Will Amazon update the Kindle DX?

The Amazon Kindle DX: an iPad-sized eInk screen.

Looks like Amazon is going to have a number of new Kindle models, including next-generation versions of the Kindle Fire in both 7 and 10 inch versions, and also an updated Kindle Touch that incorporates screen illumination (for parity with the new Nook version that came out a few months ago). Amazon is even rumored to be working on a Kindle phone. But the Kindle DX (with a 10 inch screen) is still stuck in its previous-generation, overpriced ghetto. You can buy a DX today but you’re getting the older version of the eInk screen, not the new one with faster refresh times and better contrast on the latest eInk Kindles. And you’re paying a monstrously inflated price reminiscent of the first-generation Kindle hardware. The DX doesn’t even have the same software as it’s smaller brethren, including the advanced PDF support. For these reasons the DX is basically a dinosaur that has been unchanged for almost 3 years. One of the reasons I held out for so long in buying a Kindle of my own is because I kept hoping for a DX refresh, but they still haven’t even discounted the aging hardware.

I would still buy the old DX if they dropped the price in half. And if they came out with a new version, I’d find it compelling at the same price point it is now – imagine how amazing a Kindle DX Touch would be? It would be smaller, lighter, thinner than an iPad 3 and would have 100 times the battery life. It would be a much more natural platform for reading digital newspapers and magazines. And we can dream even bigger: what if the DX had a more advanced touch screen to allow note-taking with a stylus? Suddenly it would be more compelling than an iPad for hundreds of thousands of students. In fact given the cheaper hardware and longer battery life, a note-taking DX would be a real game-changer.

my @AmazonKindle Touch: well worth the wait

I’ve wanted a Kindle since version 2.0, and it’s hard to imagine that these devices were several hundred dollars. At long last, I’ve joined the club, with this little beauty:

my Kindle Touch WiFi

With a retail price of $99 it literally is almost a no-brainer now. Especially since buying a hardware Kindle gets you access to the Kindle Lending Library (assuming you are an Amazon Prime customer) which lets you read one book a month for free. I’m working my way through The Hunger Games now.

In addition, public libraries have ebook lending programs that work just like regular borrowing (though like physical books, you have to put a hold on the popular ones and wait a while). And of course there is Project Gutenberg and the vast public domain. I’m not averse to buying books but the same rules in my mind apply to buying a ebook as apply to buying a physical one: unless it’s a must-read, I can wait to borrow it from my library. The fact that the library lending model extends to ebooks’ domain is just pure unadulterated awesome. But if there’s something I really want to read, I can wait a month and get it via Amazon’s program, so that’s an advantage over the physical realm.

Of course, with the recent news that the Department of Justice is going after Apple and the big-name publishers for price-fixing collusion on ebooks, the price of ebooks will likely drop significantly at Amazon. The first book of The Hunger Games trilogy is already marked down to $5 (though the sequels are higher). The omnibus collection of the Game of Thrones books still says “price set by the publisher” at $29.99 which is less than $8/book, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that drops in the next week to $25 as well.

It’s a good time to own a Kindle. I have the same feeling of loyalty towards the Amazon ecosystem as most Apple stalwarts do theirs.

Kindle for the Web

J complains that the Mac version of Kindle is not exactly stable:

The Kindle for Mac application is crap. Not in the sense of “limited functionality and poor UI” (although those are true, too), but in a more serious “corrupts user identity every time it does its (weekly?) auto-update”. I had originally thought the problem was with the version available in the Mac App Store (which, thanks to Apple, is much, much older), but no, the direct download from Amazon does it as well.

I’m guessing that Amazon is starting to wean itself from Apple given that there’s the issue of in-app purchasing hanging over their heads. I’m not really sure if there wll even BE a Kindle version in the App Store in two months, esp if Apple sticks to the June 30th deadline for in-app compliance.

Even if Amazon and Apple divorce, iOS/OSX users will eventually be able to use the web-based version of Kindle though. I haven’t used it yet, it’s still in beta, but it should be available soon. At such point I would expect Amazon to dump a lot of dev resources into the web version as well to keep people from jumping ship to ibooks.

The aPad – Amazon’s imminent android tablet and iPad killer

Look, it’s basically obvious – Amazon’s new Android Appstore is the precursor to Amazon launching a full-fledged Android tablet of its own. And, true to the character of the kindle, it’s going to be cheaper than other tablets, won’t be packed with features like gyroscopes and cameras, and will probably use a Mirasol color display that is just as readable outdoors as e-Ink and can support video.

This inevitable Amazon tablet, which I am dubbing the “aPad”, will allow complete vertical content management just like Apple does with iTunes, since Amazon also sells movies, music and now apps – but Amazon has a bigger customer base, and also has that one-click patent everyone loved to hate. Also, the appstore even lets you test-drive apps from right in the web browser.

No wonder Apple is scared sh#$&less and is suing Amazon over the name and trying to boot Kindle from iOS.

I cannot wait.

UPDATE: On facebook, a dear friend (and Apple zealot, in a good way 🙂 comments:

…just like the android phones killed the iPhone! …wait..

Now, let me assert and concede that the iPhone is probably the finest phone in existence. And frankly I don’t think that there will ever be a iPhone killer. It should be noted however that the definition of “killer” is rather loose – Android is indeed eating the iPhone’s lunch with respect to market share, for example. But user experience? I’ve never used Android, so I can’t comment, but we are an iPod Touch 4, iPhone 4, and iPad 1 family. I personally use a blackberry because I am a keyboard guy, and the bberry approaches Thinkpad transcendence in that regard. At any rate, I know and use iOS and no one is going to beat iPhone on that field, not for a long time.

But a tablet is a different matter. iPad certainly opened the door, but the iPad is still a flawed device in a fundamental way: it’s not even remotely “post-PC” as Apple pretends it to be. Without a PC the iPad is unusable. Without iTunes the iPad is closed. Only a technology company with equal vertical integration of a content ecosystem, like Amazon, can match the iPad. Here’s your basic task: decide you want to watch a certain movie, get it on your tablet, and watch it on the train during your commute. How can you do that on Android right now? Only Amazon and Apple can make that happen.

But where Amazon has the advantage is that it sells un-DRMed MP3s for music, permits video downloads as separate files, and (this is where the Andoid advantage comes in, which is irrelevant on a phone platform) supports industry standards for content. So you have the best of all worlds.

Don’t get me wrong – the iPad won’t die after being killed. But for the average family, the aPad will simply be a better value – half the cost, half the weight, and none of the hassles. For surfing the web, parity; for watching TV and video, advantage.

I think Apple’s true genius device is the iPod Touch. No one has anything like it. and the iPhone is king. But the iPad is a niche product, like netbooks were – and Apple has left a huge opening for Amazon to exploit by making it such a closed ecosystem.

iPad vs Kindle – no contest

The quintessential question – buy an iPad or a Kindle? – is rather glibly answered by Mark Jaquith here: buy both.

Well, that’s what you’d expect an iPad owner to say, because they are the sort that can afford to blow $500 on an oversized iPod (the new 4th generation version of which is, as even Jobs himself conceded, basically iPhone 4 without the flawed phone or exorbitant monthly expenses).

But Jaquith also makes a pretty solid case on the philosophical merits for one of the devices over the other. It’s implicit, but pretty much impossible to deny which device is superior, from this:

With the Kindle, you’re becoming absorbed in a story for an hour or more at a time. You can read in bed, right before you go to sleep, without worrying that it will rile you up. To the contrary, the Kindle relaxes you. You might even take it outside to the pool or to the hammock. Flight attendants will chastise the iPhone-using passenger next to you as the plane descends for landing; but you, the gentle Kindle user, she’ll merely touch on the shoulder and tell you with a smile to make sure your seatbelt is securely fastened.

The iPad wakes you up. BAM! Here’s the news, with pictures and video. TWEET! Here’s the torrential banality of Twitter to distract you from something (or everything) important. TWEET! Here’s the same exclamation used again because you’re paying the insanely addictive Angry Birds game. ZAP! Here’s you firing off an e-mail over your morning coffee.

I’ve never found myself struggling which to pick, much in the same way that nobody is ever torn between having tea and going sky diving. They are different devices, for different purposes. And that’s a good thing in the case of the Kindle. There is something almost drug-like about having a device that can do anything. It’s hard to turn off that ability. With the Kindle, you won’t be thinking about increasing your Fruit Ninja high score, or frantically checking and re-checking your e-mail. You’ll be in the only state that is appropriate when reading a book: completely lost in it.

And the iPad? It lets you live your soul crushing, hyper connected, vanity searching, e-mail enslaved life in any room of the house, instead of being planted in a desk chair in a darkened basement. And it has two other things going for it: it’s easy to set it down and rejoin the world, and sometimes you’ll lose it in a stack of mail for a day and be forced to do something edifying instead.

I just bought an iPod Touch 4th Gen because my kids took my 3rd Gen away from me. I intend to use it entirely for two things: Skype and Facetime with my iPhone-4-totin’ wife. For everything else, I have my blackberry – and if I really want to play Angry Birds, I can ask my kids’ permission.

iPad? No thanks – here’s the four gadgets I really want

I admire the iPad. It’s a marvel of engineering and all things geek service. In fact, Netflix and Kindle are probably the killer apps for obvious reasons of color and viewing size. But technolust aside, it doesn’t replace any of the screens I use on a regular basis: my television, my phone, my PC, and my portable entertainment device(s). And at $500, for vastly reduced functionality relative to a comparably-priced netbook, it’s purely a status symbol and luxury item rather than a genuine productivity tool or primary entertainment device. (Plus, I hear the wi-fi doesn’t work so well…)

Steve Jobs’ ambitions aside, this is actually a great year for the Four Screens. Here’s my wish list of upgraded versions of each.


Samsung HDTV
Samsung 42inch 720p HDTV for under $600
This year or early next we will upgrade to an HDTV, with DVR. The prices are fast approaching the $100/inch mark which means a 50″ plasma will cost the same as an iPad by the end of the year!

We already have our Netflix disc for Wii and a DVD player, the latter of which also supports some digital formats on USB. I’ll expand my video file format options with a Roku or popbox or equivalent at some point, too. Virtually all my video is now consumed on my TV, instead of my PC, and that will reach 100% soon. If I’m sitting on the couch, would I rather be watching the big screen or staring at an iPad? And which is better for family viewing?

2. Sprint Evo 4G Smartphone

Sprint Evo 4G
The Sprint Evo 4G
Right now I’m using an ancient flip phone on Sprint. My renewal discount is coming up this month, and I’d previously been torn as to whether to go Palm Pre, a Blackberry, or an Android phone. None of the options really excited me, until I recently heard about Sprint’s Evo 4G coming out this summer. It’s magnificent. We don’t have WiMax in Madison but it’s available in Chicago and Houston, where most of our family resides, so I expect to get some use out of it. But even on the 3G network, this thing is going to be amazing. And it’s Android, so no Apple heavy hand dictating what apps are allowed to run and which aren’t – I’ll be running Skype, Google Voice, and the ubiquitous social networking apps from day one.

3. Pine Trail / Ion 2 netbook

Asus 1201PN
Asus 1201PN - Pine Trail + Ion 2 (Optimus)
My primary PC at home is still my trusty Thinkpad T42, and I have a second homebuilt machine for the kids and my Warcraft addiction. But the PC I use when I’m out of the house is my stalwart little Asus EEE 901. It’s showing it’s age, though, and given that the latest batch of Atom 2 netbooks can actually play WoW, I’m definitely ready to upgrade. The Ion 2 chipset is essential, however, because it allows for switching between dedicated graphic or integrated graphics on the fly, preserving battery life without sacrificing performance. My only concern is that it might be hard to find one with an SSD – but that’s ok, I can always upgrade, as SSDs are also getting cheaper and cheaper with time. True, SSDs are lower capacity, but I’ve been doing just fine with an 8GB drive on my EEE. I’ll manage 🙂

Its clear why Apple didnt create a netbook – they dont want a low-margin product. The iPad is their attempt to displace the netbook market – Mossberg is buying it hook, line and sinker – but you just cant do things on an iPad that you can on a netbook, and never will. Including writing, coding, Skype, or video chat (at least until version 2, anyway).

4. Kindle 3

Amazon Kindle 2
Technically the last category of screen, “portable entertainment”, is a multi-device option. We have an iPod Touch, an IPod nano, and a Nintendo DS Lite. All of these are primarily used by my kids, of course – I use the iPod Touch for Skype at work, and the Nano while working out on our home elliptical, but other than that I dont really do much media consumption. I expect that will change with my new smartphone, but I am also ready to go Kindle when Amazon makes it’s inevitable response to the iPad challenge. To be honest, I still would prefer a Kindle 2 to an iPad, because e-ink is frankly superior for reading under any lighting condition – especially outside. And at half the cost, it’s a no-brainer, despite being a niche device. But let’s see what goodies Amazon packs into the new version – touch screen? color e-ink? I’d pay up to $300 for it, which is still 60% cheaper. It’s worth noting that Amazon’s post-iPad strategy is still laden with profit opportunities, which benefit me as a consumer more than buying into iPad’s closed ecosystem.

Overall, the cost for all these goodies? HDTV: $500, Evo 4G phone: $200 (estimated, including 2 year contract renewal), netbook: $500, Kindle 3: $300. That’s a total of $1500 – if the iPad could replace all of this functionality on a single screen then I’d be interested in paying $1000 for it. But instead, the iPad is completely redundant with these screens and thus costs me an extra $500 on top of that. I’m looking forward to upgrading my toys this next year, and while no one is going to notice my geek chic in public, at least I wont be sacrificing any functionality or convenience.

Then again, what do I know? Maybe the iPad really is the Next Big Thing. “Instead of holding a MOUSE, you’re holding MAGIC.” who can argue with that? 😛

Will the Apple tablet be a Kindle killer?

Apple’s announcement today of it’s new iPad tablet system (alas, not named Newton 2), running iPhone OS and featuring a 10″ multi-touch screen – doesn’t strike me as the Kindle killer that everyone is making it out to be. Yes, it will definitely be an ebook reader and will have licensing agreements with textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill and the behemoth book chain Barnes and Noble. But at a price probably around $1000, it will be four times as expensive as the Kindle, and despite the glorious full color multi-touch screen, will still not be as easy to read as elecctronic ink technology.

The price point matters – iPhone and iPod dominate their respective segments, but only because they provide tremendous functionality and design at the same price point as their competitors. Meanwhile, Mac computers remain relegated to niche market share, because they are such a poor value. The Mac OS operating system is innovative but for fundamental computing tasks – office work and online – most users are OS agnostic at best (Word is Word; Gmail is Gmail) and biased towards what they know (ie, Windows).

For the iPad to compete against Kindle – which has a huge marketshare lead and truly is to books what the iPod was to music, despite e-readers from Sony being around for years – it needs to compete on price and functionality. And there’s no way that the average person is going to be willing to read a 400-page book on an LCD screen.

I think Apple knows this, which is why it is courting the textbook market, the gaming market, and also putting iPhone OS on the device to keep it compatible with the universe of apps from the App Store. These add value to the device in the sense that they keep it a general-task device and not a single-purpose one. But in doing so they are competing against their own products – I bought an iPod Touch myself for less than $200 and I can run any app on it that the iPad will, and most are designed for a small screen so what’s the advantage of 10 inches? And why pay 4x the cost? Conversely why spend $1000 for a iSlate when you can drop a few hundred more and get a full-featured macbook? Or spend the same amount of money and buy a full-featured Windows laptop? Or spend half and get a netbook running Chrome OS, or a new Pine Trail netbook which can play real games like Warcraft?

Textbooks and other digital documents can certainly be made more innovative and hyperlinked and interactive on the iPad, but that media revolution will not be confined to Apple’s garden. And it’s a guarantee that Kindle v3.0 is going to incorporate color e-ink and a touch interface (though probably not multi-touch). Any new innovations in content delivery and integrating media and text will be just as exploitable by laptops and netbooks in particular.

And there are amazing new display technologies coming out – including color e-ink and hybrid CD screens, which will let other manufacturers build devices for ebook reading and media consumption at a fraction of the cost of what Apple can. I think that Apple has learned the wrong lesson from it’s success with iPod and iPhone and will end up doing everything poorly rather than a few things well.

UPDATE: Steve jobs dismisses netbooks, saying a netbook is “not better at anything! It’s just cheaper. But it’s not better at anything.” Shows how little he understands about netbooks. And he claims the iPad’s on-screen virtual keyboard is a “dream to type on” – yeah, right.

Kindle gets cheaper, again

Good grief, Amazon just dropped the price of the Kindle 2.0 by another 40 bucks! New price: $259. And they are introducing a GSM-enabled version for only $20 more so you can download books worldwide, not just in the US. This is unbelievably aggressive, and probably partly motivated by Sony’s recent refresh of its own ebook line.

I still think that the Kindle DX is the one I want, though – the better PDF support is critical for me. But with the price drop on the mainstream Kindle, I am even less likely to buy a DX now; the price on the DX has to come down sooner or later. The only reason I need PDF support is because I will use the Kindle heavily for my academic journal reading; if not for that I’d probably have bought the Kindle the last time it dropped in price.. and be cursing about it now.

Of course, I’ve also been doing some actual reading of late, and am now a few hundred pages into Quicksilver. I can easily see how owning a Kindle would accelerate this habit. I am genuinely conflicted at night between WoW and these analog pursuits!

the Asus eee-book reader

I’ve swooned over the Kindle before, but still haven’t found myself willing to take the plunge. Sony has been going after Amazon’s Kindle with sexy new versions of its own e-book reader, but the main problem with the ebook market in general is that the readers are still just too expensive, not to mention stuck in a technology slow-lane with black and white text, no color support, and the non-intuitive physical form factor of a single slab.

Enter ASUS with the first real innovation we have seen in this market – a dual-pane reader with color screens, genuine computing/web surfing abilities, and most importantly a low price:

ASUS eeebook
ASUS eeebook
The world of ebooks is about to start a new chapter with the arrival of the cheapest digital reader on the market. Asus, one of the world’s biggest consumer electronics businesses, confirmed last week that it is planning to shake up the market in the same way it did when it launched the first netbook — the low-cost alternative to the laptop.

(…) Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the internet.

The ability to read on one page and surf on the other is a big deal – imagine having Wikipedia, Google and Evernote handy while reading a book! You could really enhance your comprehension and note-taking that way, all on the same self-contained device. The key to success here is the connectivity, with both WiFi and 3G essential. ASUS is poised to transform the ebook reader market the same way they did the notebook market with the introduction of the EEE PC. It’s about time.