Tag Archives | Amazon

Amazon’s Fire Phone is One Tough Phone to Figure Out

Things that are different have a tendency to confuse people
Jeff Bezos brandishes Amazon's Fire Phone at a media event in Seattle on June 18, 2014

Jeff Bezos brandishes the Fire Phone at Amazon’s media event in Seattle on June 18, 2014

Week before last, Jeff Bezos sent journalists who had been invited to the company’s media event a copy of his favorite childhood book: Leonard Kessler’s Mr. Pine’s Purple House. Mr. Pine painted his home purple so it would stand out from his neighbors’ houses; Bezos included a note alluding to the world “being a better place when things are a bit different.”

As expected, the news at the media event was the launch of Amazon’s first smartphone, the Fire Phone. In multiple ways, it is indeed a purple house–a phone which strives to carve off a distinct niche for itself rather than match what Apple and makers of Android phones are doing.

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Join Me for Amazon’s Smartphone Event

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not introducing a phone in 2011

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, not introducing a phone in 2011

If Jeff Bezos doesn’t unveil a smartphone with a 3D display this morning at Amazon’s press event in Seattle this morning, a lot of folks will be very surprised–including me.

Assuming that the phone is real and about to arrive, it will make Amazon into a full-service gadget company for the first time. (It already offers multiple tablets, a TV box which streams video and plays games, and, of course, the latest variants of the Kindle e-reader which got it into the hardware business back in 2007.)

I’ll be in the audience at the event and will be covering it live over on Twitter starting at 10:30am PT. Then I’ll follow up back here on Technologizer with further thoughts once all the details are known. See you there, or here, or both, I hope.

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My First Six Questions About Amazon’s New Prime Music Service

Amazon Prime Music

After months of rumors, Amazon has rolled out its Prime Music service. As expected, it bundles music with the company’s Amazon Prime service, which now costs $99 a year for new members. And as expected, there are some gotchas.

Prime Music is launching with over a million songs; Spotify, by contrast, has over 20 million, and even that has selection has its holes. Prime doesn’t include current hits. It also doesn’t have anything from Universal Music Group, which owns more music than anyone else.

I’ve been fiddling around with the new service this morning, and it hasn’t gone that well: On my iPad, the new version of Amazon’s music app for iOS is unusably slow and keeps crashing. (The web version of the service works fine.) But that isn’t stopping me from asking questions about it:

1. Is a million songs a lot, or hardly any? Amazon’s own Prime Video and Netflix show us that a movie service can be a keeper even if there are far more things that it doesn’t have than ones which it does. But there does need to be a critical mass of stuff worth caring about.

For me, the lack of current hits is a non-issue: Most of the music I listen to is forty, fifty, or sixty years old. So I wondered whether the service might seem complete to me, or at least substantial.

During my early rummaging around in the Prime collection, however, the pickings still come off as slim. The results for Bob Dylan look great, but much of the time, when I searched for an artist or group I got one or two major albums and a bunch of chaff such as “tributes” and karaoke versions.

I got excited about the 32 albums which came up for “Frank Sinatra” until I saw they included one real Sinatra album (In the Wee Small Hours), three sketchy-looking compilations of his early work as a band singer, and 29 things along the lines of this:

Prime Music Sinatra

Besides albums, Prime Music offers hundreds of playlists, which seem to benefit from less restrictive licensing. For example, there are no Monkees albums, but a playlist called “The Monkees’ Top Songs” does indeed have 19 of the ones you’re most likely to look for.

2. Is there a place for Amazon Prime given the profusion of free music which is already available? Amazon Prime Video and Netflix make sense in part because they’re offering content which is generally unavailable for free elsewhere (at least legally). But both Spotify and Rdio now offer free versions with way more than a million tracks. They’ve got their own catches: Spotify only lets you listen to music on mobile devices in shuffle mode, and Rdio isn’t free on mobile devices at all. But I still suspect I’d be inclined to go to a service with a far higher chance of having the music I want than Prime Music currently does.

3. Does not having anything from Universal Music Group destroy the service, or merely cripple it? Strangely enough, most of us don’t pay close attention to which enormous corporation controls the work of our favorite performers. So it’s tough to say how much the absence of all this music will hobble Prime for any particular listener. Wikipedia has a helpful list of Universal’s artists, from A (ABBA) to Z (Zucchero).

4. Would anyone cancel a paid account to Spotify or Rdio because this exists? Seems highly unlikely to me.

5. Is it reasonable to say it’s FREE? Amazon is billing Prime Music as being “FREE with Amazon Prime.” I’m not sure how something that involves a $99 yearly fee qualifies as being free. Especially since Amazon recently raised the price of Prime membership, which presumably makes it easier for the company to add inducements such as, um, free music.

6. Will Prime Music get great? Right now, I can’t imagine that anyone will regard this music service as anything other than a pleasant bonus for Prime subscribers, in a category already crowded with excellent options. But Prime Video started out with only a smattering of content, and has grown into an attractive Netflix alternative. Given time, Prime Music might blossom–especially if Amazon and Universal hammer out a deal, and especially if the service expands to include at least some semi-current hits.

Those are all the questions I have right now. If you have opinions on them–or on Prime Music in general–I’d love to hear them.


Amazon Prime Now Includes Free Streaming Videos

Amazon’s protracted battle against Netflix has begun. Starting today, Amazon Prime customers can stream a library of 5,000 movies and television shows at no extra charge.

Prime will continue to cost $79 per year, and still includes unlimited two-day shipping and $3.99 one-day shipping on retail orders. Even if you never buy a single item from Amazon, the Prime video service will save you $17 over Netflix streaming on a yearly basis.

That’s not to say Amazon and Netflix are comparable. Amazon streaming is missing from a few key set-top boxes, including video game consoles and TiVo (TiVo supports Amazon video on demand but not the streaming service, for now at least). As for the iPhone and iPad, Prime support seems unlikely, especially with Apple’s new policy towards subscription services. On the bright side, the service should work on Roku, Google TV and nearly 200 connected Blu-ray players and TVs. Engadget’s Tim Stevens even got some videos running through the Flash player on his first-generation Droid phone.

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Amazon's Netflix Rival Returns in Elusive Rumor

Amazon could be pretty close to offering a subscription streaming video service similar to that of Netflix.

We’ve heard this story before, in a couple of rumors from last year, but over the weekend an Engadget reader reportedly spotted the streaming option while perusing Amazon’s on-demand video library. Amazon has also registered the web domain primeinstantvideos.com and several variants.

According to the tipster, Amazon may tie the streaming service to Amazon Prime, the retail program that provides unlimited two-day shipping for $79 per year. Subscribers would get access to roughly 5,000 videos in 480p resolution with no commercials, at no extra cost. This would undercut Netflix’s streaming plan by $17 per year.

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Tippr Rains on LivingSocial's Amazon Parade

Jealous much? LivingSocial competitor Tippr’s CEO Martin Tobias posts in his personal blog that he’s been notified of a flaw in how LivingSocial’s shopping cart does “quantity validation.” Why is this important? Amazon specifically said cards sold through the site were limited to one per customer. The exploit allows for a workaround to this, Tobias claims.

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Amazon, the Gadget Maker?

Amazon may have got a taste of gadget success with its hugely popular Kindle, and that may lead to more products coming out of the company, Nick Bilton writes for the New York Times’ Bits blog. The company is currently doing a significant amount of hiring in its Lab 126 division (that’s where the Kindle was made), and insiders say its just not new Kindles they’ll all be working on.

According to Bilton’s sources, the company has already looked into producing MP3 players, portable electronics, and even an Amazon phone. The phone is probably the biggest stretch for them, but hasn’t been 100% ruled out just yet. Either way, the company’s moves are all about protecting its position in the digital content space. Guess they’re just not all about books anymore, eh?

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Kindle Enroute for Android Platform

Kindle fans with Android phones, your wait is over. Amazon has announced that it plans to release a version of its bookreading software for the platform. Currently, the book retailer has applications for Windows, Mac OS X, and several phone platforms including the iPhone. The applications allow for a subset of Kindle functionality available on Amazon’s popular reader devices.

As with all of its applications, Kindle for Android will include Whispersync — which synchronizes information including last page read, etc. across all Kindle applications and devices automatically.

Those wishing to use Kindle will need Android OS 1.6 or newer and an SD card. Specifically, Amazon has mentioned that the software would work on the Droid Incredible, Google Nexus One, HTC MyTouch, Motorola CLIQ, and Motorola Droid on a page announcing the launch of the application.

No specific details on availability have been announced, although a statement from the company says “this summer” — which could mean next month or September for all we know.

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Amazon Kindle DRM Broken, eBooks Set Free

An Israeli hacker going by the handle “Labba” claims he has found a method which breaks the copyright protection on the Kindle, allowing the user to transfer eBooks purchased on the device as a PDF to another device. Kindles use a proprietary format “.azw” which prevents transfer to another device.

Not all books for Kindle include DRM — Amazon leaves it up to the publisher to decide whether or not they would like to protect their content. It is likely the company will rush to patch the hole opened by the hacker, although it was not immediately responding to requests for comment Wednesday.

The hack was developed as an entry to a contest on hacking.org.il, where participants were tasked with finding a way to open up the AZW format to allow it to be read on other devices. The hack took about eight days for Labba to complete. The hack is actually an application that is installed onto the device, which then converts the files to the mobi format. Be forwarned though that Amazon has apparently already pushed out code for the Kindle that breaks these scripts, although it is reported it does not auto-update the device.