Color Kindle closer than expected? New $199 8 GB Nook Tablet?

Color Kindle might be much closer than expected.

DigiTimes, which has a split personality (30% of the time Nostradamus, 70% of the time your local tavern drunkard prophesizing the 2012 Mayan apocalypse), makes three very bold Color Kindle claims

  1. EInk (the maker of Kindle eInk displays) has won a big order to make 6″ color eInk Panels for Amazon (presumably for color eInk Readers or color eInk powered Tablets).
  2. The order is OVER 3 million screens a month.
  3. The shipments start in March 2012. Say what?

If Digitime is right (and that’s a big IIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFF), it would mean Kindle 5 is the much awaited Color Kindle. That Amazon is confident enough in what they have to order 3 million screens a month.

 E Ink Holdings (EIH) reportedly has landed orders for 6-inch color e-book reader modules from Amazon with shipments to begin in March …

Shipments of the touched-enabled e-book reader modules are expected to top three million units a month, the paper said.

3 million shipments a month makes you wonder exactly what Amazon are using these screens for.

Do we have a color eInk Kindle eReader or a color eInk powered Kindle Tablet?

The size of the order i.e. 3 million screens a month, makes me think Amazon is planning on putting these color eInk screens into Tablets and changing the equation on Tablet battery life.

Reasons a color eInk powered Kindle Tablet makes sense:

  1. The battery life creates a huge competitive advantage. It also combines with low price and Amazon’s ecosystem to create a trifecta of hard-to-beat advantages. 
  2. Amazon really needs to do something to improve Kindle Fire. Right now it’s surviving on low price and Amazon’s brand.
  3. There has been talk all along that Kindle Fire 1 was a stop-gap measure – until the ‘real’ Kindle Tablet could be released. That makes sense – why would a company that built a Kindle from the ground-up just clone a Playbook to make the Kindle Fire?
  4. B&N is releasing an 8 GB Nook Tablet for $199 and might drop the Nook Color price to $179 or even $149. Amazon perhaps needs something NEW to compete. More on that below.
  5. Color eInk is a sufficiently cool technology to try and make it the centerpiece of a new Kindle Tablet offering.
  6. Amazon could just add it to the Kindle Fire/Kindle Tablet family. As another option.
  7. There’s something undeniably cool and convenient about a Tablet with a week of battery life.

Reasons a color eInk powered Kindle 5 eReader make sense:

  1. Color eInk probably isn’t up to scratch yet – how will it compete with LCDs?
  2. Color eInk allows Color Kindle to compete in textbooks and in comics and certain other areas.
  3. Color eInk removes one of the perceived ‘huge weaknesses’ of the eInk Kindles.
  4. Color eInk gives Amazon a jump over B&N and Sony and Kobo in the dedicated eReader market.
  5. Color eInk will appeal greatly to some casual readers.

Actually, there are enough points here to leave me in considerable confusion as to exactly what Amazon intends to do with these screens. I’d say – 75% chance we get a Color Kindle which is the first big technological jump in eReaders since someone realized you don’t have to put a touch layer under the glass. 25% chance Amazon has some magical and revolutionary new Kindle Tablet that makes perfect pancakes and outlasts the Energizer Bunny.

Regardless of whether it’s a Color Kindle or a Color eInk powered ThermoNuclear Kindle Tablet, it’s much-needed. Why?

B&N is taking the fight to Amazon with $199 8 GB Nook Tablet

Barnes and Noble is supposedly releasing a new Nook Tablet on Wednesday. The details on Nook Tablet from The Verge –

  1. Nook Tablet with 8 GB memory for $199. The current $249 model has 16 GB memory.
  2. Available at WalMart starting 12:01 am on February 22nd.
  3. Exact same as $249 Nook Tablet except 8GB memory instead of 16 GB.

This has obviously led to some speculation – 

  1. Nook Color price will drop. Yes, obviously. Perhaps to $179 or $149.
  2. Kindle Fire price will drop. Yes, obviously. Perhaps to $149.  
  3. Android Tablet sales will increase. Yes, obviously. It’s entirely logical to assume that people will buy more of a Tablet when it’s 20% to 25% cheaper.

The Nook Tablet is really, really good. Kindle Fire is good too. However, two of the main things that made Kindle Fire competitive with Nook Tablet (and probably outsell it by a 2.25:1 margin) were the $199 price and the Amazon brand/ecosystem.

If Nook Tablet comes in at $199, then it’s instantly the better tablet for anyone who doesn’t care about Amazon’s ecosystem and brand. Amazon will have no choice – it’ll have to drop Kindle Fire to $179 or $149. 

Perhaps just as disruptive will be B&N dropping the Nook Color to $179 or $149. As we go lower, the number of people able to buy a device increases exponentially. The $250 barrier, the $200 barrier, the $150 barrier, the magical and guillotine-wielding-revolutionary $100 barrier.

Kindle Fire is $199. The faster, hardware-volume-button-equipped, SD-card-slot-possessing Nook Tablet 8 GB will be $199. Nook Color will be $149 or $179.

The only solution for Amazon – Kindle Fire price drop to $179 or $149, new Color eInk powered Kindle Bonfire. Aah … the joys of Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet competition.

Kindle Color – How soon will Amazon release Kindle Color?

The Kindle finds its market dominance in reading devices threatened by the Nook Color.

Hard core readers might not be tempted by a ‘Reading Tablet’, but casual readers certainly are. Kindle has also faced the iPad onslaught. For better or worse, the Press has managed to create the misconception that eInk has no advantages over LCDs.

On top of that, the Nook Color has come in at $250 and is a reasonable size. It’s done what the iPad couldn’t i.e. reduce the comparison to ‘eInk vs doing more than just reading’.

At some point Reality makes itself felt

After a few weeks with the Nook Color, and after reading at least a dozen effusive reviews, it’s clear that the Nook Color is going to eat up a LOT of the eReader market. Everyone from TeleRead to the main stream press are smitten by Nook Color.

Forget all the other benefits, and just consider surfing the Net – color, a touchscreen, a 7″ screen. That’s one big benefit the Nook Color has over eInk eReaders.

Then consider what happens if people look at the devices side by side – Most of the Kindle’s benefits are things that only become evident after a few days of use. Things like the ease of reading, the lack of distractions, the joy of eInk, the great battery life.

In the 15 to 30 minutes people have in the store, the Nook Color is going to blow away people. It’s a color IPS LCD screen that’s much better than the iPad’s screen. It’s half the price of the iPad. It’s a ‘reading tablet’ with an ‘anti-glare coating’ that creates the perception that it massively bridges the gap between eInk and LCD. It doesn’t, but customers can’t tell that in 15 minutes.

Regardless of what Amazon might think of Nook Color – it’s a real, huge threat. Sooner or later, people are going to realize it’s a really, really good option for anyone who reads one or fewer books a month.

Add on Nook App Store Apps

The one big thing missing from Nook Color are apps. Once it gets decent apps, it’ll fully utilize its advantages (multi-purposeness, touch, color), and match up extremely well against iPad and Kindle.

It might even find a few killer apps that push it ahead. It’s based on Android, so there’s potentially a huge developer base. If B&N plays its cards right, it’ll have thousands of developers working to make the Nook Color better – for the promise of future earnings from apps.

The big danger Nook apps pose is that they might get even the 2-books-a-month people to choose Nook Color over Kindle.

Reality is that Nook Color will eat up market share, and might keep getting better

There are a few big problems the Nook Color creates for the Kindle –

  1. Nook Color does ‘more than just read’ while keeping the price within striking distance of Kindle. The Press has eroded eInk’s perceived value, so it’s enough for B&N to say Nook Color is ‘focused on reading’.
  2. Nook Color is very good.
  3. Nook Color might get much better if B&N runs the Nook App Store well.
  4. Nook Color gets library books and ePub.
  5. eInk doesn’t have color, and might not for a while.

If you’re Amazon, you might be thinking there’s no way a color LCD tablet steals away readers. However, it will. And it’ll keep increasing how many readers it steals – because it’s much more impressive in person.

If you hear from me – Now throwing away my iPhone and iPad are an option. It doesn’t really register.

Then you try reading in bed with the Nook Color, and contrast it with your current best option – It’s much better. Kindle might be better, with the magical cover with built-in reading light – but that’s $60 on top of the $189 of the Kindle 3.

This ‘Reading Tablet’ will damage eReader sales

We still don’t have word of mouth kicking in properly. We still don’t have apps that add additional value. We still have a fascination with the iPad. That’s going to change.

Almost every single review of the Nook Color has been glowing – as good as the iPad, best reading device, best eReader, worth buying. Sooner or later, it starts registering in people’s minds.

Amazon desperately needs a Kindle Color

The combination of the magical phrase ‘Reading tablet’, and an actual solid Tablet that’s focused on reading, means that we have a device that the Kindle can’t fight against. The part of the reader market that likes Nook Color, will not want an eInk device. Additionally, the $250 price keeps the iPad at bay.

Amazon can neither compete with the Kindle, nor with Kindle for iPad. Its only option is to create and release a Kindle Color.

There are signs it might have one in the works. There are hires, such as today’s hire of Jon Rubenstein (head of the team that released iPod, former Palm CEO), that show Amazon might be working on a Kindle Color.

It can’t come soon enough.

First Mover Advantage might make Nook Color unbeatable

If Nook Color manages to –

  1. Sell 3 to 4 million Nook Colors. 
  2. Create a link in people’s minds that it’s the default ‘color eReader’ and the default ‘reading tablet’.
  3. Release a bunch of reading related apps that no other device has, or even apps that no other reading focused device has.
  4. Get word of mouth going, and hit a big growth spurt (the beaten to death hockey stick curve).
  5. Cut down the price to $175 or $200 within 6 months.

Then it’s unbeatable.

It might not seem that way – However, what company in the recent past has been able to dethrone an incumbent?

It’s infinitely difficult. 

Researchers did a study and found that if the #2 product in a market does a lot of advertising, the sales of the #1 product increase more than that of #2. If people start thinking ‘Reading Tablet = Nook Color’ then anything Amazon does to advertise Kindle Color will increase Nook Color sales.

The 6 month to 9 month Window of Opportunity

There are two things Amazon has to hope don’t happen before it launches Kindle Color –

  • That Nook Color becomes the default ‘Reading Tablet’.
  • That the Nook App Store takes off, and developers start making money.

If it can release a Kindle Color in 3 to 6 months, it might avoid both. If it can release a Kindle Color in 6 to 9 months, it might avoid one of the two.

If Amazon doesn’t have an answer for Nook Color within 9 months, then it’s Game Over in the Reading Tablet market.

The obvious question is – We know what Amazon ought to do, but what what will it actually do?

How soon will Amazon release Kindle Color?

There are three broad possibilities –

  1. Amazon has a Kindle Color, or a Kindle Tablet, in the works, and it’s coming out within the next 6 to 9 months. This would be great, and give it a very good shot at beating Nook Color.
  2. Amazon recently started developing a Kindle Color – It’ll have something out within a year or so. This isn’t good enough – It should instead focus on buying B&N, because if there isn’t a Kindle Color out soon, B&N will rule the Reading Tablet market for a long, long time.
  3. Amazon is going with a Color eInk based eReader. Well, unless the price is $250 or less, it’s not going to work. There’s no way color eInk eReaders are going to be $200.

A February 2011 release of a Kindle Color would make sense. It’s possible Amazon won’t have anything ready by then. With every month that passes after February 2011, Amazon is reducing its chances of catching up with Nook Color.

It’s the strangest thing – At the end of 2010, Year of eReaders vs Tablets, the most dangerous device is a Reading Tablet. In a showdown of Amazon, Google, and Apple – an almost-insolvent B&N has created the most innovative reading device.

Color Kindle 4? a color eInk video + 2 kindle free books

First, the two free kindle books –

  1. Slow Ride: Rough Riders by Lorelei James. Genre: Romance, Touchy-Feely Covers.  Price: $0. It’s got one very strong endorsement –

    Keely has always been my favorite female character…What a treat to be able to read more about her wedding and Jack’s plans for their honeymoon.
    Slow Ride is funny, definitely SEXY and emotional…yes I cried while reading it. I also fell in LOVE with Jack all over again =)

  2. Money Saving Mom has a Thanksgiving Your Way book that’s pretty cool. It’s in DRM free PDF format and has recipes, decorating ideas, and more. Thanks to the kindle forum commenter who mentioned the book.

It’s a never-ending stream of free kindle books this week – not that we’re complaining.

Color eInk Video leaked 1 day in advance

Akihabara News has a video of the new color eInk from PVI/eInk which is called ‘Triton’. It’s quite remarkable and definitely worth watching (thanks to CW for the tip).

PVI/eInk was supposed to launch the Triton color eInk screens tomorrow at the Waste-of-Time Conference in Japan but it’s already got all the information on its website –

  1. Up to 1 month battery life. That’s shockingly good.  
  2. Thousands of colors in addition to 16 levels of grayscale. eInk claims the text is still crisp and that color graphics and text are both fully viewable in direct sunlight.
  3. Triton, just like eInk Pearl, is 20% faster than the previous generation of eInk.

There is a Triton Color eInk page at PVI/eInk’s website and that too is well worth checking out. There’s even a customer showcase with Kindle and some other eInk powered devices shown off.

Here are the technical specifications for Triton color eInk screens –

10:1 Contrast Ratio
White State: 70 (minimum)
Dark State: 24 (maximum)
Bit Depth: 4-bit; 4096 colors, 16 levels CR
Reflective: 40% (minimum)
Viewing Angle: Near 180 degrees
Image Update Time: 240 ms to 980 ms
Update Modes: Color, Text, Pen, Animation

Available Display Sizes: 2 to 12 inches
Display Thickness: 12 mm
Resolution: Capabilities exceed 200 dpi
Aspect Ratio: Typical eReaders use 4:3 

The reflectivity is not ideal, the sharpness and richness of the colors isn’t comparable to LCDs, and .25 to .98 seconds image update time is slow. However, color eInk is still very impressive due to its battery life, its readability in sunlight, and for the fact that it’s finally about to materialize.

The video and website do a good job of explaining how Triton works. All of this leads to an obvious question.

Will we see a Color Kindle 4 powered by Triton Color eInk?

Surely, Amazon isn’t going to let Hanvon have all the fun.

The way things stand it seems that Mirasol and eInk Triton are the only two horses in the race – you have to wonder which one Amazon has picked. The Triton color eInk video isn’t as impressive as Qualcomm’s Mirasol videos but Amazon has worked with PVI/eInk since the first Kindle and PVI/eInk has proven it can deliver ePaper screens at scale.

Will Amazon release a Kindle 4 in mid or even early 2011 that uses eInk Triton?

Perhaps Amazon will wait till end 2011 and release a Color Kindle that uses the Mirasol display. Perhaps it will be a $249 Kindle Color meant to take on Nook Color and the iPad mini (assuming it materializes – Steve Jobs’ denial pretty much guarantees it exists).  

Don’t know whether Amazon will be able to release a color ePaper based eReader at $249. If it can, a Color Kindle 4 at $249 would slot in nicely between Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2.

What impact will Nook Color have on Kindle 4?

You have to imagine that if Nook Color is a big hit and/or starts taking market share in the eReader market Amazon will respond quickly. In that case it might need to release a color Kindle 4 early in 2011 and eInk Triton might be its only option. Unless of course Mirasol displays are being produced in large enough numbers and are available at low enough prices to be a viable option.

If, on the other hand, Nook Color doesn’t do well or doesn’t do well with readers then Amazon might just decide it can wait till end 2011 or even 2012 to release a color Kindle and we might see only software improvements to Kindle 3 or perhaps a black and white eInk powered Kindle 4 that adds a touchscreen.

It’s all very exciting – Hanvon’s color eReader isn’t slated to arrive until March but it sets the ball rolling and now everyone will be trying to one-up Hanvon. It just seems that color eReaders in general, and a color Kindle in particular, are closer than we thought.