets you view videos and photos on your TV.

Overall, Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD both do a good job of this (hiding Android’s complexity). If you can afford it, then iPad Mini is the simplest and most intuitive device to use. If not, then Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD are the next choices.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Fast WiFi

Amazon claims that Kindle Fire HD’s WiFi has two advantages –

  1. It has dual WiFi antennas that come with MIMO technology (multiple in, multiple out). This is supposed to make Kindle Fire HD WiFi 33% faster than iPad Mini WiFi, and 65% faster than Google’s 7″ Tablet. I haven’t noticed any great difference – perhaps you have to measure it very precisely to notice the difference. However, the WiFi on Kindle Fire HD is good.
  2. It supports both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz. This is a real advantage. Often you’ll want to switch to 5 Ghz because you have a lot of devices that support both 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz and 5 Ghz is less congested. However, your tablet will force you to stay with 2.4 Ghz. With Kindle Fire this isn’t an issue.

On the speed aspect, I don’t notice any big difference between Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD, and Google Nexus 7. However, support for 5 Ghz makes the Kindle Fire HD the winner in WiFi.

How does supposedly faster, dual antenna, dual band WiFi help?

  1. It helps a lot in terms of convenience since you can use the 5 Ghz band.
  2. It helps with web surfing. For most webpages you won’t be able to tell the difference. However, for bandwidth heavy sites like YouTube it’ll make a big difference IF Kindle Fire HD WiFi really is 33% better than iPad Mini (have no way of confirming this).
  3. It helps when streaming movies. Movies, when streamed, take up a lot of bandwidth. So the Kindle Fire HD WiFi should, in theory, make Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, etc. much better. Note: In reality the limitation will probably be your bandwidth speed. Also, I don’t find any discernible difference between Nook Color, Kindle Fire HD, Nook Tablet, Nexus 7, etc. So the supposed 65% improvement over Nexus 7 might be academic.
  4. It helps when streaming music or Internet Radio. Since music and radio take a lot less bandwidth, the improvement here will probably not be noticeable.
  5. Where the WiFi will shine is if you are watching HD content on a very fast connection. In that case, the Tablet’s WiFi speed will be a limiting factor and Kindle Fire HD’s supposedly faster dual antennas might have the edge.

To be quite frank, I don’t know whether this is more of a marketing thing or a real Kindle Fire HD advantage. I haven’t seen any clear improvement. With the screen and the speakers the difference is easy to see/hear. With the WiFi, I don’t notice anything that seems better over other Tablets.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – 1.2 Ghz Dual processor with Power VR 3D Graphics Core

Kindle Fire HD boasts the following features to improve performance –

  1. Fast Dual-core Processor.
  2. Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core.
  3. Tuned graphics pipeline and touch-handling software for faster responsiveness.

The dual-core processor is a 1.2GHz OMAP4460 processor. It isn’t really better than the other 7″ Tablets. Nook HD has a Texas Instruments 1.3 GHz dual-core processor with 1GB RAM (courtesy Wikipedia). Nexus 7 has a Nvidia Tegra 3 quad-core chip and 1 GB of memory. The Tegra 3 is 1.2 GHz.

Kindle Fire HD’s processor is not as fast as the Nexus 7, and is a bit slower than Nook HD’s.

Not sure about the Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core. Nexus 7 is absolutely amazing on games, even resource intensive 3D games. So Nexus 7 has the best Processor for games.  For movies and TV and for general speed there wasn’t much difference. All tablets are good. Sometimes Nook HD can be a bit sluggish. However, Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 are both fast nearly all the time.

Note: For general UI smoothness the iPad is best.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Content Ecosystem

One of the big advantages of the Kindle Fire HD is that it comes with a rich content ecosystem –

  1. 1.2 million books. Amazon does have more books and cheaper prices than any other book store. Out of the 1.2 million books, 180,000 are Kindle Store exclusives. Note: Most of the exclusives are Indie Author titles. Keep in mind that there are not very many ‘exclusives’ that are new bestselling books.
  2. Public Domain Free Kindle Books. This is the same as any other store.
  3. Kindle Owners Lending Library (you get it free if you are a Prime Member) lets you loan out any out of 270,000 titles. However, most of these are indie author titles. There are just a bit over 100 NY Times bestsellers (past and present) included and the Harry Potter titles.
  4. 100,000 Audiobooks. Amazon owns Audible and that allows it to integrate audiobooks better, and also to make audiobook use smoother.
  5. 400 Magazines.
  6. 120,000 Movies and TV Shows for Rent and Purchase.
  7. 35,000 Movies and TV Shows for Free if you get an Amazon Prime Membership.
  8. 20 million songs.
  9. 50,000 to 60,000 Apps for Kindle Fire HD. This is quite a bit behind Apple and Google and Nook HD (700,000 or more apps for each).

Please Note: This is US centric. Outside the US Amazon’s content availability drops dramatically (except in books). If you are outside the US, Apple iPad is your best choice.

Inside the US, Amazon offers a really, really strong content ecosystem. It’s not as good as Apple. However, it’s better than everyone else. Note: Microsoft has a very strong ecosystem too. However, it doesn’t yet have any 7″ Windows 8 Tablets.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Support for Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Exchange Email, Calendar, and Contacts

It’s interesting that Amazon would mention this as a strength/feature. Its support for all of these features is mediocre at best.

  1. The Facebook App is not very good. There is Facebook integration in various places but it’s not stellar.
  2. The Email App is mediocre.
  3. Twitter support isn’t very good either.

Some of this is a function of Amazon’s App Store still being small. This means that it doesn’t get priority with either the companies (Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo) or with developers.

Some of this is a function of Kindle Fire HD not having a rear facing camera and it being difficult to access the front facing camera. There’s no built-in Camera App which is a royal headache.

iPad is much, much better. Nexus 7 is also better.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Front-facing HD Camera

Amazon made a few mistakes with the Kindle Fire HD’s camera –

  1. There’s only a front-facing camera. There’s no rear-facing camera.
  2. It only comes up within Skype and in a few apps like Facebook. There’s no dedicated Camera App.
  3. The quality and resolution aren’t very high.

The net result is that Kindle Fire HD is not good at all if you’re looking for a Tablet that will let you take photos quickly and easily.

Kindle Fire HD Features for Families & Kids Review – Kindle FreeTime and Kindle FreeTime Unlimited

Two very interesting Kindle Fire HD features are Kindle FreeTime and Kindle FreeTime Unlimited –

  1. Kindle FreeTime – Lets parents set limits on how long kids can use Tablets. Lets Parents set limits on how long individual features (movies, reading, etc.) can be used. You can also set what titles are available to Kids (Note: Haven’t confirmed this last part).
  2. Kindle FreeTime Unlimited – This is a subscription service for kids. For a monthly fee, you get unlimited access to thousands of books, games, educational apps, movies and TV shows selected for kids aged 3 to 8. It starts at just $4.99 a month. For Amazon Prime members, it starts at just $2.99 a month.
  3. Note: An additional family friendly feature is the sturdy build of the Kindle Fire HD and the strong Gorilla Glass screen. While the sturdiness of the build takes away from the looks, it certainly makes for a stable tablet. The Gorilla Glass display is very strong too and much more resistant than normal glass to breaking.

The combination of these three things make Kindle Fire HD really good for kids. Nook HD has a Profiles feature and also allows choosing what content is available (based on age of your kid(s)). However, Kindle Fire HD’s Kindle FreeTime Unlimited makes it, arguably, the best choice for Kids.

An argument in favor of the iPad would be that the number of Kids Apps available on iPad is much larger, and that the quality is higher. It is also much more intuitive for kids to use. Perhaps iPad might be a better choice for your kids if you have a larger budget.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Amazon Prime, Kindle Prime Instant Video, Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

When you buy Kindle Fire HD, you get a free month of Amazon Prime. You can continue Amazon Prime for $79 a year. Please Note: This is a SEPARATE and ADDITIONAL cost. This isn’t included in the price of the Kindle Fire HD.

With Amazon Prime you get –

  1. Free 2-Day Shipping on lots and lots of items sold at Amazon. A really, really useful feature if you order from Amazon.com regularly (or might start doing that).
  2. Kindle Prime Instant Video. This is free streaming service that offers 35,000 Movies and TV Shows. The range isn’t as wide as Netflix. However, it’s decent.
  3. Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. You get one free book loan a month out of 260,000 included titles. Most of the books are from indie authors and smaller Publishers. A few big ones like the Harry Potter books are included.
  4. Lower Price of $2.99 per month upwards for Kindle FreeTime Unlimited.
  5. Perhaps other benefits I’m not aware of.

Overall, Amazon Prime at $79 is very useful if you already use Amazon. The Kindle Prime Instant Video and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library aren’t worth it if you aren’t going to use the free 2-day shipping.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Buy Once, Read Anywhere

Amazon actually does a very good job of allowing you to use your content on other devices.

Amazon claims – books, videos, apps, audiobooks, games, and music that you buy for your Kindle Fire HD can also be enjoyed on Amazon apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, game consoles, TVs and more.

Books and Videos and Audiobooks and Music can definitely be accessed on other devices via Amazon Apps.

These various Amazon Apps let you access books and videos and music and audiobooks across your devices. For books you also get your place in the book synced. It also adds a level of security – if Amazon stops making Kindle Fire HD (who knows), or if you lose your Kindle Fire HD, then you can just use another device to access your content.

Not sure about apps and games. Those are only accessible on Kindle Fire HD and on Android Devices that allow installation of the Amazon Android App Store.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Amazon specific Services like Syncing

Amazon has added some nifty services to Kindle Fire HD. These include –

  1. X-Ray for Movies and TV. You can pause any scene and instantly see which actors are currently on the screen, jump to other movies in which they star, and explore.
  2. X-Ray for Books. You can tap any page to get more details on the book and characters from sources such as Shelfari and Wikipedia. Since Amazon just bought GoodReads, the data from Goodreads should also eventually find its way to the X-Ray for Books feature.
  3. Immersion Reading. Synchronize Kindle book text with the companion Audible Audiobooks. Almost 15,000 such ebook+audiobook pairs are available.
  4. WhisperSync for Voice. Switch seamlessly between listening to the Audible Audiobook and reading the Kindle ebook version.
  5. WhisperSync for Movies. Sync your place in a movie across your Kindle Fire HD, your TV, your iPad, and more.
  6. WhisperSync for Books. Sync your place in a book across your Kindle Fire HD, your eInk Kindle, and various Kindle Reading Apps.
  7. WhisperSync for Games. Saves your game progress in the Amazon cloud. You’ll not lose an unlocked level or saved game – even if you delete the game.

These are very useful features. They save you time and bother. Amazon started the trend with WhisperSync for Books. It’s great to see it has continued it with WhisperSync for Movies and WhisperSync for Games.

The X-Ray feature for Books and Movies also comes in handy sometimes. With its acquisition of GoodReads, Amazon has added a valuable new data source. That should make the X-Ray for Books feature even better.

So, overall, these little features definitely add to the value proposition of the Kindle Fire HD. Note: Various Tablets have their own little value-add features. Amazon perhaps has the best set of add-on features.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Audiobooks from Audible

Kindle Fire HD lets you access over 100,000 audiobooks from Audible.com. Amazon owns Audible.com and this allows it to do several things other Tablet makers can’t do very easily –

  1. Offer the Audiobook version of a Kindle Book you’re buying for a discount price.
  2. The Immersion Reading feature (available for 15,000 titles). Kindle Fire HD will play an audiobook and turn the pages of the corresponding Kindle Book in sync.
  3. The WhisperSync for Voice feature. Kindle Fire HD will let you switch seamlessly between reading the Kindle Book and listening to the Audible Audiobook.

Overall, this makes the Kindle Fire HD the #1 choice if listening to Audiobooks is one of the Top 4 things you’ll do on a Tablet.

Kindle Fire HD Features Review – Closing Thoughts

Kindle Fire HD is a very good tablet. While the iPad is still the clear leader, there’s a good argument to be made that, for non tech-savvy users, Kindle Fire HD is the #2 choice. Given that iPad is $499 and iPad Mini is $329, the Kindle Fire HD at $199 is very attractive for prospective Tablet owners.

Google’s Nexus 7 and B&N’s Nook HD are better choices if you want the 700,000 Apps of the Google Play Store. The major drawback of both is that they don’t have as wide a content ecosystem in the US. Nook HD software is still unpolished and the Google Play Store integration in Nook HD is a work in progress. Nexus 7 is neither intuitive nor user-friendly for non tech-savvy users.

That leaves Kindle Fire HD as a strong #2 Tablet choice for non-technical users, in my opinion. If you can’t afford the iPad Mini, and don’t want to wait 2-4 months to see what the next generation Tablets and Windows 8 Tablets are like, then buying Kindle Fire HD is a good choice.