By Harry McCracken | Monday, May 4, 2009 at 12:33 am
[UPDATE: Amazon’s announcing something on Monday–it’s sent out invites to journalists for a press event in New York.]
The New York Times is reporting that Amazon.com is about to introduce a larger-screen version of its Kindle e-reader, tailored for magazines, newspapers, and, possibly, textbooks. If so, it would be an early entrant in what’s shaping up to be a bustling race of new e-readers that set out to save the magazine and newspaper industries. But my guess is that any Kindle variant that’s imminent isn’t going to be an industry-rescuing breakthrough.
Dozens of magazines and papers are already available on the current Kindle, and while that’s a good thing, the presentation and navigation are disappointing. You don’t get the original color layouts of the printed page or the interactivity of the Web. It’s hard to hop around between stories in anything but sequential fashion, and the Kindle’s sixteen shades of greenish gray can’t compete with the full color of the printed page.
If I had to make a call on which was the superior way to read magazine content–on the Web or in print–I’d need to think it over. But I do know that Kindle magazines, in their current form, lag behind both of those options.
A big-screen kindle that displayed magazine pages in their original layout at something close to full size would be an intriguing device, but without color, it wouldn’t be an exciting one. And there’s no way that even a large Kindle is going to show magazine pages in their traditional layout (although it’s an entertaining idea–maybe the screen could fold in half so you could fit the thing into a briefcase)?
Amazon’s not about to reveal that the E-Ink technology used in the Kindle can now do color, and my guess is that the company is unwilling to release a color-screen Kindle that can’t run for days on a battery charge. So any almost-here big Kindle likely uses the E-Ink screen, and does at least some reformatting of material. If it’s essentially the same Kindle 2 that Amazon sells today except that it crams more words onto the screen, it’ll be a relatively minor edition to the Kindle lineup. (I have a pretty long list of criticisms of the Kindle 2, but the amount of wordage per screen isn’t one of them.)
Maybe Amazon has come up with a way to make moving through issues and stories less of a plodding, front-to-back affair. If so, that would be a more significant step forward than any hardware it’s likely to announce–and I hope it would brings it to us owners of small-screen Kindles, too.