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New Kindle software, hardware expand Amazon's e-book system, blur its identity

Over the last few days, Amazon has shipped three major updates to its Kindle electronic-book system that expand its capabilities but also confuse its identity.


Its first move came last Sunday, when it announced a multimedia upgrade to the free Kindle application for Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad that it debuted last year.

On those devices, the Kindle app can now play audio and video files embedded in some Kindle releases. For example, a preview copy of travel writer Rick Steves' latest guide to London features the author reading aloud his descriptions--a useful option while walking around the city.

But you won't see or hear any of that multimedia goodness in the other Kindle software introduced this week--the reader program for Android smartphones that Amazon announced on Monday. The free Kindle for Android, which requires devices to at least run the 1.6 release of Google's operating system, resembles the Seattle retailer's older iPhone software and the BlackBerry application it shipped in February.

Like those earlier programs, Kindle for Android displays books you've bought on the Kindle Store and even keeps your place as you switch your reading from one Kindle device or program to another. But shopping requires switching over to an Android phone's Web browser, and you can't read newspapers, magazines or blogs to which you've subscribed through the Kindle Store.

To enjoy those subscriptions, you'd instead have to switch to Amazon's third release of the week, an updated Kindle DX e-reader tablet introduced Thursday. The new Kindle DX, shipping July 7, features an e-ink screen that Amazon says offers 50 percent more contrast than that of its predecessor.

It sells for $379, down from $489, and comes clad in dark-gray plastic that should hide dirt better than the old DX's off-white exterior. But even at $379, the DX doesn't seem to compare well to a $499 iPad that will let you read the same books, allow you to peruse blogs, newspapers and magazines through its Web browser or add-on apps, and which also happens to be a decent computer in its own right.

(One could say the same about the smaller Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook; prices were cut on each last week.)

How do you see this shaking out? Will "Kindle" become shorthand for a family of reader programs, or will people continue to think of a specific set of e-reader tablets when you say the name?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 2, 2010; 4:05 PM ET
Categories:  E-books , Gadgets , Mobile  
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I think there will be a Kindle brand of mainly ebook focused devices for the next few years at least. The price will decline to, say, $200. But, amazon may well sell more ebooks for other devices, particularly Apple's, in as little as a year. If the Kindle devices prove a losing proposition, Amazon will discontinue them.

Posted by: query0 | July 2, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

does the kindle dx allow the same clunky web-browsing of the regular kindle? at least w/ free 3g it will be faster.

Posted by: HardyW | July 2, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

I like the Kindle 2's form factor, and I don't think it's going away. I expect a color Kindle to emerge, and I for one anticipate the rumored Shasta Kindle to be something I will want to buy, even if it's black and white. I have a Netbook if I want something bigger and a Nokia N900 for cell-phone sized reading, but Kindle 2 size still seems like the best reading size for me.

Posted by: geneven | July 2, 2010 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Personally I am boycotting any device that tries to create a monopoly position, I won't buy a Kindle until it is open source and has a battery that I can swap out without having to send it back to them. For the same reason I shall keep on using my netbook rather than switching to an Ipad.

Posted by: ianstuart | July 2, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

The price is competitive if you note the niche market crowd: avid readers

That includes those who mainly want a device for reading (a lot of us have really good 10" netbooks that do more than the iPad but aren't flat) and those who want to read when outdoors or by a window indoors as the iPad has a terrible time with reflections and glare in daylight.

But as HardyW mentions, the 3G now includes free web browsing in about 60 countries, via mobile-networks. Hardy, yes it's included, and it's faster now. But as with any smaller-sized mobile-unit, it does best with website versions that are mobile-device-optimized. There's no limit on them except for sites with large images, in which case, that's too slow.

Text-based lookups are best. There are places with free full NYTimes text daily.

For the iPad which has 3G capability that would allow downloading of books from almost anywhere, that iPad would cost, at a minimum, $629 and then web-data charges of $15- $25 for the months in which you actually used the 3G capability.

I think the Kindle's e-reading market is different from the color-web-browsing, video focused iPad. Many I know like having both units. The Kindles are good for long-form reading in daylight with no eyestrain.

Posted by: Andrys | July 3, 2010 1:30 AM | Report abuse

Rob, stop comparing the Kindle to the iPad. They are two different devices with two difference purposes. The Kindle is a dedicated eBook reader. The iPad is a huge, multifunction device with a short battery life and a backlit LCD screen. If you want to read a book, there is no better device than a Kindle. If you want to play Angry Birds, then by all means... dump $500 into what is simply a giant iPod. Or you could try out these revolutionary new device Apple just came out with. It's just like an iPad only it's smaller, so it will fit in your pocket, has a front and rear facing camera, AND YOU CAN MAKE PHONE CALLS WITH IT!!! It's called an iPhone. It will make the iPad obsolete!!!

Posted by: phchris | July 3, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Regardless of the changes was ahead of the curb when it came to digital formats and e-books. I have read several news articles showing Barnes and Nobles, along with others in the industry, are now struggling to catch up.

I hope soon, the publishing world will also look at self-publishing differently. Technology has made it easy for writers to electronically publish their work.

I say good for Amazon and their new Kindle tools.

Posted by: fearless74 | July 3, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I think you folks are missing the point a little. I am a techno-junkie and will probably sooner or later get an iPad. I love Apple products and own several including Apple tv. but it doesn't really interest me at this time.
The iPad is a great general purpose portable entertainment device that does allow web browsing and email and videoin addition to eReading at a decent price. But the cheapest "untethered" GSM iPad is $549 plus a $15 a month subscription to AT&T.
I own a Kindle and have for over a year. I absolutly love it! I have never been interested in using it for multimedia or web browsing, I have other devices for those when I need them but when I want to just sit down and read one of the 8 - books I am reading snatches of at any one time without carrying themall around the kindle can't be beat! It is the size of a paperback and reads very much the same way. I can change font size when i forget my reading glasses in about 3 seconds, read it in bright sunlight,(in dim light I need to turn something on about like I would with a paperback). I can switch from one book to another in about another 3 seconds and it always keeps my place. I can shop for new books from it almst anywhere (OK not on Stuart island in the San Juans)or buy from my PC and be reading in less than a minute and the connection is free forever. There are hundreds of thousands of free books available from Amazon or other sites. My battery life is a minimum of three weeks if I leave the web connection off or a week if it is on. I can charge from any USB port. I can automatically synch with darn near any device so if I want to continue on the same page I am reading on my kindle of the same book on my iPod touch or my PC I just open the book and I'm there. But the iPOD touch has too small a screen and the PC is not as portable or as easy to read for hours. And my Kindles is a third the size of the iPad and a quarter the weight. Oh and it is now $179. The DX is larger with a screen that is closer to the size of the iPad but is still half as thick and has all the advantages of the Kindle 2 I have. However in my opinion even the new one is still more than I would spend on one.
People have been saying (don't people always say?) for years that ereaders won't work because they are single purpose. With the Kindle Amazon has spawned a whole "kindle killer" industry. (Sound like iPod killer anyone?) I think until multi-purpose pads get to the same price point and flexability there will always be a place for Kindle, Nook etc.

Posted by: gherman22 | July 3, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how high the quality will be on the multimedia files. There's not a lot of space on the Kindle device.

Posted by: aislinnskyla | July 3, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I really don't get the criticism that the Kindle is a single-purpose item. It's an eReader - no more, no less. It's small and portable, and requires no Internet connection. It can not only display an unlimited number of books, including the 1,500 it can store, but it also has a built-in dictionary and adjustable font sizes. And it can subscribe to newspapers and blogs (just like your iPad). Besides, how multi-purpose is a book printed on paper?!?

Posted by: 4Katie | July 4, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

the Nook as a disadvantage, as far as i'm concerned, for people with vision problems and the elderly... it's not backlit which means someone with poor vision still has to use a light to ready the screen easily. The screen on the iPad is amazing and you have so much control.
I haven't tried the Kindle, since i can't find it anywhere and I don't know someone who has one.

Posted by: mollytjm | July 5, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I find the new KDX with an improved screen and $110 cheaper to not be particularly compelling. Such a device priced another $100 cheaper ($279) would, however, be compelling.

OTOH a gizmodo article from late May/early June with some Amazon internal screenshots of new kindle code names alluded to the fact that kindles are being shipped with some features turned off in firmware. These features would be turned on once "Shasta" was released. Two Shasta models are under development: Shasta and Shasta/WiFi.

In addition to "Shasta" the article also showed "Turing", "Nell", "Miranda", and "Klamath" development projects -- not all of these are necessarily devices. Some of the other projects shown were clearly apps for non-Amazon devices.

Several commenters remarked that "Shasta" in Bengali and Hindi means "cheap", and that Amazon has a development center in Chennai,India. As I once lived in Chennai (formerly Madras), I can tell you that that is far from where Bengali and Hindi are spoken -- so I wouldn't put too much credence in "Cheap".

"Shasta" sounds like what most have been calling K3.

Posted by: eboyhan | July 5, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

in my previous post gizmodo should actually be engadget -- sorry for the mixup

Posted by: eboyhan | July 5, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I will not buy a Kindle. Why should I buy a black and white one trick pony when I can use my iPhone or iPad for more versatility?

Posted by: Phoghat | July 5, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Having just taken the plunge and ordered a new Kindle DX - which I hope ships tomorrow as promised - I thought it worth adding to the conversation that I did consider the iPad but opted for the "one-trick-pony." After some back-and-forth, I decided that what I really needed was a large e-reader and not a multi-function computer. I already have a laptop that takes care of my general computing needs, a Droid that gives me communications and web access on the road, but neither is good for good old-fashioned reading. The Kindle lets me load up PDFs (a must for all the academic articles I need to read), have access to reference books, download novels, and reduce my need to carry around a small library on business trips.

The price is still a little steep when compared with tablet computers, and $299 would have been more palatable, but I've stumped up the cash and so will live with it.

It may be a "one-trick-pony" but as long as it performs that trick well, I'm happy to saddle up and take it for a ride.

Posted by: WordGuy | July 6, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Kindle is better than Ipad for reading. Period. My desktop and laptop are better than Ipad for computing. Period. Ipad is cool, but it isn't athreat to Kindle, laptops, or desktops. My Kindle is still the best thing I have ever owned.

Posted by: perrywillis | July 6, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I loved my Kindle and swore I would never be without it. Then, last week, it quit working for no apparent reason. Tech support's suggestion: buy a new one. Now do I love Kindle? Not so much. Buy a new one? I don't think so.

Posted by: Katherinesmits | July 7, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

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