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 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.

Kindle 3 year anniversary thoughts

We just passed Kindle’s 3 year anniversary.

As the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi get ready for a holiday showdown with Nook Color and the new Sony Readers it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come. Let’s look at the big Kindle + eReader surprises, the disappointments, and the hard to believe things.

12 Biggest Kindle, eReader Surprises

  1. Reading is cool again.
  2. That eReaders made it. While all of us were hoping that a device made just for readers would survive – you have to admit that most of us had a few niggling doubts.
  3. That eBooks are now 9% of the book market and might be 10% by end of 2010. To put it another way – Not only did eReaders survive they took the book market and in just 3 years turned 10% of it into ebooks.
  4. Apple getting into Books and releasing iBooks. It’s just not a good fit.
  5. We still don’t have a decision on orphan works and we still don’t have an offering from Google. 
  6. Amazon and Sony stuck with a dedicated eReader. At every turn it seemed like the companies would morph their eReaders into tablets and it’s a pleasant surprise that 2 of the big 3 have stuck with dedicated eInk eReaders.
  7. That the main-stream media and tech blogs still don’t get it. Just one more million eReaders sold and then they’ll believe eReaders really do exist – they promise.
  8. That there’s an entire eco-system around eReaders – Blogs, sites, cover manufacturers, independent authors, service providers, ebook publishers, iPhone book app publishers, public domain book sellers, and people making software for eReaders.
  9. The sheer number of companies that are taking a shot at making an eReader or selling books.   
  10. That ePub has amounted to nothing. eReaders supporting ePub were supposed to take over the world – Well, where are the 75% of people who were waiting to buy eReaders supporting ePub?
  11. That we’ve gone from $399 to $139 in 3 years. Price drops are expected but to drop to a third in 3 years is a good surprise. This probably also reflects Amazon’s focus on selling books rather than eReaders.
  12. The company behind eInk selling itself right when eReaders really began to take off.

A little more on one of the biggest surprises – That eReaders made it.

eReaders have made it and they’re transforming Publishing

We have somewhere between 5 and 10 million eReaders in the US. That’s exactly 5 to 10 million more than what the experts thought would sell.

eReaders have resulted in ebooks accounting for 9% of total book sales. They’ve given independent authors a channel to reach customers directly. They’ve put the fear of God into Publishers.

Companies like Apple and Google are trying to jump in. Every Tablet is pretending to be an eReader or claiming to be ‘great for reading’. Every company under the sun is making its own eReader.

eReaders have made Reading cool again.

One survey says eReaders are the #2 most wanted gift this Christmas and another says #3. Yet another survey says that more kids over 13 wants eReaders than iPhones. A high school in Florida has given every student a Kindle. Kids are reading again.

Lots of kids and grown-ups who couldn’t access paper books can now use large size fonts and text to speech to access books.

10 Biggest Disappointments

  1. That there isn’t a tough 4-way or 5-way race in eReaders. All we have in dedicated eReaders is Kindle 3 in front with Sony and Nook 1 struggling to keep up. B&N is trying to create the reading tablet segment which is commendable but doesn’t do much good other than motivate Amazon to launch a color Kindle sooner.
  2. That there isn’t a tough 3-way or 4-way race amongst ePaper companies. All we have is eInk and a bunch of companies that love to talk about all the amazing technology that they will one day show off at CES and then never release.
  3. Publishers – They’ve been raising ebook prices, limiting availability, turning off text to speech and LendMe. Worst of all, they kicked off the Agency Model in early 2010 and almost managed to slow down ebooks.
  4. We don’t yet have a color eInk eReader. We don’t really have any big breakthroughs – unless you consider the 50% better contrast of eInk Pearl to be one. In 3 years all eInk/PVI has done is taken us from 8 shades of grey, decent clarity, and 1.2 seconds per page turn to 16 shades of grey, much better clarity, and .5 seconds per page turn. eInk technology seems to be following reverse Moore’s Law – Every 2 years the technology improves 25%.
  5. Sony – It started the whole category but lost the script and is now fading away.
  6. B&N creating a reading tablet instead of making a dedicated, eInk-based Nook 2. Nook Color is very impressive but it’s not a device crafted for dedicated readers.
  7. The hotshot color eInk technologies have all failed to show up – Pixel Qi, Fujitsu, Mirasol, eInk’s own color eInk, Keny Displays, Nemoptic, Bridgestone’s QR-LPD, and LiquaVista are all still ‘in development’ or ‘arriving soon’. There’s talk of a Mirasol eReader debuting in Q3, 2011 which would be almost exactly 4 years after the Kindle 1.
  8. The non-stop deaths and disappearances of smaller eReader companies. Everyone from Readius to Skiff to Cool-er to Notion Ink to Plastic Logic is either dead or indefinitely delayed.
  9. That apps and services for eReaders haven’t really arrived. Where’s the great recommendation engine? Where’s the eReader to eReader social network? Where are the services and software that will add real, solid value to readers’ lives?
  10. Larger screen eReaders. Kindle DX is one of the few available choices. All the large screen eReaders seem expensive when compared to the smaller eReaders. A lack of competition has really hurt this segment  

The first 2 disappointments are critical and may very slow down the advance of eReaders.  

Lack of Competition = Lack of Innovation

We currently have Kindle with a huge lead in eReaders and PVI is the only viable ePaper manufacturer. That just kills innovation.

When the Nook first came out we saw Amazon add PDF support, cut prices, and add a bunch of other good features. With the threat of a Nook 2 looming we saw a Kindle 3 that was an improvement across the board and much cheaper.

Now, with B&N releasing Nook Color instead of Nook 2 and Sony Readers being priced so high, who’s going to force Amazon to evolve?

It’s the same with eInk/PVI which is happy to add one feature per decade while other ePaper makers produce Press Releases rather than ePaper.

In both eReaders and  eInk/ePaper we need a lot of competition – competition that forces Amazon and eInk/PVI to improve, competition that forces all eReader companies to evolve, and competition that will undoubtedly create revolutionary new technologies that will accelerate eReader and eBook adoption.

11 Hard to Believe Things

  1. Amazon’s level of dominance – 50% to 70% of eReader sales, 80% or more of eBook sales. An iPad survey claims more iPad owners use Kindle for iPad than iBooks – for the first time ever an iPad survey might be right.
  2. Nook and Sony Reader both being sold out during 2009 holiday season and handing everything to Amazon. You have to try very hard to run out of stock during holiday season – Despite Amazon messing up in 2007 and 2008 its competitors didn’t learn and gave Amazon the market.
  3. B&N releasing an eReader in 2009 and B&N releasing a Reading Tablet in 2010. At some level you expect B&N to slowly die without putting up much of a fight. You don’t expect it to be the catalyst that re-invigorates eReaders and forces Amazon to evolve Kindles drastically and rapidly.
  4. Publishers refusing to see the opportunity. You go up to a Publisher and tell him – Let me get rid of used book sales and book lending and eliminate returns and shipping costs. Let me also give you the opportunity to instantly meet user demand, know how well books are selling, and figure out what’s working and what’s not. The Publisher punches you in the gut and starts running around finding ways to upset readers. It makes no sense.
  5. The wide range of patents filed. Qualcomm has a device with 3 screens which morphs into different devices based on how you arrange the screens. Amazon has a patent for a device that recognizes gestures and also a patent for an electronic pen that syncs with the cloud. If even one of these patents makes it into an actual eReader it’d be a big step forward.
  6. Kindle Store becoming a viable place for independent publishers to not only get book deals but also to make a living. It’s only a few authors at the moment but it’s bound to increase.
  7. Publishers letting new publishing upstarts like Rosetta Books and OR Books get digital rights for a lot of good backlist books.
  8. That we still don’t know how many Kindles have been sold.
  9. New York Times will have an eBook Bestsellers List. It’s just 3 years and already there’s a separate eBook Bestsellers List.
  10. Amazon still doesn’t support library books.
  11. The sheer number of free book offers. It’s mostly the Kindle Store but even other stores get a lot of free offers. Now that we have days with 10+ free kindle books it’s hard to believe there was a time when there were no free book offers (most of 2008).  

For me the hardest thing to visualize/comprehend is that there are now millions and millions of people with Kindles – It’s 100 huge stadiums full of people – each holding a Kindle.

It’s morphed from the early pioneers into pretty much 20% of the book reading population of the US.

Looking back in Wonder

Here are a couple of posts you might find interesting –

  1. Kindle, eReader Thoughts at the end of 2009
  2. Kindle’s First 2.25 years.  

It’s strange to see some things stay exactly the same and other things morph so dramatically.

Where are we headed?

2011 and 2012 promise to be very interesting and exciting.

Will we get to tens of millions of eReaders sold a year? Will eBooks account for 25% or more of market share? Will $75 and $100 eReaders become commonplace?

Will Amazon continue to dominate both eReaders and eBooks? Is there any revolutionary new technology or business model waiting to wrest away the momentum? Could Nook Color put B&N in the drivers’ seat?

Will we really see color eInk based eReaders next year? Does Apple really have a 7″ mini iPad that’s focused on reading? What will Google Books look like and what eReaders and devices will it tie up with?

What eReader services will we see? Will Kindle Apps and Nook Apps make a difference? Will someone create a better reading app for iPhone and iPad than Kindle for iPad and Nook for iPad?

The Kindle 3 is likely to take over the dedicated eReader market this holiday season and color eInk eReaders are set to arrive in 2011. Beyond that, everything’s up in the air.

There’s a lot to look forward to and we might be about to enter the golden age of eReaders – perhaps even a golden age of reading.

Kindle Education + Enterprise division, interesting Kindle jobs

Not much about the Kindle 3 happening this Sunday. However, there are some very interesting Kindle positions available at Amazon.

There even seems to be a Kindle Education and Enterprise division. Let’s start with that.  

Kindle Education & Enterprise Division

First clue is this position – Senior Product Manager for Corporate Segment.

It’s pretty clear from the description that Amazon is trying to find a niche for Kindle in the Enterprise – 

define and drive the product strategy and roadmap for Kindle services to the corporate segment, help improve the enterprise customer experience and help to establish our end-to-end businesses for Amazon Kindle within the enterprise market segment.

Dig a little deeper and turns out there’s an entire ‘Kindle Education & Enterprise’ division. Here’s a position for this Kindle Education & Enterprise team –

Senior Quality Assurance Engineer, Kindle Education & Enterprise

Are you inspired by the prospect of developing cutting-edge technology with the potential to transform education? 

Would you love to be a part of the team that innovates how organizations and corporations share information with their customers and employees across a diverse set of applications?

… evolve Kindle into an indispensable asset for students, educators, and a wide range of enterprise customers.

We knew Amazon was pushing into education. It’s quite revealing that it’s also focused on reaching Enterprise customers.

‘Brand New Kindle Program’, Kindle for WebOS, Kindle for Windows Mobile

There have been 45 Kindle positions opened in just the last 4 days. Here are some of the more interesting things gleaned from the old and new Kindle positions –

  1. What does ‘a new, customer-facing Kindle program’ mean? From a developer posting –

    This is a recently formed team tasked with delivering a new, customer-facing Kindle program. You will have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of technologies while writing Kindle device software and building large-scale back-end services.

  2. There’s another job posting that refers to ‘a brand new Kindle program’. Is a completely different Kindle about to debut?
  3. There might even be a new store. From a developer job position we get –

    a highly available, scalable, real-time ordering system for digital products.

  4. Shelfari is now part of the Kindle team. A Kindle job opening talks about Shelfari –

    Be on the forefront of scaling a social network inside of EC2. Take data entered by passionate end users and distribute it to and its family of products. Come make Shelfari a household name!

  5. Kindle Book Evangelist to work with authors and publishers to ‘facilitate and encourage title selection on Kindle’
  6. Kindle for WebOS? A few of the positions mention WebOS as a platform Amazon is developing applications for. 
  7. Kindle for Windows Mobile? One position mentions Windows Mobile as a platform Kindle team is developing an app for.
  8. Kindle Device Demand Generation position to drive Kindle sales.
  9. Programmer Analyst for the other ‘Kindle Apps’ –

    The Programmer Analyst team provides support to third-party developers including code level analysis, generic sample application code implementation, and common best practices.

You can find a complete list of Kindle related jobs at Amazon’s main site.

Particularly interesting is that there are 14 open positions in the ‘Kindle Digital and Mobile Platforms and Applications’ team and that there is a separate ‘Kindle Cross Platform’ team (that works on cross-platform SDKs) and a separate ‘Kindle Mobile and Tablet Applications’ team. It must mean Kindle Apps for PC, iPhone, etc. are doing really, really well or Amazon thinks they will be critical to its success.  

We also find out that the Kindle platform team is responsible for supporting MP3 downloads and Video on Demand. If that doesn’t scream Kindle Tablet don’t know what does.

Amazon is expanding Kindle in all directions. Including international.

Kindle for PC, iPhone, etc. going International Soon

Lots of random searching also unearthed a pretty strong clue that Amazon is planning on, or perhaps already working on, internationalizing Kindle for iPhone and other Kindle Apps.  

What’s the Clue?

Well, it’s this gem from Linked In –

Kindle Apps Internationalization Program Manager

Location: Seattle, WA (Greater Seattle Area)
Experience:Mid-Senior level
Functions:Project Management
Industries:Computer Software
Posted:October 12, 2010
Employer Job ID:124960

Linked In says the job is no longer available – It must have been filled recently because Google’s cache shows that the Kindle Apps Internationalization Program Manager job was open as of October 19th, 2010.

If Amazon is advertizing now it might take 3 to 6 months to fill the position and another 3 to 6 months for globalized versions of the various Kindle Apps to come out. That means in the next 6 to 12 months Kindle Apps will start to go international. Perhaps even earlier.

Kindle Internationalization Program Manager?

Here’s what Amazon writes about this Kindle related position –

Does the idea of working on Kindle, Amazon’s revolutionary wireless reading device, and other mobile platforms sound exciting and challenging? Then this is the position for you.

The Amazon’s Kindle team is looking for a world-class Technical Program Manager to lead the globalization of all Kindle applications on iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, PC, and Mac.

at least 5 years of Globalization/Localization experience;

Experience with iOS and Android SDKs is preferred

It’s pretty clear Amazon is looking to expand into other languages and markets. It’s also looking to hire 2 senior software developers that will probably work on this internationalization initiative –

to develop cross-platform SDKs that speed our products to market and enable the e-reading capabilities on all platforms that Kindle products run on.

That first ‘internationalization PM’ opening definitely confirms that Amazon is looking to expand Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone, and other Kindle Apps internationally.

Closing Thoughts – Kindle must be booming

45 positions opened in the last 4 days. 14 people in the Kindle Apps for PC, Mac, etc. team. A separate team just for Cross-Platform work. Lab 126 (the Kindle Team) is beginning to sound like a 1,000 person company.

Kindle for WebOS. Kindle for Windows Mobile. A ‘Kindle for iOS’ position. A Kindle for Tablets team. It seems like the various Kindle Apps are a runaway hit and Amazon considers them a vital part of the Kindle’s future.

My favorite three finds –

  1. This is a recently formed team tasked with delivering a new, customer-facing Kindle program. A new, customer-facing Kindle program sounds very intriguing.
  2. There’s a Kindle Education & Enterprise division.
  3. Kindle Platform team also handles MP3 downloads and Video on Demand.

Amazon probably has a lot of Kindle surprises up its sleeve. It’ll be interesting to see when it unveils them and what they are. Perhaps Amazon even has a brand new Kindle or a Kindle Tablet slated to arrive soon.