Monday, August 30, 2010

March of the Color e-Readers: Kindle Kompetitors or Krazy Kolts?

This month we saw the release of Kindle 3, Amazon's latest e-Reader, and so far the reviews have been pretty positive. You can watch a video demonstration here to see the new features and improvements.

Yes it has a new look and is faster than ever, but I'd say the most noticeable, and in my opinion, significant improvement would have to be the sharper contrast of the E-Ink screen. To date, practically all popular e-Readers, whether it be a Sony Reader, Nook, or Kobo, have had displays that appear grey or in the case of the Sony's, more on the greenish side due to an additional screen layer for touch functionality. But honestly, as much as the promise of E-Ink was to mimic the appearance of the printed page, none of the devices using this technology looked like the real thing. In fact, by comparison, the early days of E-Ink didn't appear that much different from that of the old Rocket-Book, one of the first e-Readers introduced in the late '90s.

Without a doubt, the brighter, clearer screen of this newest Kindle succeeds in bringing us that much closer to matching the experience of reading a physical book, but with the added conveniences only such a digital device offers. And sure enough the Sony Readers, Nooks, and Kobos will get better too (and soon!). And as they do, it should be no surprise when people rapidly embrace the improved technology and begin downloading their favorite e-Books from retailers and local libraries around the world.

But for now I think it's safe to say that Kindle is currently king and the aforementioned competitors have some real catching up to do. So why then, with the obvious challenges facing these entrenched, well-known entities, would other companies believe there'd be any interest by consumers in yet another e-Reading device? Well, for that answer you'd have to ask the likes of The Sharper Image, Aguen, Velocity, and Pandigital, just to name a few, for each has recently announced (somewhat) dedicated e-Readers of their own...but with color screens.

Here's a look:

The Literati - This device from The Sharper Image will have a 7' color LCD screen and will also be sold at retail stores like Macy's, Bed, Bath & Beyond, JC Penny, Best Buy, and more. In other words, the places where people shop everyday for the kind of electronics everyone uses like TVs, stereos, and MP3 players. The Literati is powered by the Kobo e-Bookstore. There are four video demos to watch on the official website.

The Book - Not to be confused with Vook or Nook, this e-Reader from Aguen proclaims itself as "the book" and hey, why not. What's most interesting about this device is how you can purchase e-Books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders/Kobo, and other e-Bookstores. It can be bought at stores like K-Mart, but oddly enough, I learned about it from my cable company. Here's a video review.

Cruz Reader - More multi-purpose tablet than e-Reader, this device from Velocity looks pretty interesting and a lot like a small iPad! It has a 7" color screen and the e-Bookstore is powered by Borders/Kobo. Hmmmm, anyone seeing a pattern developing? Here's an official video demo.

Novel - From Pandigital, the company mostly known for its digital picture frames, comes this multi-function device that's also iPadish, but with a 7" color screen. However, this baby is powered by Barnes & Noble's e-Bookstore, which means besides having access to 1 Million e-Books, you can also read magazines and newspapers. Watch a video review.

I must confess, I'm not quite sure what to make of either one of these digital slabs, and I just can't imagine why anybody would purchase one except out of pure curiosity.

If you're thinking of finally taking the e-Reader plunge, then my recommendation is to get the Kindle 3 if you want to own the best overall e-Reading device, the Nook if you happen to shop frequently at your local Barnes & Noble and enjoy the benefits the in-store promotion offers, or the Kobo if you don't need any tech frills like Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity and like to show support for the underdog. Though you may want to wait until November because prices will most likely drop again in time for the holiday season.

In the meantime, would you consider buying one of the new color e-Readers mentioned above instead of a model with an E-Ink screen?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Amazon's Kindle Lowers the Price, Raises the Heat

I was out of the country on vacation for most of July and decided to take a break from blogging thinking it was the middle of summer and hey, things would be fairly quiet in the book world, right?

Boy was I wrong!

For starters, Copia, a new company launching a "social" e-reading experience and web based community, has announced they are releasing a $99 e-Reader with a color touch screen sometime in the fall. This is a complete new strategy from the one I had learned about and reported here back in March. It's still unclear whether or not this ambitious and relatively unknown company can make e-waves with consumers, but I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Barnes & Noble is coming on strong with plans to introduce huge installations within their stores to promote the Nook e-Reader. It's a bold and necessary move that demonstrates their commitment to the growing demand for e-Books, but its success will be riding on the execution of this strategy. Will enthusiastic employees significantly help sell devices to curious shoppers? My guess is yes, but I still say improvements to the Nook itself would go a long way to increase its popularity.

If I'm correct about the need for a better Nook, then B&N will need to do it soon 'cos Amazon just announced two new Kindles that are sleeker, faster, lighter, and most importantly, less expensive. These latest versions seem to be taking a page from the Sony Reader by reducing the amount of the casing that surrounds the 6" screen. Plus they're now available in both white and graphite, which is interesting because in the past Jeff Bezos had consistently said that the decision to make the Kindle white was because it made the device virtually disappear in the reader's hands, allowing the eye to focus on the written word. He was right, for I've experienced that effect myself, so the introduction of what's essentially a black Kindle was probably made to simply attract more male customers. I'm convinced this is why you can now purchase the Kindle DX in graphite as well. It just looks cooler and let's face it, guys like that. I still marvel at how amazing my sleek, black 80GB iPod Classic looks and feels in my hand. If only all electronic makers could create objects of such beauty .

And for me that includes the design of these new Kindles, which yes, look nicer, but surprisingly still include a physical keyboard and toggle for navigation. What would be great is if Amazon could create a dual screen Kindle, sort of like the Nook and Alex, with an E-Ink screen at the top and a touch screen for navigation located below it (color or not), but with a non-raised body to give it a "full screen" look, as with the iPad and Zune, and with nothing more than a thin flat line separating the two screens. Basically a flat tablet with an E-Ink screen that you can read in sunlight. Wishful thinking I guess, but in the slick universe of Apple and Android products, these Kindles still look a bit archaic to me. But I suppose most people aren't nearly as fussy about this as I am since Amazon has reported they've already sold out of the new devices and they won't be back in stock until September.

Clearly the main attraction for Amazon's customers has been price. The Wi-Fi/3G model remains $189 but the new Wi-Fi only model is a very affordable $139. It's not hard to foresee these price-points decreasing even further as we head into the holiday season, which will not be great news for Sony, B&N, Borders, Copia, or Kobo, unless they too can afford to lower the cost of their e-Readers, but either way all of this means one thing: A whole lot of e-Books will be purchased during December and the result will be a noticeable shift in consumer behavior affecting the publishing industry and bookselling community in profound ways throughout 2011.

How do you think this will all play out?