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Summary:

Amazon unleashed its second-generation Kindle device as expected today, and it doesn’t fail to please in the looks and specs department. There’s seven times more memory, advanced eInk capabilities for 16-color grayscale and faster page refreshing, plus an updated design that addresses some of the original […]

amazon-kindle-21Amazon unleashed its second-generation Kindle device as expected today, and it doesn’t fail to please in the looks and specs department. There’s seven times more memory, advanced eInk capabilities for 16-color grayscale and faster page refreshing, plus an updated design that addresses some of the original Kindle’s shortcomings. The device even reads text aloud. You can now pre-order the $359 device, which starts shipping on Feb. 24.

While I have no doubt the new device will attract some who passed on the first one, I still have to wonder if there’s room for a standalone device whose main strength is tied to a single wireless carrier. Based on sales numbers for eBook software on handsets, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there are more phones that can handle eBooks than there are Kindle devices. Of course, without actual sales numbers from Amazon, that’s educated conjecture on my part. However, reports from last October pointed to 395,000 downloads for Stanza, which is just one of several eBook applications for phones. (The Telegraph cites estimates that Amazon sold 500,000 Kindle devices in 2008.)

Sales numbers aside, do consumers really want to carry another device for reading when they can read on a device they’re already carrying, such as phone or notebook? I’ll grant that the reading experience on a Kindle is better than on a handset, but it’s impossible to read a book when you’re not at home and your Kindle is. More often than not, consumers have a multi-purpose handset or computer with them.

Then there’s that “main strength” I alluded to earlier. With the Kindle 2, Amazon has stuck with Sprint’s EVDO service, known as Whispernet. If you don’t have Sprint 3G coverage in your area, you won’t be buying books without wires. For that very reason, I’m surprised the Kindle 2 didn’t incorporate Wi-Fi. In contrast, most phones have Wi-Fi access, as well as 2G/3G, so buying books online is a breeze. This also means that the Kindle is a U.S.-only device for now, which further limits the overall appeal.

The real money for Amazon is in the sales content, and that’s the truly desirable feature here. They know it, too, because they announced at this morning’s launch event that 10 percent of all book sales are now eBook titles. The standalone Kindle is obviously the main driver boosting that number, but I don’t believe it will continue to be the sole driver. Neither does Amazon, based on this excerpt from today’s Kindle press release (emphasis mine):

Amazon’s new “Whispersync” technology automatically syncs Kindle 2 and the original Kindle, which makes transitioning to the new Kindle 2 or using both devices easy for customers. Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future.”

Unless Amazon plans to offer several reading devices, which I doubt, it seems to know that its content must be on the hundreds of millions of non-Kindles out there in the future.

  1. Stanza has actually been downloaded a lot more: 1.2 million, according to http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/06/cyber-books-rekindle-interest-in-reading/

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  2. Being a current Kindle owner, I’m not sure I agree that there’s no room for a standalone device for ebooks. I’m not sure if I represent most people, but I do most of my reading at home or on vacation. In either case, the Kindle device is plenty convenient enough. Almost any title I want to read is available, the device is pretty light and easy to stuff in a backpack or briefcase, and the reading experience is really good (doesn’t strain my eyes, feels like i’m holding a real book). In contrast, reading on my notebook is terrible (think about how hot that thing gets when you’re trying to read in bed), and reading on my iphone is not too bad, but difficult to maintain for a long time (eye strain, battery drain, screen size, etc…). Ultimately, these devices are designed for different purposes and there are very specific things you need to have a comfortable book reading experience. I’m assuming a lot will change in the next several years, but I imagine that the market for these devices has a decent amount of time to grow and mature… For ebooks in general, not having tons of paper books cluttering my house is value enough. ;)

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  3. Om is correct. There will be no room for a stand-alone book reading device. In short order netbooks/mini-notebooks will become even smaller and lighter, pocketable even, after folding 4 ways. They will have hybrid traditional backlit color displays + e-ink technology, or maybe just newer OLED displays. In fact there will soon come a time when there will be no room for any stand-alone single purpose electronic device. We will have an all-in-one pocket sized fold-out expandable computing/communication/media device.

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  4. Screen size.

    Full sunlight display.

    Battery life.

    There’s a market there.

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  5. [...] onwards. Kindle 2 lacks Wi-Fi though and works on the Sprint network. A interesting debate is one whether Kindle would stand alone with most consumers preferring single mobile devices that can take care of all their portable [...]

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  6. >>”Then there’s that “main strength” I alluded to earlier. With the Kindle 2, Amazon has stuck with Sprint’s EVDO service, known as Whispernet. If you don’t have Sprint 3G coverage in your area, you won’t be buying books without wires. For that very reason, I’m surprised the Kindle 2 didn’t incorporate Wi-Fi. In contrast, most phones have Wi-Fi access, as well as 2G/3G, so buying books online is a breeze. This also means that the Kindle is a U.S.-only device for now, which further limits the overall appeal.”

    For use within the US, if you’re not going to have both I think it makes more sense to have Whispernet as it is available nearly everywhere and Wi-Fi is not nearly as available. For less advanced users, there’s also no connection setup or changing hotspots, which is a major boost in usability.

    Use outside the US won’t be as big of a concern until they can work out distribution rights anyways, so it wouldn’t matter if they had Wi-Fi or not in that case. From their FAQ:

    “At this time, we are unable to offer the Amazon Kindle and associated digital content from the Kindle Store to our international customers due to import/export laws and other restrictions.”

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  7. Well, “reading” is not done on the go. It is mostly done at leisure, while commuting in public transport/car pools, at night and so on. And for that, Kindle is just great.

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  8. Sachin Balagopalan Monday, February 9, 2009

    Yep you’re right … It’s really the content that will sustain and not the device itself … http://tinyurl.com/c5tj2h

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  9. I don’t understand this “either or” controversy. There are many market segments and no single device will ever fit them all. For example, elder people will more likely move to a kindle than youngest because single purpose devices tend to be simpler to use. Also, any person has (or should have) multiple contexts like working, traveling for business, relaxing at home, being on vacations. It is not the same to do a casual reading while you are waiting in the airport for a delayed flight than when you are on vacations in a beach (will you consider here a phone? No way) .

    In any case I think that a real killer device would be a phone with a foldable or rollable screen and a Kindle like reading experience.

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  10. Clearly Amazon will expand into other devices — but the market is currently disagreeing with you — both the old and new models have been sold out for some time. Sprint EVDO coverage may not be universal, but this Kindle/Amazon infrastructure (like iPod/iTunes was to music) is a major market driver for e-Books.

    I think you are overstating the benefits of a “one device to rule them all” approach. Just because you can read a book on your iPhone, Netbook, or Blackberry – it doesn’t mean that you would want to often.

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