Steve Jobs Continues to Dismiss eReaders

Steve Jobs had some harsh words to say about the Kindle, and eReaders in general, in a recent interview with David Pogue.  Jobs had previously stated his view that eReaders weren’t a viable product, but this was before the success Amazon has had.  Yet, even with the profit the Kindle has made, Jobs’ view is the same now as it has always been:

I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing … But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.

Jobs also goes on to imply that since Amazon doesn’t release exact sales figures, the Kindle hasn’t been as successful as people believe.  Of course, this is just marketing bravado on the part of Jobs.  Sure, there aren’t as many Kindles out there as iPods, but no one would truly believe that Amazon hasn’t benefited from the eReader market.  Besides the devices themselves, Amazon takes a huge share of the profits from everything people buy to read on it (So huge that some publishers have started to complain).

It’s also pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that Jobs is hinting at the fabled Apple tablet.  While still existing mainly in the form of rumor, the tablet is nonetheless expected to have a huge impact.  Since its a portable device which will, among many other things, be able to read books, it’s expected to be the killer eReader device.  Some have even gone so far as to preemptively call it the Kindle-killer or attempt to forecast its effects on Amazon’s sales.

Both Jobs’ statement and they hype around the tablet come down to the same question of design philosophy: dedicated vs general-purpose devices.  While Jobs may be right that general-purpose devices have the long term advantage, the Kindle won’t be in any real danger unless the tablet can pull in enough customers from across the board.  Someone who likes the idea of an eReader, but already bought a tablet for other reasons, will likely keep the tablet.  Someone specifically shopping for a reader could still be swayed by the Kindle’s advantages, however.

Want to Compete With Amazon? Slate Has Some Advice

Slate has an article about the best way to beat the Kindle in the eBook market.  Their arguments are fairly compelling.  They compare the eBook market to mp3 players, as both represented the transition from traditional media to a digital form.  In terms of eReaders, the Kindle has the role of the iPod.  Both devices broke out early in their respective markets due to a cleverly designed service and smart marketing.  Since no competitor was ever able to touch the iPod, Amazon’s competitors need to figure out where Apple’s competitors went wrong.

The article comes away with 2 main suggestions:

1. “Beat the Kindle on features, not on price.”  The iPod stayed ahead by continually reinventing itself.  An eReader that completely dwarfed the Kindle in features would have a chance.  Maybe. Except for…

2. “Service matters more than the device itself.”  The Kindle beat the Sony Reader because it had the Kindle bookstore.  Any competitor will have to beat the entire platform.

iRex Reader Will Also Use Barnes & Noble’s Platform

bandnIt looks like Plastic Logic won’t be only company taking advantage of Barnes & Noble’s online book store.  iRex Technologies has announced that their upcoming device will also be able to download Barnes & Noble books over 3G wireless.

This is big news for both iRex and Barnes & Noble.  News of the new iRex reader has been taken with a grain of salt, due to the company’s so-so track record.  By gaining a huge library of books to back up their 3G capabilities, the new iRex reader gains some extra credence.  But Barnes & Noble is an even bigger winner in this case.  Their store is set up to more or less mimic the Kindle platform.  Up until now, Barnes & Noble was betting on the Plastic Logic Reader to help them compete with Amazon. With the iRex reader, things are different now.  Barnes & Noble is still competing with the Kindle, but instead of manufacturing their own device they are letting their customers choose from a handful of eReaders from competing companies.

If more readers are added to Barnes & Noble’s platform, they could prove successful in luring customers away from Amazon.  Right now, however, I don’t think Amazon needs to be too worried.  With both the Kindle and the Kindle DX, Amazon is offering just as wide an array of devices as Barnes & Noble is.

Will ePub be the Death of the Kindle?

One of the recent major developments in the eReader market is Sony’s announcement that they will be fully adopting the ePub standard.  Sony plans to completely abandon their own, proprietary format in what seems to be a concerted effort to dethrone the Kindle.  Selling books in ePub won’t necessarily help the Sony Reader, but it will open the store to owners of, say, the COOL-ER Reader.  Likewise, Sony Reader owners would realize that other ePub stores, such as Google Books, would be just as compatible with their device.

Some analysts think that this is the best way to pull Amazon from the top of the eReader market.  If the market is filled with similar devices that all buy materials from the same, varied selection of online stores, Amazon stands out as the only company with such tight restrictions.  There won’t necessarily be another device that leads the market in the way the Kindle has, but other companies will be free to compete without automatically riding Amazon’s coattails.  Past controversies surrounding the Kindle would make it seem even more unfavorable compared to the less restrictive ePub readers.

If widespread adaption of ePub does kill the Kindle, it would lead to an interesting eBook market.  Consumers would all pick a device based off of personal preference/budget.  After that, shopping for a book would be like the digital equivalent of today’s brick and mortar stores.  If you want a specific book, you would shop around between various large and independent bookstores.

Of course, the Kindle wouldn’t really be killed.  Amazon would simply make it another ePub reader.  It could be killed, however, in the sense that it would no longer have the distinction that sets it apart from other readers.

Let’s have a small poll about Kindle DRM restrictions. Feel free to respond in the comments as well.

Interead’s COOL-ER eReader

Image From Interead

Image From Interead

Interead’s attempt at a Kindle-killer, the COOL-ER reader, begins shipping this month.  Designed in a style that clearly mimics the iPod Nano, it seems that Interead hopes to fill the niche of a stylish, more “hip” eReader.  The screen is roughly the same size as the Kindle 2, but at only $249.

The drop in price does have a cost, however, as the COOL-ER lacks some of the Kindle’s functionality.  Besides the absence of text-to-speech or a keyboard, the most obvious feature missing is any form of wireless.  While Interead does have its own eBook store, it doesn’t run any kind of whispernet like service and all connections to the reader are through USB.

A mostly negative review of the reader has already shown up in the USA Today.  Besides criticizing the lack of functionality mentioned above, the review goes on to complain about how Interead’s Cooler Books store compares to Amazon‘s.  New releases on Cooler Books have costs comparable to their real-life hardcover counterparts, meaning many titles are $10-12 more than on the Kindle.

But it seems the review somewhat misses the point.  Like the successful iPod Nano it is designed after, the COOL-ER provides one function at a significantly discounted price.  And while Cooler Books has higher prices, it is because the publishers are given more control.  The result is that Interead actually has a much larger selection of eBooks than Amazon, even if grossly overpriced.

Even more importantly, it’s possible to avoid the expensive Cooler Books store altogether.  Unlike the Kindle, the COOL-ER reader is based around the ePub format and not tied to any specific service.  This makes it compatible with Google’s upcoming book store.  If Google’s device-agnostic service proves to be popular, the COOL-ER is exactly the type of reader it’s average customer would own.  It certainly lacks the power of a Kindle, but at over $100 cheaper, many people would gladly give up the Kindle’s extra features.  It’ll be worth seeing how Interead competes in the future.

Feature Comparisons at a glance:

Kindle 2 Kindle DX COOL-ER
Display Size 6 inches 9.7 inches 6 inches
Weight 10.2 Ounces 18.9 Ounces 6.3 Ounces
Wireless 3G/Whispernet 3G/Whispernet No
Text-To-Speech Yes Yes No
Book Store Amazon Amazon Cooler Books
ePub No No Yes
Storage 2 GB 4 GB 1 GB
Price $359.00 $489.00 $249.00

Google Digital Bookstore by the end of 2009?

Google Book Store

Google Book Store

It looks like Amazon Kindle will see more competition in 2009.

Google announced that it will start selling digital books by the end of 2009. Publishers and authors welcomed this development because it would bring much needed competition to the market currently dominated by Amazon. The fact that Google announced that publishers will be able to set the book price added to that sympathy.

This is not the first punch from Google camp aimed at Amazon this year. On March 18th Google made 500,000+ public domain books available in ePub format to owners of Sony Readers. While this has done little to strengthen Sony’s position against Amazon it clearly showed that Google is not going to ally with Amazon on the matter of digital books.

It’s unclear how much market will Google capture with it’s digital book store. It would very much depend on the specifics of what exactly it would be. Currently all we know is that it will be device-agnostic. However what it will do in the short term even before it is open to public is it will slow down Amazon Kindle adoption because some people would decide to wait for the Google product in hopes that it will be cheaper, provide better reading experience, have more books (although this is extremely unlikely), lack Kindle’s shortcomings etc.

It looks like Amazon has angered a lot of people by releasing Kindle DX just shortly after release of Kindle 2. These people believe that their Kindle 2 device almost immediately became outdated (I personally don’t share this point of view and regard Kindle DX as a different class of devices rather than “Kindle 3”). And speaking of Kindle 3 – some people would still expect it to make appearance by holiday season 2009. These too will wait for Google Book Store to be released so that they can compare. Personally I consider Kindle 3 this year unlikely – there’s very little that can be improved in the hardware at current technology levels other than price. It’s all about book selection now.

How much actual harm will it do to Amazon will be unclear until 2009 Q2 and Q3 financial results will be announced and it will depend on how much official and unofficial publicity will Google Books Store get in the coming months.

Should this upcoming Google Book Store turn out to be really “device-agnostic”, providing good reading experience for Amazon Kindle users, Amazon would find itself it very peculiar position given that it pays Sprint 12cents for every megabyte downloaded by Kindle users. In this case Amazon would be paying for deliver of books purchased by it’s not so loyal users from Google. This may be the end of Basic Web or start of Amazon charging for Internet traffic.

Pixel Qi demonstrates hybrid reflective/backlit display

While Pixel Qi on their website explicitly states that their displays are not based on eInk technology and that they are not affiliated with eInk Corporation this piece of news is highly related to eInk, because potentially we may have a eInk competitor here.

Pixel Qi Hybrid Display

Pixel Qi Hybrid Display

It is a display which according to Pixel Qi is extremely cheap to build from standard LCD display components and in fact it is for the most part an LCD display. With one exception – it can be switched to reflective mode. In this mode it consumes much less power than ordinary LCD display would and becomes monochrome but it can potentially display 3x as many pixels.

According to Pixel Qi consumers will see these displays in notebooks and netbooks by the end of 2009 and in “other devices” sometime in 2010. It looks like it’s easy to integrate this technology into existing designs since according to nerdword, Pixel Qi engineers rigged couple of retail-purchased laptops with their new display with seemingly little effort.

While this technology is mainly geared towards netbooks, notebooks and cellphones to make them usable in the sunlight (another interesting piece of news being Pixel Qi planning to supply displays for $75 laptops), it’s quite possible that much cheaper products price along with acceptable power consumption (though still much higher than eInk which is based on electrophoretic technology) and ongoing developments in battery technology may produce eBook reader that will run for several days on one charge, be usable in sunlight and cost less than Amazon Kindle.

Fujistu FLEPia features color eInk

Fujitsu has launched FLEPia – “color e-paper mobile terminal”. It features:

fujitsu-flepia

  • 8″ 1024×768 e-Ink resistive touchscreen that can display either 260,000, 4,096 or 64 colors. Depending on the number of colors page update time ranges from 1.8 to 8 seconds.
  • 158 x 240 x 12 mm size and 350g weight. This makes it larger and heavier compared to Amazon Kindle 2 (135 x 203 x 9 mm and 289g). I would imagine that version with 12″ screen would be even heavier.
  • SD slot that can accommodate up to 4GB of flash memory
  • Connectivity is represented by 802.11b/g wireless, Bluetooth 2.0 and USB
  • It runs Microsoft Windows CE5.0 on XScale RISC CPU
  • Battery life is 40 hours or 2,400 page turns which is impressive for a device with these capabilities.
  • eBook formats supported are: BunkoViewer XMDF and T-Time .book. Both are eBook formats widely used on mobile phones in Japan. Since device runs a generic Windows CE5.0 OS I can speculate that it would be possible to broaden format selection by installing additional applications
  • Price tag is ¥100,000 ($940)

While I didn’t have the opportunity to play around with this device I’ll speculate a little bit…

Although some news sites might call this device a “Kindle Killer”, it’s obviously not that. First of all it’s geared heavily towards Japanese market and Japanese users. Secondly, it is not hooked to Kindle Book Store which is crucial to Kindle‘s success. My personal belief is that Kindle would have been successful even without eInk technology though maybe slightly less. And thirdly even 8″ version costs around $1,000 which is to high for “eBook reader for the masses”

It is good to see this device comercially released though because it would allow for further development of color eInk technology and eventually prices will come down and we’ll see more devices featuring it…

Onyx Boox revealed at CeBIT 2009

Onyx International presented Onyx Boox e-reader at CeBIT 2009. Endgadget has video and some photos of the device. Current plans are for it to start shipping to US customers around June 2009 with a price tag lower than Sony PRS-700 which is $400. Here are some features I was able to deduce from the video and other sources:

  • Stylus sensitive 6″, 8″ or 9.7″ 16 shades of gray touchscreen so you can scribble your notes right on top of the text.
  • Native support for many data formats including PDF, HTML, TXT, CHM, ePub, PDB, MOBI, PRC, JPG, BMP, PNG, GIF, TIFF, MP3, WAV.
  • 512MB internal storage. Additional storage can be added in a form of either Memory stick or USB drives. 128MB RAM. 400Mhz processor or above
  • Integrated WiFi. Optional EVDO or 3G wireless module.
  • 1600mAh integrated Li-Ion battery.
  • Either by accelerometer similar to the one in iPhone or by explicit user input it’s possible to use it both landscape and portrait modes. Cool feature but in my opinion it’s not too relevant to book reading.
  • It is claimed that it has handwriting recognition. This makes me assume that touchscreen wouldn’t respond to fingers because that requires magnetic sensors similar to ones found in Tablet PCs that capture stylus movements precisely including tilt angle. This allows recognition to be much more accurate at the cost of these sensors ignoring anything but the stylus.
  • Web Browser that is based on WebKit (same library that powers Apple Safari and Google Chrome). This would probably yield browsing experience that is superior to Kindle.
  • There is on-screen keyboard available. I wouldn’t mind having something like that on Kindle with extra space allocated for bigger screen that can be used for reading when keyboard isn’t required.
  • It will be possible to install additional applications but it’s unclear whether SDK will be released.
  • Text-to-speech capability. Though because of the noise in the video it was impossible to tell how good is it.

Below is the official promotional video.

My personal opintion is that it will not be very successful if successful at all and here’s why:

While it has many cool features like larger screen, touchscreen, large selection of formats that it supports, few of these features are actually useful in day-to-day operations. Overall it looks more like e-Ink PDA rather than eBook reader. WebKit based browser is nice but slow e-Ink screen will negate most of the benefits. iPhone with 3.5″ display would provide much better overall web-browsing experience. Running additional application can’t be good for battery life. And while touch screen is cool, how often would you really need to scribble and use handwriting recognition? Most of these tasks can be much better performed by other devices like PDAs, iPhone, etc.

But most importantly, what about books? Without having access to Amazon’s Kindle Store with 240,000+ titles it would be limited to much smaller selections of the stores that would decide to partner with Onyx and free books. Which is not a whole lot compared to what Amazon has to offer. Most likely book buying experience will not be as easy and streamlined as one with Kindle.

There’s one great feature that really made Onyx Boox stand out – larger screens. Although I’m pretty sure that “cheaper than $400″ price tag that was announced on CeBIT applies to 6” model and ones with larger screens will cost more. Nonetheless there would be people for whom larger screen would outweigh all cons and they would buy Onyx Boox rather than Amazon Kindle should it have access to the same selection of books. And this is why I believe Amazon would not partner with Onyx to protect it’s Kindle sales.

Poor state of US and worldwide economy wouldn’t  help sales either.

So although this post is under “Kindle Killer” category, really it’s Kindle Killer… Not.

onyx-boox

I know that this post may sound too Kindle biased, but that’s my opinion. Anyway, we’ll be able to find out if I was right soon enough. I’ll keep you posted.