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2/9/2009
09:53 AM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Live Blog: Amazon Announces Improved Kindle 2.0 For $359

It's about 9:53am and I'm at the Morgan Library off of Madison Avenue in NYC where Amazon executives are preparing to make a big announcement. Since the notices first went out to this invite-only affair, the speculation has been that Amazon is going to to announce version 2.0 of its proprietary electronic book (ebook) reader; the Kindle. The Internet is already riddled with pictures of the new model (video and photos below). Based on what's been written,...

It's about 9:53am and I'm at the Morgan Library off of Madison Avenue in NYC where Amazon executives are preparing to make a big announcement. Since the notices first went out to this invite-only affair, the speculation has been that Amazon is going to to announce version 2.0 of its proprietary electronic book (ebook) reader; the Kindle. The Internet is already riddled with pictures of the new model (video and photos below). Based on what's been written,........ the screen on the new model is a tad bigger and the device isn't wedge-shaped like the original was. The first Kindle didn't have a backlight and so far, I've seen no indication that the new model will have one earlier. Reading the Kindle at night may still require additional lighting (eg: battery operated, external). Earlier this morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that some of Stephen King's books would be available exclusively on the Kindle prior to being available anywhere in hard copy. Another rumor that's been making its way around the book industry is that Amazon could introduce software that makes it possible to read Kindle-compatible ebooks with an iPhone (or iPod Touch). (continued below these two photos of the press getting ready for the Amazon press conference)

Outside the Morgan

Pre Event

While we wait for the big news, I'll set the stage (continued below image of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos holding new Kindle).

Jeff Bezos with Kindle 2

Until very recently, my family was a 2-Kindle family. The first unit was an Amazon-furnished review unit that I grew so fond of, I bought another one for my wife for whom I'm certain the Kindle was designed. For unknown reasons, the review unit failed but that hasn't shaken my wife's love for the device. Because we'll be shooting a video at this announcement (I plan to embed it in this post once we've uploaded it), I borrowed her Kindle as a prop and when I asked if I could take it to New York for me, it was as though someone had asked for her first born child.

For reasons that I won't go too far into here (I've painstakingly detailed them before), the Kindle is revolutionary. Beyond being an ebook reader, the Kindle does a great many things. For example, you can subscribe to blogs and newspapers (the latter of which come to you ad-free). You can also email documents and PDF-formatted files to the Kindle in such a way that they're automatically converted into a Kindle-compatible format my some sort of cloud-based sausage factory that Amazon runs behind the scenes.

If, in the iTunes Music Store and the iPod, you think that Apple has taken all the friction out of buying and transferring music and videos to a portable playback device, Amazon actually did Apple one better. The Kindle connects to Sprint's wireless broadband network which means you can browse and buy books from Amazon's Kindle store (almost always at a significant discount from the physical book) from pretty much anywhere in the US (and I'm assuming Canada). In contrast, if you own an iPod or even an iPhone which is able to connect to AT&T's cellular network, you still need access to a Local Area Network (wired or wireless) that's connected to the Internet in order to buy anything from the iTunes Music Store. With the Kindle, the connection to the Kindle bookstore is built-in and costs nothing extra.

Aside from the frictionless acquisition process though (something Sony's competing eBook reader doesn't have), it's still the fundamentals of the Kindle that excite my wife. She's the sort of person who reads five books (many of which are non-fiction) at a time and often returns to the ones that's she's read before to look things up. I'm not sure how many books she has acquired with her Kindle (I guess I could look, I have it sitting right here). It doesn't matter. The idea that she can carry all of them around in a device that's as light as a feather (10.3 ounces), that fits easily in her bag (7.5 in x 5.3 in x .7 in) and have their texts searchable at her fingertips makes her giggle as it would anyone with an appetite for books as voracious as hers.

But the Kindle has its faults and despite the revolution it represents, isn't completely in the clear when it comes to competitors quite yet. The new model is said to address a criticism of Kindle 1.0; that it was too easy to accidentally turn the page. The original Kindle got slammed for this shortcoming. But both my wife and I found that once you got used to the Kindle's industrial design, it was no different than learning how not to oversteer a new sports car with really tight steering. It's easy to adjust to. I'll also be curious to see if Amazon is expanding the networking options so that the Kindle can attach to a network in Europe where Sprint has no footprint (and where my wife and I travel to every couple of years to see family). Today, before such a trip, you'll need to load your Kindle up early.

But the Kindle's biggest vulnerability in the market is the inability to consume "Kindle books" on platforms other than the Kindle (for example, a PC or a handheld device like a BlackBerry, iPhone, a Sony PSP, etc.). In response to what I've written about the Kindle, Lexcycle COO Neelan Choksi has been persuading me to try his company's Stanza ebook reader on the iPhone or iPod Touch. So, I finally gave it a shot and I have to say that after being so convinced of the Kindle's strategic market advantage, I'm not so convinced anymore. I just finished reading my first Stanza-compatible ebook (Ken Follett's Code to Zero) on an iPod Touch. I'll be writing an in-depth review in the coming weeks. But, suffice to say, Stanza has me thinking about the early 80's when Wang Labs seemed to own the world with a proprietary system that was dedicated to word processing. Then, along came PCs from Apple, IBM, and others that proved the market had a preference for multi-purpose systems that, via software, could be customized to the end-user's liking. Word processing software soon followed as did the demise of Wang Labs.

I'm not for a minute suggesting the demise of Amazon due to misteps in the ebook market. But now that I've used Stanza on the iPod Touch, I can't help but wonder if Amazon really expects buyers to shell out hundreds of dollars for an ebook reader when, in a growing number of cases, those same buyers already have an ebook reader (and a very good one at that), in their pockets. As suggested earlier, Amazon could very well announce its own Kindle-compatible ebook reading software for the iPhone (or that it's acquiring Lexcycle) in which case, it will have dealt with the potential threat.

The Announcement

The WiFi network at the Morgan Library is excruciatingly slow and in some cases, the connection is dropping so, I'm not able to blog as "live" as I'd like (also preventing me from reliabily uploading photos). The announcement is indeed the Kindle 2.0.

Jeff Bezos took the stage and offered a bit of a pre-amble, talking about how the design goals for the Kindle were always for the Kindle to disappear much the same way we don't pay any attention to the ink, the glue, the paper and the stitching in a physical book. Another goal is to make every book ever printed available in every language in less than 60 seconds.

Some of the new Kindle's key differentiators are as follows:

  • It's only 10.2 ounces
  • It's .36 inches thick which makes it thinner than the top 5 selling 3G cell phones on the market
  • It includes a text-to-speech feature that will read books to you and that allows you to seamlessly switch back and forth between text and speech modes without losing it's place.
  • There's also a feature called WhisperSync so that you can switch back and forth between Kindle readers and continue reading the same book without loosing your place (for example if you have a Kindle 1.0 and want to switch to a Kindle 2.0).
  • It has 16 shades of gray as opposed to the original Kindle's four.
  • Can hold over 1500 books.
  • Improved buttons for paqe navigation (see photo below). For example, a five-way controller button that, when reading newspapers, makes it far easier than the Kindle 1.0 at navigating newspaper sections and articles. The five-way controller also makes it a lot easier to select specific text, highlight it, and look it up in the built-in dictionary. To prevent accidental page turns (a common complaint with the first Kindle), the "next page button is significantly smaller (it doesn't run more than half of the right bezel as it does with Kindle 1.0), the user must press the inside edge of the "next page" button, thereby requiring much more of a deliberate key-press than might normally happen if the entire button was depressable.
  • Content-wise, Bezos mentions that USA Today has joined the roster of newspapers that Kindle users can subscribe to. Also, starting today, the New Yorker Magazine will be available on the Kindle.
  • Price: $359

(continued below)

Kindle 2 With Its New Navigation Buttons

Author Stephen King takes the stage Midway through the announcement, author Stephen King takes the stage and jokes about how working with Amazon will get him a free Kindle (Jeff Bezos apparently delivered a customized pink one into King's hands earlier this morning). (continued below photo below of Stephen King)

Stephen King At Amazon's Kindle 2 Press Conference

King then talks about how his next book coming out -- Ur -- will actually include the Kindle as a part of the story and reads a passage from the book (hey, it's not every day that you go to technology press conference and get a reading from Stephen King). Ur will be available in a couple of weeks to Kindle owners before it becomes available to the general public. Kindle owners who pre-order it now will find that it is automatically delivered to their Kindle on the day it becomes available.

Bezos comes on after King to talk about how the Kindle 2.0 will be available on February 24th and that any Kindle 1.0 owner that pre-orders the Kindle for $359 before tomorrow night (February 10th) will be prioritized in the delivery queue ahead of everybody else.

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