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A really good idea with some clever touches and multiple obvious flaws. That was the critical consensus on Amazon.com’s original Kindle e-book reader when it debuted in November of 2007–here’s my review–and it left the kingpin of online retailers with a pretty obvious to-do list for the second-generation Kindle.
That new and improved model–the $359 Kindle 2–is here, and it’s rife with evidence that Amazon was paying attention. Critics said the first one was chunky and homely; the 2009 model is both thinner and slicker. You only needed to use the Kindle 1 for a few minutes to discover that it was way too easy to press its page-turning buttons by mistake and unwittingly fast-forward through a book; with the Kindle 2, accidents are far less likely to happen. Many people panned the first version’s odd split keyboard for being weird, or argued that the gadget shouldn’t have a keyboard at all; the new one keeps the keyboard, but it’s no longer distractingly peculiar.
Now that we know the official scoop on Amazon.com’s Kindle 2, it’s time to begin gabbing in earnest about what we’d like to see in the Kindle 3 which is surely a year to fifteen months off. And given that the Kindle 2 is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, why not start think about a more dramatically different third-generation device? After the jump, Technologizer’s humble game plan for making the Kindle 3 truly great.
I haven’t laid eyes (or hands) on Amazon’s new Kindle 2 e-book reader in person yet, but all evidence suggests that it’s pretty much the device Amazon should have built in the first place. As useful, innovative, and interesting as the first Kindle was–here’s my review from November 2007–it was kind of chunky, kind of ugly, and kind of maddening in one particular respect: The oversized buttons made it way too easy to flip pages by accident. Oh, and the e-ink screen, while incredibly power-efficient, could render images in only the most crude form–they sort of looked like they were done Etch-a-Sketch.
Much of what’s new in the $359 Kindle 2 involves addressing these issues. It’s certainly less weird looking. The page-turning buttons are now smaller. The oddball (but reasonably usable) split keyboard has been replaced with one that looks more straightforward. The display is still monochrome and unbacklit, but it does sixteen shades of gray and therefore should do at least somewhat better with graphics.
(Side note: Amazon’s page on the Kindle 2 says the new display “now boasts 16 shades of gray for clear text and even crisper images. That “even” would seem to claim that the first Kindle could do decent images, too–but I’d be stunned if even Jeff Bezos himself could make a case that images on the first-generation Kindle were anything other than rudimentary.)
The original Kindle was .7″ thick; the new one is a bit over half that, at .36″. Here’s a composite of Amazon’s original photo comparing the Kindle to a pencil, and its new one:
Other improvements to the new model include 2GB of memory (up from 256MB, which itself was enough to hold 200 books), 25% more battery life (Amazon says you can read for two weeks on a charge), the ability to have books read out loud via a robo-voice, and a feature called WhisperSync that can keep track of where you are in a book across multiple Kindles. And, eventually, other mobile devices as well–Amazon says it’s working on making Kindle content available on gadgets other than Kindles.
Stuff that’s missing? Well, color of course, but that’s no surprise: Unless Amazon decides to dump e-ink for a more traditional display with far inferior battery life, it’ll probably be a long long time until there’s a color Kindle. Amazon also hasn’t given the Kindle 2 the touchscreen or backlight sported by the newest version of its principal rival, the Sony E-Reader.
Even before Kindle content is available on more devices, you could make the case that the most important things about Kindle are the service and the reading matter it delivers, not the hardware. Amazon now offers 230,000 books (including 103 of the 110 New York Times best sellers and new releases), plus 1200 blogs and a bunch of newspapers and magazines. We aren’t yet at the point at which you can cheerfully assume that any book you want will be available in Kindle form–after a year of Kindle ownership, I’m still pleasantly surprised each time I find that something I want is available. But nobody else comes close to what Amazon has accomplished with quantity of content and the ease with which you can get it wirelessly onto the device.
Stay tuned for Technologizer’s review of Kindle 2, as well as more news about e-books in general. If the day comes that Amazon releases a Kindle reader for the iPhone, betcha it’ll be as big news as today’s second-generation device is. Maybe bigger news…
I’m 3000 miles away from Amazon’s Kindle event this morning at the Morgan Library in New York, so I’ll learn what’s transpiring by reading coverage elsewhere on the Web. More specifically,, I’m checking out live coverage at Gizmodo and Engadget. More thoughts as the official details are revealed (until then, check out these alleged spy photos if you haven’t seen ’em yet).
[UPDATE #1: The alleged spy photos of a much thinner Kindle are…unalleged! That’s the new Kindle. It has seven times more storage than the first one. You can read a book on one Kindle and switch to another, and it’ll keep your place. There’s a new five-way controller. Page-turning happens twenty percent faster.]
[UPDATE #2: The new Kindle can read to you, via text-to-speech technology. New battery lasts 25% longer.]
[UPDATE #3: Stephen King is at the event. Maybe the rumors that he has a new book that’ll debut on the Kindle are true.]
[UPDATE #4: Sounds like it’s a story, not a whole book. He’s reading part of it to the crowd, from a Kindle. And it’s about the Kindle.]
[UPDATE #5: It’s a novella, and people who pre-order the Kindle 2 will get it for free when it’s released.]
[UPDATE #6: Here’s Amazon’s press release with more details about what’s new. The new Kindle is $359 and ships on February 24th.]
[UPDATE #6: Sounds like Amazon is saying that Kindle content will be available on other devices, but isn’t saying which other devices. $1,000,000 question: iPhone?]
Amazon.com has cause to celebrate before it unveils Kindle 2.0 next Monday. Using Apple’s iPod as its model, Citigroup predicts that the Kindle, what it calls the, iPod of the book world,” will become a $1.2 billion dollar business by 2010.
Analyst Mark Mahaney estimates that Amazon sold over 500,000 of the e-book readers last year alone based upon filings about wireless service activations from Amazon partner Sprint. He came to the $1.2 billion figure by assuming that Kindle owners will purchase an e-book every month.
The Kindle seems to be a hit–enough of one that Amazon has struggled to keep up with demand. Whether it is on the road to becoming another iPod is another story. There may be many avid readers, but few people that I know buy a book every single month. It is much easier for people to consume music and video than it is to sit down and find the time to read. And many titles now cost over $10.
Sure, certain segments will buy books regularly–commuters, book club members–but the iPod model may not be the best fit for the Kindle. Would you buy your kids a $300 e-book reader when a single book can occupy them for under $10?
Call me a curmudgeon, but my take is that the Kindle will sell briskly, and it could help e-books become more mainstream–but it won’t become a runaway success like the iPod has been.
Over at All Things Digital, Peter Kafka is saying that Amazon.com’s DRM-free MP3 download store is a “miserable failure” as an iTunes Store rival at the end of its first year of operation. Judged in terms of market share, dollars, and cents, it’s hard to argue that it’s anything else: Kafka says that Amazon appears to have around seven or eight percent of the music download business, compared to Apple’s seventy-plus. If it’s possible to put a serious dent in Apple’s supremacy, Amazon hasn’t figured out how to do it…and neither have other DRM-free music merchants such as eMusic, Rhapsody, Wal-Mart, and Lala. iTunes is to digital music what Windows was for years to operating systems: A player so utterly dominant that it’s hard to figure out a scenario in which its share shrinks, let alone make it happen.
Over at Cnet, Tom Krazit has blogged about an analyst’s report that the iPod shortage that began at Amazon.com seems to be spreading to other venues. Which surprised me–not least because I didn’t know that Amazon was suffering from an iPod shortage.
But it is. I just checked, and while most of the myriad iPods (from the 1GB Shuffle to 160GB Classic) seem to be on hand for immediate delivery, Amazon itself doesn’t seem to have any 8GB or 16GB iPod Touches in stock, though you can order them there for fulfillment by other merchants.
(Side note: Is iPod Touches correct, or should that be iPods Touch?)
The only other sign of a lack of iPods I found at Amazon was the listing for the 1GB green Shuffle. The company doesn’t expect to be able to get that model to customers by Christmas, which will no doubt ruin untold holidays. (Okay, maybe not–especially since Apple.com has them in stock.)
A spotty supply of even a few iPod models at one major retailer suggests that Apple’s music players continue to sell briskly, which makes for an interesting contrast with this BusinessWeek story which speaks of the possibility that iPod sales may be down this quarter for the first time ever. Even if Apple has a merry Christmas iPodwise, the gist of the BW article is surely on target: Most of the folks who want iPods have them, and it’s going to get harder and harder for Apple to come up with new models that make for tempting upgrades. For instance, I can’t imagine that many owners of third-generation iPods Nano have felt much of an urge to splurge on the fourth-generation version.
In that light, it makes sense that the iPod Touch is in short supply–at Amazon, at least–since it’s a relatively recent model that’s a great leap forward in many respects compared to the classic models, the Nano, and the Shuffle. (Anecdotally, the Touch seems to be one of Apple’s most-loved products–everyone I know who has one adores it, which is not something you can say about the iPhone.)
Long term, Apple is going to have to sell lots of iPhones–and to come up with other compelling gadgets–to make up for the fact that the world’s need for iPods is declining. Short term, it’ll be fascinating to see if there’s ever a new iPod that is, indeed, strikingly new rather than a modest refresh…
Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re one of the few regions of the country that’s got choice when it comes to cable TV and cable broadband. There’s a great big company that does it–Comcast, I think they’re called–but a little company called Astound is also in the game. I’m used to seeing Astound trucks around town, carrying this non-descript logo:
But I just saw one of the company’s trucks zip by, and it carried an all-new logo. Which looked like this:
I can’t imagine anyone seeing that and not thinking what I thought: “Good God, that looks almost exactly like the Amazon.com logo!”
The smiley-below-the-name idea is nearly identical. The typefaces are very close. The use of orange is similar. And the names of the two companies aren’t exactly radically different. They’re about as close as two logos can be without being the same logo.
In fact, they’re so eerily similar that I wondered if Amazon had bought Astound. Nope, as far as I can tell: Astound is part of something called WaveDivision Holdings.
I’m not a trademark attorney, but I do know this: If I were Amazon.com, and Astound’s logo isn’t somehow used under license, I’d be nonplussed. In fact, I might get all frowny over it:
Looking on the bright side, though, if the companies ever merge, the rebranding would be a cinch. Here, I’ll do it for ’em right here and now:
That was easy…
The first morning of demos here at DEMO has begun, and the second product unveiling of the day looks potentially cool: A company called Plastic Logic previewed an e-book reader that uses electronic paper technology similar to that of the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader–but in a larger, thinner form factor with a full touchscreen.
Plastic Logic says that unlike the Kindle and Sony, its product is aimed at folks reading business documents and magazines (the demo involved a copy of The Economist). The reader includes markup and annotation features that leverage the touchscreen, and the 8.5″-by-11″ screen size obviously makes sense both in terms of providing more real estate and mimicking the typical size of business documents printed on plain old paper.
I have and enjoy using a Kindle, but I’m still something of an electronic paper skeptic: The displays are monochrome, with gray text on a gray background, and there’s not enough grayscale to do decent photos. (I remain baffled by hype for electronic paper that touts it as looking like real paper or being wonderfully legible.) And while the Plastic Logic reader has some advantages over a notebook–it’s a third the weight of a MacBook Air and the electronic paper technology lets it run for days on one battery charge–I’m curious whether the business types that the company wants to cater to will buy and carry both a notebook and an electronic reader.
So far, I’ve only seen the Plastic reader from my seat in DEMO’s demo hall; I’m looking forward to seeing it up close. The company didn’t mention a price or a shipping date–actually, even the product name is TBD.