What eReaders might CES bring? plus Kindle news

The Kindle is going to see a lot of new competitors at CES. At least it seems that way. Let’s take a look at what Kindle rivals CES might introduce us to, and throw in some Kindle news.

Pocketbook’s Mirasol Color eReader

We found out in November that PocketBook is going to release a Mirasol-powered color eReader in Q3, 2011. At CES 2011, PocketBook promises to preview this ereader – It’s named PocketBook Mirasol, which beats the usual trend of eReader names picked by drunk robots.

Perhaps it’s just me – However, it seems unlikely Qualcomm would set up a $2 billion Mirasol screen production facility because it had signed a deal with PocketBook. Which strongly suggests there’s a larger eReader company working on color eReaders using Mirasol screens. One that is not the type to trumpet its forthcoming eReaders at CES 2011.

Wonder what secretive eReader company that might be?

Amazon announces Kindle reading apps for forthcoming Android and Windows tablets

Amazon has already promised a Kindle reading app for the forthcoming Blackberry Playbook tablet. It’s now promising that Kindle reading apps will be made available for the plethora of Windows and Android tablets that will be arriving in 2011. These will be optimized for Tablets.

Don’t even know why this is news.

At the Kindle Reading Apps page at Amazon, it’s stated that a Kindle for Windows Phone 7 reading app is coming soon.

Will there be any reading tablets introduced at CES 2011?

That’s an interesting question.

All the tablet makers are gunning for the iPad market. Not very many are thinking about the reading tablet market. Nook Color has that to itself for now, and it might have the reading tablet market to itself even after CES 2011.

Trusting Surveys, even though the last time you trusted surveys everything went to Hell in a Handbasket

The same people who believed all the ‘iPad will kill Kindle and destroy eReaders’ surveys in early 2010, are now believing a new survey that claims 40% of iPad owners are Kindle owners.

Here are the details from the ‘Kindle and iPad are in love, and ready to elope’ survey –

  1. J. P. Morgan surveyed 1,000 people. Do keep this in mind, since we’re extrapolating from 1,000 people to 10 million plus iPad owners.
  2. 40% of iPad owners (some unknown number out of that 1,000) also own a Kindle.
  3. Another 23% plan on getting a Kindle in 2011.
  4. 23% have no plans of getting a Kindle.
  5. 14% don’t know what a Kindle is.

The survey isn’t content with one surprising set of statistics. It brings up another interesting set of figures – 49% read 0 to 10 books per year, the remaining 51% claim to read at least 11 books a year. Really?

Just that 51% figure alone is enough to deem this survey highly unreliable. Out of 1,000 people randomly surveyed, J. P. Morgan found that 510 people read 11 or more books per year. Did they take the survey in a library?

Details for this Kindle is not going to die survey are at TechCrunch.

It’s amusing to see everyone trusting this survey, given how woefully inadequate surveys are at predicting the future, or, for that matter, the present.

Will there be any Pixel Qi devices at CES 2011?

We know that Notion Ink will be showing off the Adam tablet. One of the variants uses a Pixel Qi screen.

Will there be any Pixel Qi based reading tablets?

Pehaps. On the other hand, there probably won’t be any dedicated eReaders using Pixel Qi. It doesn’t really make sense to create an eReader with a Pixel Qi screen – the whole point of the screen is that you can have an eReader mode, and also a Laptop/Tablet mode.

Pixel Qi hasn’t really done much yet – especially given the amount of hype it’s gotten.

Asus’s Eee Note – Could it be the first hit eReader + eWriter?

Asus is releasing the Asus Eee Note EA800 in the US in 2011. It’ll probably be shown off at CES 2011. 

It’s an eReader plus eWriter, with an 8″ monochrome screen that lets you take notes using a stylus. The expected price is said to be over $300, though it’s selling in Taiwan for around $250.

Laptop Mag has details on the Asus Eee Note.

It has a matte grayscale LCD screen. There are 8 buttons including page turn buttons – a nice add-on to the touchscreen. There’s no backlight. It runs on Linux, and can supposedly last 13.5 hours on one charge.

Laptop Mag really liked it, and it sounds quite promising. The applications included are – Notes, Reader, Calculator, Dictionary, Voice Memos, Text Memos, Browser, Photo Album, Music Player, and a few games.

It has WiFi, but WiFi only works in the browser. It has limited multi-tasking. There’s a micro-USB port, a memory card slot, a headphone jack, and something that looks like a set of speakers.

It’s definitely a nice angle to approach the eReader and Tablet markets from.

Kindle 3 under threat due to poor retail availability, rival eReader offers

The Kindle 3 might be in for a very interesting holiday season.

On paper the holiday season seems like it should be a cakewalk for the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi –

  1. B&N has gone with a color-screen Nook Color instead of releasing an eInk Pearl based Nook 2. 
  2. Sony has hidden behind its claim that its focusing on quality and not competing on price.
  3. There are hardly any worthy Android tablets.
  4. iPad hasn’t killed eReader sales.
  5. No strong, new eReader rivals have emerged and no eReaders with Pixel Qi or Mirasol or Color eInk screens have emerged.

Given these data points you have to wonder what could stop the Kindle 3 from taking an even more dominant market position.

Well, there are actually a few serious threats to the Kindle 3’s take-over of the eReader market this holiday season. Let’s take a look at a couple of the more worrying ones.

Kindle Retail Availability is still poor

Here’s a comment from a user who bought a Nook because he couldn’t find a Kindle –

… this made me decide to go with Kindle 3.  But they seem to treat this thing like tickets to a Hot Rock concert!  I would have to just about camp in front of the store to get one.

Well guess what.  I am not a teenager anymore and if you want me to buy your product, and you announce on the news that it is now sold at Target, Best Buy, Staples, etc. One of those stores better have it in All of Houston.

So I bought the Nook, even though I love to have the latest technology. 

The problem is actually much deeper than ‘being sold out’ in all of Houston –

  1. Firstly, Amazon is available at far less stores – Nook is now available at WalMart and lots of other places Kindle isn’t retailed.
  2. Secondly, Amazon doesn’t have its own physical stores – Both B&N and Sony have their own stores from which they can sell Nooks and Sony Readers directly to customers.
  3. Thirdly, Amazon doesn’t send out enough stock. There are numerous cases of people talking about not being able to find a Kindle 3 at their nearest Target.
  4. Fourthly, Amazon severely limits the demo units so you can’t test out wireless and a lot of the other Kindle 3 features.

So we’ve gone from ‘Kindle isn’t available in brick and mortar stores’ to ‘Kindle puts in a guest appearance at a few stores but is usually impossible to find’.   

Nook and Sony Reader continue to have a big advantage in retail availability – very few people are going to keep trying to find a Kindle in stores when they can test out a Nook or Sony Reader in person and get it instantly.

Rival eReader makers are cutting prices mercilessly

Thanks to Lucy S we know Best Buy will have Nook WiFi available for $100 for Black Friday. It’s just 10 units per store but it’ll still sell a lot of Nooks and give Nook a lot of free publicity.

Now, courtesy MobileRead, we find out about some very good deals on the latest Sony Readers.

Nov 15th Update: B&H Photo changed prices from $170 to $200 and $120 to $150 a day after this post first went out.

B&H Photo now has the Sony Reader PRS-650 for $200 and the Sony Reader PRS-350 for $150. It’s also offering free shipping. The offers last till the 27th of November and make the PRS-650 close to the price of a Kindle 3 and the PRS-350 close to the price of a Kindle WiFi.

Sony Readers are going to be on sale at the Sony Store from November 15th to November 27th – 

  1. Sony Reader Pocket Edition PRS-350 will be $30 cheaper at $150 – that’s within shooting distance of the $139 Kindle WiFi.
  2. Sony Reader Touch Edition PRS-650 will be $30 cheaper at $200 – which brings it very close to the $189 Kindle 3.
  3. Sony Reader Daily Edition PR-950 will be $50 cheaper at $250. That’s the same price as Nook Color and not bad for a 7″ eInk Pearl screen.

Like Nook 1 the Sony Readers support library books and ePub and unlike Nook 1 they sport eInk Pearl screens. They also have touch. The PRS-650 suddenly seems very tempting. For most of November Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi will no longer be the obvious eReader choice.

For the first time since Kindle 3 was released users will have to think twice about what eReader to get. At $170 and with library book support and touch support the Sony PRS-650 is suddenly a very dangerous Kindle 3 opponent.

What does Amazon need to do to make Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi the clear #1 choices again?

Well, it’s quite simple –

  1. Drop Kindle 3 to $170.
  2. Drop Kindle WiFi to $110.
  3. Expand retail availability. WalMart is probably not going to embrace Amazon but other stores might.
  4. Make sure there is enough retail availability.
  5. Let users try out Kindles properly – make sure demo units allow users to explore full Kindle functionality.

Nook and Sony Reader have gone from disinterested competitors that had little chance to threaten the Kindle 3 to surprise contenders that threaten to steal away eReader sales from the Kindle. Perhaps they have finally realized that if they let the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi run rampant this holiday season it might be the end of the eReader Wars.

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.

Accessibility

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.