With the upcoming Kindle Fire tablet, Amazon isn’t just launching another new LCD-based tablet into the marketplace. It’s also giving us yet another ebook filetype, Kindle Format 8. This is the first departure from the longstanding Mobi filetype that Amazon has been using for its Kindle books thus far, and it looks like KF8 is being designed and implemented specifically to compete with the functionality found in the ePub format.
The new filetype will give Kindle books far more flexibility and rich formatting possibilities than the existing Mobi format that underlies Amazon’s books. Mobi is an extension of PalmDOC, and is really just not designed for complicated layouts, fine typographic control, or multimedia interactions in the same way that the emerging ePub standard is. KF8 aims to change that, with HTML5 and CSS3 as a part of the format natively (a full list of supported tags can be found here). it will allow for fixed layouts, nested tables, callouts, sidebars, and other features that will help the Kindle format present complex books like cookbooks, graphic novels, and children’s books in an appropriate way.
Amazon is also promising tools to help authors and publishers create KF8 books for use on the Kindle. Kindle Publisher Tools will allow publishers to create Kindle books, and KindleGen 2 will convert HTML, XHTML, and EPUB to KF8 for distribution on the Kindle. These are not available yet, but you can sign up to get an email when they are released.
The downside? It looks like legacy Kindles (original Kindle, Kindle 2, and the newly-christened Kindle Keyboard) may not get an update to support KF8. The information page Amazon provided says only “Kindle Fire is the first Kindle device to support KF8 - in the coming months we will roll out KF8 to our latest generation Kindle e-ink devices as well as our free Kindle reading apps. “ The lack of stated support for older Kindle’s is almost certainly indicative of their inability to handle the new format. The newer Kindle Touch and the latest Kindle (fourth generation) looks like they will get the new format as a supported filetype at some point in the future.