Amazon says U.S. government demands for customer data went up

Amazon said the U.S. government asked more data from the company during the first-half of 2019 than on the previous six-month period.

The latest figures landed in the company’s transparency report, published quietly on its website late Wednesday, said the number of subpoenas it received went up by 14% and search warrants went up by close to 35%.

That includes data collected from its Amazon Echo voice assistant service, its Kindle and Fire tablets, and its home security devices.

Amazon turned over some or all data in about four out of five cases, the figures show.

But the number of other legal demands Amazon received were down slightly.

The company’s cloud business, Amazon Web Services — which makes up the bulk of Amazon’s annual operating income — also reported separately a 77% increase in the number of subpoenas it received for cloud-stored customer data, but a decline in received search warrants.

Per reporting rules set out by the Justice Department, Amazon said it received between 0 and 249 national security requests, for both consumer and cloud services.

Amazon was one of the last major tech companies to issue a transparency report, despite mounting pressure from privacy advocates. The company eventually buckled, releasing its first set of figures several days after whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked highly classified documents which revealed mass surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency and its global intelligence counterparts.

The company said at the time and continued to maintain until recently that it “never participated” in the NSA’s so-called PRISM program, which allowed the government to obtain data from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and several other tech companies.

But TechCrunch noticed that Amazon removed that wording from its transparency report pages several weeks ago.

When reached, an Amazon spokesperson said that the change was “simply because it was a somewhat dated reference.”

Amazon Prime Day’s top device deals include discounted Echo speakers and Fire TV’s

Amazon’s list of Prime Day deals has finally dropped. The retailer’s Black Friday-style sale for its Prime members is one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, as other retailers now take part with their own competitive sales. But some of the best deals to be found on Prime Day are those on Amazon’s own devices. This year, Amazon is pushing its Echo speaker and Fire TV Stick devices in particular, with sale prices that are 50% off or higher from the regular list prices.

According to an analysis of this year’s deals by Offers.com, the three biggest device deals this year are the $49.99 Echo Smart Speaker 2nd Generation (50% off its regular price of $99.99); the $14.99 Fire TV Stick (63% off its regular price); and the $24.99 Fire TV Stick 4K (50% off its regular price).

These prices don’t officially go live until Prime Day’s now two-day sale begins on Monday, July 15 at 12 AM PT.

However, the devices may not be selling for their “list” price today — Amazon has discounted some items ahead of Prime Day to encourage early shopping. And some will go on sale ahead of Prime Day on Saturday, July 13 — but only if you ask Alexa “what are my deals?” to gain early access.

Compared with Prime Day 2018, 70% of this year’s deals are better and three are tied, with an average price decrease of 14.5%, according to Offers.com’s report. And compared with Black Friday 2018, 72% of the deals are better, and three are tied, with an average price decrease of 17%.

Screen Shot 2019 07 12 at 10.32.27 AM

Above: Prime Day deals comparison via Offers.com

What’s interesting is that last year’s Prime Day and Black Friday/Cyber Monday bestseller, the standard Echo Dot, isn’t included on the Prime Day 2019 device deals list. Instead, Amazon is listing discounts for its Echo, Echo Show, Echo Plus, Echo Input, Echo Dot Kids Edition, and even Facebook’s Portal (which has Alexa built-in), along with its Alexa-powered Fire TV devices.

That being said, the Echo Dot was marked down ahead of Prime Day to its lowest-ever price of $24.99 — half off its list price of $49.99.

Other Amazon’s device deals span Kindle tablets and e-readers, Ring and Blink home security products, as well as smart home products from ecobee, eero, and Amazon itself.

More broadly, Amazon says it will offer over a million deals during the sales event, with a special focus this year on “celeb deals” from Jaden Smith, Marshmello, Zac Brown, and others, including the exclusive launch of Lady Gaga’s HAUS Laboratories beauty collection.

The full list of Amazon’s device deals is below.

Fire TV

  • Save $25 on Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, $14.99
  • Save $25 on Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote, $24.99
  • Save $50 on Fire TV Cube, $69.99
  • Save $100 on Fire TV Recast, now starting at $129.99
  • Get a $45 Sling TV Credit, which can be applied to $15 off your first three months when you buy a Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Cube, or Fire TV Recast
  • Get 50% off for three months when you subscribe to SHOWTIME or STARZ on Prime Video channels or in-app
  • Get 50% off for three months when you subscribe to CBS All Access on Prime Video channels
  • Get SEGA Classics for $4.99

Echo & Alexa

  • Save $50 on Echo, $49.99
  • Save $70 on Echo Show $159.99
  • Save $40 on Echo Plus, $109.99
  • Save $20 on Echo Input, $14.99
  • Save $120 on Portal from Facebook with Alexa Built-in, $79

Fire tablets

  • Save $20 on the all-new Fire 7 tablet, $29.99, or get two for $49.98—a $50 savings
  • Save $30 on the Fire HD 8 tablet, $49.99, or get two for $79.98—an $80 savings
  • Save $50 on the Fire HD 10 tablet, $99.99, or get two for $179.98—a $120 savings

Kids Devices

  • Save $40 on the all-new Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet, $59.99, or get two for $99.98—a $100 savings
  • Save $50 on the Fire HD 8 Kids Edition tablet, $79.99, or get two for $139.98—a $120 savings
  • Save $50 on the Fire HD 10 Kids Edition tablet, $149.99, or get two for $279.98—a $120 savings
  • Save $25 on Echo Dot Kids Edition, $44.99

Kindle

  • Save up to $80 on Kindle Oasis (9th generation), plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited, starting at $174.99
  • Save up to $50 on Kindle Paperwhite, plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited, starting at $84.99
  • Save $30 on the all-new Kindle, plus get a $5 eBook credit and three months free Kindle Unlimited, $59.99

Home Security

  • Save $30 on Ring Video Doorbell, $69.99
  • Save $80 on Ring Video Doorbell Pro, $169
  • Save $130 on a Ring Alarm 14-Piece Kit, $199
  • Save $60 on Ring Spotlight Cam, $139
  • Save $55 Ring Stick Up Cam, $124.99
  • Save $60 on a Blink Indoor Cam 2-Cam System, $79.99
  • Save $80 on the all-new Blink XT2 2-Cam System, $99.99

Smart Home

  • Save up to $200 on eero WiFi systems
  • Save $100 on an eero Router, just $99
  • Get an Amazon Smart Plug and Echo for $54.98
  • Save $50 on the all-new ecobee Smart Thermostat with Alexa Built-in, $199

Amazon’s Prime Day 2019 non-device deals, meanwhile, can be found here.

 

Amazon finally supports Traditional Chinese books on Kindle

A long-awaited service for readers in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and some other overseas Chinese communities have finally come true: Amazon has just started offering Traditional Chinese books for its Kindle E-reader.

The release filled an obvious gap for Kindle, which debuted back in 2007 and has been growing the number of languages it supports over the years. 2012 marked a major step in its Asia expansion as it began providing E-books in Simplified Chinese — the type of characters used in mainland China — under its China-specific site. That was a prelude to Kindle’s entry into China the next year. We will see if the same pattern of regional push will repeat for Taiwan and Hong Kong, where Kindle isn’t officially distributed at the moment.

Previously, people who read Traditional characters had to find roundabout ways to access the language on Kindle, such as buying Simplified content and converting it into Traditional using customized fonts that became available since Amazon’s 5.9.6 firmware update. Of course, that’s a time-consuming solution riddled with all sorts of calibration issues in spacing and font size.

The Traditional Chinese store kicked off with a list of over 20,000 books that people can read on their Kindle apps and Kindle devices. For some comparison, Kindle carried some 60,000 Simplified titles a year after introducing the language.

Users can now find Traditional Chinese books on a dedicated portal hosted on all existing Amazon.com websites, the company says. The early selection spans popular authors like Hugo Award-winning Liu Cixin and Chinese classics like Dream of the Red Chamber, in addition to translated bestsellers including George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series.

The regional launch is also targeted at authors, who can now self-publish their Traditional Chinese books through Kindle Direct Publishing and distribute the works to the language communities around the world.

“Bringing Traditional Chinese language books to Kindle is a step forward on our journey to provide more choice and selection to readers around the world,” said David Naggar, vice president of Kindle Books in a statement. But the store is not as finished as its Simplified counterpart yet, missing editor’s choice, book sales, pre-sales, book rankings and other potentially popular features.

Amazon China to close local marketplace and place more focus on cross-border

Amazon has finally given up the fight with Chinese online shopping giants to capture the domestic market. On Thursday, the Seattle-based ecommerce company announced it will shut down its marketplace on Amazon.cn, which connects mainland Chinese buyers and sellers, while other units of its local venture will stay intact.

“We are working closely with our sellers to ensure a smooth transition and to continue to deliver the best customer experience possible,” an Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch, adding that this segment of the business will end on July 18.

The partial retreat, first reported by Reuters and Bloomberg, is indicative of the relentless ecommerce race in China where Alibaba and JD.com dominate, with newcomer Pinduoduo closing on the incumbents’ heels.

But this is hardly the end of Amazon’s China story. The American giant has over the years attracted waves of cross-border sellers, many of whom have hailed from China’s traditional export industry looking to sell cheaply manufactured goods to consumers around the world for lucrative margins. To date, Chinese export suppliers are able to sell to 12 countries that include India, Japan, Australia, Canada, the United States, and five Western European countries.

Other global ecommerce players also have their eyes set on the massive raft of goods flowing out of China, though each comes with a different geographic focus. Alibaba-backed Lazada, for example, is the bridge between Chinese merchants and Southeast Asian shoppers, while Jumia, which just listed in the U.S., exports from China to Africa.

“The biggest appeal [of exporting through Amazon] is the low costs because we are close to a lot of supply chain resources,” a Shenzhen-based vendor selling water-resistant placemats on Amazon told TechCrunch.

In the meantime, China has developed a big craving for imported goods as middle-class consumers now demand higher quality products. Amazon is in the import business, too, although it lags far behind more entrenched players such as Alibaba, of which Tmall Global takes the lead with 29 percent market share in the cross-border ecommerce space according to data from iResearch, dwarfing Amazon’s 6 percent.

That could change if Amazon finds a prominent local partner. Rumors have swirled for months that Amazon was reportedly in talks to merge its import unit with Kaola, the cross-border shopping business run by Chinese internet giant Netease with a 22.6 percent market share.

Not to be forgotten, Amazon also offers cloud computing services to Chinese enterprises although, in this space, it’s again in a direct face-off with Alibaba Cloud, the dominant player in China. Lastly, China remains the largest market for Kindle, so pivotal that the e-reader launched a localized model just for China.

“Over the past few years, we have been evolving our China online retail business to increasingly emphasize cross-border sales, and in return we’ve seen very strong response from Chinese customers,” said the Amazon spokesperson. “Amazon’s commitment to China remains strong—we have built a solid foundation here in a number of successful businesses and we will continue to invest and grow in China across Amazon Global Store, Global Selling, AWS, Kindle devices and content.”

Online used car startup Shift adds another $40M, snags COO in road to IPO

Online used car startup Shift Technologies has tacked on another $40 million in equity funding, hired a new COO with Amazon and Enjoy roots and scaled up its engineering staff — all in the past several months — as the company aims to double its revenue this year.

The recent activity, along with what executives have told TechCrunch is a diligent focus on unit economics, is all directed toward a larger objective to take the company public sometime in 2021.

Shift, which is based in San Francisco, serves car buyers and sellers. The company, founded in 2013, has built a software platform that lets customers shop for cars, get financing and schedule test drives. Car owners can use the platform to sell their vehicle, as well. Shift says any car it buys must pass a “rigorous” 150+ point inspection.

Shift generated $135 million in revenues in 2018. The company is projecting revenues between $220 million and $240 million in 2019, Shift co-CEO Toby Russell told TechCrunch.

An IPO is an aspirational goal, but one both Russell and founder George Arison believe is achievable. They both pointed to Carvana, an online used car company that went public in 2017.

“Given Carvana’s trailing revenue of $350 million when they went public as a benchmark, we’d be well-positioned for IPO if we can hit $300 million to $400 million,” Russell said. “There’s nothing in stone yet, and IPOs depend on a lot of factors like market conditions, but that benchmark is where we’ll be positioning ourselves in the next two years.”

Carvana is often regarded as Shift’s closest competitor — although the two companies have distinct differences. Shift’s inventory is broader, allowing cars as old as 10 years on the platform and with up to 120,000 miles. Carvana focuses on newer cars between 0 and four years in age. Shift also emphasizes its test drives as a differentiator.

Shift’s biggest competitor is the traditional used car business, Russell contends. There are 35,000 new and used car dealers in the U.S., most of which are mom-and-pop shops, responsible for about 15 million transactions each year. Then there are private-party sales between individuals, Russell notes.

“This super-fragmented environment creates a lot of opportunity for growth for Carvana, Shift, Lithia, CarMax, etcetera, much like Walmart, Target and Amazon all grew over the last two decades,” Russell told TechCrunch.

New COO

To get there, Shift has hired a new COO, Sean Foy. The company also raised additional equity as it tries to hire more engineers and other employees and scale up its technology platform.

Foy comes to Shift from Enjoy Technologies, where he was head of operations. He was previously director of operations for Kindle, Fire, Echo and Amazon Devices working out of Amazon’s Lab 126 in Sunnyvale.

Shift is counting on Foy’s expertise to grow the business and leverage the technology platform, all while maintaining or improving the customer experience. In short, using technology to make it easier for the customer to buy or sell a car without making the process overly cumbersome or intimidating because of the technology.

“One of the things that Bezos (Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO) used to say all the time when we were building Kindle was the technology should disappear, you should not get in the way of the experience of reading a book,” Foy said. “And it feels the like the same here; we don’t want this to be a technology-heavy process for the buyer, we want to stay as frictionless as possible so that we can attract more and more people onto the the site rather than going to traditional dealerships and giving them a much better experience. So it’s really about removing friction from the product.”

New funds

Shift announced in September that it had raised more than $140 million in equity and debt in a Series D round. The round, which consisted of about $70 million in debt and $71 million in equity, was led by automotive retailer Lithia Motors. Bryan DeBoer, CEO and president of Lithia, joined Shift’s board of directors.

An additional $40 million in equity has since come in, bringing the total raise of the Series D round to $180 million. This new capital brings Shift’s total financing of equity and debt to more than $300 million.

All of the new capital came from new investors, primarily large institutional investors, according to Shift.

Shift has already put some of that capital to work. The company said back in September it planned to invest in its technology platform and scale its engineering staff from 35 to more than 80 people by the end of 2019. As of early April, Shift employed 54 engineers. Another nine (all new graduate hires) will start over the summer.The company employs 450 people.

Amazon’s entry-level 2019 Kindle is let down by a sub-par display

Amazon’s Kindle is of course the brand most think of when they consider buying an e-reader, but competition does exist and the truth is it makes the company’s newest entry-level device look like a poor bargain. The price may be low, but this budget reader just doesn’t meet the bar.

The most basic current device in the e-paper Kindle lineup, the plain old “Kindle” (as opposed to Kindle Voyage, Kindle Paperwhite, etc) has in this 2019 iteration gained a couple features. An adjustable frontlight illuminates the E-Ink screen, there’s an improved touchscreen and a refreshed hardware design, though you’re forgiven if you don’t notice.

At $110, or $90 if you allow ads on your device, it’s among the cheaper devices out there, falling well below the $150 Paperwhite and $270 Oasis (again, subtract $20 if you don’t opt out of “special offers,” which I always make sure to mention).

It runs the familiar Kindle OS and of course seamlessly connects to your Amazon account, just like the others in the lineup. In general it’s more or less the same as the others in terms of formats, store and access features, and so on. So you’re not sacrificing anything on that front.

Unfortunately, what you do sacrifice is something much more important: a decent screen.

We’ve been privileged in the last couple years to see the quality of e-reader displays improve considerably, both in terms of resolution and lighting. A couple months ago I reviewed the $130 Kobo Clara HD, which offers few frills and, frankly, inferior build quality, but a beautiful screen and color temperature-adjustable frontlight, which is really worth paying for.

The specs speak for themselves: the “all-new” Kindle has a 6-inch with a pixel density of 167 PPI. The Clara HD has nearly twice that: 300 PPI, like the nicer Kindles, and believe me, you notice. It makes a huge difference to how text looks — there are diminishing returns past that point, but the change from 167 to 300 is a big one. Letters look much crisper and more regular, and fonts look much more different from each other, allowing you to customize your reading experience a more. (I recently found out I can easily add fonts to the Kobo and it’s great.)

It’s hard to capture the difference between the two except in macro shots, but in person it’s a serious one. There’s a reason phones, tablets, and e-readers (including Amazon’s own) all went to high pixel density and never looked back.

[gallery ids="1810104,1810107"]

The Clara also has a frontlight that lets you adjust the color cast from cool to warm, which you can see above (I realize the temperatures of the images themselves are different as well but you get the idea). I didn’t think I’d find this useful, but as with resolution, it’s one of those things where once you have it, it’s difficult to go back. The cold, pixelated screen of the basic Kindle was unbearable after the warm, smooth look of the Kobo.

If you must have a Kindle reader and can’t spend more than $100, I’d seriously advise you to try to find an old generation of Paperwhite or the like with the higher resolution screen and frontlight. It makes a huge difference to readability and that’s really the most important part of a reader.

I would however advise you to spend a little more now to avoid buyer’s remorse. The Paperwhite is a great device and not too much more if you’re willing to accept Amazon’s “special offers.” Kindles in general have great build quality as well. If you aren’t attached to the Kindle brand, however, the Kobo Clara HD is only a bit more money and offers a better reading experience than either, in my opinion, as well as the flexibility that comes with the company’s devices.

When the entry-level Kindle gets a screen that matches the entry-level competition, I’ll happily endorse it, but for now I have to recommend its slightly more expensive peers for a major bump in quality.

Amazon updates the $90 Kindle with a front light

Cost has always been a big part of the Kindle line’s appeal at the low end. Amazon’s very good at undercutting the competition, while still managing to provide a workhorse e-reader in the process. Of course, paying $90 for the device comes with a number of cut corners, not the least of which has been the device’s stubborn refusal to adopt the front-lighting found on the rest of the line.

Amazon’s just amended that oversight with the latest version of the standard Kindle. The device now features an adjustable front light, coupled with a capacitive touch 167 PPI display. That price includes Special Offers (i.e. those screen saver ads the company has been serving up for most of the life of the product).

[gallery ids="1799305,1799311,1799309,1799307"]

The device will slot below the prier Kindle Paperwhite, which features a higher res (300 PPI) screen, a flush design and waterproofing, starting at $130. The highest end Oasis, meanwhile, rounds things out, starting at $230.

The line will be getting a simple new feature that marks books as read across devices, along with additional recommendations based on reading history. Those features will be arriving on existing models as an over the air update.

The new Kindle is up for preorder starting today and will start shipping April 10. It’s available in either black or white. 

Happy 10th anniversary, Android

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

The Kindle Voyage is no longer available from Amazon

The Kindle Voyage is no more. The e-reader is currently unavailable through Amazon, as noted by a few sites. You can still pick up a refurbed version through the retailer, but listings for the new model note that, “[t]his item is only available from third-party sellers.”

TechCrunch confirmed that the product is no longer available with Amazon, which noted, “that customer response to Kindle Voyage has been incredibly positive and we’ve sold out.” While Amazon’s refusing to disclose any further information, if there was a refresh on the way, the company likely would have noted as much on the site as is its custom. 

All of this probably means there’s either new model on the way or, more than likely, the Voyage has been sunset. The device was first introduced in 2014 as a thinner, lighter and generally more premium version of the popular reader. The arrival of the higher end Oasis two years later, however, has made the product a bit redundant.

The culling of the line was probably a bit overdue, really. Amazon’s the far and away leader in devoted e-readers, but even without the Voyage in the lineup, there’s plenty of variety to be had in a still fairly narrow space.