Kindle 3, Sony Reader 606, and thoughts

Since there’s absolutely no interesting news and World Cup games are played in the morning it’s time to wonder aimlessly about the Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 may be arriving soon

The price drop of the Kindle 2 to $259 was just too smooth. We might all like to believe that Amazon are so fluid and responsive that they drop the Kindle’s price down to $189 mere hours after B&N announce their pricing surprise. However, that’s really hard to explain rationally.

You mean to tell me Amazon managed Kindle at $189, refurbished Kindle at $169, and refurbished Kindle 2 US at $139 in just a few hours. Amazon hadn’t been selling refurbished Kindles for a long time and then suddenly, at exactly the same time that B&N introduced the Nook Lite and cut the price on the Nook, Amazon got everything ready to ship in a few hours.   

It seems that either B&N didn’t hide their plans well enough or that Amazon were preparing for a Kindle 2 price cut independently of the release of the Nook WiFi. This makes a lot of sense if you consider that PVI/eInk has had a few things go its way and should be achieving better economies of scale – partnership with LG Display (the second biggest LCD maker in the world), sales to Amazon and B&N and Sony, lots of new customers for eInk. Perhaps PVI managed to cut prices on the display and both B&N and Kindle were planning to cut prices on their eReaders.

How does this tie-in with Kindle 3?

Well, the other factor that might be causing all the low prices is the arrival of the Kindle 3. Amazon tend to cut the price of the existing Kindle a month or two before a newer Kindle model is about to come out (based on a grand sample of 1). Add on a month or two from now (to avoid incurring too many returns) and you get a possible Kindle 3 release date – the end of July 2010 or sometime in August.

It’s almost as if Amazon were preparing to cut the price of the Kindle 2 and B&N gave them a good cover for the real reason behind the price-cut.

What could Sony be planning for their new Sony Readers?

Sony have already incorporated Touch into their Reader line. What will they be trying with their new Sony Reader 606?

My money’s on – wireless+WiFi, collaboration with Google Editions, cheap price point (well, they don’t really have an option), focus on international support, and Android.

We’ll probably see Sony concentrate much more on selling their Sony Readers all over the world. In the US they have a really tough time getting press coverage and have begun to lose the attention of potential eReader buyers. They might try a sales blitz to counter that. However, they’re stuck because they only focus on the device.

Basically, Sony want to sell people a device and then let them figure out everything else. That’s exactly what readers don’t want – Readers want everything already sorted out.

How soon could B&N release a Nook 2?

B&N showed us last year that they aren’t scared of rushing a product to market. Let’s say one or both of Kindle 3 and Sony Reader 606 debut in July/August. Suddenly we have the Nook competing with the third generation of eReaders. They’d have to do something drastic to compete.

Perhaps it’ll be price. Perhaps it’ll be rushing Nook 2. Perhaps it’s another gift card or another software update. Whatever it is, it’s going to be very interesting to see. B&N always seem to mis-time their moves. By playing the price card early they have left themselves vulnerable to the third generations of the Kindle and the Sony Reader.

Plastic Logic delayed, provides no release date

Plastic Logic could have released last year and found a niche. Now they are stuck between the $500 iPad that does everything and the $189 Kindle 2 that is excellent for reading.

How in the world are they going to sell a $649 business eReader?

It seems Plastic Logic finally figured this out and decided to change their strategy. It’s super impressive that they resisted the urge to promise a date. They seem to have realized that it serves no purpose to talk up an eReader, delay it to the point that potential competitors have raced far ahead, and then release it. Thus they’ve cancelled all pre-orders and said they’re working to improve their eReader.

It’s worth wondering what role the $100 million or so they took in investment is playing – Is it their safety buffer that ensures they can handle a few crashes on their journey? Are the investors overzealous about protecting their investments and scuppering an entry into the eReader market now that there’s lots of competition? Perhaps it’s both.

Plastic Logic technology is pretty important and they have a lot of money – They aren’t going to die out. It’ll be interesting to see what their next move is.

When will Qualcomm Mirasol displays arrive and in what device?

Mirasol seems to be ruled out of Kindle 3 – Mr. Bezos keeps insisting color Kindles are not arriving anytime soon. Meanwhile, Qualcomm keeps insisting that there will be mass market products using Mirasol displays in Fall 2010.

There’s an obvious disconnect.

The perfect use of Mirasol displays is in eReaders. It’s got to be in Kindle 3 or Kindle 4 or in the newer Sony Readers or in the Nook 2. What other device could be as good of a fit?

This is one of the big unresolved mysteries of the eReader market of 2010 – What eReader will have Qualcomm’s Mirasol Displays?

Will Pixel Qi be in Kindle 4? Nook 2? Another eReader?

Pixel Qi seems to be ruled out of Kindle 3 due to still not being out. Adam was a tablet that was supposed to be the first Pixel Qi powered device and would have proven the commercial viability of Pixel Qi’s screens. However, it got delayed and further delayed and now won’t arrive until Shopping Season 2010.

Some eReader maker is going to take a chance on Pixel Qi – The technology is just too good to pass up. Which of Amazon, B&N, and Sony will it be? Perhaps a company we don’t expect is going to release a Pixel Qi powered eReader+Tablet and steal a portion of the market.

Here’s the last update from Pixel Qi

We are in 5 tablets, a few netbooks, and are also displaying multitouch, wide-viewing angle screens, and pen-based digitizing and all combinations thereof.

Notice the lack of mention of eReaders in that list. Perhaps Pixel Qi haven’t been able to convince any eReader company to try them out. That’s a bit unlikely though – the likelier probability is that they’re not supposed to talk about it until the product launches.

Kindle 3 rumors seem to have some weight – a July/August Kindle 3 release date seems likely

There are far too many coincidences – all the rumors talk of a July to August timeframe for a Kindle 3 release, most of the rumors talk of a thinner Kindle 3 with a sharper screen, the price of the Kindle 2 has been dropped.

None of the rumors and data points are conclusive. However, all of them point to the same thing – a Kindle 3 release in July or August. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see what the next generation of Sony Readers is like and what Kindle 3 offers.

Kindle 3 in July-August? 740K eReaders shipped in April-May?

Digitimes quotes Digitimes Research (the beginnings of an infinite recursion loop) and makes some pretty bold claims –

  1. 1.43 million eReaders were shipped in the first quarter of 2010. This is worldwide.
  2. 740K eReaders were shipped in April-May 2010. 
  3. B&N’s Nook accounted for 37% of shipments and the Kindle accounted for just 16%. That would mean 118,000 Kindles shipped and 273,800 Nooks shipped.

The last piece of data is rather sketchy – Amazon was readying up a launch at Target and just announced refurbished Kindles and refurbished Kindle DXes. Surely, those must have shipped in May.

That brings us to Kindle 3.

Claims of a Kindle 3 launching in July-August

Digtimes adds further fuel to the Kindle 3 in August rumors –

Amazon is reducing its Kindle inventory as it prepares for the launch of a new version of its e-book reader in July-August, Digitimes Research explained.

The new Amazon e-book reader will still use E-Ink solutions, but picture quality will be better than the present Kindles. Production cost and street prices will also be lower.

Street prices will be lower – that’s certainly very enticing news.

Kindle 3 rumors are all pointing to August

The Kindle 3 rumors are quite an odd bunch – However, they all point to August and to a cheaper Kindle.

  1. The Digitimes article and a past report on a rumored Kindle WiFi both suggest a lower price. Kindle WiFi would obviously be cheaper due to a cheaper wireless radio and not  having to subsidize wireless costs. If the Kindle 3 3G version were cheaper too that would be quite impressive.
  2. Bloomberg reported on a thinner Kindle 3 with sharper screen contrast and they said it was scheduled to come out in August. Now Digitimes are also talking about a Kindle 3 that comes out in July-August and has better picture quality. 

If nothing else the rumors are all very consistent.

Was Kindle 2.5 a fond goodbye to Kindle 2?

This has come up on the forum and you have to wonder whether Kindle 2.5 is Amazon thanking Kindle owners and getting ready to move on to Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 is a much-needed release

At $500 you have the iPad threatening to Retina Display your eyes and at $149 we’ll soon have the Nook WiFi. That leaves Amazon in a rather precarious position with the Kindle –

  1. There isn’t any killer eInk technology (at least to the best of my knowledge) on the near horizon.
  2. Update: Kindle 2 is now $189. Which matches very well with the $199 Nook and $149 Nook WiFi. A $259 Kindle vs $149 Nook WiFi comparison will cause the Press to become delirious and will end up creating a whole new perception problem for the Kindle.
  3. There’s only so much you can do via software.

Amazon’s already added PDF and rotation support in end 2009 and Folders and Supersize Fonts recently – they’ve squeezed more out of the Kindle’s hardware than you would think possible. Surely, they can’t keep coming up with software improvements to make fonts sharper and battery life longer indefinitely.

At some point of time you have to stop depending on software upgrades and improve the hardware drastically. The only way Amazon can do that is with Kindle 3. So, hopefully, the rumors are true and an improved, cheaper Kindle 3 is indeed on the way.

Kindle 3 – Will Amazon release Kindle 3 in 2010?

What exactly are Amazon’s Kindle 3 plans? 

Well, Amazon’s actions at the end of 2009 and in early 2010 hint at some very interesting possibilities for the Kindle.

Amazon seems very wedded to Kindle 2

Let’s start with 5 things we know about Kindle 2 in 2010 –

  1. There’s a Kindle 2.5 upgrade with Folders, better PDF support, more fonts, and other goodies slated for end of May. 
  2. There’s a Kindle App Store scheduled for sometime in the future. Perhaps this year, perhaps early next year. The Beta is going on and since it’s based on Kindle 2 that hints at longevity for Kindle 2.
  3. Amazon has said there will be a Kindle software update with accessible menus and a supersize font in mid 2010.
  4. The ‘Kindle Apps for various devices and platforms’ page says Kindle Apps for other platforms will be arriving soon. 
  5. Amazon have said they will extend free Internet browsing internationally in 2010.

Basically, Amazon is continuing to do a lot for Kindle 2.

Next, let’s look back at what happened at the end of 2009 –

  1. Kindle 2 went international.
  2. Amazon added PDF support, screen rotation, and better battery life to the Kindle at the end of November 2009.
  3. Amazon matched the Nook’s $259 price.

This was mostly interpreted as a response to the Nook – an attempt to ensure a win during the Christmas Season. In retrospect it probably was also a sign that Amazon were focused on the Kindle 2 and that there was no Kindle 3 about to arrive.

The potential technology for a killer Kindle 3 is pretty far off

What are the possible killer features the Kindle 3 could have?

  1. Color – It’s end of the year for Mirasol and early 2011 for eInk. Both are optimistic estimates.
  2. Dual Mode – The first Pixel Qi device (Notion Ink Adam Tablet) will be out in Summer or Fall 2010. Amazon will probably let them work out all the kinks of Pixel Qi screens.
  3. Touch – Firstly, a touch screen solution for ereaders that doesn’t reduce readability hasn’t arrived in the market yet. Secondly, the Sony Reader has touch and touch hasn’t really shown itself to be a killer feature. Page Turns are better with buttons and notes are better with a physical keyboard.
  4. Flexible, unbreakable screens – We’ve been hearing about this for a long time (since early 2009). It’s over a year and no-one’s brought it to market yet.
  5. Folding Screen Design – Qualcomm has patented a three screen design (which may be for an eReader or Tablet) and something like Polymer Vision’s Readius would be cool. However, it’s not enough to carry a Kindle 3 release.
  6. Super fast eInk – For a much better reading experience. Even prototypes of eInk displayed aren’t super fast and it’s highly unlikely this will be ready in 2010.

If Amazon can get color ePaper by end 2010 then we should definitely expect a Kindle 3. However, getting reliable color ePaper technology by 2010 is a reach.

It really does seem that for a 2010 release Amazon could at best get the following into Kindle 3 –

  1. A tougher to break screen.
  2. Some sort of folding design.
  3. Some sort of touch.

These just aren’t as impressive as color. The combination might be enough to justify a Kindle 2.8 – However, Amazon need to make sure Kindle 3 is a home run.

Kindle 3 needs to be able to compete with Tablets

Kindle 2 does a good job at both reading and at offering a great value proposition.

However, tablets are going to get cheaper, become more open, and keep offering a better and better reading experience. Kindle 3 has to be exceptional to be able to take on the calibre of tablets we’ll have by end 2010 and early 2011.

Kindle 3 also needs to re-establish separation between Kindle and the other eReaders – Nook with its new browser, Nook 2, Sony Reader with whatever it gets in 2010.

For this holiday season we can draw up a rough Kindle 3 hitlist –

  1. Color eInk. 
  2. Faster screen refreshes.
  3. 2 out of Touch, Unbreakable screens, and Folding/Flexible screens.
  4. Working Kindle App Store. Lots of great apps related to reading.
  5. A re-establishment of cheaper ebook prices in the Kindle Store – Ending the Agency Model is probably the only way.
  6. Kindle Store keeps its status as the store with the most available new books.
  7. Better browser. 
  8. Kindle service continues to evolve and adds at least 2 significant new features.

Kindle 3 needs to have nearly all of these improvements to compete during this holiday season and in early 2011. We’re also assuming that the new, cool Kindle 2 features (Folders, better font support, social features) will be included in Kindle 3.

3 main possibilities for Kindle 3

This is obviously all guesswork – It seems that Amazon have 3 main windows for releasing Kindle 3 and for each there’s one strategy that makes the most sense.

Bridging the Gap – Kindle 2.75 in June or July 2010

This is very unlikely as it neither addresses the crucial Christmas Season nor does it deliver any killer features. However, there’s a slight chance Amazon releases Kindle 3 in June/July with a medley of smaller changes – faster screen refreshes, touchscreen, hard to break screen, and so forth.

The main advantage of an early Kindle 3 release is that Kindle 3 would probably be the undisputed best eReader for 3 or more months.

Probability of a June/July 2010 Kindle 3 release date: 10%.

All-out Christmas War – Kindle 3 in Fall 2010

The most probable Kindle 3 release scenario is a Kindle 3 in Fall that’s intended to win the Christmas Season for Amazon.

It would have color, a touchscreen that is unbreakable, additional very helpful features (that we don’t know about yet), a price in the $250 to $300 range, better font options, better accessibility, support for additional languages, and perhaps even a full-fledged App Store.

This would be a Kindle 3 that easily outpaces other eReaders and pretend-readers like Tablets. The big question here is whether one or both of Mirasol and eInk will be ready to deliver color ePaper in time for a fall 2010 kindle 3 release.

Probability of a Fall 2010 Kindle 3 release date: 60%. Mostly because Amazon is acutely aware of how important the Christmas Season is.

Waiting to polish up everything – Kindle 3.1 in Feb 2011

There’s a small possibility that Amazon decides to wait until color eInk is well and truly ready and releases Kindle 3 around two years after the Kindle 2 was released.

Amazon’s strategy would probably be –

  1. Use updates like 2.5 and most requested features like Folders and PDF support to make Kindle 2 more compelling.
  2. Do lots of software tweaks to improve performance.
  3. Perhaps release the Kindle App Store by Fall and see what developers add to the Kindle.
  4. Expand the Kindle service with additions similar to most popular highlights and WhisperSync.
  5. Expand the number of devices on which Kindle Apps are available. Make these apps more compelling.

In this case Amazon would be hoping that by improving the service and the software they can continue to keep the Kindle 2 competitive. It’d be a risky move and would only work if Nook 2 and the next generation of Sony Readers don’t push the bar much.

Probability of a Feb 2011 Kindle 3 release date: 30%.

October 19th, 2010 would be my best guess for a Kindle 3 release date. A color screen and a new Kindle design (2 or 3 foldable, unbreakable screens) would probably be the killer features.