The latest in an unending series of rumors about Apple’s supposedly devious plans to take everybody else out of the tablet market no matter the cost has recently popped up via iMore. Apparently the Kindle Fire is doing far too well and it will be necessary for Apple to step in and eliminate the competition before the holiday sales numbers have a chance to solidify into a real presence in the tablet market. This report indicates that the new iPad Mini will be available in October of 2012 if all goes well, along with yet another iteration of the iPhone.
Naturally, the speculation makes a number of rather impressive claims. The iPad Mini will sport a 7.85” Retina Display, for example. It will also be priced between $200 and $250. Basically it is a scaled down version of the iPad 3 that just happens to be half the price of the cheapest version of that tablet. The price drop can apparently be accounted for at least in part by the reduction of on-board storage space to 8GB.
Once again, despite how seriously this rumor is being taken at the moment by various sources, there is a major flaw in it. None of the details make sense.
The most obvious point is the pricing. In previous iPad offerings, Apple has never once accepted less than a 50% profit margin on every sale. The newest version, the iPad 3, is estimated to cost about $310 to manufacture (16GB, 4G Model). This makes it the least profitable iPad for Apple so far at an estimated 51%. Even if we assume there to be a relatively large decrease in production costs as they move from a 10” display to a 7”, there is no real way that the company could hope to get even a 25% margin out of a $200 iPad Mini. The Kindle Fire is only viable at that price because of Amazon’s heavy emphasis on media sales after the purchase.
There is also the issue of OS fragmentation. Regardless of whether the proposed device would be able to maintain the iPad’s 2048 x 1536 resolution, the decreased size would change the way that users interact with their device and therefore the way designers create their interfaces. It would introduce a new tier of apps that would have to be directly targeting the Mini. Coming into what will likely be a major competition with Microsoft’s Windows 8, Apple will not want to be dealing with a complete refresh of their store this fall.
There are plenty of other reasons that we can expect no iPad Mini. It would cannibalize iPod Touch sales. It would indicate that Apple was far more concerned about the Kindle Fire than the numbers come close to justifying. The list goes on. Basically, the chances of such a product hitting shelves is slim at best. Even if it happens, the final specs are certain to look nothing like what sites like iMore indicate unless the price is totally different from what they are expecting. The Kindle Fire will continue to be the dominant $200 tablet for a while longer and Apple will continue to be disinterested.
Barnes & Noble has finally begun to spin off their Nook brand into its own subsidiary company and Microsoft has jumped at the opportunity to be a major part of that effort. According to an announcement released jointly this Monday, the software giant will be investing $300 Million into the Nook business thereby acquiring 17.6% equity stake. This could be bad news for Amazon’s Kindle line, which is already facing some of its toughest competition to date in the realm of eReading thanks to the new Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight.
Making things even more pleasant for B&N, this arrangement will also involve the settlement of Microsoft’s ongoing patent litigation the bookseller over certain aspects of the Nook’s design. Microsoft will now be picking up royalties for all Nook products, but in the end this may result in significant savings compared to the cost of legal defense. Whether or not that is the case, and admittedly I’m not a lawyer so it is purely speculative, this partnership will open up some major new opportunities for advancing the Nook.
In the immediate future we can expect a Nook app for Windows 8. This will be an important development for both companies as Microsoft is betting big on the potential for tablets using their new OS while Barnes & Noble will need to be ready for the next major push in operating systems. The nature of the Metro UI that Windows 8 (and its ARM compatible offshoot Windows RT) uses will actually create an even better reading experience than existing Windows reading apps if done right.
More long-term, Microsoft has already alluded to an interest in using Windows 8 to gain a foothold in the eReader market. While this was mostly an offhanded remark at a recent event, and could therefore have been meant as a subtle emphasis on how adaptable their new operating system is, buying into as big a player in eReading as the Barnes & Noble Nook line is a fair indication that something more serious is going on.
In the face of this, Amazon has to be wondering what to do next with the Kindle line. While the Kindle Fire is coming out on top of every other Android tablet on the market today, their Android fork might not quite compare to a properly configured Windows 8 installation powering the next Nook Tablet. Nothing stops Amazon from following suit and licensing the new OS themselves, of course, but this would likely lose them the ability to completely control the user experience enjoyed under the existing system. Microsoft will certainly allow locked-down version of their software to circulate, but fragmenting the Metro UI is not going to happen.
This might end up being the first step in a major Android vs Windows 8 fight. The Kindle Fire holds the majority of non-iPad tablet users, but if a new Nook offered superior hardware and an operating system that shines when compared to Android without increasing the price significantly then the tables could turn. Amazon still has their content distribution and the tight integration that gives them the edge, but the next Kindle Fire might need to be especially impressive to keep consumer interest going.
It seems the rumor mills just won’t give up on the idea of a 7-8” iPad. We’ve been hearing rumors about the development of such a device for well over a year now that have yet to manifest. At this point having one announced would almost make me wonder whether it wasn’t a response to the popularity of the rumors rather than the rumors being a reflection of actual development. Either way, iPad fans are convinced that if and when such a tablet is released it will spell the end of the Kindle Fire.
Of course it is also being touted as Apple’s answer to the anticipated Windows 8 Tablet boom later this year. There is a very real impression that some people think all Apple needs to do is get this one last product to market to prevent anybody else from having the opportunity to break in. Unfortunately, the rumors don’t really explain why they would want to.
Depending on the source, we are talking about a 7”, 7.85”, or 8.1” iPad running at 1024 x 768. Essentially a scaled down version of the first two generations of the line. There is no explanation of how this will reduce prices enough to really make such an offering attractive. An iPad Mini would have to be scaled down in other ways as well. This would probably need to be more than just reduced battery life. We’re talking about a comparatively underpowered processor, reduced storage space, etc.
I won’t make the claim that this product will never appear. It feels that way a bit now though. Even if we assume, as many of these rumors do, that Apple made no effort to directly match price with the Kindle Fire and sold this smaller iPad for $299, it would mean the lowest profit margin they have taken to date. Every iPad being sold right now makes the company at least $200 profit, according to analysts. Apple is not a company who sells their hardware at a loss, as a rule.
Even if we do take the leap of faith and assume this happens, will it change things? The Kindle Fire is marketed to a completely different audience than the iPad. This might not, and probably will not, always be the case. For now we have to assume that Amazon is dedicated to developing the product as a means of ever-improving media consumption, though, and as such there is little need for the kind of versatility that the iPad manages.
Amazon would lose those customers who just want an iPad anyway but who are unwilling to spend enough money to pay for the larger, more expensive models. They are still going to be in a position to undercut Apple on the hardware prices due to the lack of reliance on device sale profit margins. This means that the customers who just want a smaller, cheaper tablet with access to a lot of features will still have a good chance of buying a Kindle Fire, or whatever the current model is called by the end of the year. An iPad Mini would upset the balance and be a big blow to the general Android Tablet market, but chances are good that the Kindle Fire could weather it. Somehow I still doubt we will have a chance to find out for sure.
While we recently learned that Amazon was planning something new with a front-lit version of the Kindle, Barnes & Noble has gone a step further and launched a lit Nook complete with release date. There’s no reason to think this is anything but a reaction to the leaked info regarding Amazon’s plans, but the fact that they already had a response prepared like this indicates a great deal of foresight. What was already quite possibly the best eReading hardware on the market will be the first to get upgraded for the next generation.
Those familiar with the Nook Simple Touch will also have a good impression of the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight. They are the same product, as the name might imply. GlowLight, Barnes & Noble’s solution to the problem of reading in poor lighting, has just been added into the existing model with minimal fuss. It doesn’t even get in the way of what have traditionally been the strengths of the un-lit eReader.
The new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight will still have the same E Ink screen that we’re used to. It will work as well as ever in direct sunlight and any other situation where reading from a paper book would be plausible. The difference now is that holding down the ‘n’ button on the Nook will turn on a set of LEDs along the sides of the display. This provides sufficient light for any situation while avoiding a drastic increase in battery drain.
This upgrade will add an additional $40 to the price tag of the Nook. It is likely more than worth the investment, though. You are getting all of the advantages of E Ink with the conveniences a standard LCD would provide, but supplied in such a way as to be fairly easy on the eyes even when the adjustable lighting is in use. That’s the sort of convenience you really can’t pass up in an eReader.
The Kindle product line is still my preference and the eReader line that I would recommend to anybody I knew personally. That is not so much a matter of hardware superiority at this point, though. If anything, it is a matter of hardware adequacy and highly superior back-end support to shore up the physical product by comparison. There is nothing wrong with the Kindle Touch, per se, but it also doesn’t come with any such compellingly interesting new features.
We know that Amazon will be releasing something similar to GlowLight. Chances are even good that now that B&N has set a May release date for the new Nook, a shiny new Kindle will appear by June. If circumstances surrounding the settlements in the DOJ price fixing investigation didn’t seem likely to offer Kindle owners some truly amazing advantages in the near future, though, this would be the time when Amazon needed to sweat a little over the competition’s superior offering.
After months of speculation and rumor about Amazon and Apple going head to head in an all-out Kindle Fire vs iPad 3 (or Mini, or HD) confrontation, we finally have all of the information we’ve been waiting for and it turns out that Apple isn’t addressing their “competition” in any significant way. This should really surprise nobody given the different user bases being served, but it is worth taking a look at what the new iPad can do and how well it does for the price.
The big distinguishing feature of the iPad is that, unlike the Kindle Fire, it is in many ways a computer alternative. There is little that you can’t do on one, aside from truly hardware intensive tasks, if you are motivated enough to use the touch screen. The newest iteration of the hardware line is no exception and does a fair amount to improve the overall experience even further. New features include the move to a Retina Display like that of the iPhone 4, a new A5X Dual Core Processor, one 5 Megapixel camera situated on the rear of the device, Full 1080p HD video recording, 4G LTE connectivity through both AT&T and Verizon, and dictation capabilities. A fair list that expands on what the iPad 2 already did well.
What does this mean for the Kindle Fire’s future? Honestly, practically nothing. This was not, contrary to rumors, a release that intended to kill the Kindle. As any side by side comparison has long since proved, the iPad already had a larger screen, cameras, a microphone, cellular connectivity, and more processing power. If no other factors were considered besides simple hardware performance then Apple wins the iPad vs Kindle Fire matchup every time. The fact that Apple couldn’t help but be aware of this only serves to illustrate that their widening the gap in hardware performance was directed elsewhere; most likely at heading off Microsoft by increasing momentum before the first Windows 8 Tablets start hitting stores later this year.
The biggest factor is still going to be the price for most consumers. For all its impressive power, the iPad 3 still runs at least $499 for the cheapest model with no 4G connection. Even the iPad 2, the cheapest version of which has been kept on at least temporarily at a discount to consumers, is twice the price of the Kindle Fire at $399. None of the major advantages that the Kindle offers in terms of size, weight, or affordability have been addressed. While you can’t say that any of those is universally acknowledged as the most important factor in tablet purchasing (the iPad is not suffering a bit by most accounts, nor does anything from Amazon seem to indicate that they were expected to be by now), they are the things that people take into account when deciding on a new device purchase. For the moment, these remain two completely different types of tablet. The iPad works as a functional PC alternative while the Kindle Fire is all about the consumption. The next big chance to change the equation won’t be until the details are announced for the upcoming Kindle Fire 2.
Until we see Windows 8 hitting shelves, the only real contenders in the tablet market are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS. As much as the BlackBerry PlayBook 2.0 does some great things, most of its newfound strength comes from being able to import Android content. Given the importance of Google’s place as the developer of Android, which while lagging behind iOS is still making rapid gains, it has struck many people as troubling that Amazon would take their software and cut them out of the loop entirely with the release of the Kindle Fire. Despite the fact that it’s not really against any rules, the breaking of that the most popular Android tablet ever from the Android Marketplace and other Google services comes up frequently in Kindle Fire reviews. Now we have reason to believe that Google has taken notice and may be willing to respond.
According to recent reports, Google will be releasing their own 7” $200 Kindle Fire competitor as early as early as 2nd Quarter this year. Information is still mostly speculation with regard to the specifics of this new tablet, but supposedly it will run Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, have a 7” 1280 x 800 display, and be introduced in an initial production run of 1.5 – 2 million units. For a new launch early in the year, that indicates fairly strong confidence in their product.
For once this may actually be a sufficiently strong product to beat out the competition. Google is in a position to control the entire ecosystem surrounding their device, much like Amazon with the Kindle Fire, but can draw on a much more significant pool of content when providing apps and such. This may be what it takes to approach the iPad in a meaningful way right off the bat. While the most obvious conflict being sought when releasing a 7” tablet will be the Google vs Kindle Fire matchup, Apple’s anticipated iPad 3 will be joining the fray as well with a smaller design that intrigues many potential customers.
All of Google’s more recent actions with regard to Android, from the tablet optimization to the automated policing of the Android Marketplace to remove malware and other malicious programs, come together to make this a far more appealing prospect than it could have been a year ago. The Kindle Fire has proven more than anything previously that there is room for more than one big name in the marketplace by overtaking even the most established competing Android devices in a matter of months and setting the new standard for tablet pricing.
At worst this rumored tablet would be something that other Android device developers could model their design on with confidence, knowing that Google is already designing with such a configuration in mind. At best, maybe even the Kindle Fire and iPad have something to look out for in the months to come. Until we see concrete details it’s hard to guess which competitor will be targeted directly, but it’s even harder to imagine that Google would settle for anything less than one of the big names in tablets.
Well, today Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) has unveiled the newcomer to their nook product line, the NOOKcolor. What has been generally anticipated as the latest round of one-upsmanship in the Kindle vs nook competition has taken an interesting turn, to say the least. People following the news have heard rumors about it for the past week and even seen a prematurely posted accessory sales page that only lasted a short while, but now we have some answers to the questions these rumors raised!
How will they pull off the color?
For the past week or so this has been the big one. Everybody was curious how, if the rumors that there would be a color touchscreen nook were true, B&N would manage things. There was speculation regarding those amazing Mirasol displays that act like eInk in a lot of ways but won’t be out until 2011. Sadly, nothing of the sort was in the works. I don’t think anybody really thought it would be, since it would mean missing the 2010 holiday season and the resultant revenue, but there was some hope at least. Instead, we’re getting an LCD on an eReader. I can only think of two possible reasons that they might have gone this route, ruling out a desire to cash in on the novelty as much as possible before pulling out of the eReader game.
One, their LCD is so altered by the addition of a lamination layer to reduce glare from both the back-light and outside light sources that it will revolutionize portable LCD technology in the short term while better technology becomes available. I honestly wouldn’t mind this much, however unlikely it is. I don’t like the fact that LCD displays eat up battery life so amazingly fast by comparison with eInk, but my main objection has always been eye strain. Reading for hours on a normal LCD hurts, especially when you have reason to do it regularly. That said, this one seems somewhat far-fetched. Until somebody has had some time with a NOOKcolor of their own though, not much can be said for sure.
Two, and far more likely in my opinion, this is intended to cater far more to the tablet fad that’s taking over the market at the moment than to have much to do with reading. I’m not going to deny the potential usefulness in grabbing kids books and cookbooks and the like, but does that really justify the extra expense and inferior reading display? Not really, but an app store just might. This leads into the next line of speculation answered.
What will it be able to do?
This point is in B&N’s favor, I’m sure, in spite of the loss of 3G access. Many nook owners have been somewhat disappointed in the lack of app development for the nook so far, given its Android platform and interesting potential. Short of rooting your eReader, however, the closest we’ve gotten to apps is sudoku and a web browser. Nice, but not really anything to write home about. the new NOOKcolor, though, will ship with Facebook and Twitter integration, a request feature for the popular LendMe setup to let your friends know you want their books, a Pandora Radio app, some degree of Microsoft Office compatibility, and even a new crossword puzzle game! Ok, so the crosswords aren’t a big selling point, the rest is cool. On top of that, there is to be a nook app store that they are now taking developers on for in order to maximize the potential for users. This is very cool, and means a lot in terms of long-term viability of the product.
How will it compare?
This is quite possibly the hardest question to answer. Mostly because B&N has set themselves up in an odd sort of in-between space. Yeah, they still want to be an eReader and are clearly highlighting features that match or exceed the Kindle as a selling point. At the same time, however, they also clearly want the option for some iPad-like functionality and diversity of purpose. So where do we make the (nook vs. iPad) comparison? I’d say we’ll have to wait for a chance at some head-to-head functionality tests after the first units ship before a real evaluation can be made. Right now it feels like a shot in the dark to try to beat Amazon to the punch on color eReaders and address the crowd who still see the iPad as a part of the eReader competition. The features are all there for books, of course, and the potential seems plentiful for app development, but the compromises in terms of price and technology make me wonder.
In short, it’s an odd situation. the NOOKcolor looks cool. It really does. Is it really an eReader anymore though? I’ll admit that color touchscreens seem to be the way of the future, but there seems to be a chance that Barnes & Noble jumped the gun here and put out their entry into the market before the available screen technology was ready for it. eReaders have been characterized by their amazing battery life and easy to read screen. It’s that combination that has set them apart. To throw that off is to take a gamble, in my opinion. I hope it does well as a tablet device, but the Kindle might have lost its biggest competition. I will, as always, caution people to avoid making too much of early speculation before the product even becomes available, but the indications are there and we can only do our best with the information we have available at the moment. Give it some thought. This might fill exactly the niche you’ve been looking forward to, personally, even if it isn’t what we might have expected.
A lot has been written on how Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad is not a Kindle-killer and I don’t believe it is either. However with all major eBook stores represented on iPad in the form of apps it would be unfair to say that it is without eReader capabilities. This review aims to measure these capabilities and see compare them against eInk based devices such as Amazon Kindle and Nook.
Given the fact some eBook selection at any store/device combo is still far from perfect, eBook selection is where iPad really rocks. There are many reading applications available for iPad that give you access to virtually any store that sells eBooks online:
Apple iPad eBook Reader Apps
Apple iBooks – Apple branded book reading application that primarily gets books for Apple iBookstore. It can display ePub and PDF files. The only solid data on number of titles I was able to find was projected 60,000 titles at the time of iPad launch in April 2010.
Amazon Kindle for iPad – one of the many Kindle apps (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, PC, Mac) gives you access to the same selection of books Kindle eBook reader does – currently 692,000+ titles plus 1,800,000 public domain books.
KOBO for iPad – ePub based application that gives you access books sold at kobobooks.com
Stanza for iPad – multipurpose eReader application that can get books from a number of sources and works with a number of formats.
GoodReader – it is actually more of a toolset rather than just eReader. I mainly use this app to download PDF, TXT and other files to my iPad directly rather than going via iTunes.
eBook Reader – Simple app that gives you access to a limited set of public domain books such as Beowulf, Mark Twain’s works etc. The selection isn’t great but it’s simple and easy to use.
Apple iBooks Review
iBooks was positioned as one of the major features of the iPad. Even before iPad was officially announced it was considered to be Kindle-killer and even a product of the year by some. While iBooks is nice, Kindle-killing didn’t come to pass as of yet.
First thing you see when you launch iBooks is bookshelf with one book on it – Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. The first thing you see when you open this book is color illustration. The second thing you see as you start paging though the book are nice, pleasant, naturally looking page flipping animations. They are detailed enough that you actually see faint text from the other side of the page. Pretty nice and it immediately conveys in a powerful way a simple point: “LCD is not eInk”. You may substitute “not” with “better” if you like.
Apple iPad iBooks Application
Apart from its flashiness, Apple iBooks has all the features good eReader application should have: selection of 6 fonts to choose from, multiple font sizes, search within a book, highlights and annotations, dictionary lookup, bookmarks, variable screen brightness and sepia options. When iPad is in landscape mode, iBooks automatically switches to a two page mode that for some irrational and aesthetic reason is very pleasing to my eye. In this mode iPad is just a notch smaller than a common paperback. In any reading mode pictures can be zoomed in to full screen.
Apple iPad iBooks Font Sizes
Another thing worth noting are Enhanced versions of some eBooks. These are books enriched with multimedia content such as audio recordings and video clips. A good example would be “Nixonland” by xxx that is enriched by newscasts and other video footage relevant to the book. Another example is “More Brothers Grimm Tales with video commentary. Nice and revolutionary as they are these books are few at the moment. Last time I looked I counted only 35.
Apple iPad iBooks Landscape and Multimedia
Although iBooks lacks text-to-speech functionality of Amazon Kindle it is somewhat replaced by VoiceOver that is generic accessibility feature of iPad. While it does read and provides accessibility I didn’t find this feature too useful because you have to manually click on each line of text in order for iPad to read it which is not convenient at all and punctuation is really messed up because sentence boundaries rarely coincide with line breaks.
Amazon Kindle App Review
Amazon Kindle for iPad was available almost immediately after iPad was released. Though it you can buy and read all books that are available for Kindle eReader. Although Kindle owners are used to seeing black-and-white books on their eInk screens, on iPad books that actually have color in them are shown in color.
Amazon Kindle for iPad
While the Kindle page flip animation is not as fancy as in iBooks, Amazon application offers a few features that Apple does not:
Apart from sepia option there is also “night mode” with text being displayed as white-on-black.
There is “back” button that allows you to retrace your steps though the book. iBooks can only go back once to the last location after navigating to table of contents.
Amazon Kindle for iPad: Sepia, Black, White Backgrounds
Customization options include 5 font sizes, 3 display modes (white, black and sepia) and variable brightness.
Kindle for iPad Font Sizes
You can download any of the books that you’ve already purchased to your Kindle account and you can buy new one through the Amazon store which is loaded in Safari browser.
Amazon has come out with their own equivalent of “Enhanced Versions” - “Kindle Edition with Audio/Video“. These are books that contain multimedia content that can be viewed on Kindle for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. Currently there are 115 such books available.
Nook for iPad Review
Nook also has application for iPad thus making all Barnes&Noble books available on the Apple tablet.
Barnes & Noble Nook for iPad
The app is a well written eBook reader. It offers more customization options that either iBooks or Kindle for iPad. There are five font sizes and five typefaces, four line spacing options, four margin settings and ability to turn full justification on or off. However what really sets the app apart from the rest is the ability to completely customize color palette and save it as a theme. For every book there are publisher presets that can be used or discarded.
Dictionary, google and wikipedia lookups are supported. So are highlights are annotations.
Kobo for iPad Review
Kobo app allows you to access content you’ve purchased in the Kobo bookstore.
Kobo for iPad
It offers customization options comparable to other eBook reader apps. However it lacks highlight, lookup and annotation support.
For some reason the book that I test purchased had words in ALL CAPS and centered text until I turned off “Kobo styling” option.
There are many other smaller eReader apps for iPad that potentially expand book selection even further. I’ll leave it up the reader to explore those.
Apple iPad Ergonomics
Weighing 26 oz, iPad is considerably heavier than Kindle 3 and even Kindle DX. Playing 8 hours of HD video on a single charge on a nice HD screen takes a lot of heavy components. Unfortunatly it makes it extremely uncomfortable to read with one hand or even with two hands for prolonged periods of time.
I’ve tried reading a book on iPad several nights in a row and constantly after about hour and a half of reading my hand would start getting numb.
iPad offers largest eBook selection because all major players in the industry released applications for it. Unfortunately reading these books for longer than 30 minutes is a very unpleasant experience. While it can display rich multimedia content it is dependent on daily battery charges unlike Kindle.
So if you like reading a lot – iPad will not be a substitute for a dedicated eInk-based eReader. I’d still pick Amazon Kindle or Nook to read books inth evening. I didn’t buy iPad for its book reading capability but for accessing web and rich app content on the go. The fact that I can peek into my Kindle books or better yet read a B&N or Kobo book that is not available on Kindle without having to buy the hardware is a major plus for me.
Here’s some bad news for Amazon and the Kindle. Best Buy is planning on selling the iRex and Sony Reader in their stores. Now not only will customers be able to see the eReaders physically on display, but many people will just come upon them out of happenstance.
This blog has made the point before that Amazon should sell the Kindle in more places. Best Buy is the perfect kind of place to sell eReaders to people who would normally not even think about them. Best Buy, after all, is not generally thought of as a destination for tech-savvy people. Their bread and butter customer is someone who comes in wanting a computer/tv/etc, but doesn’t know a lot about it. Now with the iRex and Sony Reader, people who would never normally be early adopters will hold the devices and have a sales rep walk them through the features. I wouldn’t be surprised if eReaders become a big holiday gift this year, even among those with no interest in gadgets.
According to the article, the iRex’s wireless will also be entirely paid for in the cost of the device. But, in a followup to Andry’s comments, it turns out that the iRex will not include web browsing functionality. So when they say the cost of wireless is included, they really mean the cost of downloading books that you are already paying for.
There’s a new Cool-er Reader coming, and it’s supposed to give Amazon a run for its money. According to the Mirror, the new device will not only have wireless, but also a full color screen. And possibly a touchscreen. All from a company that has made a profit selling budget eReaders.
Further details won’t be released until CES in January, but I have a feeling that any rumors surrounding the device are way overblown. If the new device is still in the budget range and does feature everything its supposed to, then it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a Kindle killer. But I’m not sure how Interead could possibly pack in more features than the Kindle and still beat the Kindle on price.
It is possible that Interead is planning something that isn’t an eInk device at all, but something with LCD. Of course, that would stretch the definition of eReader since the device would feel like a tablet PC with most its features missing. I could be wrong though, and it might be possible that Interead comes out with something that is a mind blowing success. Especially now that Coolerbooks has gained additional support from Google.
If Interead is planning a color eInk device, then Amazon may also have a color Kindle around the corner. Amazon has been waiting on color because the quality of color displays from E-Ink Corporation isn’t up to their standards. Since everyone is basically using the same E-Ink technology, if one company can do color others probably can too.
Steve Jobs had some harsh words to say about the Kindle, and eReaders in general, in a recent interview with David Pogue. Jobs had previously stated his view that eReaders weren’t a viable product, but this was before the success Amazon has had. Yet, even with the profit the Kindle has made, Jobs’ view is the same now as it has always been:
I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing … But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.
Jobs also goes on to imply that since Amazon doesn’t release exact sales figures, the Kindle hasn’t been as successful as people believe. Of course, this is just marketing bravado on the part of Jobs. Sure, there aren’t as many Kindles out there as iPods, but no one would truly believe that Amazon hasn’t benefited from the eReader market. Besides the devices themselves, Amazon takes a huge share of the profits from everything people buy to read on it (So huge that some publishers have started to complain).
It’s also pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that Jobs is hinting at the fabled Apple tablet. While still existing mainly in the form of rumor, the tablet is nonetheless expected to have a huge impact. Since its a portable device which will, among many other things, be able to read books, it’s expected to be the killer eReader device. Some have even gone so far as to preemptively call it the Kindle-killer or attempt to forecast its effects on Amazon’s sales.
Both Jobs’ statement and they hype around the tablet come down to the same question of design philosophy: dedicated vs general-purpose devices. While Jobs may be right that general-purpose devices have the long term advantage, the Kindle won’t be in any real danger unless the tablet can pull in enough customers from across the board. Someone who likes the idea of an eReader, but already bought a tablet for other reasons, will likely keep the tablet. Someone specifically shopping for a reader could still be swayed by the Kindle’s advantages, however.
Slate has an article about the best way to beat the Kindle in the eBook market. Their arguments are fairly compelling. They compare the eBook market to mp3 players, as both represented the transition from traditional media to a digital form. In terms of eReaders, the Kindle has the role of the iPod. Both devices broke out early in their respective markets due to a cleverly designed service and smart marketing. Since no competitor was ever able to touch the iPod, Amazon’s competitors need to figure out where Apple’s competitors went wrong.
The article comes away with 2 main suggestions:
1. “Beat the Kindle on features, not on price.” The iPod stayed ahead by continually reinventing itself. An eReader that completely dwarfed the Kindle in features would have a chance. Maybe. Except for…
2. “Service matters more than the device itself.” The Kindle beat the Sony Reader because it had the Kindle bookstore. Any competitor will have to beat the entire platform.
This is big news for both iRex and Barnes & Noble. News of the new iRex reader has been taken with a grain of salt, due to the company’s so-so track record. By gaining a huge library of books to back up their 3G capabilities, the new iRex reader gains some extra credence. But Barnes & Noble is an even bigger winner in this case. Their store is set up to more or less mimic the Kindle platform. Up until now, Barnes & Noble was betting on the Plastic Logic Reader to help them compete with Amazon. With the iRex reader, things are different now. Barnes & Noble is still competing with the Kindle, but instead of manufacturing their own device they are letting their customers choose from a handful of eReaders from competing companies.
If more readers are added to Barnes & Noble’s platform, they could prove successful in luring customers away from Amazon. Right now, however, I don’t think Amazon needs to be too worried. With both the Kindle and the Kindle DX, Amazon is offering just as wide an array of devices as Barnes & Noble is.
One of the recent major developments in the eReader market is Sony’s announcement that they will be fully adopting the ePub standard. Sony plans to completely abandon their own, proprietary format in what seems to be a concerted effort to dethrone the Kindle. Selling books in ePub won’t necessarily help the Sony Reader, but it will open the store to owners of, say, the COOL-ER Reader. Likewise, Sony Reader owners would realize that other ePub stores, such as Google Books, would be just as compatible with their device.
Some analysts think that this is the best way to pull Amazon from the top of the eReader market. If the market is filled with similar devices that all buy materials from the same, varied selection of online stores, Amazon stands out as the only company with such tight restrictions. There won’t necessarily be another device that leads the market in the way the Kindle has, but other companies will be free to compete without automatically riding Amazon’s coattails. Past controversies surrounding the Kindle would make it seem even more unfavorable compared to the less restrictive ePub readers.
If widespread adaption of ePub does kill the Kindle, it would lead to an interesting eBook market. Consumers would all pick a device based off of personal preference/budget. After that, shopping for a book would be like the digital equivalent of today’s brick and mortar stores. If you want a specific book, you would shop around between various large and independent bookstores.
Of course, the Kindle wouldn’t really be killed. Amazon would simply make it another ePub reader. It could be killed, however, in the sense that it would no longer have the distinction that sets it apart from other readers.
Let’s have a small poll about Kindle DRM restrictions. Feel free to respond in the comments as well.
Interead’s attempt at a Kindle-killer, the COOL-ER reader, begins shipping this month. Designed in a style that clearly mimics the iPod Nano, it seems that Interead hopes to fill the niche of a stylish, more “hip” eReader. The screen is roughly the same size as the Kindle 2, but at only $249.
The drop in price does have a cost, however, as the COOL-ER lacks some of the Kindle’s functionality. Besides the absence of text-to-speech or a keyboard, the most obvious feature missing is any form of wireless. While Interead does have its own eBook store, it doesn’t run any kind of whispernet like service and all connections to the reader are through USB.
A mostly negative review of the reader has already shown up in the USA Today. Besides criticizing the lack of functionality mentioned above, the review goes on to complain about how Interead’s Cooler Books store compares to Amazon‘s. New releases on Cooler Books have costs comparable to their real-life hardcover counterparts, meaning many titles are $10-12 more than on the Kindle.
But it seems the review somewhat misses the point. Like the successful iPod Nano it is designed after, the COOL-ER provides one function at a significantly discounted price. And while Cooler Books has higher prices, it is because the publishers are given more control. The result is that Interead actually has a much larger selection of eBooks than Amazon, even if grossly overpriced.
Even more importantly, it’s possible to avoid the expensive Cooler Books store altogether. Unlike the Kindle, the COOL-ER reader is based around the ePub format and not tied to any specific service. This makes it compatible with Google’s upcoming book store. If Google’s device-agnostic service proves to be popular, the COOL-ER is exactly the type of reader it’s average customer would own. It certainly lacks the power of a Kindle, but at over $100 cheaper, many people would gladly give up the Kindle’s extra features. It’ll be worth seeing how Interead competes in the future.
Google announced that it will start selling digital books by the end of 2009. Publishers and authors welcomed this development because it would bring much needed competition to the market currently dominated by Amazon. The fact that Google announced that publishers will be able to set the book price added to that sympathy.
This is not the first punch from Google camp aimed at Amazon this year. On March 18th Google made 500,000+ public domain books available in ePub format to owners of Sony Readers. While this has done little to strengthen Sony’s position against Amazon it clearly showed that Google is not going to ally with Amazon on the matter of digital books.
It’s unclear how much market will Google capture with it’s digital book store. It would very much depend on the specifics of what exactly it would be. Currently all we know is that it will be device-agnostic. However what it will do in the short term even before it is open to public is it will slow down Amazon Kindle adoption because some people would decide to wait for the Google product in hopes that it will be cheaper, provide better reading experience, have more books (although this is extremely unlikely), lack Kindle’s shortcomings etc.
It looks like Amazon has angered a lot of people by releasing Kindle DX just shortly after release of Kindle 2. These people believe that their Kindle 2 device almost immediately became outdated (I personally don’t share this point of view and regard Kindle DX as a different class of devices rather than “Kindle 3″). And speaking of Kindle 3 – some people would still expect it to make appearance by holiday season 2009. These too will wait for Google Book Store to be released so that they can compare. Personally I consider Kindle 3 this year unlikely – there’s very little that can be improved in the hardware at current technology levels other than price. It’s all about book selection now.
How much actual harm will it do to Amazon will be unclear until 2009 Q2 and Q3 financial results will be announced and it will depend on how much official and unofficial publicity will Google Books Store get in the coming months.
Should this upcoming Google Book Store turn out to be really “device-agnostic”, providing good reading experience for Amazon Kindle users, Amazon would find itself it very peculiar position given that it pays Sprint 12cents for every megabyte downloaded by Kindle users. In this case Amazon would be paying for deliver of books purchased by it’s not so loyal users from Google. This may be the end of Basic Web or start of Amazon charging for Internet traffic.
While Pixel Qi on their website explicitly states that their displays are not based on eInk technology and that they are not affiliated with eInk Corporation this piece of news is highly related to eInk, because potentially we may have a eInk competitor here.
Pixel Qi Hybrid Display
It is a display which according to Pixel Qi is extremely cheap to build from standard LCD display components and in fact it is for the most part an LCD display. With one exception – it can be switched to reflective mode. In this mode it consumes much less power than ordinary LCD display would and becomes monochrome but it can potentially display 3x as many pixels.
According to Pixel Qi consumers will see these displays in notebooks and netbooks by the end of 2009 and in “other devices” sometime in 2010. It looks like it’s easy to integrate this technology into existing designs since according to nerdword, Pixel Qi engineers rigged couple of retail-purchased laptops with their new display with seemingly little effort.
While this technology is mainly geared towards netbooks, notebooks and cellphones to make them usable in the sunlight (another interesting piece of news being Pixel Qi planning to supply displays for $75 laptops), it’s quite possible that much cheaper products price along with acceptable power consumption (though still much higher than eInk which is based on electrophoretic technology) and ongoing developments in battery technology may produce eBook reader that will run for several days on one charge, be usable in sunlight and cost less than Amazon Kindle.
Fujitsu has launched FLEPia – “color e-paper mobile terminal”. It features:
8″ 1024×768 e-Ink resistive touchscreen that can display either 260,000, 4,096 or 64 colors. Depending on the number of colors page update time ranges from 1.8 to 8 seconds.
158 x 240 x 12 mm size and 350g weight. This makes it larger and heavier compared to Amazon Kindle 2 (135 x 203 x 9 mm and 289g). I would imagine that version with 12″ screen would be even heavier.
SD slot that can accommodate up to 4GB of flash memory
Connectivity is represented by 802.11b/g wireless, Bluetooth 2.0 and USB
It runs Microsoft Windows CE5.0 on XScale RISC CPU
Battery life is 40 hours or 2,400 page turns which is impressive for a device with these capabilities.
eBook formats supported are: BunkoViewer XMDF and T-Time .book. Both are eBook formats widely used on mobile phones in Japan. Since device runs a generic Windows CE5.0 OS I can speculate that it would be possible to broaden format selection by installing additional applications
Price tag is ¥100,000 ($940)
While I didn’t have the opportunity to play around with this device I’ll speculate a little bit…
Although some news sites might call this device a “Kindle Killer”, it’s obviously not that. First of all it’s geared heavily towards Japanese market and Japanese users. Secondly, it is not hooked to Kindle Book Store which is crucial to Kindle‘s success. My personal belief is that Kindle would have been successful even without eInk technology though maybe slightly less. And thirdly even 8″ version costs around $1,000 which is to high for “eBook reader for the masses”
It is good to see this device comercially released though because it would allow for further development of color eInk technology and eventually prices will come down and we’ll see more devices featuring it…
Onyx International presented Onyx Boox e-reader at CeBIT 2009. Endgadget has video and some photos of the device. Current plans are for it to start shipping to US customers around June 2009 with a price tag lower than Sony PRS-700 which is $400. Here are some features I was able to deduce from the video and other sources:
Stylus sensitive 6″, 8″ or 9.7″ 16 shades of gray touchscreen so you can scribble your notes right on top of the text.
Native support for many data formats including PDF, HTML, TXT, CHM, ePub, PDB, MOBI, PRC, JPG, BMP, PNG, GIF, TIFF, MP3, WAV.
512MB internal storage. Additional storage can be added in a form of either Memory stick or USB drives. 128MB RAM. 400Mhz processor or above
Integrated WiFi. Optional EVDO or 3G wireless module.
1600mAh integrated Li-Ion battery.
Either by accelerometer similar to the one in iPhone or by explicit user input it’s possible to use it both landscape and portrait modes. Cool feature but in my opinion it’s not too relevant to book reading.
It is claimed that it has handwriting recognition. This makes me assume that touchscreen wouldn’t respond to fingers because that requires magnetic sensors similar to ones found in Tablet PCs that capture stylus movements precisely including tilt angle. This allows recognition to be much more accurate at the cost of these sensors ignoring anything but the stylus.
Web Browser that is based on WebKit (same library that powers Apple Safari and Google Chrome). This would probably yield browsing experience that is superior to Kindle.
There is on-screen keyboard available. I wouldn’t mind having something like that on Kindle with extra space allocated for bigger screen that can be used for reading when keyboard isn’t required.
It will be possible to install additional applications but it’s unclear whether SDK will be released.
Text-to-speech capability. Though because of the noise in the video it was impossible to tell how good is it.
Below is the official promotional video.
My personal opintion is that it will not be very successful if successful at all and here’s why:
While it has many cool features like larger screen, touchscreen, large selection of formats that it supports, few of these features are actually useful in day-to-day operations. Overall it looks more like e-Ink PDA rather than eBook reader. WebKit based browser is nice but slow e-Ink screen will negate most of the benefits. iPhone with 3.5″ display would provide much better overall web-browsing experience. Running additional application can’t be good for battery life. And while touch screen is cool, how often would you really need to scribble and use handwriting recognition? Most of these tasks can be much better performed by other devices like PDAs, iPhone, etc.
But most importantly, what about books? Without having access to Amazon’s Kindle Store with 240,000+ titles it would be limited to much smaller selections of the stores that would decide to partner with Onyx and free books. Which is not a whole lot compared to what Amazon has to offer. Most likely book buying experience will not be as easy and streamlined as one with Kindle.
There’s one great feature that really made Onyx Boox stand out – larger screens. Although I’m pretty sure that “cheaper than $400″ price tag that was announced on CeBIT applies to 6″ model and ones with larger screens will cost more. Nonetheless there would be people for whom larger screen would outweigh all cons and they would buy Onyx Boox rather than Amazon Kindle should it have access to the same selection of books. And this is why I believe Amazon would not partner with Onyx to protect it’s Kindle sales.
Poor state of US and worldwide economy wouldn’t help sales either.
So although this post is under “Kindle Killer” category, really it’s Kindle Killer… Not.
I know that this post may sound too Kindle biased, but that’s my opinion. Anyway, we’ll be able to find out if I was right soon enough. I’ll keep you posted.