$99 Kindle, Touch Kindle Next

A $79 Kindle and a Touch Kindle have succeeded the Kindle 3.

At least that’s what Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (who used to work at DigiTimes earlier) claims. Given his background at DigiTimes there’s a 50% chance he’s 100% spot on and a 50% chance Amazon never ever releases a touch Kindle.

His $99 Kindle and Kindle Touch predictions are at Apple Insider. Which makes sense given how much Apple Blogs care about the lost art of animated page turns.

Here is what he says Amazon will reveal on Wednesday (in addition to Kindle Fire, the Kindle Tablet) –

  1. $99 Kindle with a 6″ eInk screen, 256 MB RAM, and a faster Freescale processor. He claims it will not have 3G, not have a touch screen, and not have speakers. The $99 price-point will move 8 million of these $99 Kindles. At least that’s what Mr. Kuo thinks.
  2. Kindle Touch with a touch screen (via Infra Red), 6″ eInk screen, 3G capability, and speakers. The processor and RAM will be the same as the $99 version. Ming-Chi Kuo expects that 4 million of these will ship by end of 2011.
  3. A 7″ IPS Kindle Tablet. 512 MB Ram, capacitive touch screen, no 3G connection. He expects Amazon to target a $199 or $249 price point and sell 3 million units by end of 2011.
  4. The release dates are rumored to be – end September for the $99 Kindle and for the Kindle Tablet; early October for Kindle Touch.
  5. The final rumor – That Amazon has a 10.1″ iPad competitor lined up for early 2012 and a 8.9″ Tablet with an amazing form factor that manufacturers are struggling to recreate.

Apparently, Amazon is going to follow up Kindle Fire with Kindle Inferno and Kindle ‘Burning Hell’. Let’s hope Amazon doesn’t take those suggestions seriously.

What would a $99 Kindle mean?

A lot of sales. Sony Reader gets destroyed. Nook Touch sales dip. Kobo sales decimated.

Every other eReader company would have to cut prices immediately and drastically. B&N has a new eReader lined up and it would have to make some hard decisions about whether it would match Kindle on price or not. Nook’s big advantage was library book support and now that’s gone. Which means price becomes very, very critical.

What would a Touch Kindle mean?

Amazon finally catches up with Kobo Touch and Nook Touch. It seems to me that Amazon was forced to do this – that Amazon’s heart wasn’t really in making a token touchscreen eReader.

For people who love touch and/or love having the newest features – Kindle Touch becomes a worthy challenger to the other touch screen eInk eReaders.

Is Amazon making a mistake by playing its hand so early?


With the $99 eReader – other companies might find it very hard to match the $99 Kindle on price. So no big issues there.

With the Touch eReader – gives Kobo and Nook time to figure out how to beat Kindle over the Holiday Season. Perhaps a mistake.

With the Kindle Tablet – Definitely. Nook Color 2 has the advantage of being a second generation Tablet. By knowing exactly what Kindle Tablet will be, B&N can strategize around it. It probably already has a very solid Tablet and now it can counter Kindle Tablet much more effectively.

It’s very strange. The news of the $99 Kindle and the Kindle Touch is very unexpected. Logically, these were the two options Amazon had and everyone expected it to embrace one of them. No one expected Amazon to do both at the same time, and definitely not in September. Wednesday just might be the next very important date in the annals of eReader history.

How best could an eReader use touch?

The Kindle doesn’t have a touchscreen, the Nook has a 3.5″ navigation touchscreen at the bottom, and Sony Reader has touch implemented via Infra-red sensors. We also have Nook Color, a reading tablet, and iPad, a tablet, using full LCD touch screens.

It’s 5 different ways of using touch with reading devices.

There are also different reading apps for the iPhone, and they use the iPhone’s touchscreen in different ways.

All of this makes one wonder – How best could companies use touch with eReaders and reading devices?

Ways not to use Touch in an eReader

It’s easy to start by pointing out things that don’t work –

  1. Having separate modes for different actions. Sony Readers force users to switch modes for every function – one mode to highlight, another to turn pages, etc.
  2. Having a LCD touchscreen in parallel with an eInk screen. The two screens are so different in nature and speed, that the combination doesn’t work. The Nook felt sluggish and slow partly because the LCD and eInk combination wasn’t working. We don’t even know if such a combination can ever work.
  3. Having confusing touch gestures. Currently, most iPad reading apps make a mess of highlighting versus getting the menu to appear. They are also a bit difficult in terms of turning pages versus highlighting.
  4. Not allowing easy highlighting across pages. Most reading apps just ignore the possibility that you might want to make a highlight across pages.
  5. Keeping the size of pressable areas very small. The bars to extend a highlight are way too small. The options after you tap and hold a word are pretty small too. If a user has tapped a word – he doesn’t need the rest of the screen, and you can make the touchable areas a little bigger, and easier to touch.
  6. Making the on-screen menus small, and keeping very little separation between the items in the menu. If the user is changing the font size or type, there’s little point in restricting the menu to 1/5th of the screen size. Give it a little space, and let there be some separation between the choices.
  7. Ignoring the fact that fingers get in the way. The iPad’s keyboard has this feature where, when you type, it shows the word you’ve pressed – right above where you’ve touched it (and inadvertently hidden it). That’s a good touch, and reading apps need to figure out how they can use a similar feature.

There are quite a few other things we could go into – However, the most needed changes mostly revolve around two aspects.

  1. Making touch actions easy and quick.
  2. Making the various touch actions as distinct from each other as possible.

We’re still looking at the first generation of reading devices with touch screens (except Sony Readers) so we can expect a lot of improvements with time.

Let’s continue by looking at some of the things that do work.

Intelligent ways of using Touch

These are all things that have been done already –

  1. Using pinch and zoom to change text size.
  2. Using a double tap to start or stop automatic scrolling. Then using tilting to change the speed of scrolling.
  3. Using a touch in the top right corner to create a bookmark. This has a downside too – it takes some amount of effort. However, it does make intuitive sense.
  4. Using a single tap at the edge of the screen to turn pages – In parallel with allowing swipes to turn pages. Both are easy intuitive gestures.
  5. Dividing the screen into three vertical portions – Left Page Turn, Menu, Right Page Turn.
  6. A little unsure of whether tap and hold on a word is good, or a bit inefficient. Perhaps it’s both.
  7. After tap and hold, those little bars you can stretch to create a highlight of as much of the page as you want to highlight.
  8. iPad’s keyboard preview feature – which shows what you’re currently touching.
  9. Use of double taps, and specific gestures.

There are a lot of dimensions of touch that can be used to differentiate between different gestures, and to allow for more gestures – number of touches, type of gesture, tilting, placement on the screen, placement relative to words, order of gestures, and so forth.

It makes you wonder what will be done in the coming years.

Suggestions for making the most out of a touchscreen

A few suggestions –

  1. The most often used actions should be the simplest. Which would suggest finding the simplest way to do page turns – A single tap at the edge and/or a swipe work quite well. Perhaps supplement them with an auto-scroll timer, and a scrolling feature.
  2. The different actions should be as distinct from each other as possible.
  3. Keep it to the bare minimum set of actions – Add an advanced mode for power users.
  4. Multiple steps should be avoided as much as possible. Users would much rather use a double tap than navigate a two-step action menu.
  5. There should be an option for personalization – so users can use actions they are comfortable with.
  6. For advanced users there should be the option to unlock an advanced set of gestures.
  7. Any pressable area should be large enough. So it doesn’t take a ton of focus to get it right.
  8. The cost of a wrong touch should be small – For example, if you highlight the wrong phrase – There should be an easy way to undo it or edit it.
  9. When there are multiple options – they should have both large pressable buttons and separation. Having them right next to each other puts stress on the user.
  10. Use all the touch options available. Why not replace tap and hold with – circle a word for the meaning, highlight a phrase using your finger as a highlighter, draw a question mark to search on Google. The finger highlighting has potential to interfere with page turns – perhaps it’s double tap and then highlight.
  11. Use the various touch dimensions available to make gestures as distinct from each other as possible. We have tilting (for devices with accelerometers), voice commands (for devices with microphones), different shapes, different screen areas, and a lot more.
  12. Improve the touch screen quality – how well it catches where the touch was, how fast it responds, and so forth.

It really does feel like we’re in the First Generation of touchscreen devices when it comes to reading.

Some of the best uses of touch are being implemented in iPhone reading apps. Nook Color has done a pretty good job too. Sony Reader makes a royal mess. iPad reading apps make decent use of touch.

It gives Amazon an opportunity – when it releases a touch Kindle, it can take the best of what’s been done so far.

What about Multi-Touch?

Reading Apps, for the most part, don’t really use Multi-touch.

  1. Imagine if you could touch with one finger where you wanted your highlight to start, and touch with your other finger the ending point.
  2. Another good use would be for editing highlights, and for moving notes around.
  3. One multi-touch gesture that’s already been implemented well is using pinch and zoom for changing text size.
  4. We could use multi-touch to do quick screen orientation changes – for when the auto-orientation is turned off.
  5. For search results, multi-touch would allow choosing of more than one search result. It would also allow for traversing search results in interesting ways.

Will have to think more about this. Hardly anyone is using multi-touch capabilities in reading devices. There might be some really useful things that can be done.

It really does feel like eReader makers don’t really realize all the things they can do with their touch screens. The company that figures it out first will have a big advantage. Of course, given that iPhone and iPad allow reading apps, there’s a good chance they’ll be the first ones to get reading apps that use touch in really great new ways.

Kindle 4 can improve on Kindle 3 via optical touch

Mr. Bezos was talking about the Kindle 3 on the Charlie Rose show and mentioned that having a touch layer disrupts readability because it adds glare and reflects objects.

However, there is an easy solution for adding touch without disrupting readability that Amazon should consider for Kindle 4.

IR sensors can be used to give Kindle 4 touch without disrupting readability

My PC is an HP TouchSmart (it’s got a multi-touch capable monitor) and it uses IR sensors in the frame around the screen. It’s just like the red infra-red security beams they show in movies that involve stealing diamonds in form-fitting clothes. You break one of the beams and it registers a touch.

There isn’t any physical touch layer to disrupt reading. The IR sensors would be around the frame/border of the eInk screen and wouldn’t get in the way.

This is how the HP TouchSmart’s screen works –

  1. There are infra-red sensors around the frame of the screen.  
  2. When your finger is about half a centimeter away it triggers the sensors.
  3. You don’t have to actually touch the screen. Just tested this multiple times. Plus it works with a pen or a finger.
  4. An x coordinate and a y coordinate are calculated corresponding to your touch (or touches). There must be some algorithm to approximate what point on the screen your touch was intended for. Since there are a lot of beams disrupted and we know the coordinate each represents we can approximate the exact point you intended to touch with your finger.
  5. The IR sensors convey this information to the PC and it indicates a touch.

You basically get a multi-touch capable screen without having to add any physical layers to the screen.

We can also add algorithms that ignore your palm or hand resting on the screen. That would let the IR sensors capture handwriting and the Kindle 4 could be used as a Notepad. 

We could easily place IR sensors along the edges of the eInk screen. Checking out my Kindle 2 and the eInk screen is already slightly recessed and there probably is enough space to fit in IR sensors.

Could Kindle 4 handle optical touch?

We know the reason Kindle 3 isn’t using touch is because of readability. However, are there other considerations?

  1. Battery Life Issues – This may or may not be an issue. If it is an issue the solution to this would be to use a proximity sensor – turn on the IR sensors only when a user’s hand comes near the screen. 
  2. The Touch sensing would probably not be as good – There’s no denying the touch would probably not be as good as it would with an actual physical layer. However, optical touch is still much better than zero touch.
  3. Perhaps it is a distraction – Well, Touch adds to usability by making things easier. It’s not really distracting from reading unless you specifically make an effort to create touch based apps that are a distraction from reading.
  4. The cost – Not sure of this since don’t really have any information on the cost of these IR sensor powered touch screens.
  5. Weight and Fragility – Would it be easy to break the IR sensors? Would they add a lot of weight? The answer is probably no and no.

We basically get to add a killer feature (even though it isn’t strictly required for reading it is a killer feature) and we get to do it without compromising on the quality of reading. It’s definitely a feature Amazon should consider for Kindle 4.

Optical Touch is easier than a lot of the alternatives

We’ve seen Amazon explore a lot of interesting ideas for letting users interact with the Kindle – Kindle Electronic Pen, Kindle Gesture Recognition, Multi-touch technology from TouchCo.

Each of these have specific drawbacks – An electronic pen would be an entire new purchase and people would keep losing it, Gesture Recognition sounds a bit complicated, and TouchCo’s technology probably requires a physical touch layer. Plus all of these haven’t yet been implemented. Two are patents and one (TouchCo) is in development mode.

With IR sensor based optical touch you have lots of companies implementing it and it’s a proven technology – HP has been selling TouchSmart computers for close to 1.75 years.

Whatever objections there might be to using optical touch in Kindle 4 there’s one very strong argument for incorporating it.

Qualcomm is already doing it with Mirasol

Qualcomm has a video of Mirasol color eInk screens at SID 2010 and it’s claiming a mirasol display with Optical Touch (it’s at 00:40 in the video) –

mirasol shows two 5.7″ XGA displays

1. mirasol Display with Capacitive Touch
2. mirasol Display with Optical Touch

If Mirasol can do it there’s no reason Amazon can’t introduce it as a killer feature in Kindle 4 or in Kindle DX 3.

Will Amazon actually add optical touch to Kindle 4?

That question has an easy answer if you believe Kindle 4 is going to use Mirasol screens. In that case one out of the two touch technologies Mirasol is showing off will probably make it into the Kindle 4.

Going with Qualcomm and its optical touch screen would deliver four key features in one go – A color screen, video support, super fast page refresh speed, and touch. With the optical touch screen there’s no loss in readability since there is no physical touch layer to cause harm.

Basically, if Amazon incorporates the Qualcomm Mirasol screen with optical touch in Kindle 4 we’ll probably get a release that outshines even the current Kindle 3 release. Chances are that it’ll be at a higher price point and it makes you wonder if there’s place for a new member in the Kindle family – Kindle Pro or perhaps Kindle Color.

In case Amazon doesn’t go with Qualcomm Mirasol it should still consider adding optical touch technology. Kindle 3 is a very impressive release and Amazon is going to have to add some solid improvements in Kindle 4 to make sure it measures up. Adding optical touch gives you touch capability without hurting readability and its definitely worth considering for Kindle 4.