The US State Department chooses Kindles

The US State Department chooses Kindles

You are likely to see this story reported as the State Department paying $6,600 per Kindle, but that was apparently a mistake which has been corrected in this

The Atlantic Wire article

Let’s skip the price issue…looking at the agreement, there is no indication of how many total Kindles may be involved (and what type, although some current models are excluded by the requirements), so you can’t say how much each one costs.

However, it is definitely worth addressing the points in this document

That’s the official US Government document describing the deal.

Why do we care?

Well, if Amazon has to make changes to meet this contract, it’s not unreasonable that those changes will appear in devices available to the public as well.

When you read the requirements, it seems tailor-made for Amazon. For example, there is this one:

“8. The device shall have a text-to-speech capability in English so that users are able to listen to content on the device. Also, the device should have a Voice Guide feature for menus and book listings and support for audio books.”

Well, not only does text-to-speech eliminate the NOOK, “Voice Guide” is Amazon’s brand name for its audible menu system!

Now, here’s one of those interesting pieces. They describe

“1. The Contractor shall provide a content distribution and management platform to centrally manage an unlimited number of e-reader/tablet devices.”

Amazon doesn’t make a tablet with Voice Guide. Does this suggest they’ll add that (and presumably, more robust text-to-speech) to the Fire?

Maybe…but the document also requires both wi-fi and 3g.

You might think that this simply means the Kindle Keyboard, and they are going into detail describing current capabilities so Amazon can’t change them.

Not so. For one thing, they discuss video more than once:

“3. The Contractor shall deliver the latest generation devices that have audio and video capabilities and include 3G and Wi-Fi services.”

“13. The device shall support audio (e.g., podcasts,, MP3 files, etc.) and it is preferred that the device support video (e.g., MPG, MOV, WMV, RM, etc.)”

The video is only a preference, though.

How about this?

“…must include a front light feature.”

Does a lighted cover satisfy that? I’m thinking not…I think this is the first official statement about a Kindle with a glow feature similar to the NOOK GlowLight. As readers may recall, I mentioned a glowing Kindle being seen before NOOK announced theirs.

The contract also requires Collections (or, at least, collections without the capital C):

“10. The device shall have an organizing feature to sort the content into collections identified by the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.”

This one is very interesting, and something people have requested. I would think this will come down to public devices:

“10. The Contractor shall provide data on how content is accessed on the e-reader. The information will include content accessed, content not accessed, length of time that content is viewed, e-reader features used and content downloaded. The format for reporting will be developed with and approved by the Department of State but will include reporting by country and e-reader serial number.”

This was an interesting statement in the attached justification:

“The Kindle has been identified as the only product that will meet the DoS’ requirements as part of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs’ (R’s) efforts to globally scale e-Reader use as a tool for the DoS’ English Access Microscholarship Program (ACCESS), and also placement in DoS’ many American Spaces housed in libraries, cultural centers, reading rooms and other partnership institutions such as Bi-National Centers.”

There are several (eight, I think) references to an “Attachment A” listing countries. Amazon would need to be able to ship to those countries, and provide internet browsing there. I didn’t see the attachment, although that would be interesting.

 I think this may actually be a very important development, and bring us some real improvements.

Of course, a better EBR (E-Book Reader) and/or tablet isn’t as sexy a story as a government overpayment…even one that turns out to be exaggerated. 😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

4 Responses to “The US State Department chooses Kindles”

  1. Common Sense Says:

    Not that I like to defend government over-spending, but if Amazon is required to make a number of changes to one or more types of devices, that would account for the higher cost. They’re not buying them “off-the-shelf” and custom code is usually paid for upfront. My company does the same thing with clients who want special features.

    They may also have to set up that Internet access in those countries which could be quite expensive, depending on what access a particular country already has.

    Then again, $16 million seems a bit high, even for all of that.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Common!

      Would sixteen million dollars seem like a lot if it was for sixteen million Kindles? 🙂

      We don’t know how many Kindles are involved, so we can’t really judge the cost for the devices. I did read that they are getting those at ten percent off.

      Amazon is agreeing to some additional costs, including shipping. They are also agreeing to a dedicated 24/7 Help Desk:

      “7. The Contractor shall provide a dedicated 24/7 help desk to support inquires from the Department of State and its partners in countries specified in Attachment A”

      That kind of customer service is expensive.

      I doubt Amazon will be setting up any local networks…they just may need to pay more for the available access than they had originally intended.

      I’m also not sure that custom code is required: it may just shuffle some priorities in development.

      We’ll see what happens…

  2. Round up #89: more from Judge Chin, Microsoft’s tablet « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] I recently wrote about the US State Department contracting with Amazon for Kindle services. The “justification” document for the deal includes this: […]

  3. Department of State deal for Kindles falls through « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] June 12th, I wrote about a contract between the Department of State and Amazon for Kindles and Kindle […]

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