10 Kindle additions that would make a big difference

Could your Kindle be any better?

Actually, it probably could.

Here are 10 software and 10 hardware additions that would add a lot of value. Perhaps Amazon should consider adding them soon.

Kindle Additions to Improve the Kindle ownership experience

First, let’s look at software improvements. These are things that can be added in Kindle 2 and Kindle 3 itself.  

Kindle Software Improvements that would add a lot of value

  1. Adding all the Kindle 3 improvements to other Kindles. It’s not like Kindle 2 is going to cut into Kindle 3 sales now – might as well add all the improvements.
  2. Custom Screensavers. After Folders this is the most requested feature and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a lot more people want this than want Twittering and Tweeting.
  3. Turning on the microphone and enabling Voice Commands and Voice Notes.
  4. An Email Client. Perhaps there’s a monthly limit on data usage or a $1 per month charge for those using it. However, this would add a ton of value.
  5. Support for Library Books. Amazon might not want to add ePub as that lets other eBook stores sell books to Kindle owners. However, it could work out an arrangement with OverDrive that lets Kindles read library books. That would probably sway 50% to 75% of the people who choose Nook over Kindle.
  6. Multi-level Folders. It sort of defeats the purpose of Folders if they are just one level – then they are just tags not Folders.
  7. A ‘My Clippings’ Folder that has per-book Notes and Highlights and also has a history of all the words you looked up and includes the corresponding dictionary entries.   
  8. Reading History. A record of what books you’ve read, when you read them, and things like how fast you read the books. It could be an opt-in so people who don’t want this tracked don’t have to turn it on.
  9. Kindle to Kindle Social Network that lets you meet other Kindle owners with similar interests, get recommendations, and exchange books (now that there is going to be one-time lending added to Kindle books).
  10. An on-Kindle app that keeps track of what books you have available to lend and what books you’d like to borrow. This app should also let you find Kindle owners who have the books you want. Perhaps even relative value of each book based on supply and demand.
  11. Bonus: Password protection for purchases.
  12. Bonus: Showing the date along with the time.
  13. Bonus: A timer that lets you see how long you’ve read a book for – in the current session and also in total.
  14. Bonus: Keyboard shortcuts – Alt+M for Menu, Alt+R for Most Recent Book, Alt+B for Back, and so forth.
  15. Bonus: Allowing re-assigning of the keys. At the minimum a few changes like making ‘Space Bar’ the page turn button in landscape mode.
  16. Bonus: Book Cover for the book you’re reading can be set as screensaver.
  17. Bonus: Copy-Paste functionality.
  18. Bonus: Auto-correction when writing notes.

These are all software improvements. Next, let’s look at some hardware improvements. These would have to come in Kindle 4.

Kindle Hardware Improvements that would add a lot of value 

  1. Touch – Amazon should consider adding the new Sony Readers’ infra-red touch technology. Nook Color is the first reading-focused device that does a decent job with touch and Amazon should avoid Sony’s use of touch and utilize touch the way Nook Color does.
  2. Color – Mostly to compete with other reading devices but also because often people find color useful/necessary/soothing for cookbooks and textbooks and children’s books.
  3. A faster processor and more memory. Processor and memory costs are dropping constantly and it would make a lot of sense to improve the underlying hardware – It would improve every aspect of the Kindle’s performance.  
  4. Adding both a microSD card slot and a USB 3.0 port.
  5. Adding back the Number Keys Row. It’s still not intuitive that Alt+T and Alt+Y are 5 and 6.
  6. Bigger keyboard buttons and bigger letters on them. Perhaps even braille markings on the letters if that’s doable.
  7. Moving the Menu and Back button elsewhere. Pressing down on the 5-way goes ‘Back’ often enough to be a royal pain.
  8. Slightly bigger page turn buttons. Actually, there might be no possible implementation of page turn buttons that makes everyone happy. Perhaps the solution is to have segmented page turn keys where users can turn off the inner portion (inside segment) if they don’t want a larger page turn key.  
  9. A flip out stand in the back cover. Something you could use to prop up the Kindle.
  10. A flexible, foldable design that lets you fold your Kindle in two and carry it in your pocket.
  11. A 7″ screen.
  12. Bonus: Power slider at the top again.
  13. Bonus: Replaceable battery and having all the thousands of certification signs inside the back cover instead of on the outside.
  14. Bonus: Customizable Back Covers. Let users get covers in other colors and designs.
  15. Bonus: More color options for the Kindle itself – It’d be nice to step out of grayscale.
  16. Bonus: Swype for ultra-rapid typing on an optional touch-screen keyboard. As a supplement to the physical keyboard.
  17. Bonus: A Camera that scans a book cover and finds the book in the Kindle Store.
  18. Bonus: A bar code scanner that does the same.

Amazon has spoilt us quite a bit with all the improvements in Kindle 3. Hopefully, it can continue improving the Kindle at this pace and can also add all the software improvements to Kindle 2.

Top 10 Kindle differentiators

The Kindle 3 has two big differentiators according to Barclays Capital analyst Douglas Anmuth – WhisperSync, Apps. He feels these, along with the low price of the Kindle WiFi and retail availability, will help Amazon sell 5 million Kindles this year.

The question that’s been stuck in my head is – What are the top 10 Kindle differentiators?

Well, let’s take a look.

Top 10 Kindle Differentiators

Kindle Apps – Not at the Moment

At the moment it’s not a differentiator. Nook has Chess and Sudoku and Kindle has word puzzles and Scrabble and Minesweeper and Gomoku. There’s no differentiation. Perhaps as more apps come out we’ll see a true differentiator but at the moment there’s none.

At ZDNet someone’s asking whether Scrabble changes everything and quite frankly it doesn’t. Once we have 100 apps with at least 20 killer apps then Kindle Apps will be a differentiator. Perhaps even one of the top two. For now, it’s just an experiment.

WhisperSync – Perhaps

Being able to synchronize your place in a book is great as is the ability to sync notes, highlights, and more. However, Nook has this feature and other eReader makers and eBook stores are adding it in.

Kindle has the most complete implementation and some unique things like Popular Highlights but don’t see WhisperSync remaining a true differentiator for long.

WhisperNet – Ever since Kindle 1

Amazon has three big pluses here – 60 second downloads, free 3G internet, international 3G.

The 60 second downloads were a big reason Amazon Kindle beat Sony Reader. Nook and Sony (with Daily Edition) have matched the first but not the second and third. This will continue to be a huge differentiator for Amazon.

WhisperNet might very well be the most important differentiator at this point.

Ease of Use – Yes, and continues to be

Kindle is still the easiest to use eReader. Nook’s two screens and sluggish touch screen cause issues and Sony makes a mess of its touchscreen interface.

Kindle also doesn’t require a computer. Nook doesn’t either but Sony does.

Not sure how big of a differentiator Kindle’s extreme ease of use is but it’s certainly present.

Range of books, magazines, and newspapers

Kindle Store has more new books, more magazines, and more newspapers available than B&N, Sony, and Apple. This is a pretty big differentiator and Amazon continues to maintain a healthy lead over its competitors.

By expanding worldwide it’s added to this differentiation.

International Support

There are three aspects here –

  1. Amazon offers books in lots of countries – 150+ at the latest count.  
  2. Amazon ships the Kindle to lots of countries – 150+ at the latest count.
  3. Amazon offers 60 second downloads and WhisperNet in lots of countries – 100+ at the latest count.

Nook is US only. Sony is expanding out to various countries but it isn’t close to matching Kindle’s availability. Apple’s book availability outside the US is even worse than its limited book range in the US.

This is a pretty big differentiator for Amazon.

Exclusives – Not so far, but threatens to become a differentiator

It’s unfortunate that people are signing up exclusive deals with Amazon but they are. At some point all the exclusives might add up to be a differentiator. Thankfully, it’s not a big deal so far.


Yes when it comes to other eReaders which don’t support accessibility. No when it comes to Tablets which do support accessibility.

It’s interesting that neither B&N nor Sony has tried to match Kindle’s text to speech feature.

eReader = Kindle Association

There are lots of ways in which we see the Kindle’s association with the terms ‘eReader’ and ‘eBook’ manifest as a differentiator –

  1. People think first of Kindle when they think eReader. 
  2. Every new eReader and every new device targeting reading gets compared to the Kindle. 
  3. It’s close to becoming a verb – Is that a good book? I’ll read it on my Kindle. 

It won’t be long before people will be Kindling books.

eBook Prices – Huge Differentiator earlier but now is threatened

Kindle Store’s low book prices were a huge differentiator. The advent of the Agency Model has reduced that as has B&N’s attempts to match Kindle Store on prices.

Kindle Store still has the lowest prices on books that fall outside the Agency Model – However, it’s a much less significant differentiator now.

Kindle Lighted Cover

You have to use the Kindle Lighted Cover to see how well it does. It instantly makes reading Kindle at night far more convenient and it’s just a cool, cool cover+light. Sony Reader and Nook need an equivalent or Kindle will become the default reading choice for night.

Also, Kindle + Kindle Lighted Cover is a better choice than a back-lit LCD screen in my opinion.

Value for Money

The $139 Kindle WiFi is better value for money than any other reading device. You could even throw in the ‘does more than just read’ argument and you still wouldn’t be able to get more value for money.

Sony has given up on this front – it’s claiming it’s focused on quality. Nook WiFi is a generation behind.

At the moment Kindle WiFi has the low price, high value eReader market to itself.

Kindle 3 is also pretty good value for money, especially with the free 3G Internet, and leaves the Sony 650 far behind in terms of value per dollar spent.

Top Differentiators for Kindle’s rivals

It’s worth taking a quick look at ways in which Nook, Sony Reader, and Apple iPad differentiate themselves. These lists are pretty rough.

Nook’s Top Differentiators

Nook sets itself apart in several ways –

  1. ePub support and support for Library Books.
  2. The color LCD touchscreen. It isn’t implemented very well but does provide some benefits.  
  3. In-store promotions at B&N stores plus being able to read any book for up to 1 hour per day.
  4. LendMe feature. This isn’t fully done but it’s very promising.
  5. The promise of Android.
  6. Its own retail stores and a lot of them.

These are the ones that come to mind.

Sony Reader’s Top Differentiators

The new Sony Readers do make a decent effort –

  1. ePub support and support for Library Books.
  2. Size and Weight of the Sony Reader 350 is a big differentiator.
  3. Touch Screen. This is very impressive.
  4. Perhaps looks and design. It’s definitely better looking than Kindle and Nook.
  5. Freehand drawing and ability to scribble notes.

The Sony Readers miss out by not having wireless. They also miss out because Sony is not thinking outside the Sony builds Devices box.

iPad’s Top Differentiators

The iPad has quite a few differentiators –

  1. Does more than just read. This holds a lot of value for some people.  
  2. You can get books from all stores on it. Kindle Store, B&N, and more.
  3. You can get ePub on it.
  4. The back-lit screen eliminates the need for a reading light.  
  5. Color Screen. Useful for textbooks and illustrated books.
  6. Touch.
  7. Lots of apps for different purposes – Comic Reader App, PDF App, News Apps, and so forth.
  8. You can use it to signal status and to show you have lots of disposable income.

There are probably other differentiators too. These are the ones that seem relevant to people interested in a reading device.

It’s surprising that Kindle has so many more Differentiators than Sony Reader and Nook

With the Kindle 2, Nook, and Sony Reader we had three devices that were pretty close. With Kindle 3 and the continuous improvements to the Kindle Store and to Kindle WhisperNet Amazon has distanced itself from the rest of the Big 3 eReaders.

If the Kindle App Store adds 10 to 20 killer apps by end of the year Kindle 3 might cement its position as the #1 eReader for a while. B&N is a little distracted as it fights off Ron Burkle’s unwanted advances – However, it needs a solid Nook 2 and a solid Android based App Store or it will cede this holiday season to the Kindle 3.

Killer eReader features vs real difference makers

Let’s consider the Kindle 3 and its list of ‘killer’ features –

  • 20% faster page turns, up to 1 month battery life, double memory (4 GB), eInk Pearl screen, Voice Guide, WebKit Browser with Article Mode, sharper fonts, choice of 3 font sizes, better PDF support.

How many of these are actually difference makers?

It’s the same with the Sony 350 and its list of killer features –

  • Light weight, touch screen, multiple formats, books from multiple sources, paper-like display, 2 weeks battery life, carry 1,200 books, freehand highlighting.

Do these features really make a huge difference?

The ‘killer features’ advertised by eReader makers sometimes mean very little. We want to find the real difference makers.  

Killer Feature Vs Real Difference-Maker

A real difference maker is the eInk Pearl screen. It makes the eInk Pearl eReaders much better than every other eReader and it applies to almost every single eReader owner. It also helps that it’s a significant difference i.e. 50% better screen contrast.

A real difference maker is a feature that improves the reading experience and/or the eReader ownership experience significantly and does it for over 80% of eReader owners.

Two ‘killer’ features that don’t matter much are the Voice Guide and the Double Memory. Yes, the Voice Guide is critical for blind readers and it’s important as it gets the NFB to stop their lawsuits – However, it isn’t a difference maker for everyone else. Double memory is nice for people who want to carry more than 1,500 books on their Kindle – However, how many Kindle owners fall into that category? It’s safe to assume that over 80% of Kindle owners don’t really care whether they get 2 GB memory or 4 GB memory.

In all the buzz about killer features we miss out on some actual difference makers.

The hidden difference makers

There are features that aren’t being promoted as killer features (or at all) that are real difference makers – the lighted kindle cover, the placement of page turn buttons and their ease of use, the choice of default font(s), the ease of getting books (except Amazon no one really promotes this), the learning curve.  

Take 60 second downloads – Everyone who doesn’t have an eReader with wireless downloads thinks it’s not even a worthwhile feature. However, for Kindle 3 and Nook owners this feature is absolutely indispensable. It’s a difference maker in multiple ways – It makes buying and getting books easier for readers and it gives readers the ability to buy a book the minute they hear about it.

Not only does it help readers it helps Amazon and B&N too –  readers make more purchases and they buy their ebooks from the eReader’s in-built ebook store.

Categorizing Features as Difference Makers vs Marketing Fodder

Let’s walk through a list of eReader features that get a lot of attention and see which ones are the real difference makers. We’ll also add in some unheralded features and see if they make the cut.

The eInk Screen + eInk Pearl

The eInk screen is perhaps the single biggest difference maker.  The eInk Pearl screen is also a real difference maker.

We live in a world where the NY Times likes to claim eInk and LCD are not very different. However, the benefits of eInk are indisputable – less power usage, easy on the eyes, very similar to print on paper, doesn’t use power except when repainting the screen, readable in sunlight.

eInk Pearl manages to be a difference maker by improving screen contrast 50% – That’s enough to make older versions of eInk relatively unsatisfying.

The eInk screen is definitely a big difference maker and the main stream media’s attempts to attack it are a sure sign of how dangerous it is to LCD screens.


Here are the supposedly huge benefits of having a touch screen – you can flick the page for page turns, the user interface can be made easier, you can scribble notes, you can highlight, you can tap a word, it’s cool.

A lot of it is hype – a button is actually more convenient for page turns and the difference when it comes to adding highlights and notes is nowhere as large as people think.

Yes, if you’re a student and you really want to scribble in the margins and use a stylus for highlights it’s nice to have touch. However, a nice keyboard is far more useful for adding notes than a touch screen – especially as long as there isn’t handwriting recognition.

Perhaps 20% of people consider this a critical feature and it sounds good and it adds marketability – But it’s a useless feature for 80% of users. It doesn’t even make that huge a difference in the user interface. The time and effort difference between moving around a cursor and moving your entire hand is not very much.


Color is another supposed super-killer feature.

Here are the use cases for Color on an eReader –

  1. A few use cases where you want color for textbook illustrations and graphic illustrations.
  2. A bunch of use cases related to reading comic books and graphic novels.
  3. 10,000 use cases that have nothing to do with reading.

The typical argument that 100 million people want color eReaders doesn’t really explain the truth – These people don’t want a reading device. Once they get color they’ll want video, and then they’ll want games, and then they’ll want multi-touch, and then they’ll say they’re buying a tablet instead.

Color is the absolute worst feature eReader makers could focus on. It’ll just make it seem that they’re trying to become tablets and it does little for 90%+ of eReader owners.  

The Page Turn

This includes the speed of the page turn (which gets a lot of attention even though it’s now faster than a physical book page turn) and the effort to do a page turn (which gets zero attention).

This is almost as important as the screen because every single eReader owner will do hundreds of page turns in every book she/he reads.

Reading at Night

This is a feature that gets a lot of attention because it’s an obvious eReader weakness – eInk requires external light while LCDs have a backlight.

This isn’t a huge difference maker for people who don’t read at night and for people who don’t mind using a bedside lamp. However, for people who want a light source that won’t affect their partners or want something that comes with the device it’s a difference maker.

Let’s assume it’s a difference maker for 25% to 50% of people.

Well, the Kindle Lighted Cover addresses reading at night beautifully. It draws power from the Kindle 3 so no worrying about batteries and it’s not a bother to your partner and it’s less tiring for the eyes than a backlit LCD screen.

Whether or not you think being able to read at night without an external light is a difference maker we now have an eReader capable of this.

The Ease of Getting Books

We tend to prefer things that are easy or right in front of us or easy to get.

Consider the different levels of commitment required in these 3 scenarios –

  1. With physical books you get dressed, get into your car, go to the store, and buy a book. You are also restricted to buying the books they have in the store.  
  2. With an eReader that doesn’t have wireless downloads you go to your computer, search the website for the book you want, buy it, download it, transfer it to your ereader, and then read. You can’t really get a book if you’re outside your home – Will you really download Sony Reader Software to a Cafe PC? Perhaps you could carry your laptop with you.
  3. With Kindle 3 and Nook you browse the store on your eReader, buy a book, and get it in 60 seconds.  

Not only does Sony not realize how difficult it is to get books on an eReader without wireless it also doesn’t have a good range of books or good ebook prices – It’s doing it’s best to make it painful for readers to get the books they want.

If you have a Sony put aside your personal liking for it and ask yourself – If your Sony Reader allowed you to download books wirelessly would you refuse and instead use your computer?


Here we’re considering the combination of text to speech, the Kindle 3 Voice Guide feature, and the two super sized fonts. Accessibility = Letting Blind Readers and low vision readers read.

Text to speech is a very valuable feature by itself and a difference maker for commuters, people who like audio-books, young kids, students, and auditory learners. However, we aren’t considering it – we’re considering accessibility.

For blind readers and low vision readers Accessibility is probably the single biggest difference maker.

For everyone else Accessibility is a feature they probably feel good about having on their eReader – but it makes no difference to their reading experience.

It’s telling that Accessibility didn’t arrive until Kindle 3 and that no eReader other than Kindle 3 and the Intel Reader (which is built specifically for blind people) has accessibility features. The iPad has accessibility via its Voice Over feature but we aren’t considering it here.

WebKit Browser with Article Mode

The Browser by itself is a useful feature – However, the Kindle 3’s free 3G Internet and the option to use faster WiFi of your own (or from a free WiFi hotspot) makes this feature stand out.

It’s nothing like your desktop or laptop browser. However, you do get – email, reading rss feeds (through something like Google Reader), reading most sites. You can check up on the news and sports scores and the weather.

For probably 25% or more of people it’s important enough to be a difference maker. However, it’s not a difference maker for everyone.

Ability to do more than Read

For people who don’t read much this is a huge difference maker. It’s a very strange argument –

The ability to do more than read is a super important eReader feature because we don’t really read enough to justify a dedicated reading device.

I’m not going to buy this dedicated ebook reading device until it adds stuff that makes it better for playing games and watching movies than for reading books.

Well, then don’t buy one.

Kindle 3 and Nook and Sony Reader are for people who read books and want a dedicated reading device.

Which are the real difference makers?

Well, in my opinion, these are the real difference makers –

  1. Important to 80% or more of readers – eInk and eInk Pearl, page turn speed and ease, book range, book prices, ease of getting books, ease of use, space for a few hundred books and an archive feature, early ebook availability, good value for money.   
  2. Very important to 50% or more of readers – ePub/openness/ability to use multiple stores (1 or more of the three), reading at night, long battery life, light weight, compact size, eyes not getting tired, organization options like folders, library books, ebook store and ebook downloads being accessible internationally, annotations, sturdiness, permanent access to books.   

Here are the features that are pretty important but not difference makers –  

  1. Hugely important to at least 10% of readers – not having DRM,  Accessibility, lots of memory and/or a memory card slot, replaceable battery, PDF support, multiple format support, looking pretty, sharing, resale of ebooks, a way to get all books free.
  2. Quite important to 25% or so of readers – ability to check email, choice of fonts, the prettiness of the default font, readability in sunlight, custom screen savers, games or Crosswords or Sudoku, free public domain books, text to speech, support for international languages, good Browser with Free Internet access, WiFi.

Finally, here are some of the supposed ‘killer’ features that are actually irrelevant to reading –

  1. Hugely important to people who don’t read – ability to do more than read, color, touch, being shiny, other people buying it in big numbers, coolness, being $50 or free, all the books being free, being much cheaper than any multi-purpose device.

The Kindle 3 has most of the features that make the first two lists (the ‘difference maker’ lists) – That’s why it’s #1. It’s focused on reading and that is the real reason it has most of the features that are the real difference makers.

If you compare the Kindle 3 with the Nook and the Sony Reader it’s easy to see that B&N has done a good job of focusing on the real difference makers and Sony still thinks it’s selling Walkmans.