Well, it didn’t exactly take anyone by surprise, but today Amazon officially unveiled the Kindle 2, the follow-up to their successful e-book reader. Virtually everything about it was leaked, including actual photos of the device, so the announcement didn’t exactly shake the tech world to its foundations, but it does raise some interesting questions and possibilities for Apple (s aapl), who competes with Amazon (s amzn) in at least one arena, though not yet really in this one.
The new device brings a lot of improvements over the previous model, including more battery life, an incredibly sleek, much thinner design, and better rendering of images. It also brings an experimental text-to-speech feature to the table that enables the device to read aloud, 2GB of internal storage, and a new sync feature that allows you to read on your original Kindle, and then switch to the Kindle 2 without losing your place. This feature is also supposed to support other devices in future.
All of this is interesting, but what does it have to do with Apple? If you ask Apple, they might coyly answer “Nothing.” But if you ask Amazon, I’ll bet that if they’re being honest, they’ll say they’re giving a lot of thought to Apple with the Kindle 2. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos even noted that the Kindle 2 was much thinner than the iPhone during the launch event.
Consider the recent success of the iPhone and iPod touch as e-book reading devices. In fact, the iPhone recently garnered press for surpassing Amazon’s original Kindle in popularity in that category. To me, that sounds an awful lot like competition. And what’s really frightening, from Amazon’s perspective, is that Apple isn’t even actively trying to lock up that market, yet they’re making significant headway.
I think that’s probably why the Kindle 2 has so many feature improvements over the original. Without the advent of the iPhone’s success via apps like Stanza, we might have seen a very different Kindle 2, one that improved on physical design and usability, but not necessarily one that includes features the iPhone lacks like text-to-speech and the new syncing feature.
Don’t think that Apple hasn’t noticed the success of their device as a book reader, even if they didn’t plan on marketing it that way. In fact, I suspect that if they are working on a larger format iPod touch, or a tablet-type device, it’s safe to say that they’ll play up that angle and even offer an official, integrated solution that will definitely give the Kindle a run for its money. An iTunes e-book category would then be a perfect tie-in.
It may seem like a far-fetched prediction, but there’s no way Apple can look at the success of Stanza on the iPhone and not imagine ways they might more directly capitalize. And if they’re already working on a larger-format device, there’s no good reason not to challenge Amazon.