Reviewing 49 Kindle Keyboard Improvement Suggestions from Roger Knights

Roger Knights has shared his Kindle 3 Improvement Suggestions List which encompasses 54 improvements and additions for Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard). Please do check out the entire document for interesting details. Particularly interesting is the analysis that it would cost Amazon just around $400,000 and less than a year to implement these improvements.

Thanks to Roger for sharing these. It was a lot of fun to go through and look at these. Reminds me of just how well made the Kindle 3 was. Hopefully, at some point of time in the near future, Amazon will revisit Kindle 3 and make a new version of it.

I’m doing a quick review of the 54 suggestions and ideas. My thoughts on each item are in italics. Please feel free to add your own Kindle 3 improvement suggestions and your own thoughts on these 54 suggested Kindle 3 improvements.

Hardware Improvement Suggestions for Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3)

  1. The Lettering on the Keyboard should be Larger, for Readability’s Sake. Very, very true. It’s stupefying that a device that comes with ‘large font sizes’ for better readability uses tiny alphabets on the keyboard.
  2. Numerals should be imprinted about the upper row letters. Yes, or even better – Add back the number buttons row.
  3. Non-letter keys should be visually distinct from the Letter Keys. A no-brainer.
  4. Let the user disable the page-turn buttons on 1 side. This is to reduce accidental page turns. This makes a lot of sense. You can grab one side firmly.
  5. Make the Imprinted Orientation Identifier (which side is up) Prominent on the USB Cable. This problem exists with nearly every USB Cable. And I like this solution a lot.
  6. Provide a ‘Reward If Found’ Sticker. So that users can attach this to their Kindle’s back. Super idea.

Flaws & Rough Edges to Polish - Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3)

  1. Always Display the Notes & Marks’ Page Number. Don’t fully understand this. However page numbers should be always shown.
  2. Fix the Left-Arrow’s Ineffectiveness INSIDE Chapter 1, Article 1, etc. Pressing left arrow on the 5-way should take user to the start of Chapter 1 when inside Chapter 1.
  3. Make the Down-Arrow Highlight the Last Line on the Page. Good to fix this. This is an annoying usability bug.
  4. Treat the Dash as a Word Separator when highlighting. Yes, this is a must fix. Makes it hard to highlight precise portions of the text.
  5. Fix the Flaw in View Downloading Items. There’s little point in having View Downloading Items if it doesn’t work instantly once Wireless is turned on.
  6. Change Upper-Row Letters to Numerals Automatically when ‘Location’ values are entered. This really is a no-brainer.
  7. Save Users a Step when ‘Going To’ a location – Let user ‘enter’ by pressing center of the 5-way. This happens in other places too – Amazon should cut down number of required steps as much as possible.
  8. Perhaps Enable the Delete Key to Remove Content. Since the Press Left Arrow Method is not obvious. Yes, hardly anyone knows you can press Left Arrow to get the ‘Delete Item’ option. Makes more sense to enable the Delete button.
  9. Change  ‘Wake’ to ‘Waken’ in Your Screensaver’s Message Line.

Half Finished Features that ought to be Finished (Kindle Keyboard)

  1. Include a Down-Arrow in the ‘To Wake’ Screensaver Message. This would indicate the power switch position. Interesting idea.
  2. Provide Trial-Mode Password-Testing Before Activation. This is an excellent idea. There should also be Password reminder emails and Password reminder questions to let users reset their password without needing to call up customer service.
  3. Provide an “Exact Match’ Search option. Much needed. And as suggested by Roger, using the Google convention of “exact term search in quotes” to search would be smart.
  4. Add “Go To Index”. Very useful for nonfiction books. This is true. Index is much better than search for some types of books.
  5. Add Two “Go to Highest Page Read” Options. Very badly needed. Amazon uses ‘Most Recent Page Read’ as ‘Last Page Read’. Which isn’t always the best option.
  6. Add a “Back Matter” Marker. Something that lets you set a page as ‘Last Page Read’.

Bookmarks & Chapter Markers Improvements for Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3)

  1. Insert Bookmarks and Chapter Marks in ‘My Clippings’. This would really help.
  2. Add an Advance to Bookmark Feature. This would be interesting – it would let users navigate by bookmarks (which some users already do for books that don’t have a TOC).
  3. Allow Users to Activate Non-active Chapter Titles. Basically, allow users to create a TOC quickly.

Notes & Marks Suggestions for Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3)

  1. Provide Notes & Marks Headings that Differ Typographically by Type. Yes, using shades or icons or different font types to let users easily differentiate between Notes & Bookmarks & Highlights would make things much easier.
  2. Let the User View the Three Types of Notes & Marks Separately. Much needed.
  3. “Flag” Notes & Marks More Helpfully. Such an important point about putting markers in the top left corner of the page and not the top right. And also a great point about having markers for Notes & Highlights.
  4. Let the User View Entire Notes and Highlights in Notes & Marks. Yes, I’ve never understood why it doesn’t have the ENTIRE highlight or note in the list. Why ask the user to jump around to read the highlights and notes?
  5. Make Users’ Notes Available to Notepad-Type Apps. What can I say? This should have been done 3-4 years ago.

Highlighting – Suggestions to improve Highlighting on Kindle Keyboard

  1. Perhaps More Distinctly Underline Popular Highlights. I actually dislike the whole ‘Popular Highlights’ feature. However, having it be a different type of highlight than user highlights is a good idea.
  2. Let the User Highlight Bad Passages Differently. Not sure of this one.
  3. Add a Type-Feedback-To-Authors Feature. This would be worth its weight in gold. This alone would make Kindles sale increase 20%.

That last feature/improvement is a very, very, very big deal. It would GREATLY and MASSIVELY improve the quality of ebooks and the happiness level of readers. If Amazon had to pick ONE thing to add in the next Kindle, this Send-Feedback-To-Author feature is it.

Collection-Related Improvements for Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3)

  1. Place Add/Remove Items FIRST in a Collection’s Right Click Menu. True. The most used function is adding and removing items.
  2. Add a Book-Menu Option to Add/Remove a Book to/from a Collection. This makes a lot of sense. It’s often when in the Book that you want to add it to a Collection and/or remove it from one.
  3. Flag or Dim Already-Collected Items When Adding to a Collection. This would be a huge help. Some visual cues to tell a user that certain items are already in other Collections.
  4. Provide Three Simpler Ways to Add & Remove Collection Items. Splendid Suggestion to have three new ways to Add/Remove - ‘Add Uncollected Items’, ‘Remove Items that are already in this Collection, and ‘Add Items from Another Collection’.
  5. Let Users Dim “Books I’ve Read”. Dim or Hide (I prefer Hide). This would be a super addition.
  6. Let the User Flag on-Kindle Books as ‘Reading’, ‘Hope to Read’, etc. This would also be a super addition. The whole point of having books in digital form should be that they are WAY easier to manage and categorize and work with. The categories suggested are interesting too – Reading, Hope to Read, Stopped Reading, I’ve Read (Already Read?).
  7. Allow the User to Select from Built-In Sets of Collection-Names. Yes, that would speed things up. Certain Names like Science Fiction, Romance, Next 5 Reads, etc. should be available to choose instantly.
  8. Select (Advance to) The Next Line after Adding an Item to a Collection. Yes, this makes sense. Why force the user to make an extra move when 98% of the time, after selecting or de-selecting a book, the user will want to go to the next line.
  9. The Archive should be Collection-Aware. This would be a winning feature for me. Right now the Archive is almost impossible to work through if you have more than a few hundred books.

Quite frankly, I think the way Amazon did Collections is completely wrong. It should have done Folders and allowed multiple levels. It also made a royal hash of how items are added to Collections and how they are removed. However, these suggestions from Roger Knights would greatly improve the Collections feature.

Other Software Improvement Suggestions for Kindle Keyboard (Kindle 3)

  1. Provide One-Letter Passwords for Collections and the Archive. This would really help a lot of users. The idea to have a one letter password is brilliant. Solves a lot of problems in advance.
  2. Add a ‘My Vocabulary’ Document (made from User-Extracts from the Dictionary). This is a must-have. It’s so easy to do and it would add so much value. Just do it Amazon.
  3. Add a Cover Slideshow. Good idea. Also allows for some character.
  4. Let the Cover of the Book-Being-Read Display as a Screensaver. Good suggestion.
  5. Include More Pauses After Paragraphs in Text to Speech. Good suggestion. Allows users more breathing (listening) room. Speaking of TTS why don’t all Kindles ship with TTS?
  6. Let Authors Flag ‘Front Matter’ for Non-Inclusion in the Free Sample. Excellent suggestion. No point in having samples that have just a few pages of the actual writing.
  7. Let users go to a Percentage-Based Location. Again, this all stems from Amazon’s stubbornness in sticking to locations when no one even knows what location means. Just shift to Page Numbers and Percentage read.

There were also 5 suggestions that were fixed in a Software Update.

Closing Thoughts on Kindle 3 Suggested Improvements

Kindle 3 is arguably the best eInk eReader made by any company. It got a lot of things right and really moved things forward in a big way. It’s a bit sad that we had Amazon take the whole ‘touch with no keyboard’ approach. Amazon might have been much better served by focusing on improving Kindle 3.

This (reinventing the software and hardware wheel) is a mistake that companies like Amazon and B&N seem to consistently make. Polish a product and OS for 1-2 years. Then, after 2 years switch to a new design and be forced to redo all the work.

Contrast this approach with how iPhone and iPad have kept the hardware and OS almost exactly the same. That adds stability and allows for really, really polishing the software. Amazon has changed the hardware and software of both eInk Kindles and Kindle Fires multiple times – with little tangible benefit and with the huge downside that it’s never had a really polished software experience. Kindle 3 was close but then Amazon switched to something completely different in Kindle 4.

Let’s hope that Amazon decides to make a new Kindle that is an evolution of the Kindle Keyboard, and that Amazon incorporates a lot of Roger Knights’ Kindle 3 Improvement Suggestions in this new Kindle.

Why Kindle 3 is the best eReader

The Kindle 3 is, for all intents and purposes, the best eReader available.

Let’s ponder why this is – why Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch were unable to wrest the crown from Kindle 3.

Please Note: If you haven’t used a Kindle 3, or have already bought a Kindle Touch, then feel free to consider the Kindle Touch the best thing since sliced bread. This post is mostly for Kindle 3 owners and for people who are deciding between Kindle 3, Kindle 4, and Kindle Touch.

Why Kindle 3 is the best eReader

1) Kindle 3 is dependable. It’s the polished version of a familiar device. The magical third generation that sorts out 90% of the issues.

With Kindle 3, Amazon refined what it started with the original Kindle. It didn’t try any big design changes because none were needed. It improved lots of aspects and messed up only a few (keyboard being too tiny, number keys missing, etc.).

Kindle Touch and Kindle 4, on the other hand, aren’t familiar or dependable. They aren’t exactly 4th Generation Kindles – they are more like a branching out from the main Kindle family into some strange branch where being able to touch the screen becomes as important as reading from it.

They throw away the entire user interaction model. Kindle 4 does this in spectacular fashion by having neither a keyboard nor a touchscreen. Kindle Touch also involves quite a shift - using a touchscreen makes for an entirely different user experience. Amazon makes the change even more drastic by removing the 5-way and the page turn buttons.

For all intents and purposes, Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are the first generation devices for their respective user interfaces. That means - they will not have the sort of polish Kindle 3 has. This is why lots of people are running into problems with screen responsiveness and are struggling with things like one-handed reading and page turns.

2) The Kindle 3′s keyboard and 5-way and page turn buttons add something of significant value.

Physical Keyboard = Faster typing of Notes. In things like crossword apps and games you can use the keyboard. Keyboard can be used for shortcuts (Alt+G for screen refresh to remove ghosting – Is that even possible on Kindle Touch?).

Physical Page Turn Buttons = Keep your finger on the button and press down (minimal effort). Also, makes one-handed reading easier.

5-Way = Faster moving around and more precise moving around. The touch screen of the Kindle Touch is a bit hit and miss with Menus and also is awkward in some places.

There is also familiarity and being comfortable. If you’ve owned Kindle 1 or 2, then Kindle 3 is comfortable. If you’re used to a physical keyboard then, again, Kindle 3 is familiar. The opposite applies too - If you’re in love with touch screens, then you’ll prefer Kindle Touch (just don’t expect LCD smoothness).

Here’s what you get by removing the keyboard and 5-way and page turn buttons: smaller size, lighter weight. These aren’t very important because Kindle 3 was already compact and light. It’s 7.5 ounces vs 8.5 ounces.

3) Amazon cuts a LOT of corners with Kindle Touch.

This is something that doesn’t become apparent until you actually start using the Kindle Touch.

All the cut corners add up - the interface being awkward in places, no charger included, no free 3G browsing. To get the price down, Amazon cut a lot of corners. You get the distinct feeling that you are using the ‘value’ version of the Kindle.

Think about it – there isn’t even a wall charger included.

Kindle 3 didn’t have any of this nonsense.

Kindle 3 is $99 with ads for a device that used to sell for $139 and had to be priced lower to compete with Nook Touch. Kindle Touch is $99 with ads for a device that often reminds you it’s a $99 device.

Interestingly, all the Kindle Touch’s drawbacks (and the Kindle 4′s drawbacks) stem from two very interesting sources.

The Fundamental Flaws – Amazon reacted to Nook Touch instead of improving Kindle 3, Amazon went for value over quality

It’s finally struck me.

Kindle 3 was really great. Kindle 4 should have been a higher quality device built on Kindle 3 as the foundation.

Instead, Amazon prioritized -

  1. Lowering the price to reach more users.
  2. Reacting to what it thought was the threat of Nook Touch and the new Sony Readers.

Neither of these have much to do with reading or quality of reading experience.

Why prioritize lower price over quality? Because every Kindle sold is a channel to Amazon. Amazon wants to reach as many users as possible.

Why no keyboard? Amazon doesn’t want a keyboard because it wants the Kindle to be used for buying and consuming - Not for taking notes. Time spent on taking notes is time that could be spent buying and reading. Amazon has progressively made the keyboard smaller and more stunted and in the newest Kindles it has gone into full consumption device mode – forget typing, focus on buying and consuming.

Why react to Nook Touch? Because color eInk is too far away. Amazon was worried about a feature that is more of a marketing/selling feature than an actual benefit. And it almost certainly made the wrong choice.

Nook Touch used touch as a differentiator even though touch has nothing to do with reading (unless you’re reading braille). Touch is great for marketing and so B&N had to include it – because Kindle 3 was far ahead of Nook 1.

Amazon, however, had no rational reason to react to Nook Touch as if it were a big threat.

Why on Earth would Amazon react to the #2 and #3 eReaders?

Kindle 3 was doing great. It was the #1 eReader. (In the opinion of lots of Kindle owners, including me, it still is).

Amazon had two options -

  1. Wait until Mirasol was ready and release a color eInk Kindle. An actual big breakthrough. A Kindle 4 worthy of having that ’4′ in the name. A worthy successor to Kindle 3.
  2. React to what B&N and Sony were doing. Release a stop-gap Kindle. Create a me-too device that panders to the weird belief that a touchscreen is essential to reading.

For some strange reason Amazon chose the second option. It decided that it needed to copy the moves and designs of Nook Touch and Sony Pocket Reader. So it got rid of the keyboard and slapped on a touchscreen. To show just how avante-garde and zen minimalist it is, it even got rid of the 5-way and the page turn buttons.

It’s a puzzling decision. Every single book involves hundreds of page turns. The physical page turn buttons are super important. Why get rid of them?

With the new Kindles, Amazon has strayed from ‘a device that makes no compromises when it comes to reading’

Let’s consider -

  1. No charger. That’s a compromise. No computer needed … unless you want to charge it.
  2. No keyboard. You could push it and say it’s a trade-off. No keyboard does make taking notes tougher.
  3. No free 3G Internet. Note: This is for the more expensive 3G models.
  4. No physical page turn buttons. Again, you can argue semantics but seems like a downgrade to me. If Nook Touch can keep physical page turn buttons, why can’t Kindle Touch?
  5. Poorly thought out Touch interface (in places). This sometimes gets in the way of doing things. Touch should make things smoother, not rougher.

When we went from Kindle 2 to Kindle 3 there were 15 to 20 additions and 3 to 4 negatives. This time it seems like there are 5-8 improvements and 3-5 negatives. It almost seems to be a lateral move.

Amazon wasn’t really trying to make the best eReader

The most logical conclusion we can arrive at is that Amazon wasn’t really trying to make a better eReader than Kindle 3. Kindle Touch seems like something that is meant to prevent Nook Touch from getting too much of the market.

If we see a Mirasol powered Kindle in the first half of 2012, then it’ll prove this theory. That Kindle Touch and new Kindle are just stop-gap measures.

There are other possibilities -

  1. Amazon wants to focus on a ‘good enough for reading’ Kindle that is low-priced and which lots of casual readers can embrace. Obviously, for these ‘hard-core’ book readers, the ability to use a touchscreen is the most valuable feature an ebook reader could have. Kindle 5 will arrive with animated page turns and wooden bookshelves. By Kindle 6 we will have the option to buy bookcovers instead of books.
  2. Amazon really does think Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are better than Kindle 3. Perhaps the Committee for the Death of Keyboards inside Amazon is celebrating the liberation of users from the tyranny of physical keyboards.
  3. Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch got a bit lost in all the focus on Kindle Fire. It’s possible.

Whatever the reason(s) for the cutting corners and lack of tangible progress – it’s disappointing that we haven’t progressed. Kindle 3 came out 1.5 years ago. Since then we’ve only had Nook Touch, which is not as good (but is close), and these two new Kindles that are clearly not as good (probably because they prioritize things other than reading and quality).

Thoughts on Kindle 3, Nook 2, Sony 650, and the week ahead

The Kindle 3 will start shipping this week – It’s supposed to ship August 27th. However, there are still a lot of unknowns.

The next week (or this one if you consider Sunday the start) is the last full week of August. Does that mean we finally hear the full details on Sony 650 or will Sony wait till September to announce details?

There are still no details on Nook 2. All we know is that B&N is going to do a big retail push in early September – Is that going to coincide with the Nook 2 release? Or merely with the announcement of a Nook 2 that arrives in October or November?  

Will Kindle 3 reach new Kindle 3 owners by the 27th of August or the week after?

What’s happened to Google Editions - Wasn’t it supposed to arrive by summer 2010? Perhaps it’s going to be a joint launch with Sony Reader or Nook 2.

Both PVI and Qualcomm are claiming that color screen eReaders are going to arrive by end 2010 with their respective color ePaper screens – Really?

How will people react to Kindle 3? To Kindle WiFi?

People are really excited about the Kindle 3 – Will the high expectations make the real thing a disappointment or will Kindle 3 be able to meet the high expectations?

How much of a difference does the new browser make? Does Article Mode really work or only on some websites?

Is the new Kindle 3 good enough for blind readers to use by themselves? What about turning on Voice Guide – How do blind users figure that out?

You have to imagine there are a lot of people waiting for videos and photos to arrive so that they can see what the Kindle 3 is really like. Other people are probably waiting for Kindle 3 reviews from the big sites or for kindle 3 reviews from actual end users.

How will all these people react when Kindle 3 details are out?

Are Kindle WiFi owners going to be thrown off by the WiFi? There must definitely be some Kindle WiFi owners who don’t understand WiFi at all or expect Kindle WiFi to ‘magically’ work just like Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 did.

How many people are waiting for Nook 2 and Sony 650 to make a decision?

In a strange way not announcing details helps B&N and Sony – they can add-on features at the last minute and they get some portion of users to wait before making a decision on which eReader to buy. However, they also lose out on some sales.  

There must be a significant number of people waiting for Nook 2 and Sony 650 details – Will they change their minds and order Kindle 3 if the reviews are very good?

What happens if neither Nook 2 nor Sony 650 are impressive? What if no details are revealed for another few weeks and people keep reading about Kindle 3?

Could one of them be better than Kindle 3?

How are the Press going to react to Kindle 3?

We had a stretch that was very pro-Kindle and then $200 Android Tablets and the iPad 2 again became the center of attention. How are reviewers going to react to Kindle 3?

You can see some hedging of bets (Example: Jason Perlow who’s now started writing that Kindle will win the eReader wars). Is this because he’s been playing with a Kindle 3 and now feels it’s very good? Is this him just hedging his bets since the iPad didn’t kill the Kindle?

Walt Mossberg and David Pogue and the other ‘reviewers’ – How important will their opinion be?

What happens if they love the Kindle 3? What happens if they hate it?

This week is pretty important for Kindle 3 and for eReaders

Kindle 3 has been anointed the saviour of eReaders although it’s questionable whether eReaders ever needed saving. Everyone seems to love the Kindle 3′s features and even the Press has started writing about eReaders positively.

There’s a lot dependent on the Kindle 3 having a good release.

This is also an opportunity for the Press to do what it did with the Nook – talk it up and then find one weakness and brutalize it. If Kindle 3 is very solid then we won’t see any attacks – However, if there are 1 or 2 big weaknesses it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Press focus on those.

What are the weaknesses – the lack of ePub support and the lack of library books, the lack of touch, the lack of color, doing nothing other than reading. Are we going to see the Press turn on the Kindle 3 now that their attention seems to be gravitating to the iPad 2 and Android Tablets?  

This is the week all the Kindle 3 details we’ve been waiting for are revealed and it’s going to be very, very interesting.

Kindle 3, Kindle WiFi and the $9.99 boycott

The potential impact of the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi on the Agency Model isn’t really being discussed.

It’s worth wondering -

Will Kindle 3, Kindle WiFi owners cause a strengthening of the $9.99 boycott? Could they cause the downfall of the Agency Model?

Are people paying $139 for Kindle WiFi and $189 for Kindle 3 going to pay $14.99 for books?

Probably Not.

If you’ve waited for the price to get to $139 to buy a Kindle WiFi you’re likely to be willing to wait for an ebook to drop below $10. That or pirate the book or get it from the library.

New Kindle owners will probably stick to buying books that are reasonably priced.

$14.99 and $12.99 will frustrate new Kindle 3 owners and strengthen the $9.99 boycott

We’re now getting a lot of people who simply couldn’t afford to pay $259 for an eReader or didn’t think an eReader was worth that much. In either case they are likely to feel that an ebook isn’t worth $14.99 or even $12.99.

Such ridiculous ebook prices (especially since hardcovers are just a few dollars more and paperbacks are cheaper) will cause a lot of anguish and force new Kindle owners to choose from amongst the few available options -

  1. Pirate eBooks. Most people aren’t particularly inclined to do this - It’s too much of a bother and it isn’t exactly ethical.  
  2. Stick to books priced below $9.99.  
  3. Give in once in a while if you really want a book.
  4. Wait for the book price to drop.
  5. Get it from a library or buy it used for a few dollars.  

The Kindle Store might have 510,000 out of 630,000 books priced at $9.99 or below – However, most new releases are priced at $14.99 and $12.99. It forces new Kindle 3, Kindle WiFi owners to delay gratification and a lot will probably join the $9.99 boycott. 

Where do we currently stand with the $9.99 boycott?

We are in an interesting stalemate where the Agency Model has failed to establish $14.99 but has managed to get $12.99 working -

  1. In the top 25 – 8 books priced at $12.99. Rest below or at $9.99.
  2. In the top 50 – 13 books priced at $12.99, 1 at $11.99, and 1 at $10.99. Rest below or at $9.99.
  3. In the top 100 - 18 books priced at $12.99, 1 at $13.65, 1 at $11.99, and 2 at $10.99. Rest below or at $9.99.                              

22 books out of the Top 100 priced above $9.99 might not seem very bad. However, before the Agency Model the number used to be 4 to 8. 

On the other hand, 22 is an improvement from about a month back when there were 28 books at $12.99, 4 books at $14.99, and several at $11.99 in the Top 100.

$12.99 is the current new book price-point and new Kindle owners will hate it

What the last section does show is that the Agency Model has managed to establish a new $12.99 price point - most new ebooks arrive at this $12.99 price.

The new wave of Kindle owners will attack this as they expected $9.99. They didn’t get the benefit of the ‘Try for $14.99, Settle for $12.99′ trickery Publishers played on all of us and will fight hard against $12.99.

There’s little doubt new Kindle owners will strongly resist the $12.99 and $14.99 prices of the Agency Model.

Will their resistance make a difference?

Can the Agency Model withstand Kindle 3, Kindle WiFi owners?

We do know a few things from the first Publishers vs Kindle Owners battle -

  1. $9.99 books sell better than $12.99 and $14.99 books.
  2. $14.99 failed as an experiment.
  3. Kindle owners (the ones who bought Kindles when they were $399, $299, and $259) fought hard against the Agency Model.
  4. Lots of Kindle owners participated in the $9.99 boycott. Lots of them still do.
  5. There’s a general perception that $9.99 is a fair price for new ebooks.

With new Kindle 3, Kindle WiFi owners we are going to see the same things and a few additional factors -

  1. New Kindle owners are probably more price-sensitive. They are going to come in expecting $9.99 prices.
  2. They are likelier to boycott prices above $9.99. They are likelier to buy books priced below $9.99.
  3. New Kindle 3, Kindle WiFi owners are going to help increase Kindle ebook sales. We may hit 15% to 20% market share by end of the year.
  4. They will strengthen the ranks of current Kindle owners – most of whom have resisted the Agency Model.
  5. Their arrival will revitalize current Kindle owners. Suddenly we all feel we have more say and Publishers seem weaker.

Publishers get a new group of Kindle owners who come in with the exact opposite mind-set of what Publishers would like. New Kindle owners are probably going to fight for $9.99 far more vigorously than current Kindle owners do.

As the number of Kindle owners increases Publishers can’t afford to play games

While ebooks made up 5% of the market Publishers could afford to price ebooks at $14.99 and $12.99 and let rivals like smaller publishers and independent authors get more ebook sales. As the number of Kindle and Nook owners goes up and ebooks’ share of the market increases Publishers can no longer afford to lose ebook sales.

It’s all fun and games to fight against a small group of customers – overprice your books, flex your muscles, dare customers to boycott higher prices. As the number of eReader owners increases and the market share of ebooks goes up to 20% Publishers will have to get serious.

Would they be willing to lose 20% of their sales? Perhaps. 

However, as the market share of ebooks increases it becomes tougher and tougher to mistreat/exploit Kindle and Nook owners.

Perhaps the best way to kill the Agency Model is to simply sit back and watch the new Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi owners join the $9.99 boycott. New kindle owners who are even less willing to pay prices over $9.99 than we are. New Kindle owners who will probably strengthen the $9.99 boycott enough to kill off the Agency Model.

Will Kindle 3 end the eReader wars?

The one question the Kindle 3 has made me ask myself more than any other (well, besides Graphite or White?) is – Does Kindle 3 end the eReader wars?

The easy way to answer that question is to hide behind ‘Kindle 3 will sell millions’. However, lots of eReader companies are going to sell millions of eReaders before and after the eReader Wars are decided.

The real question is – Which eReader is going to win the eReader wars and end up with an overwhelming (90% market share) or dominant position (70% market share)?   

Kindle 3 is the first eReader (including the $139 Kindle WiFi under the ‘Kindle 3′ umbrella) that threatens to provide a firm answer.

How would we know Kindle 3 has ended the eReader Wars - What’s the criteria?

Let’s say there are two possible criteria for announcing an end to the eReader wars -

  1. A Microsoft Office like dominance with 90% or more of the market. A situation where there isn’t really a viable competitor. 
  2. A Google Search type dominance with 70% or so of the market. A situation where the 2nd and 3rd best companies in the market are not really a threat.

Forget the companies and the market – The 70% to 90% market share and the cemented #1 position are the key criteria.

If Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi help Amazon get to 70% market share AND cement the Kindle as the #1 eReader then we can safely say the Kindle 3 has ended the eReader wars.

Please note that we are talking about dedicated eReaders. So number of iPhones sold or number of cigarette lighters with LED displays sold doesn’t factor in.

Kindle 3 and the Invisible Competitors – Nook 2, Sony 606, iPad 2

There are bound to be strong reactions to a ‘Kindle 3 as decider’ post.

People who read on the Nook or Sony and people who read on the iPad (no jokes please, we mean the 5% who actually do read) will be aghast. As will a lot of people with an axe to grind (Press) or whose future depends on the death of the Kindle (Publishers, Paper manufacturers).

Well, they have a valid argument – We haven’t seen what Kindle 3 competitors will bring to the table.

We have the iPad 2 which will try another round of ‘LCD (this time with Retina Display) is better than eInk’.  It’ll also keep drumming on ‘the number of people who could possibly read on their device’ as opposed to ‘the number of people who actually read a lot on their device’.

The Nook 2 already has FCC clearance and this time it is Amazon that has made the mistake of announcing its features in advance – though you have to suspect (with the microphone etc.) that Amazon might have kept a few things in reserve. Nook 2 may have the eInk Pearl screen, it might have some new feature that blows us away, and it’s likely to match Kindle 3 in price (even if it bleeds B&N dry).

Sony offers a big threat – An alliance with Google Editions would add the missing range of books and supply some much-needed infrastructure. Sony’s new devices might figure out a way to do touch without sacrificing visibility. Sony has been delivering good devices – It’s the store and eco-system they mess up and perhaps they finally realize it and figure out a solution.

Perhaps the biggest threat is the giant search company and who knows what they might bring to the table.

All these companies face a few big challenges.

Kindle 3 has set a very high bar

There’s little doubt that Amazon had the best store. It also had amazing infrastructure – Free 3G wireless is pretty impressive no matter how you put it.

It was the Kindle that was the weak link. Firstly, the improvements were all incremental. Secondly, the Kindle 2 was 1.5 years old and had old eInk screen technology. Thirdly, Amazon’s avoidance of ePub and lack of openness and lack of library books and lack of WiFi were real disadvantages.

Kindle 3 changes most of that – We’ve gone from a state where the Kindle Store and WhisperNet were letting Kindle edge other eReaders to a Kindle 3 that can stand on its own. In fact, it beats the other eReaders handily (unless ePub or library books are a must-have for you).

As we go through this list of Kindle 3 improvements keep in mind that Nook and Sony Reader will probably match the Kindle 3 on some (perhaps even all) of these improvements -

  1. The eInk Pearl screen is better than any other eReader screen available. The graphite casing adds to the contrast and Amazon has added tweaks to further improve the contrast.  
  2. Kindle 3 is lighter, thinner, and more compact.  
  3. Kindle 3 has double memory and double battery life with wireless off.  
  4. The PDF support has been extended to include search and taking notes and making highlights. You can adjust the contrast and can do incremental panning when zoomed in.
  5. There’s a microphone that’s going to be used for at least 1 killer feature (nothing yet).
  6. There’s a Kindle App Store in the wings and it will almost certainly make a difference.
  7. New Accessible menus combine with the super size fonts to make it very usable by blind and low vision readers.
  8. There’s finally WiFi.
  9. Support for CJK fonts and Cyrillic fonts lets Amazon sell in China, Japan, Russia, and lots of East European countries.

Those are just the big improvements – We also have faster page turns, better button placement, sharper fonts, three font types, auto-disappearing book title bar, a webkit browser, and an article mode in the browser.

Keep in mind that this has arrived 4-6 weeks after a massive Kindle 2.5 upgrade that added PDF pan and zoom, Collections, sharper fonts, super sized fonts, and the ability to share passages on Facebook and Twitter.

Kindle 3 is an eReader which, on its own - without factoring in Kindle Store and Kindle Whispernet, is clearly better than the competition. It’s almost unfair that it gets the backing of the best eBook store and the best eBook/eReader eco-system and infrastructure.

Nook 2, Sony 606, iPad 2 have to beat Kindle 3 by a margin

Here we’re assuming the iPad 2 is going to pretend to be a dedicated reading device which just happens to have a screen optimized for playing games. So we consider it a competitor.

When the Nook 2 and Sony 606 arrive later this month, and when the iPad 2 arrives later this year, it’s not enough for them to match or beat the Kindle 3. They have to beat the Kindle 3 by a wide enough margin that Kindle Store and Kindle WhisperNet and free 3G can’t make up or exceed the difference.

This is perhaps the biggest thing people are going to misunderstand when they get upset about the ‘Will Kindle 3 end the eReader wars?’ question. Kindle 3 just needs to make sure it’s not worse than the competition. The Kindle service/ecosystem (including Kindle Apps on other devices) and Kindle Store will take care of things if there’s a tie between devices or even if another eReader is slightly better.

Which means Nook 2 doesn’t just have to match the 10 to 15 solid improvements the Kindle 3 has made - Nook 2 has to find an additional 5 to 6 improvements and implement them successfully.

It’s the same with the iPad – especially since Kindle 3 has improved on almost every advantage Kindle 2 had over iPad. Kindle 3 is cheaper (well, the WiFi model is), lighter, has battery life of 1 month with wireless off, its more compact, and the eInk screen has amazing contrast. Kindle 3 also cuts down on Kindle disadvantages – there’s double the memory, page turns are faster, there are 3 font types now, PDF support is better, and there’s a WebKit browser. 

Quick Synopsis – Where we stand on our Kindle 3 argument

We’ve established a few things so far (feel free to disagree in the comments) -

  1. Kindle 3 is much better than Kindle 2 and also much better than Nook and Sony Reader.
  2. Kindle 3 has the support of the best ebook store (Kindle Store) and the best eBook/eReader infrastructure (Kindle WhisperNet).
  3. Nook 2 and Sony 606 would have to beat Kindle 3 handily to make up for their comparatively poor ebook stores and for their weaker infrastructure.

We’ve also set 70% or higher market share and a cemented #1 position as the criteria for Kindle 3 to end the eReader wars.

Now, let’s look at why it’ll be exceptionally hard to catch up with the Kindle 3.

Kindle 3 and Amazon’s Kaizen Strategy are hard to beat

Amazon is in the enviable position of having the current best eReader (Kindle 3), best store (Kindle Store), and best infrastructure (Kindle WhisperNet). However, it’s biggest advantages are its kaizen philosophy, its focus on reading, and its deep pockets.

Sony cares only about gadgets. Apple cares only about selling beautiful things to cool people. Apple sells iPads to us strange people despite us wanting to read books – not because they care about books or reading but because they care about iPad sales. Nook is hampered by B&N’s financial struggles.

Amazon is running faster than all of them in the race to develop the best reading solution - Apple could catch it but Apple doesn’t want to run in this race. Sony thinks it’s in the race but it only cares about making a great gadget for reading (it couldn’t care less how, what, or if people read on the gadget). Nook is the only real competitor and unless Google saves it (or buys it) it won’t last (B&N just doesn’t have the resources to compete long-term).  

Amazon has basically done a few key things -

  1. It has focused on reading. The iPad was perhaps the biggest temptation to veer from that path and Kindle 3 shows Amazon has resisted it.  
  2. It has set itself up to invest in the Kindle for a long time.
  3. It has improved relentlessly. Until Kindle 3 we only saw the impact of the Kaizen philosophy in the service and the bookstore and in Kindle Apps. You have to look at the sheer number of improvements in Kindle 3 and realize kaizen is beginning to show up in the device too.

The Kindle 3 is the best current eReader - and still Amazon is improving the device, store, and infrastructure relentlessly.

Not only do Nook and Sony Reader have to catch up to the Kindle 3 they have to do it given that Amazon is improving faster than they are. It’s a race where the runner in front of you suddenly reveals bionic legs and starts accelerating.

With eReaders the inflection point is going to become apparent like it did with ebooks – 6 months after it has occurred. We’ll look back and realize the inflection point has long since passed and will try to piece together exactly what happened.

Well, the Kindle 3 happened.

The only question left is – Is it an inflection point only for the survival of eReaders OR Does it also cement the Kindle 3 as the winner of the eReader wars?


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