One thing I’ve always disliked about US tech journalism is the willingness to get drawn into corporate hype to the extent that even the possible news of a new product is deemed worthy of news articles.
But that said, it does look as though tomorrow in New York, Amazon will announce a new version of its ebook reader, the Kindle. And, I have to say, I am looking forward to it for the simple reason that the Kindle is what will finally break the ebook barrier to mainstream use and that will bring with it a fantastic revolution in book and information consumption.
A press conference is being held at the Morgan Library and Museum (although I haven’t been able to find an official press announcement of it), and in the past week pictures of a new Kindle have leaked out onto the Net (which is hardly surprising as to do such a big launch of a new product, the images would have had to have gone through at least one PR agency and have a wide distribution internally). I’ve grabbed the pictures and posted them below.
Update: And yes it did launch. Read my post here for a full rundown.
And what do you the pictures show? Well, alot of design improvements – which anyone could have expected. The Kindle is a fantastic entry product but it is clunky and 80s looking. The new look take a few leaves out the Apple design book – rounder edges, shiny sheet-metal back. The SD card slot appears to have disappeared leading to logical speculation that Amazon has upped the internal memory. Problems with the buttons and the scroller appear to have been fixed (Amazon has been listening to its customers), and the rest will just have to wait until Amazon provides the specs.
Amazon is clearly excited about the success of the product – which was only launched a little over a year ago – 19 November 2007 to be exact. Its CEO Jeff Bezos was also glowing about it at the company’s recent fourth-quarter results. And according to a press release: “The Kindle Store contains the largest collection of e-books available anywhere in the world. Selection increased by 45,000 titles in the fourth quarter, bringing the total to 230,000 titles. One hundred three out of 112 current New York Times bestsellers are available and, along with most new releases, are priced at $9.99 or less.”
Here is quick rundown of the changes:
There should be much more internal memory – I would hazard a guess at between 1GB and 4GB. This is vital for the Kindle as the current small internal memory but with external swappable memory cards doesn’t work very well at the moment. Once you have filled up the internal memory, it flows over onto the card but this causes problems with adding notes and locating files (especially if you are subscribed to a newspaper which updates with each new issue every day). You often get irritating error messages. So if appears from the pictures that Amazon has done away with this approach and gone for the iPod idea of a large internal memory (which probably accounts for the metal backing).
The huge “Next Page” button on the original, which ran all the way down the right-hand-side, is gone and has been replaced by a much smaller button. I think this is also a good idea and clearly stems from feedback supplied to Amazon by the army of Kindle users. The problem was that if you put the Kindle down anywhere, or you try to do something else, it is very easy to accidentally nudge the next page button, which can be quite annoying.
The other buttons are more logically arranged for using the Kindle – so the menu button is within reach of your thumb – as is the menu scroller – which saves you having to stretch over with your thumb while reading it.
The scroller also appears to have become a small, square joystick. I think this is because the scroll wheel has become such entrenched in people’s heads as connected to a mouse that people have issues with it. Absolutely everyone who first uses the Kindle tries to scroll down the page and is confused when it reaches the bottom and the text doesn’t move (you have to click the Next Page button).
Also the scroller is somewhat limited in that it just goes up and down and that restrict what you can do with it. You can’t shift across, or grab text, and you can only work in one plane which meant that when you step away from a plain book, the multi columns of modern layout appear to be too modern and so the Kindle feels a little old-fashioned. With a joystick, Amazon opens the door to future changes in its layout and design.
There are speakers on the new Kindle – before it had an audio out. I’m not sure what to make of this. I have never really got into audio books, and I much prefer to read in the quiet, so the idea of having audio files on my Kindle has never made much sense to me. But since there are speakers, I hope they are good and have been designed for the resonances of the human voice. Because it would incredibly annoying to have a tiny voice reading a book. It needs resonance and it needs bass.
I am sure that Amazon will announce something great about the ebook screen – better resolution or sharper images or the ability to add more fonts or something. You will only be able to tell if it makes any difference when you have one in your hands. What I don’t think we will see until Kindle version 4 is a colour screen.
But, frankly, none of this bothers me as the Kindle screen does exactly what it needs to do – it displays text very clearly, very legibly and while using a minimal amount of battery power.
Talking of battery power, I hope Amazon has come up with a bigger, longer lasting battery and I also pray that the company has sorted out a glitch with its download software. If you subscribe to a publication, the Kindle occasionally uses the cell phone network to see if there is a new version out there. However, the more you subscribe to, the more the Kindle checks over the network. The result is that if you are subscribed to more than five publications, the battery runs flat in just over a day.
This is a disaster for Amazon – who want people to subscribe to newspapers, magazines and blogs over its device (it has been massively promoting the newspapers available over the service and clearly sees itself as being able to profit from the massive decline in sales of physical newspapers). The solution should be a fairly simple software upgrade, so let’s hope they have fixed it. And why more battery power? Well, just because it will be mean you have to plug it in less. And it will begin to open the door to a colour screen.
All in all, this is exactly the sort of update I hoped Amazon would do. The devil is in the details of course. And it will be interesting to see whether the company has been able to get the price down – something that will be vital to it becoming the iPod equivalent for ebooks.
We shall see. And I am pretty sure I will buy one and hand my existing Kindle to a very lucky soul.