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The Kindle evolves again

July 29, 2010, 11:39 am

Image from Amazon.com

Update: Here’s an overview video of the new Kindle.

Amazon today unveiled the third generation of its Kindle ebook readers. The new devices, which will ship beginning August 27, will be smaller (21% reduction in size, while keeping the same size screen) and lighter (8.7 ounces) than the current generation of Kindles, with double the storage capacity, improved contrast and fonts, and built-in WiFi. Most importantly is the price point: $189, with a $139 WiFi-only model also being offered.

When Amazon first sold the Kindle, I roundly criticized it (here, here, and here; and then here for the second generation Kindles) as a good idea but lacking several deal-breaking features that should have been obvious, and would have been inexpensive, to include. I also thought the price point — which at the time was in the $359 range! — was way too high. I don’t think Jeff Bezos has been reading this blog, but I must applaud Amazon for addressing most of the issues I’ve brought up.

It took them long enough, but clearly the rapidly-expanding competition in the ebook reader market — not least of which is the iPad — has forced Amazon to make a better mousetrap. We now have native PDF support; WiFi in addition to WhisperNet; a better user interface and sturdier physical design; integration of social networking tools; and a reasonable price tag. The only thing they haven’t done that I first wished they had is made the screen touch-sensitive and in color, but after using the Kindle app on my iPhone and other ebook readers, I’m inclined to think that this isn’t such a big deal after all.

Additionally, Amazon has employed a pretty smart marketing strategy, which is to focus on the content rather than the hardware. If I own a Kindle, buy a bunch of books with it, and then decide I don’t like the Kindle any more or if the Kindle breaks, I’m not screwed — just use the iPhone or Mac Kindle app. For that matter, I don’t have to own a Kindle device at all to read Kindle books. That gives readers more freedom (which is good) and it’s also probably what allows them to drop the price on their hardware so much — more people are buying Kindle books without the Kindle reader, so the demand for the device is lower.

The one thing that seems curious in this announcement is that I would have expected Amazon to go full-throttle into the academic textbook market. Colleges and universities are beginning to adopt the iPad as the hardware platform of choice, and the lower price of the Kindle, availability of prominent textbooks (like Stewart’s Calculus) as Kindle editions, and the generally lower price of Kindle books over their print editions would seem to be big selling points. But there was no big announcement aimed at students and educational institutions to accompany the Kindle announcement itself. And the August 27 ship date is just a little too late for students entering the Fall semester. I wonder if Amazon believes they have a shot in that market; I happen to think they do, but they’ll have to get a move on if they want to compete with the iPad.

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