Is Amazon neglecting eInk Kindles?

Two recent comments from Roger Knights and Cherril Mealing reminded me of something that’s been in my thoughts for a long time i.e. Kindle Fire and other factors are causing Amazon to neglect eInk Kindles.

First, Roger Knights writes -

Bezos is a good Big Picture guy. I just wish he’d be more perfectionistic about the small stuff (Kaizan-oriented, IOW) and fix the 100+ flaws and omissions in the e-ink readers that have been painfully obvious for years.

Any long-term Kindle owner can empathize with this. There are lots of improvements, including obvious and easy ones, that Amazon never seems to get around to making.

Next, Cherril writes -

Lack of a memory card which allows me the freedom to organise my eBooks as I wish is bad enough but to further limit the storage available for books on the latest Kindle is a totally negative move and smacks of Amazon trying to force us into reading books according to their stereotype of how we should be using our purchased material.  They have further restricted our ownership of any books we purchase because with the new AZW3 format we do not have the ability to download to a desktop in a readable format –  only to the Kindle itself.

Maybe I am paranoid but unless Amazon is deliberately using a ‘clutsy’ interface which is slow and difficult to navigate, in order to force us to load only a limited number of books onto the Kindle why have their skilled technical geniuses not provided enough memory and a smoother, easier interface to allow readers to carry and access all of their library.  I was very excited about the new Kindle but there is no way I will purchase a Kindle with a very limited memory which is actually a retrograde step from the previous Kindle Touch.

To Cherril’s point I would add that not only is Kindle Touch 2 a backwards step from Kindle Touch 1 ( which had more memory and audio), Kindle Touch 1 itself was a backwards step from Kindle 3 (which had page turn buttons and a keyboard).

So it’s two generations now that Amazon has made the Kindle slightly worse and not slightly better. Touch isn’t even much of a feature for an eReader. The in-built light definitely is. But that leaves us with ONE significant improvement and screen contrast and brightness improvements on a screen that was already quite good.

At the same time we’ve lost a lot of features and not added obvious features.

Lost features – Memory (now just 1.25GB instead of 3.3 GB available for your own books), Audio, Read to Me, Page Turn Buttons, Keyboard.

That’s a LOT of things lost.

Why is Amazon letting B&N have the lead in eInk Kindles?

With Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) Amazon had a good (though not huge) lead over B&N and other eInk Reader makers. It was a combination of evolutionary improvements. However, it made Kindle 3 the clear ‘Best’ eInk eReader.

Amazon had the opportunity to REALLY add some KILLER FEATURES and make Kindle 4 absolutely amazing. Instead it seems to have focused on Kindle Fires and left the Kindle updates to a skeleton team that prioritizes based on what’s best for Amazon and not what’s best for readers (Kindle owners).

With Kindle Touch, Amazon went in a strange direction with the eInk Kindle. The shift to no keyboard. The lack of page turn buttons. The removed Menu and other lost buttons.

With Kindle Paperwhite (Kindle Touch 2), Amazon seems to be continuing to take the eInk Kindle to a place Kindle owners don’t like. No Audio? No Read to Me? Lower memory capacity?

It’s bad enough that Amazon took its sweet time to release a Kindle with an in-built light (it gave B&N five months or so of the market all to itself with Nook GlowLight, which B&N messed up by not having enough supply). Now it’s gone and released a Kindle Touch 2 that has several obvious limitations.

Why would you remove a feature like Talk to Me that was a HUGE competitive advantage? Why would you not add page turn buttons (which Nook GlowLight has) and continue to let them have that competitive advantage? Why would you reduce memory capacity to 1.25 GB and create a huge competitive advantage for Nook GlowLight (which has a microSD Card slot to go with 1 GB of available memory)?

Yes, the in-built light neutralizes Nook GlowLight’s main competitive advantage. The Kindle Paperwhite screen will probably beat Nook GlowLight’s screen. However, that doesn’t mean you drop your other competitive advantages.

Are we missing something, or is Amazon?

This trend of dumbing down devices and limiting customer options seems to be common between Amazon and Apple. Its a race to the dumbest, most money-making device ever sold.

We gradually lose more and more things -

  1. No replaceable battery.
  2. No SD Card.
  3. Lower Memory with ‘Cloud’ storage supposed to be the answer.
  4. No Proper Folder Structure, with the companies promoting Collections or hobbled Folder Substitutes.

Amazon seems to be going even more extreme than Apple (who would have thought that was possible) -

  1. Amazon is dictating what it thinks is the best interface for eInk eReaders. Touch instead of keyboard. Touch instead of Page Turn buttons. It almost seems to be saying – don’t waste your time taking notes when you should be buying instead.
  2. It is reducing memory. Again it seems to be trying to influence Kindle owners’ behavior – Use the Cloud, not your own device’s memory.
  3. It has a bare bones Folder feature. Apparently, we aren’t supposed to organize our books and have them in the Cloud instead.
  4. No Page Turn Buttons. Who made that stupid decision?
  5. No Read to Me feature.
  6. No Audio.
  7. No power adapter. You have to buy that separately.
  8. No mention that the price of Kindles includes a discount in lieu of running Ads. Amazon should at least mention there are two models at different prices and that the one without Ads is higher priced.

These are all backward steps.

Does Amazon not realize this? Or are the Kindle owners who want more memory and Read to Me and Audio and Page Turn Buttons and keyboards confused? Are we just moving to a world where people want the most dumbed down Kindles possible?

Is that the aim – to make a device dedicated to readers that’s so dumbed down that Cavemen and Cats could use it?

Or is that just the direction that’s most convenient for Amazon? To shift everyone over to its Cloud and to use the device as just a device for consuming content?

This is the first time I’m seeing an Amazon device that is more dumbed down and stunted than an Apple device. Who would have thought that would ever happen?

Amazon is playing a dangerous game here – It’s trying to BOTH win over readers as Kindle Converts AND turn them into quick consumers of books that don’t dilly dally with pointless things like making notes and organizing books and using Read to Me to have the book read to them.

In its efforts to make eInk Kindles better Amazon.com ministores, and by shifting its main focus to the devices (Kindle Fires) that make better mini Amazon stores than eInk Kindles, Amazon is creating a huge opportunity for its rivals.

The time is ripe for a company (ANY company) to bring out an eReader that is FOCUSED ON GIVING READERS THE DEVICE BEST SUITED FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BOOKS, not the device that makes the eReader company the most profit. Even a compromise would be better than the extreme direction in which Amazon seems to be taking eInk Kindles.

22 Responses

  1. Thanks for this post. You said everything I was thinking about Amazon’s direction and the stunted Kindle Paperwhite: sans memory, sans text-to-speech, sans my pre-order. You will have to pry my Kindle Keyboard from my cold dead fingers. If Amazon continues to turn their back on readers, I will have to get my e-book needs filled elsewhere. It’s all very disappointing.

  2. I really don’t think Amazon’s trying to win over readers anymore.

    Realistically eInk is a niche and not a very profitable one. eInk devices can only buy books (and in some cases audio books) and they stay with their devices forever (I upgrade my iPad every year while I’m still content with my over 2 year old Kindle).

    More to the point I think the market research probably shows two things. (1) eInk readers are passionate readers who buy a lot of books and (2) once a reader gets past a certain number of books they’re locked in to the ecosystem. So my guess is Amazon feels they can, to a certain extent, take eInk readers for granted.

    Since most households won’t buy both a Kindle eInk device AND a Fire it makes strategic sense for Amazon to try and push people to the Kindle Fire which is replaced more often and which can buy more stuff. Doing that means making the eInk devices less appealing while lowering the price of the fire.

    So Amazon’s playing a game but not the one you think. The game they’re playing is keeping eInk users just content enough to stay with them (see the paperwhite feature) while trying to push them to the Fire.

  3. While I really want a Paperwhite or Fire (my Kindle 3 is just so dark), I’m dismayed that the new Kindles don’t have the keyboard. I hate touchscreen. I really want a new Kindle but am holding back because of these issues. Maybe another company will fill the market gap.

  4. Great post. I hope Amazon is listening, because I was jazzed about the Paperwhite until I read this. Now I think I’ll just stick with my Kindle 3 and start researching other ereaders to see if something else better meets my needs.

  5. Good article. I’ve already started to limit the number of books on my Kindle Keyboard because a large number slows things down so much that it’s barely usable. I quit playing games and switching between books a long time ago because it’s so slow.

    I also started sending to computer for every purchase and then loading via USB for the same reason. That process also lets me backup my books in Calibre where it’s a lot quicker and easier to search and browse.

    The other big issue for me is if you have more than 3000 or so ebooks in your account, your Kindle will spontaneously restart every time your sync. For those of us who take advantage of free and low-cost ebooks, our libraries are much larger than that. Books on the Knob has a couple of good posts on the issue. For that reason, I no longer turn on my WiFi. That means I don’t get the Special Offers and I always use USB to add books. It really takes away a lot of the functionality of my Kindle.

    It seems to me that they’re pushing people toward Kindle Fires. The new Fires have a LOT more memory and it’s far easier to switch between media. I hate reading on LCD screens so I only use it for magazines.

    Speaking of magazines, when is Amazon going to address not keeping all of your purchased issues in your library? If you cancel a magazine, you lose all access to what you already purchased. Even if you don’t cancel, they only keep something like the last 7 issues. I try to get all of my magazines from Zinio because they manage your library the way it should be managed. The biggest problem with that is the Kindle Fire has very limited memory so I’m out of room to keep issues there. I’m trying to find out how to backup issues in Calibre, but the AZW3 file names aren’t readable so you can’t tell which issue/magazine is which. It’s really not customer friendly at all.

    I’ve always been a big Amazon fan and love my Kindles, but I’m very frustrated with these problems.

    • “I’ve already started to limit the number of books on my Kindle Keyboard because a large number slows things down so much that it’s barely usable.”

      I’m glad to here that I’m not the only one being affected. But i’s evidence of halfhearted design on Amazon’s part. (One reason Word surged ahead of WordPerfect is that the latter bogged down when handling large files; Word was designed so it didn’t (as much).

  6. Granted, I don’t like the direction Amazon is taking the hardware but the Kindle Paperwhite does have a high res screen and frontlight. That’s progress.

    And the k3 just got an update, so clearly it is not unloved:http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2012/09/11/new-update-for-the-k3kindle-keyboard-shows-amazon-still-loves-us/

    • While I would like page turn buttons, I think that people are underplaying the importance and benefits of higher resolution and front-lighting. While our host may thing that the current screen is “quite good,” I wouldn’t concur. I would gladly trade all the SD slots and even some on-board memory for a more resolution and an overall better screen.

      Then again, he and I disagree about cloud storage. While I would prefer local storage I also think that if Amazon’s cloud service ever became unavailable for an extended period, it would be as part of something happening to the internet as a whole, in which case not being to access some books I have already read would be among the least of my problems.

      Mind you, I don’t like cutting the new Kindle’s storage to 2GB from 4GB. I’ve got about 900mb of data on my Kindle right now so I wouldn’t have as much room left as I have now and might become a bit more conscious of my storage. Then again, there are books on my Kindle that have been there for months, mostly free stuff that I may or may not read anytime soon. Archiving them isn’t that big a deal save for that the fact that they might be “out of sight, out of mind.”

  7. I love the current Touch, and the PaperWhite seems like a reasonable upgrade path. I have not used the audio functions – let’s be honest here, the current generation of Text To Speech leaves much to be desired. If I want an audiobook, it is much more convienent to just use a smartphone.

    Since my first Kindle was a Touch, I do not miss the lack of page flip buttons. I get around on the screen just fine. The limited amount of typing you do have to do works OK on the on-screen keyboard. I am not willing to compromise size for having a keyboard.

    The memory does bother me a bit, but with the performance issues of having it full, plus the lack of audio support (and thus the large files) it seems at least reasonable.

    The big turn-offs to me are the collections as you mentioned, along with the lack of ‘household’ kindles – I’d like to maintain my own Amazon account and my wife hers, but our Kindles can have content from either. The book loaning thing is too limiting, and publishers can disallow it.

  8. I am in total agreement with you. I was all set to buy a lighted kindle until I saw that it was touch screen only. Really how hard is it to put some page turn buttons on there!?! All my friends have purchased Nook Glowlights and love them so that will be my next ebook reader. Sorry Amazon you messed up this time and lost me as a loyal customer.

  9. Thank you for this post, Switch. I guess I’m in the minority, but I hate touch screen for eink readers, and I’m not interested in the Fire for book reading purposes. The keyboard and page turn buttons are very important to me. I don’t know what I will do when my Kindle 3 dies if there is no similar replacement.

    • Carole, you’re in a very sizeable minority. Touch makes little sense for eReaders. What can you do besides turn pages? And those are better with page turn buttons. People talk about things like faster navigation through the menus – but 99% of the time you’ll be in a book.

  10. I’m glad I bought the Kindle Touch a month ago. I prefer to have more memory, and want the Audio feature, and the ability to access Audible books. I do wish my Kindle Touch had a memory chip. Still I have twice the memory of the new Kindle Paperwhite. I’m not jealous of it, prefer what I have. I don’t get it. Not everyone needs to read without light, BUT if you’re going to add a nice feature, don’t take away other nice features, including audio, and memory. They should have done a Paperwhite version with Audio, and a memory chip capacity.. I would have paid more for that, as would a lot of other people who love reading.

  11. I have no doubt in the future no one will care about page turn buttons. We only care because they’ve always been there. They are the first love, but that does not make them the best. But Amazon is leaving that option there for those that want it. They just updated firmware for the Kindle Keyboard.

    Anyway, If anything I think the Kindle Fire has forced the e-ink devices to be more focused purely on reading. The less buttons on the device the more simple it is, people are so used to touch screens now. Amazon is just following what the market dictates they are not dictating it.

    The time to read feature is a something that should excite a lot of people. My wife, who has never shown a really interest in my Kindle, thought that it would be a really cool feature to have. We both love to read before we go to sleep and it would be very useful every night. That’s a feature someone who loves reading would make.

    And you keep using “dumbed down”. You know what’s a dumbed down product? A book. Nothing is easier or more intuitive to operate than a book. The simpler these devices get to be the better they are the reading experience.

    You say, “The time is ripe for a company (ANY company) to bring out an eReader that is FOCUSED ON GIVING READERS THE DEVICE BEST SUITED FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE BOOKS”. I don’t see how a device that has such a narrow focus as the Kindle Paperwhite is less focused on doing that. Cutting out the audio options forces focus. We could argue about audiobooks, but I’m willing to bet most people have another, smaller and more portable, device that can handle audio books. The read to me feature has been outclassed by the new immersion reading on the FIres, which is something that I’m guessing is not possible on an e-ink device yet. It’s no wonder Amazon cut it.

    It’s also time to stop harping on the lack of a physical keyboard. Amazon switched to a capacitive touch screen, which should be far more responsive than the old IR one. Note taking should be pretty easy on the PW. And you don’t have to fiddle with a five way controller to highlight anymore so it should be better than the KK.

    I do find it silly they cut down on the memory size. It actually has less available space than my Kindle 2. I’d love to see the cost differences between 2 and 4 gigs.

    And as Roberto said before the screen is the most important factor when it comes to reading. Out of all the hands on impressions they have all talked rather glowing about the new screen. The sharper text alone is a big win. The fact that the new lighting feature is easily the best on the market is another big one. I’ll take the thing I’m staring at for extended periods of time being the best on the market over any other feature.

    • You’re missing the difference in effort between – rest your fingers on the Page Turn buttons and turn the page with a VERY SLIGHT movement of one finger
      VERSUS
      Move your ENTIRE FINGER to the touch screen and do an ENTIRE TOUCH GESTURE.

      There are hundreds of page turns per book on eReaders. 1 unit of Effort vs 3 units of Effort might not seem much on a single turn. But it adds up. Plus – it’s almost impossible to get a button page turn wrong. But a swipe page turn often messes up. That’s just my experience.

      Why do you say ‘the new lighting is easily the best on the market’? No one has ACTUALLY seen the lighting, let alone compared it with Nook GlowLight. It’s a bit premature to call it ‘The Best’. The screen probably will be the best.

      I don’t mean ‘dumbed down’ in terms of easy to use. I mean ‘dumbed down’ in terms of options.

      A book you OWN. A book you can write in. It’s very different. Amazon is moving to more and more of a DUMB TERMINAL model. We control everything. All you have this dumb terminal on which you can read your book and do nothing else.

  12. I’m also unhappy with the changes. My kindle touch works only when it wants to and is so untrustworthy that I really only read my books on the iPad. I really wanted the nook glow light but waited because I just knew kindle would outclass it. Boy was I disappointed…..

  13. Switch wrote: “Amazon had the opportunity to REALLY add some KILLER FEATURES and make Kindle 4 absolutely amazing. Instead it seems to have focused on Kindle Fires and left the Kindle updates to a skeleton team that prioritizes based on what’s best for Amazon and not what’s best for readers (Kindle owners).”

    That “skeleton team” diagnosis, unfortunately, sounds dismayingly likely. The company has so much on its plate that it’s natural that it would have moved its A-Team on to meet those challenges, with future K3 development focused entirely on Big New Features.

    But it SHOULD also focus on fixing flaws and rough edges, fleshing out half-done features, and adding “medium-sized” new features that enhance usefulness w/o adding (much) complexity.

    From the perspective of a believer in the Kindle’s fantastic potential, this sort of implicitly anti-Kaizan, “adequacy is sufficient” attitude is very disheartening. It’s SOP in most organizations, but I’d hoped Amazon was an exception.

    Why doesn’t Bezos hire a couple of journeymen coders to do the relatively simple work that’s needed? They shouldn’t cost more than $200,000 per year, fully expensed, and they could really put the K3 head and shoulders above the rest. That’s worth something. And having something to really be proud of, and that customers rate as A+, not A-, is worth something too.

  14. Add me to the disappointed with the Paperwhite camp; I completely agree with you, Cherril and Roger.

    As a Kindle owner, I can’t believe how much I am looking forward to the next Nook release.

  15. Switch said: “It is reducing memory. Again it seems to be trying to influence Kindle owners’ behavior – Use the Cloud, not your own device’s memory.”

    Maybe Amazon is doing this because its devices bog down with over 2 GB of user documents, etc. (See the comment by Common Sense above, and my confirmation of his observation.)

  16. Honestly I think Amazon is only eliminating unpopular and widely unused features to make the least expensive device possible. The device really slows down when you load too many books on it anyway – so 2 GB with cloud is plenty. Right now on my Kindle Keyboard I am using 1.5GB of space. That is hundreds of books and even for an avid reader like me (3-5 books read per week) it is still atleast 1 YEAR’S worth of books on one device! The “read to me” audio feature I never used – only tried it once. I never put music or any audio book on that device either. Why wouldn’t Amazon think that people wanted a touch screen with no buttons – iPhones and iPads and Android touch phones are dominating markets. I will contend that there are some features I would like – replaceable battery, included power adapter, and a better folder system. The folder system is software related and can be fixed on any device if they decide to do it. All in all I think Apple did a poll of their customers and eliminated these features to make a less expensive device that is widely popular. I personally have been dreaming and wanting the light and jumped on the opportunity to order a new one. Sure Amazon could make a device will all of your suggestions – but are you willing to pay the almost $400 pricetag of the original Kindle 1 to get it?

  17. [...] the reason, such an omission seems to be part of a charming little trend of a dumbing down or at least niching of Amazon products for book-lovers (on top of Amazon’s war against openness, as documented here). I doubt that librarians will be [...]

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