Kindle DX back from the dead

Kindle DX is back from the dead.

Amazon’s making all sorts of strange Kindle moves recently. Kindle Keyboard disappeared. Kindle DX is back.

Thanks to The Verge for the news of Kindle DX being back (in graphite, not black).

Here’s a quick refresher -

  1. Kindle DX was Amazon’s large screen Kindle. The screen is 9.7″.
  2. Kindle DX has the same eInk screen as Kindle 3 did – eInk Pearl. It’s not as good as the Kindle Paperwhite screen, and there’s no built-in light.
  3. The current version of Kindle DX being sold is actually Kindle DX 2, referred to as Kindle DX Graphite.
  4. The larger screen is slower to respond. So if you like snappy you might want to give it a skip.
  5. You can check out our Kindle DX 2 Review and our Kindle DX 2 Review Video for more details.
  6. Kindle DX is the only large screen eReader, based on eInk, available from the top 4 eReader companies (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony).
  7. The 9.7″ screen translates to 2.5 times the screen real estate of 6″ Kindles.
  8. The current price of $299 is still on the high side.
  9. Kindle DX International – Kindle DX does ship outside the US.
  10. You get all the same services and benefits as with regular Kindles. There is also a keyboard (albeit a very poorly constructed one, with tiny buttons and no number keys (press Alt for numbers)).
  11. You do get free 3G wireless. Not sure if this extends to Internet. It definitely extends to browsing books and book downloads.

All in all, it’s a very interesting move.

Why is Amazon bringing back Kindle DX 2?

Amazon had ended Kindle DX quite a while ago. That rules out the possibility of this being left over stock. So the following possibilities come up -

  1. Amazon saw consistent demand for Kindle DX 2. This is quite possible as DX 2 was great for people with weak vision who wanted a larger screen size, and also wanted eInk. Kindle DX 2 was also good for people who wanted to read PDFs. The PDF support was spotty but for reading PDFs that worked on it, it worked well.
  2. Amazon has a new Kindle DX 3 planned. It’s started selling Kindle DX 2 again to gauge demand.
  3. Amazon wants to ramp up production of 9.7″ eInk screens for a dual screen LCD+eInk device. Selling Kindle DX 2 again allows for that.
  4. Amazon decided to bring back the Kindle DX 2 to fill the hole in its lineup i.e. no large screen eInk eReader.
  5. No good reason at all. Just an experiment.

The more we think about it, the stranger it seems. To bring back a product that you had ended, and which had not sold very well.

At the same time, Amazon has ended Kindle Keyboard, which was an eReader which had lots of demand (since it was the only eReader with a keyboard).

Don’t understand this move at all. It’s good to see Kindle DX back from the dead. Just not sure why or how it’s back.

$259 Kindle DX Thanksgiving Kindle Sale

The Kindle DX is now $259. This is the Kindle DX 2 – the one with the eInk Pearl screen and graphite casing.

You can see my Kindle DX 2 Videos to get a better idea of what you’ll be getting.

Main advantages – eInk Pearl screen, much larger 9.7″ screen, all the Kindle ecosystem benefits, syncs with Kindle Apps and other Kindles. The product page lists all the benefits.

Main disadvantages – Kindle DX hasn’t been getting any software updates, the size is a bit unwieldy, the weight is a bit much, its not a latest generation Kindle, no touch, PDF support is not that good.

Why isn’t there a Kindle DX competitor?

Let’s talk about dedicated reading devices with large screens. There aren’t any except the Kindle DX.

Let’s see what we have -

  1. Kindle DX and Kindle DX 2.
  2. Nothing from B&N.
  3. Nothing from Sony. The 7″ screen Daily Edition doesn’t qualify. 
  4. A dual screen Tablet from Entourage Edge that is more Tablet than eReader.
  5. Nothing else from any big company.

We’re not counting the iPad as it’s not a dedicated eReader.

Large screen eReaders we would have had which either got delayed or got cancelled -

  1. Skiff was going to release a very large screen dedicated reading device but it’s either cancelled or postponed.  
  2. Plastic Logic has delayed the Que ProReader.
  3. Fujitsu’s large screen color eReader hasn’t been released outside Japan.
  4. The Pixel Qi magic screen powered dual-mode Tablets aren’t out yet – Actually, Notion Ink’s Adam has been delayed.
  5. There have been a bunch of companies showing off large ePaper screens but none of them have made it into any actual eReaders.

All of this brings us to an interesting question.

Why are there no Kindle DX competitors?

Let’s explore the possibilities -

  1. Perhaps the Kindle DX is hard to compete against. Well, that’s a little hard to believe. The Kindle DX 2 doesn’t have any killer features other than the eInk Pearl screen and at $379 there’s lots of room. It’s not like the $139 Kindle WiFi where the smaller companies just can’t compete.
  2. Perhaps the larger 9.7″ screen is very expensive. There’s a slight possibility that this is indeed the case. It would mean that any company competing against the Kindle DX would have to come in around the same price and beat the Kindle DX on other areas. Not a very easy thing to do.
  3. There isn’t enough supply of the 9.7″ screens. There might be some truth to this.  
  4. The market for large screen eReaders isn’t very big. Perhaps a lot of companies feel large screen eReaders start competing with tablets and become too expensive and that the market for a $400, large screen, dedicated reading device is very small. This is quite possible.
  5. The risk is too high. It could be that the amount of investment required to create and release a large screen eReader is very high. There are larger costs for everything  – screen, components, shipping, storage. Combine this high cost with a competitor like Amazon and the possibility that the market size is rather small and it becomes too risky to release a large screen eReader.

The 4th and 5th points are probably the big ones. Let’s dive deeper into these.

Is there a market for a large screen eReader?

First, let’s consider what a large screen reading device would be used for – reading and browsing websites, reading newspapers, reading magazines, textbooks, perhaps comics and graphic novels.

In each case eInk makes the reading great and everything else terrible. The slow refresh speed of eInk, the lack of color, and the lack of evolution in general means that LCD screen devices are much better suited for the non black and white text components of these pursuits.

Please Note: We’re assuming that the 6″ eReaders have large enough screens for reading books.

It’s quite remarkable that eInk seems almost perfectly suited for only one activity – reading books.

Let’s say the market for people who want a device to read online articles, magazines, textbooks, and comics and who are willing to pay $400 to $500 is 20 million people a year. A large screen dedicated eReader would be competing against tablets of all sorts, netbooks, rival ePaper technologies, and smaller screen eReaders. There doesn’t really seem to be a big, huge market for a large screen dedicated reading device.

If eReaders get adopted in education because they are less distracting than multi-purpose devices then we have a huge market – However, that’s not very likely. The most likely outcome is that we’re looking at a 5 million devices a year market as long as the price is around $400.

What’s the risk to reward ratio for bringing a large screen eReader to market?

We have a market of around 5 million units a year. Let’s see all the risk involved -

  1. You have to put in a lot of investment to come up with a large screen eReader (same as for any new product).
  2. You have to negotiate screen supply with eInk and components from other vendors. There are probably contracts and minimum purchase agreements involved.
  3. If you don’t get the #1 spot your sales are 2 million units a year or less. 
  4. You’re aware that Tablets are going to get cheaper and cheaper so you must have a plan to cut prices yourself.
  5. Amazon might decide to start taking a loss. 
  6. Since you’re marketing the device to demographics that either don’t have money (students) or have lots of options (sources for textbooks and newspapers, piracy) you might not have a long-term revenue stream.
  7. The risk of accidents and failures is much higher – The yield for large screens is usually a lot less than for smaller screens, larger eReaders will be tougher to store and ship, and the cost to users if they break an eReader is much higher for large screen eReaders.

The last point brings up something interesting – Not only are the risks high for manufacturers the risks are higher for customers too. This risk adds to the high price and further narrows the market.

The reward just isn’t there

Let’s assume a company risks all of this and becomes a success and is selling 3 million large screen eReaders a year. It’s selling them for $400 and after everything is said and done it’s making $50 profit per eReader. That’s $150 million in profit a year.  We’ve already talked about there not being another revenue stream (since there is so much competition and so much piracy). So $150 million profit a year is all we have.

This might seem like a lot. However, contrast this against the investment required and the risks.

Perhaps $50 million in investment to get everything set up and bring the large screen eReader to market. All the risk factors we’ve discussed above. The big giants i.e. Apple and Amazon, will definitely attack your market share. Companies will try to take over your device and probably kill any possibility of creating a second revenue stream from sales of books and newspapers.

Investing $50 million, figuring out all the agreements and nuances, and fighting this grand war with Apple and Amazon in return for a 10% chance of a $150 million a year profit stream isn’t very enticing. It’s even less enticing when you realize that even if you get to the $150 million a year profit stream Amazon will take a loss to cut into it and Apple will keep trying to steal away the most profitable part of your customer base.

Kindle DX 2 thoughts + free book

First, the free kindle book -

  1. Sheltering Hearts by Robyn Carr. Apparently, it’s written as a sort of introduction to some charity and talks about the life of the founder. 1 1 star review and 1 5 star review.

    New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr takes readers back to her beloved Virgin River country in this heartwarming tribute to Rhonda Clemons, founder of Zoë Institute and a winner of a Harlequin More Than Words award.

Next, here are some thoughts on the Kindle DX 2 collated in the process of playing with it to prepare for a full Kindle DX 2 Review.

Kindle DX 2 – Very Good and Very Caught in the Middle

There are a lot of good things about the Kindle DX 2 – the eInk Pearl screen, the large screen size, the mostly good PDF support, the thinness.

There are also a few negatives – the price, the awkwardness (it’s just a little too big), the fact that it hasn’t got all the software features the Kindle 3 has, it being quite close in price to multi-purpose tablets like the iPad.

There are two definites – Kindle DX 2 is a very good large screen eReader, it’s firmly caught in between the $189 Kindle 3 and the $499 iPad. The latter (it being stuck in a sort of no man’s land) gets in the way and Amazon really needs to find a way to cut the price down to around $250.

Kindle DX 2 – The benefits and disadvantages of size

The size adds a lot – you get more words per page, PDFs look great and even better in landscape mode, newspaper are better, you have to turn the page less often, the browser displays webpages better due to there being more size.

The screen size is 2.5 times the screen size of the Kindle 3 and Kindle 2 and it make a big difference.

The size also adds a lot of problems – one-handed reading becomes nearly impossible unless you rest it against something, two-handed reading can also tend to get tiring, carrying it and holding it are both slightly awkward, the larger size makes it hard to pack and hard to fit into bags and purses.

Overall, the Kindle DX 2 is a very good eReader at the wrong price. Perhaps in the course of writing out a full review my feelings will change.

Kindle DX 2 feature-set is very puzzling

Now that the Kindle 3 is available with all its improvements the Kindle DX 2 suddenly looks strangely out-of-place. You have to wonder why Amazon would release it at the time it did (very early July) and with the feature-set it did (only 3 big improvements – eInk Pearl screen, graphite casing, lower price).

Just finished a rough Kindle WiFi or Kindle 3 or Kindle DX 2 comparison and the part that was totally inexplicable was that a lot of Kindle 3 improvements didn’t make it to Kindle DX 2.

Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2 feature-sets are too far apart for products released 2 months apart

Let’s start with the Kindle 3 hardware improvements and what might be hardware related -

  1. WiFi. Why doesn’t the Kindle DX 2 have WiFi?  
  2. Up to 1 month of battery life on the Kindle 3. For DX 2 this is 2 to 3 weeks. With wireless on it’s 10 days versus 7 days.
  3. 20% faster page turns due to some sort of tuning.  
  4. Improved screen contrast (over what the eInk Pearl screen brings) due to tweaks and tuning.
  5. New quieter page turn buttons. Re-arranged buttons.

Most, if not all, of these are improvements Amazon must have figured out a long time ago.

Why produce the Kindle DX 2 without these? 

Take the WiFi and the quieter page turn buttons – For people who don’t get AT&T reception or those who read a lot in bed these are a big deal. Yet, for some strange reason, the DX 2 doesn’t have them.

Things get even stranger when we look at Kindle 3 software improvements

Perhaps we can explain away some of the hardware improvements. However, how do we explain this long list of software improvements that are missing from Kindle DX 2 -

  1. Choice of 3 Fonts.
  2. CJK Font Support, Cyrillic Font Support.  
  3. Better PDF support. 
  4. New WebKit Browser. 
  5. More words per page. By removing the top bar and moving the progress bar to the very bottom of the screen (thanks to Atom for noticing that).
  6. Voice Guide and hence full accessibility.
  7. Lots of smaller improvements – View Downloads Progress, Set Time Manually, Better Progress Bar inside books.

Note that the faster page turns, screen contrast improvements, and battery life may be software based too. There’s no way all these software improvements were done in just 2 months. That must mean a conscious decision to introduce them in Kindle 3 first – Why?

The saving grace is that Amazon could add these to the Kindle DX 2 fairly quickly. Adding all these improvements to Kindle DX 2 really is the right thing to do. DX 2 owners paid more than double what Kindle 3 owners will be paying.

Is Kindle DX 3 on the way? Why is Amazon behaving as if Kindle DX 2 is the less expensive Kindle?

When the Kindle DX first arrived there was little doubt it was the higher end Kindle – It was expensive, it had a larger screen, it had PDF support, it had an accelerometer, it had screen rotation. You paid the $489 premium and received things that the Kindle didn’t have.

When the Nook arrived with PDF support Amazon was forced to add PDF support to the Kindle and cuts its price. However, nothing was added to the Kindle DX 2 to compensate and its price wasn’t cut either.

Now things are even more extreme – the Kindle DX 2 is double the price of the Kindle 3 and has less than half the improvements. You saw the list above – It’s almost as if Amazon is trying to see how low they can take the DX 2 on value for money (especially when compared with Kindle WiFi). 

 Where’s the DX 2 value proposition? Is there a new Kindle DX WiFi? A Kindle DX 3?

There are a few possible reasons why the DX 2 has been left behind -

  1. Amazon plans on adding software upgrades to Kindle DX 2 a few months after Kindle 3 is out – that would certainly reduce the value gap between Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2.  
  2. There’s a new, cheap Kindle DX WiFi in the works – perhaps for around $250. At that time software improvements added in Kindle DX WiFi will be added to Kindle DX 2.  
  3. Kindle DX 2 is just a lower priority. Perhaps the market for large screen, expensive eReaders just isn’t that big. Kindles have always sold a lot more than Kindle DXes and perhaps that’s continuing.
  4. Amazon hasn’t achieved economies of scale. A screen with 2.5 times the surface area is going to be much more expensive to produce (higher chance of defects). If the numbers are low then you can’t really scale up and everything from the screen to the body to the chips cost more.
  5. Amazon might be consciously positioning the Kindle DX 2 as the high-end eReader. Perhaps the higher price is a filter.
  6. Perhaps Amazon sees the DX 2 as an education eReader and wants to keep it at that price to account for later additions like touch screens and color.  
  7. Amazon wants a device that competes with the iPad as a large screen eReader. They don’t want to cut the price too much. They might want to kill off the Kindle vs iPad comparisons but keep the Kindle DX vs iPad comparisons.

The likeliest possibility is that Amazon hasn’t hit economies of scale and that the software upgrades will be added a few months after Kindle 3 is released. Perhaps Amazon feels that it needs to ‘save up’ all these improvements for Kindle 3 so that the Kindle 3 seems truly extraordinary with a bunch of improvements no other eReader has.

Amazon is free to play whatever positioning games it wants to play - Let’s just hope it gets all the Kindle 3 software features it can into Kindle DX 2 a month or two after Kindle 3 ships.

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