Amazon is expected to announce the second version of its Kindle Fire tablet at a press conference in Santa Monica, California, on 6 September. The Fire may come in both 7in and — less likely — 10in versions, along with an improved Kindle Touch. One tablet will be supported by advertising to reduce the cost, according to an unconfirmed report in the Wall Street Journal.
While predictions are always risky, Amazon sent us the biggest possible hint yesterday (Thursday), with the announcement that the original Kindle Fire had sold out forever. Visit the Amazon.com page for the $199 Kindle Fire, for example, and there are no new ones for sale, only second-hand products. The $99 Kindle Touch is listed as "Currently unavailable".
There is no prospect of Amazon discontinuing these products, so there must be new versions ready to launch.
A few details of the Kindle Fire 2 (or Kindle Blaze, or whatever) have already appeared. The most significant is an increase in screen resolution from 1024 x 600 pixels to 1280 x 800. The larger format is already used by other tablets, including Google's similarly-priced Nexus 7.
Last month, DisplayMate president Raymond Soneira told the AllThingsD website that this represented "a 67 percent increase in total pixels, and it is visually significant. It gives the display a PPI (pixels per inch) of 216." This should improve the readability of text, and will also enable the Kindle Fire 2 to show HD (720p) videos.
For comparison, Apple's iPad had a lower resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels, which was doubled to 2048 x 1536 in the iPad 3. Apple also had to thicken the iPad 3 slightly to provide extra battery power to support the extra pixels, though the Kindle Fire 2 is unlikely to need this.
The Kindle Fire 2 is expected to be thinner and use more metal in its construction. It may also include a camera to support Skype, and a GPS chip to support location. According to a Reuters story published yesterday: "Amazon.com Inc's new Kindle Fire will have mapping services via a tie-up with Nokia Oyj … filling a gap in the tablet's capabilities while snubbing Google Inc's popular service."
The new Kindle Touch is expected to have an illuminated display. This looks like a natural response to Barnes & Noble's launch of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight.
The difficult question is whether a 10.1in tablet will appear at the same time. Taiwan-based Digitimes and the BGR website wrote about 10in tablets long before the original launch. Last June, BGR got quite specific about the two models, codenamed Coyote and Hollywood, but Hollywood has still not appeared. (See my post from 10 June 2011, Amazon tablet could add to market explosion)
It also remains to be seen whether Amazon will reduce the Fire's $199 price to compete with the Google Nexus 7 and the entry-level model of whatever 7in iPad Apple might launch. The $199 tag was considered aggressive at the time, and it is thought that both the original Fire and Google's Nexus 7 sell at close to break-even prices. After all, Apple charges $199 for its cheapest iPod Touch.
Both Google and Amazon are prepared to forego hardware profits to increase adoption, and take profits later from the sales of ebooks, movies, music, apps and, in Google's case, advertising.
When announcing that the Fire had sold out, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos trumpeted the success of "the best content ecosystem". The press release said:
Kindle Fire offers customers a vast selection of digital content — over 22 million movies, TV shows, apps, games, books, magazines and more — in one seamless, end-to-end experience, making it easy for customers to browse, discover and purchase. Since Kindle Fire launched last September, all of the top 10 products on Amazon — across all products — are digital products.
Whether this impressive ecosystem generates more cash per device than Google's hugely-profitable advertising is another matter.
In the end, I suspect the most likely result is that Amazon will launch two 7in Kindles, with the Kindle Fire 2 at $199 and an ad-supported Kindle at a lower price, possibly a penny less than $175.