Being a Kindle aficionado is about more than merely owning a Kindle, whether it’s the Kindle, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, or a Kindle Touch that you’ve managed to smuggle back in time. While Amazon’s e-Reader becomes a fast friend and frequent companion for those lucky enough to own one, the experience extends beyond the bounds of the device. There is of course the Kindle for PC application, for which I’ve only recently found applicable uses, but that’s not where it ends.
The slightly more interesting application, however, comes on cell phones. There’s been a Kindle app in the iPhone app store for months now (something I suspect might receive a second look with the announcement of the iPad), but Amazon has announced that a free Kindle app for the BlackBerry is now available for all customers based in the U.S. Or at least the ones who own the following models:
- Bold 9000
- Bold 9700
- Curve 8520
- Curve 8900
- Storm 9530
- Storm 9550
- Tour 9630
Simply type “amazon.com/kindlebb” into your browser on your BlackBerry, and the program will download. After that, it’s simply a matter of putting in your Amazon account information, and you’ll have unlimited access to all of the books, newspapers, magazines, and notes that are connected with your Amazon account. Even those who don’t yet own a Kindle can use the application, which makes it a good bet for those who aren’t sold on the whole e-Reader concept yet, or who just like the look of $9.99 new releases instead of paying $29.99 for a cumbersome hardcover edition.
I am somewhat dubious about the prospect of reading a book on a BlackBerry screen, to be honest. The iPhone app seemed like something of a stretch to my bespectacled eyes, but the BlackBerry Curve and Bold have even less screen real estate to work with, and they’re all backlit. This is why e-Readers are replete with e-Ink technology to begin with! It’s just hard to see on these bright little screens.
Still, as unwieldy as the practical applications of Kindle apps for cell phones are, I find myself curiously upset that they haven’t yet come out in support of Google’s Android operating system. My poor Droid Eris will be relegated to the uncultured morass of turret defense games and the mobile version of the New York Times, at least for the time being. For those BlackBerry owners out there, enjoy!
Even if you’re as dubious as I am about the new Apple iPad competing seriously with the Kindle for the e-Reader spotlight, there’s little questioning that their share of the market stands to fall off a bit in the coming months and years. The sheer number of new devices available now is bound to dilute their dominance, especially when people start trying to make the apples to oranges comparison of a catch-all tablet PC with a dedicated e-Reader.
Amazon is a big company full of smart folks though, so they’re not going to take this lying down. Probably the most obvious response is the “If you can’t beat em, join em” tactic. The rumors of a new Kindle Touch seem to imply that they’re steering in that direction, at least in part. Releasing a new, premium Kindle with a bunch of fancy bells and whistles just makes sense. After all, it was our No. 1 Kindle prediction for 2010.
There is another angle to it that hasn’t been explored, and that’s offering a lower-budget version of the Kindle to get people hooked on buying eBooks. According to reports by TechCrunch, however, Amazon is prepared to take it even farther than that. Apparently, long-time Amazon customers and bibliophiles started getting promotional emails back in January, just before Apple’s big flop of an event, offering them a money-back guarantee for those who ordered a new Kindle 2 and didn’t like it. If they purchased the device and reported that they weren’t satisfied, Amazon was prepared to let them keep the Kindle for free.
While it seemed like a good one-off deal at the time meant to sway people who might be intrigued by the iPad, TechCrunch is now citing a source that says free Kindles could be the way of the future. The report says that they’re trying to find a way to cut costs to the point where they can offer a free Kindle to every Amazon Prime subscriber.
For those not in the know, Amazon Prime is a subscription service offered by Amazon where you pay a yearly fee of $79 and in exchange get free two-day shipping for the whole year as well as overnight shipping for the heavily-discounted price of $3.99. It’s a brilliant sell, because once you have that free two-day shipping going, it becomes difficult to buy products online anywhere else. Consequently, Amazon Prime subscribers become some of their most loyal customers. Give these people a few Kindles, the thinking goes, and they’re bound to happily spend away, more than making up for the cost of the device in word-of-mouth advertising and the sheer volume of books purchased.
Of course, this all hinges on Amazon being able to reduce their costs to the point where they’re not taking huge losses by giving Kindles away. I suspect, and this is purely conjecture at this point, that this is going to come to fruition at the same time as the launch of the rumored Kindle Touch. Amazon can start handing out the Kindle 2 for free to Amazon Prime subscribers and avoid cannibalizing their own market share by releasing a fancier touch-enabled Kindle to fill its place in the premium-priced niche. Everybody wins, from the budget-conscious to the gadget freaks.
The question remains: should you hold off buying a Kindle now so you can get in on this sweet deal? I don’t think we’re quite at that point yet. This is still all shrouded in rumor, and the earliest something like this is liable to happen is the holiday season at the end of the year. The degree to which the Kindle can improve your reading habits today more than justifies the cost. And would you really deny yourself that satisfaction? I wouldn’t either.
Despite the fact that Apple’s iPad has been met with near-universal criticism since it was announced at the end of January, it would seem that Apple has still managed to at least change the dialogue in the e-Reader sphere and cast doubt on the viability of Amazon’s current stable of readers. The iPad might not be able to multitask, or display flash, or have any use at all out in the sun, but it’s raised the expectations amongst those who would prefer to see e-Readers move to full-color touch screen displays.
The prospect of an Amazon e-Reader with such a display is actually much closer than I think many of us were led to believe. The New York Times recently reported that Amazon has acquired a small New York-based startup by the name of Touchco, whose specialty it seems is developing touch screens that are significantly cheaper than the ones used by Apple. No sooner was the company purchased than they were rolled into Amazon’s Kindle division and disappeared from sight.
Interestingly, Prime View International (PVI), which currently produces the Kindle displays, has come out and said that they too will be releasing technology for a color multi-touch display this year that will feature support for animation. It’s unclear at this point whether Amazon intends to implement ideas from both companies or whether PVI is going to get the boot in favor of Touchco.
It’s no secret that Amazon has been active about trying to figure out ways to eat Apple’s lunch. They’ve already enlisted developers to start coming up with games for their platform, which makes much more sense if they’re developing a color touchscreen display than with the Kindle’s currently unwieldy e-Ink technology. And we’ve been talking about the possibility of a Kindle App store since last December.
The problem as I see it is that Amazon can’t hit Apple where it hurts without compromising the integrity of their current e-Reader technology. Try going outside with your Kindle and an iPhone with the Kindle app and tell me which one is easier to read with all that ambient glare. The Times reporter was saying that Touchco’s technology is intended for use with LCD technology, but that’s not a direction Amazon can go without sacrificing both readability and battery life.
Of course, this is a distinction that so-called “experts” and industry analysts seem to miss in this equation. For somebody just looking at this scenario from the point of Amazon’s stock price, going after the same market as an industry-leader is the only aggressive move one can make. But as people who actually read books on our e-Readers, an increasingly novel concept, the future seems much murkier.
Color displays and touch screens could greatly improve the vibrance and intuitive user interface of the Kindle, but they’re just not necessary for reading. We can just hope that Amazon doesn’t lose sight of that in the coming months, and we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on any future mentions of a Kindle Touch.
It always used to baffle me when people would vehemently oppose the government’s ability to look up records of books you’d taken out at the local library. What could they possibly glean from such mundane information, I worried, and how could reading anything you find at your local library be used to implicate you? It’s not as though they have diagrams on how to build pipe bombs sitting right next to the children’s section, right?
As I’ve grown older, however, and our world has grown increasingly digital, I’ve started to notice the ways in which these minor infringements of our privacy can have detrimental side effects. As a general rule, I still don’t much worry about the government knowing that I’m actually reading indulgent fantasy novels, even though I tell everybody who asks that I’m working on Tolstoy. (If they were going to rat me out, I imagine they’d have done it by now.) No, my concern is more than that this information can find its way into the hands of advertisers, who, recognizing me as a member of that illustrious 18-35 middle class male demographic, will pursue me to the ends of the earth hawking products that I don’t need. In-Kindle ads sound far-fetched now, but there are some warning signs that it’s coming.
That’s why I was a bit distressed when a friend forwarded along a link to the E-Book Buyer’s Guide to Privacy by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. By combing through the privacy policies of the market’s major e-Readers, they’ve come up with a helpful side by side comparison for those of us nursing nascent tin foil hats. It’s worrying to note that, from a privacy perspective, Amazon fails on nearly every one of their criteria. Everything from the books you search for to the pages you viewed to how long you viewed them is recorded and attached to your Amazon profile, and are thus accessible to law enforcement, civil courts, and within Amazon itself. What’s worse, they don’t give you the option to opt out of these tracking systems or delete them from your profile. Once they’re there, you’re stuck.
Of course, any reasonable person has to acknowledge that most of this tracking is done in the name of consumer convenience, not the out-stretched arm of Big Brother. How else are you supposed to re-download titles you’ve bought unless Amazon keeps a record of them? And how else are they supposed to recommend you new titles without knowing which ones you’re currently engaged in?
And while people like me don’t have much concern for our privacy because we’re not subject to terribly much scrutiny, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who would rather remain anonymous for legitimate reasons. What if you’re a Chinese ex-pat concerned about whether your old government is tracking your dissident reading habits? Or a candidate for political office worried that reading socialist literature out of curiosity could cost her an election? These are valid concerns.
I think the middle ground for Amazon is aggregating this data in a way in which consumer privacy is preserved while also providing the necessary information for their algorithms in a quasi-anonymous way. Making explicit their commitment to preserving the privacy of their customers would also be a significant step. Amazon has already shown a willingness to push back against subpoenas, but you really have to dig to find this kind of information.
Of course, there’s always the option of just going to the old-fashioned book store and buying something in print with case. But where’s the fun in that?
What better time of year to address the state of the Kindle than in the wake of the President’s State of the Union address? Amazon recently announced their earnings report for the fourth quarter of 2009, and the results were overwhelmingly positive. Is that success sustainable?
According to their statements, fourth-quarter profits were up 71 percent over this period last year. While much of that growth comes as a result of Amazon’s aggressive retail practices, it’s hard to overlook the influence that the Kindle has had on their bottom line. They have reported six Kindle books sold for every 10 print books during that period, indicating that the content attach rate is starting to work its way up to a critical mass. What’s more, gadget blog TechCrunch is citing a source close to Amazon that pegs the current number of Kindle’s sold worldwide at 3 million, as of December. Not a bad number when you consider they were only expected to sell 2.5 million by the end of 2010!
But while the state of the Kindle is stronger than it has ever been, the announcement of Apple’s iPad on Wednesday is a reminder that the e-Reader market is a constantly changing beast, and the current state of affairs should not be taken for granted. Of course, this is not an Apple blog, so if you want a full rundown on all that the iPad has to offer, check out Gizmodo or any one of the myriad of sites that have full coverage.
The aspect of the iPad that does interest me is, of course, the iBooks application that represents Apple’s first foray into the word of eBooks. Their presentation was slick, as has become customary for Apple, but I’m as dubious about the prospect of reading books on the device as I was when it was still being referred to as the iSlate. Reading on a backlit device with extremely limited battery power and no defense against glare just does not sound like an attractive prospect to me, touch screen or no.
Whether the device is ideal for reading eBooks doesn’t seem to have fazed the publishers who have already signed on to publish books on the platform. Apple is much more flexible with their pricing structure, and early indications peg their normal price point between $12.99 and $14.99, a not insignificant jump up from Amazon’s $9.99 standard. We’ve reported in past months how unhappy publishers are with Amazon’s discount model, and it appears that Apple is positioning themselves as a competitive outlet for those frustrations. The New York Times is even reporting that Amazon has pulled all books by Macmillan, one of the publishers who have officially thrown their lot in with Apple, from their site over these pricing disputes. Could it be the beginning of a trend?
Strong consumer enthusiasm for the Kindle is going to be their biggest buffer against the impending iBooks threat. Even if they’re unhappy with their chunk of the profits, it’s going to be difficult for more publishers to turn their backs on 3 million dedicated literophiles who snap up books at a much greater rate than the general population. What’s more, an increase in competition historically has downward pressure on the price of goods, so I highly doubt Apple’s effort to assuage publishers is going to influence Amazon’s pricing structure in a significant way.
The state of the Kindle is strong. We can never be totally sure what the future holds (though we do have an idea), but it seems as good a time as any to be Kindle owner. Why not jump on the bandwagon?