Today Amazon.com officially announced the availability of its new portable electronic reading device and service, Kindle. The MSRP for the device is $399. The content will cost in the neighborhood of $10 per book, with newspapers and magazines priced accordingly. The highest priced Kindle book I was able to find in their catalog was Growth Strategies for Software Companies at $1,079.96--worth every penny if it produces results. Several of the available titles cost only a penny, including Confectionery Packaging Equipment. Sweeeet!
The Kindle does sport some nice features. It weighs only 10.3 ounces. The screen is six inches big, which I assume is a diagonal measurement. The text is rendered via electronic ink, which requires little energy consumption and does not involve flickering, which seems to be a major contributor to eye strain. I could have told you that 35 years ago after watching some social studies movie in junior high school (the phrase "middle school" was not yet in vogue) about the "hot wet lands" on a projector threaded by an novice. If the built-in wi-fi capabilities of the device are turned off, you should get up to 30 hours of reading off of each battery charge.
The Kindle includes some features that we have come to expect from any dedicated portable electronic reading appliance, such as highlighting, annotating, bookmarking, notetaking, full-text searching, and easy access to a built-in dictionary (The New Oxford American Dictionary).
It also is possible to upload user-generated content (such as Microsoft Word documents and image files) to your Kindle for a small additional fee. Evidently you can share a Word file with kindly Kindle-friends, simply by sending the file to their Kindle email address, which will load the content onto their Kindles.
Unlike many previous dedicated e-reading devices, the Kindle does have an actual keyboard, a Blackberry type thumb-driven input device. You can add notes to a book, write reviews, and perhaps even comment on a blog post.
Amazon claims to have over 91,000 titles available at launch, but some of those titles may be for things other than books, such as magazines, newspapers, and even blogs. You can purchase books and other content immediately, with download times generally under a minute, according to one of the promotional videos.
The Kindle is a wireless device that uses the same technology used by advanced cell phones. Once you have purchased the device and some content, there is no annual contract, monthly maintenance plans, or ongoing expense (other than the electricity to recharge it). Kindle uses a wireless network called Whispernet.
It's ironic that the launch of a portable reading device is made primarily through videos, but there you have it. The Kindle mainpage already boasts many YouTubish videos, including an interview with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and yet only 43 years old, and testimonials from well-known authors, such as Toni Morrison and James Patterson. In one promotional video, a twentysomething man is deliberately reading with the sun streaming over his shoulder onto the surface of the device.
The November 26th issue of Newsweek will contain a long article about the Kindle.
The Kindle seems like a nice device, but there's always more that could be included in the next iteration. I like to read both visually and aurally, but usually not at the same time. I did spot a headphones jack on one side of the Kindle in one of the videos, but I cannot find mention of the possibilities for any type of aural reading experience. An immersive listening experience with a good downloadable digital audio book is a wonderful thing. Can the Kindle handle audio books? Better yet, is there good text-to-speech software included so that I can switch from visual reading to aural reading in the middle of a book, as I get up from my easy chair (and watch Max my dog quickly jump into that warm spot) and head off in my car to take my older son to piano practice?
Will the Kindle find a warm place in our hearts, or will this be yet another sad chapter in the tragic smoldering tale of ebooks? As the Bard wrote in Sonnet 73 (yes, the Folger Shakespeare Library's edition of Shakespeare's sonnets is available in a Kindle edition for only $2.39):
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
Will libraries have any truck with Kindle? Will Kindle knockoffs (with names such as Splinter and Tinder) soon hit the market? After the sizzle of the new begins to wane, will Amazon drop Kindle's price to $199, similar to what Apple did with the iPhone? Time will tell.