The New York Times has an interesting article about the progress that eBooks are making, based largely on two major pieces of news.
Firstly, Amazon will unveil their Kindle eBook reader next month. Kindle has a similar display to the Sony Reader, which I’ve reviewed, but it’ll also be able to connect to mobile phone networks to download books and newspapers away from any computer (but not take phone calls, in case you were wondering). It’ll also have a keyboard for taking notes on and browsing the web.
A unnamed publisher in the article says:
This is not your grandfather’s e-book… If these guys can’t make it work, I see no hope.
Well, perhaps there’s no hope then. I don’t think the Kindle, at $500 or $600, will sell particularly well. Maybe it’s not supposed to, maybe it’s just a test, but people shouldn’t pin their hopes on it. The Kindle’s additional features, rather than helping it, will instead draw unfavourable comparisons with the iPhone ($399) or the iPod Touch ($299). Anyone who’s seriously interested in browsing the web on the move and can afford the Kindle will already have an iPhone or comparable device; besides which, the current generation of eInk displays just can’t hack decent web browsing (remember, they’re black and white, for one thing).
The presence of the keyboard may mean that the Kindle is too big to stick in, say, a handbag, and it doesn’t do much for its looks either, if this prototype is anything to go by:
So that leaves reading books, the experience of which will be largely the same as the $300 Sony Reader. The button layout is better than the Reader, and I expect the software will be more streamlined, but not hugely so. Admittedly, being able to buy books on the move is a valuable feature to have, and in time, all eBook readers will have it. Having the New York Times delivered automatically is definitely an attraction. Still, it’s just not enough to warrant shelling out an extra $200 or $300, especially if the books cost the same as physical books.
Based on the details released so far, my advice is to wait for the second version. I would like to be proved wrong, but the Kindle is just too expensive for what it is.
The other big news is that Google is going to start selling some of its books. It’ll be a disappointingly small number at first, at disappointingly high prices, but it’s a start and Google will be able to scale up very quickly.
Incidentally, Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research, repeated this tired old ‘argument’ about eBooks:
We have had dedicated e-book devices on the market for more than a decade, and the payoff always seems to be just a few years away.
Well, that means it’s never going to happen, right? Clearly there’s no difference between bulky, expensive eBook readers with LCD screens and poor battery life, and the Sony Reader – or indeed, eBook readers with full colour flexible paper.