After months of feverish speculation Amazon has finally launched its long awaited e-reader, the Kindle. Amazon had been keeping the Kindle under wraps, refusing to answer questions or even confirm its existence, bizarrely maintaining this veil of secrecy even after pictures of the device were leaked to tech website Engadget. In the mean time the blogosphere echoed to the sounds of confusion. Until last week that is, when word leaked that today would see the official launch. Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO, has granted an interview to Newsweek in order to promote the Kindle and earlier today it was made available from amazon.com after a press conference in New York. On Amazon they have author endorsements from Toni Morrison to James Patterson; Bezos himself goes on record saying this is the most important thing Amazon “have ever done”. Putting aside the issue of looks, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the device, for just one second, what are the main features?
- Allows users to download and store up to 200 eBooks, with 88,000 being available as of today, direct through the device itself on amazon.com.
- Gives ubiquitous connectivity to the internet via Whispernet, a system devised by Amazon to allow people to download books anywhere anytime.
- Also lets users access web resources like Wikipedia and Google as well as offering a service that sends newspapers (including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post), magazines and blogs automatically to the Kindle.
- Has a 6” e-ink screen, weighs 10.3 ounces and provides 30 hours of reading from one charge.
- The Kindle itself costs $399; Amazon are taking a hit and pricing all NYT Bestsellers and big frontlist titles at $9.99 to build an audience. In addition first chapter downloads will be available for all eBooks free.
- Comes equipped with a keyboard and stylus for note taking; the keyboard also allows for full searchability across all titles.
Perhaps the two most important things on this list are the wireless connection and the pricing policy. Other devices like the Sony Reader or the iRex iLiad have been hampered by their reliance on a physical connection to a computer for uploading new content. The Kindle doesn’t need that- if you’re on a train reading a review, for example, or spot someone reading a book that you like the look of, you can search for it and download it there and then, something you can’t necessarily do on devices that require wi-fi. Access to newspapers/magazines/blogs/websites only increases this usefulness. Secondly Amazon have really demonstrated a commitment to make this work in pricing eBooks at $9.99, as they, not the publishers, are making a loss at this price.
There are question marks hanging over the Kindle. Its looks have been almost universally disparaged; it does not, at this stage, accept open formats; $399 is quite a lot to stump up for a reader and given the range of functionality and characteristically stylish design of the iPhone the Kindle does not offer as many services as it might. Still, the Kindle is a significant step for Amazon and for eBooks, it was three years in the making and over the next few years its features will imporve as its price reduces.