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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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September 2014
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Sony to Launch a Foldable Tablet Later this Year

The Sony Reader was the first to get touch screen technology.  It set off a big touch screen craze that included all of the major e-readers: Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.  The Kindle Touch in turn became Amazon’s bestselling e-ink Kindle.

So, Sony has a some good ideas going as far as e-readers go. I happened upon an article about a foldable tablet that the company is currently preparing for release next week.

The new tablet, called the Tablet P, will have dual screens, one on each side of the foldable hinges.  My biggest question in regards to the screens is how they will mesh together for the display.  Will they show separate content?  Do they somehow come together to create a larger display?

The odd thing is that the Tablet P will feature last year’s Android operating system, Honeycomb.  That will be a big drawback right there.

By making this table foldable, it is protecting the screen from scratches and dings, so that is a big plus.   Although Apple was onto something when it created a smart cover to protect the iPad’s screen .  Sony’s new tablet also includes a camera, which is not currently available on the Kindle Fire.

Obviously, there are some real winners in the e-reader and tablet market, most notably,  the Kindle and iPad, but is still fun to explore the other ideas are floating around.  Despite the Tablet P’s lack of computing power and poor sales outlook, it sparks an idea that can be developed further to grab the attention of consumers.

I would really like to see the major players in the tablet and e-reader world become powerful enough to handle heavier computing.  It would be nice to have the benefits of both in one device.  The foldable tablet could emerge as a hybrid laptop/tablet device.  The tablet would be hinged to a keyboard, but also removable.

So, we’ll see what happens.  It is always fun to speculate on the future of technology.

 

Color E-Ink Kindle on the Horizon?

Don’t give up on e-ink Kindles yet.  After the success of the Kindle Fire and the tablet boom, I was beginning to think that e-ink was on its way out.  However, there are new speculations floating around in the tech world about Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) supposed order of color e-ink  screens.

If that is so, we might be seeing a color e-ink version of the Kindle sometime next summer or early fall.  The timing is based on the past yearly refresh of the Kindle lineup.

I think this would give e-ink a much needed jump start to reclaim its place in the electronic sales market.  Tablets are showing unprecedented success, and are threatening to leave the e-ink devices behind to become a niche market unless they don’t do something about it.

The biggest advantages of a color e-ink Kindle over an LCD tablet are that it doesn’t cause eye strain and suck up battery life.  I love my iPad, but I can’t sit and read it for longer periods of time.  My Kindle’s battery lasts for a couple of months, whereas my iPad’s battery lasts about 10 hours or less depending on use.

Looking at it from an accessibility standpoint, there are certain vision conditions that cause the user to be sensitive to bright lights.  E-ink is obviously a lot friendlier to that type of condition.

The e-ink Kindle began as a single service device designed for reading.  The electronic paper style that the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and other e-ink readers use is designed to simulate the experience of reading a real book.  Adding color would provide better graphics for comics, newspapers and magazines.  To me, comics are a better fit for paper rather than LCD.

I am excited about this new development.  I think in the long run there will be hybrid e-ink and LCD tablets out there on the market.  I don’t know about you, but it can get cumbersome toting around several different gadgets that each fulfill a different purpose.   By adding color, e-ink is a step closer towards making a device like that a reality.

 

Kindle for Android, Reading Apps & Good E-Reader

Earlier this month the Kindle for Android app got a bit of an update.  While nothing huge, it did finally bring the Real Page Numbers to Android users.  In addition to this, they managed to pare down the size of the download required to use the Kindle platform from 10+mb to a more manageable 8mb.  This might seem rather minor, but considering the lack of space on many Android devices as well as the fact that some users have reported sizes of up to 25mb (can’t reproduce that, but the claim has circulated), this is a definite improvement.

Much as I like the Kindle app however, and I do, there are some things that I would like to be able to do that it does not provide.  Real Page Numbers are nice, but situational at best given that they still only exist in a fraction of the available Kindle Editions.  Now, I have posted here before about the ability to download and install the Nook app through non-Amazon sources and this works quite well.  Sadly I believe that the specific method I mentioned several months ago has been blocked off, though.  This difficulty became a non-issue thanks to Good E-Reader being kind enough to open up their own free app store.

While you can find a fair selection of general purpose apps present that they felt were worth keeping around for people, the folks over at Good E-Reader are concentrating mostly on reading.  This covers books, magazines, comics, and all such things along those lines.  There are only free apps, but this allows the site to operate without adding in any of the inconvenient restrictions that currently plague locked-in Android device owners wishing to pick up something useful. It is definitely worth checking out.

In terms of reading on your Kindle Fire, for example, some people find it more convenient to have access to the Nook app’s extra level of brightness control than to be able to simply invert the contrast of the page.  Others will appreciate the level of social media integration offered by the Kobo app.  In either case, at least you will be able to open EPUB formatted eBooks, which the Kindle Fire lacks any form of native support for at the moment.  You won’t have luck with everything (Google Books, for example is still not working in my experience) but for the most part they’re doing a good job of making the latest popular selections available without all the hassle.

Overall Amazon has done a good job of giving customers what they want, both in terms of the software they provide and the hardware they sell.  I can understand the urge to retain control over what gets installed on Kindle Fire devices, especially since if anything goes wrong it is likely to be Amazon’s Customer Service that gets the call.  They have left the door pretty wide open to install most things, though, provided you know how to find them.  In some cases, it’s more than worth the effort it takes to get the most out of your experience.  Kindle Fire software updates do not remove any apps when they occur, so it shouldn’t be an ongoing hassle.

Kobo Launches Book Club Against Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

It was recently announced that Kobo, Amazon’s leading competitor against the Kindle outside the United States, is offering a fun new perk for anybody who picks up one of their eReaders between now and May 2012.  The new Kobo Book Club, as they are referring to it, will offer each person a book of their choice from a limited selection once each month through the end of 2012.  As with what seems to be the competing program, Amazon’s new lending library, the available books will not necessarily be off the bestseller list, but they will be permanent acquisitions instead of just rentals.

Amazon made a bold move when they launched the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.  It took long enough to even get the public library system compatible with the Kindle in the first place, thanks to the break from EPUB early on in Amazon’s eReading endeavor.  Even that comes in the middle of the long fight publishers have put up against eBooks being in any way cheaper or more convenient than their paper counterparts, but that’s another story entirely.  What’s most relevant, especially if we’re talking about somebody like Kobo trying to come up with a similar program is the reaction.

In a lot of ways that program is Amazon flexing their muscles.  Yes, the lending library benefits Kindle owners and is something that I totally support, but starting it up without general publisher or author support and working around that problem by taking advantage of wholesale discount arrangements has led to a bit of drama.  The Big 6 are upset, since it means that eBooks are yet again in danger of being found more convenient and less expensive than print books.  The Author’s Guild has lent support to that side of things as well.  It’s doubtful that any of this will cause Amazon to back off, but not many other companies would be in a position to get away with a similar move.

Kobo has avoided the problem entirely with their choice of titles.  January’s titles, for example, will be:

Glancing at Amazon these seem to be well-rated titles, but you have to admit that the audience likely to get excited about them will be limited.  If this marks the beginning of an ongoing trend, it’s hard to see this as a major draw for new customers despite its being available in Canada as well as the US.

This is especially true since buyers who go for the new Kobo Vox aren’t included.  Many people are expecting the Vox to make a big splash by beating the Kindle Fire to new markets, and Kobo clearly rushed to get something out there in time to compete, so this exclusion is rather hard to understand.

While I wouldn’t exactly say that this should be a huge factor in any eReading platform choices, it’s nice if you were planning to go that route anyway.  Kobo is currently the third most popular eReader platform around, so clearly the demand is there.  An occasional extra can’t hurt, even if it doesn’t really provide exactly the same value as the Kindle counterpart.

Kobo To Take On Kindle Fire With New “Vox” Tablet

The Nook Color might have been the first tablet to come from a major eReader maker, but the Kindle Fire has clearly set the tone for devices in its size / power range.  Amazon’s new media tablet hasn’t even shipped yet and people are scrambling to match prices or rush out competing product.  For the most part, there isn’t really any obvious reason for Amazon to be concerned, but the new Kobo Vox is an imitator with impressive potential.

Kobo’s new Kindle Fire competitor, marketed as a color eReader much like the Nook Color, will be a 7″ Android 2.3 device with comparable specs, expandable memory, and a small selection of colored quilted backs to choose from.  The single core processor might end up being a slight negative, but this was never intended to be a powerhouse anyway.  Oddly enough, both the major strengths and the major shortcomings come in on the software end.

When Barnes & Noble started out with the Nook Color, they tried to keep it almost entirely about the reading.  It was only relatively recently that their app selection started to improve.  Amazon avoided that mistake by building up a huge App Store for the Kindle Fire before it even existed.  Kobo seems to feel like it isn’t worth the trouble.  Rather than a heavily customized, or even locked version of Android, they have decided that Vox users can just grab what they want through the default Android Marketplace.  The OS seems to be pretty much just basic Android 2.3 with some Kobo Apps.

On the one hand, this is genius.  It gives them the ability to offer customers access to the largest selection of Android apps in existence without having to jump through hoops.  At the same time, however, it means that Kobo themselves will not be making any money off of anything but the books.  Whether or not this proves to be a smart business move remains to be seen, but it will definitely appeal to a certain segment of the customer base.

What really makes the Vox a major player among eReading companies jumping into tablet production is Kobo’s international presence.  More than pretty much anybody else so far, Amazon included, Kobo has managed to make sure a wide selection of books is there in any market they can get their hooks into.  The Kobo eReader is widely available and has been for some time.  It would not surprise me even a little bit to discover that when Amazon manages to get the Kindle Fire out to markets outside the US, especially those new sites like Amazon.es, the Kobo Vox is already a common sight.

It isn’t the best option in terms of hardware or software in the US right now, even for the $200 price, but for users who want just a cheap, effective 7″ Android device it might fit the bill.  In areas where the tablet market has yet to really take off, though, I expect to see the Vox make a huge impression.  Let’s just hope Apple can hold off on the anti-competition lawsuits?

A Tribute to Michael Hart, Founder of Project Gutenberg

Michael Hart, the founder of ebooks and Project Gutenberg, died on September 6, 2011 at the age of 64. His death will be a huge loss for the digital book and literary community. However, the work he has already done has set the groundwork in the ebook world. Other members of the literary community will have to continue his mission to provide global literacy. Hart founded Project Gutenberg in 1971, and it is the longest running literary project recorded.

Project Gutenberg currently offers over 36,000 public domain ebooks that are available on the Kindle, iPad, PC and other computers or portable devices that allow ePub, HTML, or Simple Text. All of the books are free, and there’s no cost to join. A wealth of information is literally at your fingertips. The information is top quality.

Hart’s ebook idea began when he typed up a copy of the Declaration of Independence on his computer and sent it to others in the network at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  This was barely after the internet was created.

Hart’s literary impact was profound because through ebooks, he opened up literature to the global audience. Project Gutenberg currently has ebooks available in 60 languages. It is also a huge asset to libraries and research. The longevity of this project proves that it the ability to adapt right along with the rapid changes in technology.

E-book readers such as the Kindle, Nook and Kobo are just part of the progression towards better literacy. They add portability and easy access to millions of ebooks. The Kindle has made life much easier for people who can’t read small print through its font size adjustments feature.

One of Michael Hart’s goals was to reach out to children. This goal is being realized as more children’s books are being added to ebook collections, and as Kindles and other e-book readers are being introduced in the schools. The lure of cool gadgets are enticing children who normally do not like reading, to consider it.

It always amazes me when I read about how long some technologies have really been around. I have only thought of ebooks being a new, twenty-first century invention. But, in fact, they have a rather long, rich history. Project Gutenberg dates all the way back to 1971, before computers really became a household item. E-books were around 36 years before the Kindle was even invented!

So, a big thank you goes out to Michael Hart for being such a champion for literacy, and for making information accessible to a much greater, and more diverse audience.

German Kobo Launch Seems Aimed At International Kindle Presence

Earlier this year, in April, Amazon launched a localized German Kindle Store with over 650,000 titles and around 25,000 German language offerings.  Overall, at least for the time, a strong offering.  In addition to this, Amazon opened up Kindle Direct Publishing for the Amazon.de site, and made sure that Direct Publishing submissions to the original Kindle Store would already be in the German store, assuming rights were available to make this possible.  Now, three months later, competition is becoming a bit more heated and this might not be enough to stay appealing to the broader audience on its own.

The Canada based Kobo eBook store will now be available to the German audience.  At launch, they have managed a reported 2.4 million eBooks and over 80,000 German language titles.  That’s a lot of books.  Along with the store launch, there are also German language Kobo eReader apps for the iPhone, iPad, basically anything with an ‘i’ in front of it, and Android.  A Playbook app is on the way.  There will even be a German version of the Kobo eReader itself released in August.  Now, the Kobo business model has always been aimed at a broad international presence.  They emphasize open systems, EPUB distribution, and the primacy of the reading experience.  Even the Kobo eReader seemed tacked on as almost an afterthought.  So far, however, they haven’t really hit the big time.

The main problem that they are running into, I think, is their lack of hardware emphasis.  Not as a means of profit, of course, but as a way to provide a physical presence to their customers.  We know that Amazon isn’t exactly making loads off of individual Kindle sales, but by providing something better than a PC or cell phone for their customers to read on, they gain customer loyalty.  If you’re stuck using a phone for your eBooks anyway, it doesn’t matter in practice who you buy from since the apps are all free anyway.

The new Kobo eReader suffered something of a setback when its otherwise impressive upgrades from the original Kobo were completely overshadowed by the superior experience and competitive pricing of the new Nook Simple Touch eReader.  By comparison, it’s just a better product.  So Kobo is given that much more incentive to push their international pursuits since the Kindle presence is limited and the Nook is non-existent.  In untouched or underrepresented eBook markets, the Kobo store can stand on its own merits and try to build up a hardware independent following, at least in theory.

The one obstacle I see, at least right this minute, is the lack of eReader offering at store launch.  If you’re going to have a localized device, great!  It sets you that much further apart from the Kindle.  Don’t expect to launch the store now and have people stay excited about it for a month while they wait for the gadget. If they can keep the buzz going, great, but it’s going to be a difficult task.

As for the future of the Kobo?  They are currently planning similar store launches in Spain, France, Italy, and Holland, to name a few.  While I might personally prefer other offerings available in America, possibly because I speak English primarily and don’t have to pay fees to import things that don’t always even work in my country, there is little wrong with the Kobo and anything that builds up the worldwide eBook marketplace will just help things along for everybody.

Kobo Opens German Store

Kobo, the e-reader that Borders has partnered with, doesn’t have the successful reputation that the Kindle and Nook have, but it does have an advantage on the international scene.  The e-reader has had a global focus from the beginning.  This would be a great niche to excel in.

Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has a library of about 25, 000 German titles, but Kobo has launched an e-book store that boasts a whopping 80,000 German titles.  I was surprised to find that Germany has the 2nd largest e-book market in the world.  The United States is the first.

This is a competition to watch because, in order to succeed on a global scale, an e-reader needs to have a robust collection of digital material available.  Amazon is certainly able to do this.  They just need to establish good relationships with foreign authors and publishers.  Here is some healthy competition giving Amazon a wake up call at another angle.

In the past, I’ve noticed a lot of reviewers from other countries have been frustrated with the restrictions on various Kindle products because they’re not accessible.  Downloading books outside of the US is pretty costly.

I’ve always associated Kobo with the Borders book chain.  Borders is currently being threatened by liquidators and will most likely flop here soon.  When I saw this, I wondered, well what about Kobo?

Turns out, Kobo is a completely separate entity than Borders and is a financially secure, Canadian based company.  So, nothing will be lost if Borders does go down.  Kobo’s newest e-reader, the Kobo Touch, along with the Nook Touch both have an edge that the Kindle doesn’t have…yet.  But, that is about to change.  Good to see these e-readers try to outrank each other and get better and better. The price drops certainly don’t hurt either!

What I’d really like to see is a global collaboration of sorts.  Access to books shouldn’t be restricted by travel.  That cuts down the portability of an e-reader.  Technology has connected society on a global scale.  It’d be cool if everyone could have access to a diverse collection of books from different languages.

 

 

 

 

So Many Gadgets! What Do We Choose?

As I read the article about the new Kindle upgrades coming up in October, I started to feel really overwhelmed.  There is so much to choose from these days.  So, I thought I’d break it down a bit.  It is all a matter of what type of operating system you prefer (Android or Apple iOS) and what uses you have for your devices.

E-Readers

The Amazon Kindle has been out since 2007 and has evolved a great deal over the last four years to compete with the growing e-reader market: Nook, Kobo, Sony, and most recently, Google’s iriver Story.  It has been interesting to watch how obvious the competition is which all of the companies dropping prices and mocking each others’ style.  Note the latest touchscreen craze.

Then we have the NookColor, a mixed tablet and e-reader that has succeeded in knocking the Kindle off of it its pedestal.

In terms of e-readers, to me, the Kindle wins hands down.  I’ve really enjoyed my Kindle and am looking forward to a new touchscreen version.  Amazon has excellent customer service, and shows no sign of crashing and burning anytime soon, unlike Barnes & Noble and Borders.  If prices keep dropping the way they have, they’ll be pretty cheap here soon.  Now, if only we can stop the rising e-book prices.  But, library lending and all of the free and reduced priced e-books available out there might just take care of that.

Tablets

The iPad wins here.  I am not an Apple fiend by any means, but like the Kindle, the iPad has been around for over a year and offers a lot of different apps for various purposes.  I use mine as a laptop basically.  I also love that I can enlarge the text so easily.  Give me a year and I might be saying something different, but for now, I go for the iPad.  Other tablets to watch: Acer Iconia, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and of course the Kindle Tablet.

Why have a tablet AND an e-reader?  I don’t think of my Kindle as a computer. iBooks does not have nearly the book collection that Amazon does, and reading on the iPad Kindle app does not feel the same.  I can still curl up with the Kindle in bed or on the couch, and it isn’t hard on the eyes.  I love how both Kindle and iPad can fit easily into a tote bag.  Plus, e-readers are getting to be cheap enough that it wouldn’t be a huge setback to have both.

And then there are smartphones…but that market is a whole niche of its own.

 

 

Borders Liquidation May Further Kindle Amazon’s Success

As of this morning, Monday the 18th of July, it seems pretty much inevitable that Borders will no longer be a presence in the American retail space soon.  Their failure to compete with Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, especially with regard to the Kindle and Nook eReaders, led the company to bankruptcy earlier this year.  At this time, Borders Group employs over 11,000 people in over 400 stores nationwide.

At this point, bidding for the company has passed and there seems to be little hope for recovery for America’s second largest book retailer.  While earlier this month a buyer had seemingly been found for the troubled company, creditors have rejected the bid based on the possibility that the new owner would be able to liquidate the company after purchase.  Unable to find common ground on that topic, and having no other serious bids, liquidation of what is left of Borders seems to be a sure thing.

Overall, this would seem to be a story about a failure to adapt to a changing marketplace.  Even before the eBook revolution, digital distribution had become a major, and possibly the major, means of music acquisition for many consumers.  Hundreds of Borders Superstores around the country still kept, and still keep, whole floors of CDs collecting dust.

When it came time to jump into eReading, Borders was late to the game and didn’t really manage to do anything to set themselves apart.  Their own eBook store, built in 2008 after breaking away from an affiliation with Amazon, was weak to begin with and eventually ended up being replaced outright by Canadian partner Kobo.  While they did make a splash as the first company to being a sub-$150 eReader to America by way of the previously mentioned Kobo partnership, no real effort was made to produce or even settle on a single product.

The decline of the company was not abrupt.  The last time Borders turned a profit was back in 2006.  Still, many will mourn the death of yet another major brick & mortar book retailer as the convenience and lack of overhead that sites like Amazon.com provide make the local bookstore less profitable and less common.  Should things go the way they look to be over the next several days, Barnes & Noble may well be the last major bookseller with a nationwide physical presence.

All of this may be good news for Amazon as they become that much more essential for the avid reader.  Without a local Borders store, many consumers will be forced to turn to the internet to make their book purchases.  It will even likely have some small impact on the sales of Kindle eReaders as the ease of acquisition for less prominent eReading devices, previously sold to varying degrees in participating Borders stores, drops off.  Some even wonder whether this might not hasten the decline of the printed book, since it makes the impulsive browsing experience that much less tactile.  If one is forced to buy something that can’t be held and inspected ahead of time, it might be better to go for the option with instant delivery and no risk of damage in transit, right?

Kindle Tablet to Hit the Market in October

I haven’t seen an official Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) announcement yet, but according to the Wall Street Journal, the Kindle Tablet and two other Kindle upgrades are set to arrive in October.  The Kindle Tablet that has been under speculation for months will directly compete with the iPad, while a new touch version of the Kindle will compete with the Nook and Kobo Touch editions.

To be honest, in a matter of personal preference, I am more excited about the possibility of a touch version of the Kindle because I’m not a big fan of the keyboard.  Whenever this does get release, I’ll be ready to upgrade my Kindle.  The keys are way too small and somewhat difficult to press.  However, when the touch version does arrive, there will need to be some kind of audio enabled to make sure it is accessible for people with disabilities.

As for the tablet.  This is exciting news, but the iPad has a pretty solid hold on the tablet market, and is said to be successful on into the next year.  So, I think that it will be awhile before the Kindle Tablet will make a huge dent in iPad sales.  There are also a number of other tablets to choose from as well.  Although, I will say, a much cheaper Kindle Tablet might just give Amazon a good start in the tablet game, as will the well liked Android operating system.  I see the iPad to the tablet market as the Kindle is to the e-reader market.  They are both the inventors of their own niches, and were the only ones to hold their niches for a good length of time.

Lastly, there will be an upgrade on the current version of the Kindle.  It will be similar in structure, but include better features and a lower price.  Prices are dropping constantly.  Amazon just dropped the Kindle 3G Special Offers version from $164 to $139.  So, perhaps a $99 or less version of the Kindle is in the near future?  We can only hope!

Kindle Culture

Stephen Peters, a longtime popular culture writer, has a book called Kindle Culture that I think is worth reading.  It is a quick read, and has a lighthearted, easygoing writing style.  It is interesting to read how the Kindle has changed lives.  I was particularly intrigued with the story about how one woman was able to read for the first time in 10 years.  The Kindle has done wonders for people with print disabilities, and is much more cost effective than standard assistive technology.  I can attest that as a visually impaired Kindle user, the font size adjustments have been a lifesaver.

The Kindle has impacted many aspects of peoples’ lives from increased portability to profitable business ventures.  Many individuals and companies have created covers, accessories, and now applications for the Kindle.  You will also find a number of forums and blogs that united Kindle lovers from various backgrounds around the world.

I like this reviewer’s point about how it is neat to see the concrete effects that the Kindle has had on people.

Michelle R

“Kindle Culture explores the boards, merch, and groups that have sprung up to worship and to profit from The Kindle. There’s a certain charm in reading about boards you frequent and people you “know.” It’s touching to read how the device has helped disabled people who’ve lost the ability to read traditional books. As a fan of the device, much of this is a vindication, because it’s hard not to be touched when you see concrete proof that your e-reader has the power to change lives.

I admit that this book is kind of dated.  It was published in 2009, but I think it is still relevant because it shows the impact that the e-reader has made in just two short years since release.  One of the “questions” that the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) description of Kindle Culture brings up is the effect that the “kindle killers” will have on the e-reading device.  Two years since this book’s release, the Kindle is still the best selling e-reader.  So it has definitely held its own among all of the Nooks, iPads, Kobo, Sony e-readers, and other e-readers that are out there.

In theory, Peters could rewrite Kindle Culture about every couple of years due to the rapid changing pace of e-reader technology and competition.  The “Kindle Culture” has grown exponentially since this book was written through the price drops, e-reader market competition, upcoming Library Lending program, Kindle applications and many more.

Does the Upcoming Kindle Tablet Mean No Touchscreen Kindle eReader?

The Kindle has been seeing a few new releases from the competition in the past couple weeks.  Some of what they bring to the table is software and such, of course, but the most visible trend has been the move to E Ink touchscreens.  Both the Kobo and Barnes & Noble’s Nook line have released nearly button-free eReaders in an effort to set themselves apart.  Ironically both of these companies tried to set themselves apart by releasing amazingly similar looking products, but that’s unimportant.  This leads to the inevitable speculation that such a design might be the future of the Kindle.  If I had to make a guess, I’d say it will be eventually but not right away.

I don’t think it will be an immediately changed design to keep up with the apparent trend for a couple reasons.  First, clearly Amazon’s focus has better places to be.  The Kindle Tablet line, whatever they choose to call it in the end, involves a number of devices in several shapes and sizes if rumors are to be believed.  None of them are likely to run the same software that is on the existing Kindle.  None of them are going to use the same hardware.  it just isn’t strong enough.  There is simply no obvious direct connection between the device offerings besides Amazon.com as a media vendor and any marketing device they might choose to employ to draw a connection for potential customers.  Given this, it seems unlikely that Amazon would want to be designing or releasing a Kindle 4 dedicated eReader at the same time.  Why would they?  The existing Kindle is doing amazingly well.  The new Nook and Kobo are basically playing catch-up and trying to match features at this point.  Nowhere in the specs of either was there an obvious point of superiority in design that Amazon would have to struggle to meet.  The only major software points involve social networking and library lending, both of which Amazon is working with already.  No need for a new device.

Also, the move to touchscreens by their competitors, if played with correctly, offers Amazon an incentive to stay right where they are for a bit.  As I mentioned, the new Nook and Kobo look rather similar.  In fact, it seems hard to make the hardware side of a touchscreen device particularly unique.  Nobody expects the Kindle Tablet to make a big splash for changing what it means to be a tablet, right?  For now, the Kindle will be the most recognizable eReader anywhere in a way that is only emphasized by the homogeneity of their competition.

This will only work for a while until people become more used to touchscreens in their eReaders and expect them, of course.  It seems an inevitable step at this point no matter how much one might like the more mechanical controls.  It will make particular sense for Amazon to update the Kindle to bring it in line with the Kindle Tablet line’s hardware should that take off as strongly as they’re hoping, since we have to assume that an affordable tablet PC with a non-LCD screen will finally be what makes an impact on Kindle sales.  For now, though, probably not that much of a rush.

New Kobo Touch eReader Attempts To Match Kindle

So far the big contribution that the Kobo has made to the eReader marketplace, in my opinion, is spurring the more established and easy to use eReaders like the Kindle and Nook into an abrupt price drop.  The Kobo hit stores at $150 at a time when a decent eReader would cost you somewhere around a hundred dollars more than that no matter which one you went with.  It made a big difference, even if the Kobo itself was so basic and clunky to use that it didn’t make a huge splash in terms of usability.  Now, with their first major hardware upgrade, the Kobo eReader is back in the race.  The new Kobo is a lot easier on the eyes and promises to be more than a little bit simpler to use.  The big question is whether or not it is enough of a change.

In a lot of ways, the new Kobo Touch is the same concept as the new Nook.  You’ve got a 6″ E Ink Pearl screen, a Home button, and a nicely dark frame.  Lots of visual similarities.  You also get a WiFi connection, though it only works to go to the Kobo Store.  The touchscreen seems ok, and they avoided the blurriness issues that arose in Sony’s touchscreen eReaders by going with a touchscreen technology that does not involve an extra screen layer.  You even get a fair amount of internal memory and an SD slot to work with.  Really, though, it seems like something is missing to be really competitive here.

Leave aside the Kindle comparison for the moment to focus on the more directly comparable new Nook.  Yes, there is a $10 price difference, but consider what is being sacrificed for that money.  Both devices have EPUB support and work well with libraries, by all accounts.  The Nook is supposedly pushing 60 days of battery life these days compared to the new Kobo’s 10 days.  You only get two font sizes to choose from on the Kobo.  You won’t be getting apps of any sort, from what I can see.  Even the size isn’t considerably smaller in any way.

The one place where the Kobo might make a splash is in its social networking service.  Amazon’s Kindle has done a bit along these lines and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Kindle Tablet do more when it comes around, but so far I would say that the Kobo’s Reading Life is a lot more elaborate.  Up until now, to the best of my knowledge, this feature has only been available through iOS and Android apps rather than as a part of the Kobo eReader itself.  It tracks reading time, page turns, books completed, hands out awards for having read books, and more.

Will the novelty be able to clear a spot near the top of the eReader market for the Kobo?  Probably not.  Keep in mind, however, that there is room for variety.  This is probably the third best eReader brand out there right now as far as the price to features ratio is concerned.  There might very well be a place for it even with the Nook and Kindle holding what are in my opinion deservedly superior positions at the moment.

2011 Book Expo America Free Kindle Samples and more

The 2011 Book Expo America brought all kinds of exciting events and upcoming projects for the Amazon Kindle and others.  Amazon Publishing offered author signing and interviews, Kindle excerpts and more.

Amazon Publishing has a collection of free Kindle downloads that provide excerpts and teasers for upcoming releases.  The new releases will be available in the Summer and Fall of 2011.  Some full versions are available for preorder.

This is a great opportunity to test drive some books and authors that you haven’t gotten a chance to try.

We’ve already seen the competition heating up with the latest Nook releases.  I actually got a chance to check ou the NookColor recently, and thought it was pretty decent.  At the expo, Kobo introduced the new Kobo Touch.  It depends mostly on touch screen with the exception of one home button at the bottom, which is similar to the iPad set up.  Based on reviews, the Kobo touch looks pretty clean and can probably hold it’s own in the e-reader market.

The Kobo may sound great in theory, but in order for it to be accessible, it’ll have to have some kind of voice navigation feature.  Currently, the Kindle is way ahead of both the Nook and Kobo readers because of its accessibility features and text to speech option.  The iPad also has a lot of great accessibility features of its own, however, the iPad will be more competitive with the rumored Kindle Tablet than the current Kindle e-reader.

 

Kobo’s Reading Life is Interesting

At a time when the bigger names in eReading like Kindle and Nook are probably a little bit nervous about the future of their place on Apple’s devices, Kobo comes along and introduces an interesting and fun new set of features specifically for them that might be exactly what they need to attract new users.  Reading Life, as they have named the feature, is a combination of social networking and a game-like achievement system that should provide an interesting contrast against other similar platforms and their offerings.

For those who haven’t seen it yet, and I’ll assume that’s most of you, you do have the same ability to share passages from your current read over Facebook that you get with the Kindle and Kindle apps.  You also get to share, in detail, when you start reading a book, when you buy a book, when you annotate a book, etc.  You also get some measure of progress withing the book in terms of progress in the form of both percentage completed and total page turns.

What I found most intriguing, however, were the introduction of “awards” that you earn by reading and discovery of things within the substance of the book.  In Reading Life enabled books (making the untested assumption that you don’t get completely similar experiences from just any book you buy), you can keep track of where the action is taking place, or when you meet a character for the first time, and post these to your Facebook page as you read.  Sometimes this even results in coupons, to judge by what I’ve seen so far.  Coupons are always good, right?

Anyway, I like this as a general trend.  The big problem I see, however, is the heavy insistence on Facebook as the medium of choice.  I get that it’s pretty much the default for everybody wanting to do anything in any way with anybody these days, but that still means that the whole system is reliant on a single service that is completely outside the control of the app developers.  Now, I really don’t think Facebook is going anywhere any time soon(and whether or not that’s a good thing is up to every person to decide for themselves), but this strikes me as limiting. I would prefer to have some degree of linked networking inherent in the Kobo service that just piggybacked on existing Facebook features where applicable.  This would have the added benefit of making it easier, one would assume at least, to integrate the actual Kobo eReader along with any other apps all into a cohesive system.

Depending on how things go in the current Apple vs Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Anybody who sells eBooks situation in the near future, I can definitely see something similar popping up on the Kindle and Kindle apps as well as the Nook line.  If there’s anything that the gaming community has learned over the years, it’s that people love to be able to look at tangible progress and compare notes on who has achieved what and when.  I could honestly see this being used as a teaching tool under the right circumstances.  Let’s hope it takes off in some form.

Kindle’s Kobo Competition for 2011

While this has been an amazing and record breaking year for the Kindle, we haven’t heard much about the more basic, but highly publicized in its time, Kobo eReader.  For those who may not remember, the Kobo device made a splash a while back when they released the first widely available eReading device at $150.  This is widely percieved to have been the move that prompted both Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) and Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) to drop their prices from the $2-300 range when they did.

Their eReader, simply called the Kobo Wireless eReader, is a fairly basic device offering few of the frills you might expect elsewhere these days.  The idea was a reading device built for the task of reading a book off the rack and nothing else.  It’s not the quickest or the prettiest, but it does get the job done.  Where it shines most is the integration into the Kobo Books Store.  They have traditionally offered competitive prices on a huge selection of texts, often with less restrictive DRM formatting than can be found elsewhere.

All that being said, it seems that Kobo is hoping to give Amazon a bit more competition for that top of the market position this year.  They have a similar selection of reading apps to that which Kindle fans have become accustomed to over the past couple years.  Apps are available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Palm Pre, PC, Mac, etc. They have agreements with big names like Samsung and RIM to get these manufacturers’ devices preloaded with the Kobo reading app, which will be a big deal in the expanding tablet PC market place, and have stated that they hope to see their software preloaded on over 20 million individual devices over the course of 2011.  Talk about improved exposure…

Where does this leave the physical eReader?  As best I can tell it simply isn’t the focus of a major push right now.  The current incarnation is superior to the first offering, most notably for its wireless connectivity (which was a pain to do without, I can assure you from personal experience),but at heart it’s the same device.  You get your books, they go on a shelf, you grab them and read them.  It gets a little bit interesting when you’re trying to navigate using just the one multi-directional button in the corner, but even that isn’t too bad. It’s just not great, which it would need to be to make a big impression on the dedicated eReader marketplace with the Kindle around.

It’s hard to say at this point whether Kobo has a real shot at securing a large part of the eBook distribution pie.  They’re well positioned, have some good word of mouth going, and clearly have plans for the year ahead, but the competition on both sides, plentiful new distributors and entrenched old names like Amazon, might be a bit too much to make headway.  As for the Kobo eReader, I’m going to say that, personally, I’m counting it out of the race unless something changes.  The competition now is for the media distribution, after all, not so much the hardware.  Not sure who but a long-time customer would pay more for the Kobo alternative than is being charged for either a Kindle or Nook.

Where does this leave the Kobo?

In the past week or so we have seen price drops on the two most full-featured and well-stocked eReader devices on the market today, as well as the first exclusively WiFi adaptation of one of these devices at the lowest price seen to date.  So, where does this leave the Kobo, the Borders-sponsored budget eReader that made such a stir over the past several months with its $150 asking price?  The outlook is not so good.

By all accounts, and i make no claim to have the device in my hands at the moment to confirm, the Kobo eReader is a bit of a let-down for a lot of people.  A decent screen, slightly slow response time, clunky menu navigation, and just generally unexciting experience.  I won’t deny that the Bluetooth capability is intriguing, but they simply didn’t do much with it.  Now that the Barnes & Noble(NYSE:BKS) nook has dropped its price to match without sacrificing the reading and shopping experiences and Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) has followed suit with an even cheaper Kindle, it seems doubtful that the Kobo will find itself with much of a place aside from die-hard lovers of the Borders and Kobo bookstores.  Even some of those may find themselves turning away, as the Kobo store, at least, offers their full collection in EPUB format.  There are still moves to be made, but it would seem that the only major impact the Kobo eReader will have had will be to lower the eReader pricing trend enough to wipe itself out of the market.

Borders Pushes the Kobo Store

Preorders are now being taken for the June 17th US release of the Kobo eReader through Borders.com (NYSE:BGP), and this is only the beginning of their increased association with eReading devices.  In a move that apparently abandons their previous efforts at an eBook store through Sony’s (NYSE:SNE) distribution channels, Borders will be launching a Kobo-powered eBook store along with the release of the device.  This store will service the obviously affiliated Kobo eReader, but also work with just about anything else you have handy to read on, in keeping with the Kobo store’s existing philosophy. Supported devices currently include just about everything but the Amazon Kindle, including but not limited to the B&N nook (NYSE:BKS) and the IREX DR-1000S.

The Kobo device will not be the only eReader technology being embraced by the Borders physical store presence, either.  Beginning in August, we should be seeing what Borders is calling Area-e(TM) boutiques that highlight multiple devices at any given time including, most likely, the Sony Reader line and the upcoming Spring Design Alex eReader, both of which have existing ties to the company.  Time will tell if this move secures the Borders Group a real place in the eBook market, but the additional exposure of less well known devices will certainly be a boon to consumers as they try to balance budgets against a plethora of options and features.  So far, the nook and the Kindle seem to have a strong lead on the features and functionality in the market, but not everybody needs quite such a wide range of options in their device.

Upcoming Kobo Release Draws International Attention

As the May 1st release date for the Kobo eReader from Canada-based Indigo Books and Music Inc. draws near, people have begun to take notice.  The $149 price tag alone would seem to many to be the biggest draw, but the full picture is a little bit larger.

In keeping with the company’s goal of promoting content over gadgetry, anybody using the Kobo Store can expect to have access to their purchases available on any number of platforms from eReader to computer to cellular phone.  This should hold true not only in North American markets but around the world, as Indigo has brought in partnerships to expand their presence into the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe.

The device itself is simply a basic reading platform without any of the frills and features that a device like the Kindle boasts, but it provides an affordable option to people at a time when the eReader market is taking off and pulls in a large selection of international literature that is otherwise rather hard to come by.  There are reports of an impressive showing of Korean-language content on the horizon, for example.

If you find yourself interested, check out the National Post’s book blog, The Afterword, where’s there’s a contest going on all week to give readers the chance to win a Kobo eReader of their own to enjoy.  All it takes, it seems, is a few minutes, an email, and some luck!

New Budget-Conscious eReader Enters the Market

Slated for release this May and already available for pre-order, the Kobo eReader provides an inexpensive option for those looking to enjoy the eReader option without breaking the bank. It’s not a Kindle-killer or even trying to be a contender in the recent eReader/Tablet competition being played up all over the internet at the moment, but rather a basic, simple take on reading a novel.

It’s really quite a deal at just $149, honestly. The physical specifications are similar to what is already out on the market:

120mmx184x10mm w/ 6″ eInk Screen
221g / 7.8 ounces
1Gb Internal Storage with an SD Expansion Slot
Bluetooth Compatibility, including Blackberry sync
Compatible with ePub, PDF, and Adobe DRM files

You can get books in these standard formats from pretty much anywhere on the net, including all the popular sources for free literature like Project Gutenberg and Manybooks.net, but the main promoted source will clearly be the Kobo website. No shortage of reading material is always an upside! The downside however, from the gadget lover’s point of view, is that they make no attempt to turn the device into a catch-all for every day tasks. This is quite plainly an ebook Reading Device. Nothing more. No 3g coverage, no downloadable apps, nothing but what you need.

We have only pre-release reviews and technical specs to go by at this point, but it looks like a promising addition to the eReader scene. If you or somebody you care to buy for likes to read a lot for pleasure, this will almost certainly be a welcome product. It won’t check your email, find you a path to the movies, play your home movies, or run games. If that doesn’t turn you away, it might be worth a close look.

Borders Makes Kobo eBook Store

Kobo's service is currently online at kobobooks.com

Kobo's service is currently online at kobobooks.com

Borders, in association with the Canadian publishing company called Kobo, has become the latest company to venture into the world of eBooks. This includes both reader devices and the selling of eBooks through an online store. Although a Borders spokesperson has clarified that Borders will not be involved in the reader devices and they might not carry the devices being developed at the moment. Borders thus constitutes a growing number of competitors for the Kindle and hence for Amazon’s burgeoning eBook business. Of course, it is no secret that the market is expected to explode sometime soon. So even though companies like these are late into the game, they are still entering the market at a nascent stage.

Sure, it would be pretty interesting to see what the devices are going to be like but Borders’ intention to make the platform completely open is even more interesting. It seems like the Borders and Kobo initiative will try to please as many people as they possibly can. And by that I mean that the service will support multiple devices and will be completely platform agnostic.

According to the Chief of Indigo Books & Music (the company behind Kobo), the idea is to free the user from obligations to only one device. Once they buy something from Kobo, they will be able to read it on their readers, their iPhones, their Blackberries and anywhere else that supports eBooks. The service will be based on the open ePub publishing standard, which is already supported in nearly every reader that is there in the market right now. They intend to offer free eBooks from the Internet, as well as paid for eBooks that will start from around $10. They are looking to target light readers who “buy a couple a books a year”.