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Summary:

Amazon Kindle could have a tough time competing with upcoming converged devices. Is that why they just bought a touchscreen company? I’m not sure that adding a touchscreen alone to the Kindle will help. What else might Amazon have planned? Perhaps a different device?

kindle-dx

When Amazon got into the hardware business with its original Kindle, some were skeptical that the company could deliver. What does an e-tailer know about designing hardware, right? Actually, that first design had a forgettable feature or two — the long next page button, for example. But in the end, Amazon delivered and then improved. Now there’s word that Amazon has bought a touchscreen company. Logically, one might assume that the Kindle 3 will include a touchscreen to assist with page navigation and perhaps to enter notes on the display. That can’t be all to expect and if it is, I’m not sure it’s enough.

For starters, touchscreens on e-book readers aren’t new. Sony has used one on its devices for well over a year, starting with the now discontinued PRS-700 that launched in October of 2008. As nice as having a touchscreen is, adding one didn’t make Sony the market leader in this space. While nobody seems to know the sales numbers, it’s a safe bet that Amazon already leads the pack in terms of e-book readers. The company did that — without a touchscreen — based on a wide variety of content, low prices, integrated wireless capability and ease of purchase. Will a touchscreen help? Probably, but again, I’m not sure it’s enough, so I think there has to be more in the works.

Now more than ever, the Kindle has to do battle against other devices that can also display e-books yet do so much more. I’m not arguing that the reading experience on a traditional LCD rivals that of the Kindle for long periods of time — I use my Kindle 2 daily because I can read for hours on it. Instead, I’m arguing that if a feature is considered “good enough” for most consumers, they can live with it in a converged device. Integrated cameras in cellular phones is a good historical example. Given the choice, most folks would certainly use a higher-quality dedicated camera over a lower-resolution integrated one with lower quality optics. For basic needs, though, that integrated cell phone camera that’s always with you is often “good enough.” And I only have to look at our recent web survey to understand if e-book capabilities are appealing in a converged web tablet. Over 1,000 of you participated in the survey and a whopping 85 percent said that e-book capabilities were either important or very important.

I don’t believe that Amazon thinks simply adding a touchscreen alone to its Kindle line will compete well with devices that are coming down the pike. The reading experience is definitely an advantage, but can it trump slates and handhelds that can do more of what people want to do on a daily basis? I’ve already personally considered selling my Kindle 2 and my iPhone in favor of an iPad for this very reason. I’m far from making up my mind on that — it’s just a passing thought that I won’t revisit until I can actually use an iPad. But it comes down to device convergence for me. I won’t accept a converged device if key features I need are less than mediocre. If they’re “good enough” and I can gain extra useful features though — that’s a different story. So I wonder what else Amazon has planned for its touchscreen startup purchase in the way of future Kindles — could they, too become web tablets with application stores?

Of course, I’m predicating my whole thought process on Amazon adding a touchscreen to the Kindle. There’s another interesting possibility, however. I’ve noted in the past that Amazon is missing a huge opportunity with its MP3 digital music store. More than any other company I can think of, it has the pieces in place to offer digital music storage in the cloud that can be streamed and cached as needed. If i’ts been working on this concept at all in the form of a portable music player, a touchscreen interface would be a nice touch, no? And while it’s easy to say that Amazon will never get into the portable media player hardware market, how many of us truly expected the Kindle from an online retailer? How many of you ever figured that Google would be selling phones, for that matter?

What’s your take on Amazon’s purchase of a touchscreen company? Do you think it’ll simply apply the technology to the next Kindle for e-book reading or will we see a new device with greater capabilities?

Related research from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Does Connectivity Have us Diverging from Convergence?

  1. Apple, for all it’s greatness has not put Dell out of business, nor has it put Nokia out of business. In the emerging slate market, it’s not going to put Amazon out of business. For every geek and high-flyer with iPads and iPhones, there are multiples of that in the younger demographic who need function but don’t have big bucks to spend. Nobody is going to build a better, more high quality multitouch slate for the consumer than Apple, but there is plenty of opportunity below the pricepoint of 500 bucks.

  2. I still think the glare, backlighting, and eye fatigue issues on any LCD/LED device are the bane of the consolidated devices. E-ink for long-term reading use is still the absolute winner.

    It’s a different market segment though. There are READERS and then there are MOBILITY users. The Kindle will satisfy the former while being too crippled for the latter, and backlit multipurpose devices will satisfy the latter but not the former.

    The iBooks app on the iPad, along with e-book apps like the PC Kindle app are great for those people who are out and about doing their mobility tasks, and oh by the way want to read for a half hour. For prolonged reading sessions though, the battery life and the screens on these devices make them far less usable than a Kindle.

    As far as touch on a ereader, I personally don’t think it’s needed. I have 3 Kindles – a 1st gen, a K2, and a DX. Navigation is is perfectly usable without touch, and the physical keyboard has definite advantages for entering searches, titles, URLs, etc. (somewhat moot comparison since no other dedicated ereaders have internet browsing anyway).

    Sure, touchscreens are “cool”, but is there REALLY anything that a touchscreen would add to a Kindle that you cannot already do?

    Then there’s the added layer of plastic that a touchscreen adds that dminishes readibility.

    I’ll things considered I’ll pass.

    1. The visual display is important, but not from the perspective of computing. They could maintain an ePaper display, make it color and add computing functionality. The question is will it matter?

      Amazon is not a computing company per se. I am looking at AWS for supporting my efforts at social book buying in education (k-8). That is exactly what Amazon does well. As with the iPad, does the OS matter? Create something like Chrome using Firefox and revise the presentation mechanisms. Incorporate social channels.

      Leading the publishers down the iTMS path will simply result in the gutting of their channels.

  3. You really made me think. If Amazon really wanted to converge the market, they could try to sell books and music that go well with it. Put the new kindle with an mp3 player in it that sync music with book athmosphere. That’d be a total pleasure. Reading a fighting scene, you’d get a more tense music. Romantics moments could be associated with more romantic ambiances. It could even just have background audio. The scene is in a balroom? You can hear the music and the people chatting. wow.. the immersion would be really great.

  4. I don’t see the Kindle as a dedicated eReader going out of style. I, along with many others, would rather read books off of a simpler, eInk, rugged device that I’m not as affraid to throw around with my books, etc. But I do see another device category coming out of Amazon in the form of a multimedia tablet. It won’t replace the Kindle, but it’s definitly a wise choice on the part of Amazon who distributes music, video, and eBooks.

  5. something that has yet been fully appreciated is that both the kindle and the nook have built in 3G without monthly subscription costs. this could make them very attractive devices for subscription based apps.

    i think that this ‘free internet connection’ will end up being a very powerful thing well beyond ereader functionality and totally transform the way people look at the value of internet connections versus the services available on the internet.

    like broadcast TV and radio basic internet connections will eventually be free with additional paid services available through subscription.

  6. I have the Kindle DX (moved up from a Sony Reader) and read from just about every night. The screen is wonderful as everyone has said but where the device fails (for me) is when I want to move beyond reading.

    For example I’m reading a book on 50 marathons in 50 days, good book and all that but the author is talking about different antioxidants he uses and I wanted to lookup what they were (on the net). The Kindle does have a web browser and so I tried to wikipedia it. The response time and usability just don’t work well. So I grabbed my iPhone from the nightstand and went with that.

    This is why I think the iPad will work for me. That and the fact that my reading is limited to 30 minutes to an hour max.

    So the iPad will probably replace the Kindle (assuming it does pdf’s well) and that’s ok with me.

    I do look forward to reading the occasional graphic novel too. I tried a graphic novel on the DX that was supposed to specifically done for the larger screen and it was barely viewable.

    I do hope that the iBook app has folders, with 200+ books on my Kindle, the lack of folders is just painful.

    the good news is that I don’t think that Amazon will just roll over and that means better devices for all. The lack of competition has made them pretty slugish.

    1. Doesn’t the Kindle have some sort of sorting in its reader program?

      I use fbreader on an Android phone, and it even has a sorted by author style library. Nothing like Calibre, but it makes it easy to find a book… and I have around 350 books on the phone

  7. This debate is starting to get on my nerves. The ereader market is…….ready for it? DIFFERENT THAN THE COMPUTER GEEK MARKET. Accept the fact that people buying books don’t give a crap about 3G or apps. They want to read. They most likely have a…..ready for it? A freaking computer at home or they have a laptop. They aren’t geeks who need a device for every single possible computing need that may come up in the next three years. Reality is much different in the real world.

  8. this is true
    ………………..
    john
    KEWORD

  9. Patrick Fairlie Friday, February 5, 2010

    Interesting points. Im not sure the Kindle needs a touchscreen.You may be interested in reading my blog which covers the iPad vs. Kindle debate.

  10. One thing that perks my interest: why did Amazon buy the company? You can use their products without having to buy the company, so there should be reasons why they bought the company rather than just buying their products. For larger technology companies, small company acquisitions can be a shortcut to hiring a specific group of people (Cisco was famous for this) or to get exclusive access to certain technologies. Apple bought Fingerworks, a capacitive touch input company, several years before the iPhone; that seems to have been very productive for both those reasons. This points out something important: these are long term reasons. If you just want to slap a touchscreen onto something next year, buying a touchscreen company is a rather expensive way to do that.

    1. Maybe rather than pay to use the tech they just bought the company and also they restricted anyone else from using their tech.

  11. Dear Jeff Bezos,

    1.) License the webOS
    2.) Make a Super Kindle Tablet
    3.)…
    4.) Profit

  12. Actually Apple has already been surpassed by the likes of Samsung and others in terms of hardware quality and features. For example in late 2009, early 2010 they had phones that could do high definition which the iphone for example could not do, plus more features. It’s just that the apple cult continues to hold on to the ASSUMED notion that if it’s Apple, it must be the leader in technology. Not so. Instead Apple often just gives the APPEARANCE of being the leader and that’s their trick. Sometimes they are the leader, it’s true. But many other times they are not. They certainly aren’t the leader in the computer world either. I got an i7 based cpu, on PC, a year before apple even introduced it to their line. I could render and edit video faster than a $2500 mac pro, using similar adobe software etc. My PC only cost me $730. But again, it’s usually the kids and college crowd who have mommy”s and daddy’s money to spend, and are typically uninformed that go out and buy apple to meet status quo. I know someone who works in a phone store and he says that over 90% of iphone buyers have ZERO clue about how it works or what it can do. Instead it’s usually kids going in with their parents who want to make sure they will look hip on the street next week. I’m, rambling, but Apple is NOT the leader in technology. They are the leader in appearing to be the leader and hold that distinction.. However, some people catch on to this and that’s why other products sell.

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