It's been over a year since global e-retailer Amazon came to India. Currently in the midst of an advertising overdrive— focussing on its online marketplace and the Kindle devices— the company has woken domestic competition out of its slumber, forcing them to up their game .
Globally, however, the tech world is buzzing endlessly with speculation about what Amazon's latest hardware offering will look like. With the smartphone, which Amazon has been tight-lipped about so far, the company enters its fourth hardware category after launching a digital media streaming device, Fire TV, in April.
In an interview with The Hindu, Dave Limp, VP, Amazon Kindle, talks on the company’s hardware bets, e-ink technology and education. Edited excerpts:
With Fire TV, you're now in to your third hardware product category. What's the market differentiator as far as Fire TV goes? And how do these products tie in with the larger picture of where Amazon is headed as a company?
A part of our strategy is to build open ecosystems. Even though we do hardware categories, we want to make sure the access to the content is available everywhere the customers want it. We have dedicated readers, but we also offer free Kindle apps on all these platforms. We do tablets but our apps are available on all Android and in iOS app store. The same thing’s true with video, we try to make our video available on smart televisions. But we think it’s more integrated here and it’s integrated in ways that we can’t do on other people’s platforms. So the differentiator you saw is that we brought this to market as we couldn’t get that experience elsewhere, there just wasn’t another platform that had this level of performance and we thought we could do better things in the UI and cache if we had this level of performance. We couldn’t find another platform that was open for developers in a way that was really simple.
How does this fit into the larger vision?
We also want to make all our devices work together. The world is heterogenous. But if you have a homogenous household with a couple of our devices, then all this works seamlessly. This works for our e-readers too, if I had an audio book and a digital book …it will pick up where I left out.
When are you bringing Fire TV to India?
We don’t have a date yet for India. Our goal over time is to make all our products global if we can. This one, we don’t have a video service in India yet. So I don’t have a date yet. Whether we’ll go through partners or on our own, we don’t know yet. I won’t even say stay tuned….I don’t know. Every country is going to be different….there is obviously a huge passion for video in India, but every one of these brands [in the content business] it’s a different discussion everywhere. I think consumers everywhere have the same needs, and so some of the problems we have solved here will be applicable in India. It’s just it’ll take us time and we’ll have to contemplate on how to go to market there.
There’s talk about the new smartphone, something that you’re not willing to talk about. But is the idea behind getting into hardware about being able to control your services or do what you can’t do on other people’s devices…
See the process we go through internally, like with Fire TV, is how do we differentiate it. We have a bias to doing software, it’s simply easier and you can avoid all the complexities of hardware … there are some things there, when you come up with the ideas and want to put the customer front and centre, you need to do end-to-end and Apple has shown that. We had a version of Fire TV in the labs for over two years, but we didn’t bring it to market till we figured the combination of what we didn’t see others doing it. That was our epiphany.
Last year, E-Ink corporation showcased significant advancements in colour e-ink. Where do you think reading-only devices are headed today in terms of technology? E-Ink has been declaring decline in recent times.
The decline may be from E Ink’s point of view, but our sales in many geographies are seeing phenomenal growth. We’re just starting in India, Japan, China and, [in] these places, the growth is unbelievable. I think there is plenty of room and you will see us invent heavily on reading devices. Our vision over time hasn’t changed on how we want e-readers to evolve: we want it to be like paper; super thin and super light. We need to keep inventing till we get to paper; colour is one dimension but we’re inventing on battery life and others.
Also, we bought Liquivista last year because we liked the direction they were going in colour battery-efficient displays. I’ve seen good demos in the labs, but it needs work. Until then we are keeping paper white technologies and it’s evolving. I’m pretty bullish.
The new Kindle Paperwhite has some incremental changes such as the social dimension. How has the GoodReads acquisition worked out for you?
The generic answer is yes. But we’re still in early days with that… just 6-8 months into it. What you are seeing it is that we are rolling out across our surfaces, it’s integrated with our tablets and we just put a goodreads button on our e-readers too. Engagement is up and numbers of users is up, so we’re optimistic.
This is a good example of sort of tying the service element into these devices, the more we integrated it the more front-and-centre it is. Speaking for myself, the best recommends I get are from a close group of friends — I have a few people that I know my taste happens to be very similar to.
In Japan, getting Manga comics on your devices helped you in making inroads. Do you have similar plans or a roadmap for India?
India is extremely important to us. I am very encouraged with our start in India but we have a lot to learn. We have to learn what are the right things in India, what’s the right content or user experiences, to be able succeed. That will take us some time. Are we willing to do things specifically for India, say in payments or pricings or partners or business models, we’ll have to see. Different places require different ideas. There is a universality that there is a passion for reading. We just have to take advantage of this.
A substantial section of public spending in IT today is driven by the vast education sector. You recently acquired Ten Marks, an education services company, and have also tied up with the Brazilian government on delivering educational content to schools. Do you see yourself doing this in India?
I’m very passionate about the education effort. My instinct is that education is extremely important in India, and it is as important in other places too like in China. We think that from pre-school to college and behind, there are ways you can reinvent education. You mention TenMarks, the company we acquired that has some very unique though early methods on adaptive learning. In textbooks the experience of how you reads them on the device we need to continue to work on.
There is a lot of invention that needs to happen, but over the arc of a long time period we hope to make an impact in the education sector.