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7 Ways Amazon Could Make the Next Kindle Awesome

Kindle designs

Does Amazon have an exciting plan for Kindle 3? It's been keeping totally quiet about the next-gen e-reader, but rumors and leaks have started sprouting that suggest good things are on the way. But how could Kindle 3 be made awesome?

This time last year we were talking about Amazon's Kindle 2—a refreshed version of its original small-format electronic ink e-reader. We looked at it, and pronounced that Amazon had done an okay job—but it should do a better one with the next-gen machine. Since then Amazon's kept mum about its plans for the device's future, and that's probably thanks to seeing what the multiplying competitor devices are like, and to find out exactly what Apple had up its sleeve. (And, as we pointed out in our July issue, Jeff Bezos appears to be channeling Steve Jobs a lot these days.)

Now the iPad cat is out of the bag, and it looks like a serious threat to Kindle's hardware and software model: The iPad does more, is better designed, and Apple's pushing ahead with its own content deals for its much swisher iBooks app. So what's Amazon doing? Recent rumors suggest quite a bit: As Nick Bilton's noting at The New York Times, it's bought up a small touchscreen tech company that's developed a novel flexible touchscreen based on resistive sensors, but that also supports multitouch. That suggests a touchscreen Kindle is en-route, and the tech even supports stylus touches so proper note-style annotations may be possible.

But exactly how could Amazon start with the Kindle 2, which is now an "okay" device, and engineer the Kindle 3 into something awesome?

Update the Screen Tech

Last year we wondered about Amazon's chances with color e-ink. It would be a transformational move for Kindle, making it into a seriously powerful device for magazines and text books, and it would be a step toward the glossy screen that iPads will offer. But most tech commentators say a color version of the electrophoretic e-ink tech Amazon uses in the Kindle is still far too expensive, and still too early in development, for Amazon to include in a Kindle yet.

Amazon could instead do two things to make Kindle 3's screen better: Swap display tech, or seriously beef-up its monochrome e-ink performance. Alternative displays could be LCD or perhaps Pixel-Qi's clever dual-mode system that's half like e-ink, half-LCD. I don't think Amazon will do either of these, since LCD is more power-hungry and Pixel-Qi is actually a bitter rival to E-Ink, which Amazon's brought in-house. So it'll have to improve the current e-ink screen—refresh rate times would be the simplest target. As would size. Amazon could easily ditch the two Kindle versions, and have a single one halfway between normal and DX size.

Update the Graphics Handling

This is an easy one—with a little motherboard and silicon tweaking, Amazon could seriously improve Kindle's graphics handling powers, which are just terrible at the moment. The inclusion of some advanced GPU tech would slightly sap the battery, but it would transform the way textbooks and illustrated books are handled. And it would enable a nice-looking, and nicer-feeling Amazon Kindle Bookstore experience too.

Design So It Doesn't Look Like a Crappy Calculator

You know, the original Kindle was a design horror—with all the style appeal of a non-brand scientific calculator from 1981. Kindle 2's design was more polished. But only brought it up to the design standards of a 1996 simple desk calculator. Now Apple's iPad is out, and it builds on the famously simple design of the iPhone and the smooth chic of its unibody aluminum MacBooks. It's beautiful. So is the Plastic Logic Que.

All Amazon needs to do is hire a good designer, with a real feel for aesthetics, and Kindle 3 could be good-looking too. Consumers like nice-looking gizmos.

Give it a Calculator, and Useful Add-ons Users Will Appreciate

Forget Kindle Apps—as I've examined before, they're unlikely to boost the device's utility much, even with a color screen (or a monochrome one that at least works a little faster.) Amazon needs to give Kindle a suite of home-programmed powers, like calendars, email clients, decent basic and scientific calculators, a crossword-solver and so on. These are simple basics that would really add utility for users.

If Amazon were to go out on a limb, it could even do extra-clever stuff like enabling 24-hour book loans between users. Think how much that would benefit college students?

Get the International Edition Right

This is a no-brainer. Amazon needs to sort out proper multiple global roaming deals with cell phone providers to get Whispersync working exactly as it does in the U.S.—in other words, with the Internet browser enabled (key, if you're going to enhance the screen tech.) It also needs to properly regionalize the device, and sell it with multi-plug adapter wall warts and without the hassle of shipping from the U.S.

Without properly getting a global launch underway, Kindle is likely to remain a largely U.S.-only business.

Sort Out Wi-fi Plus Whispersync

Whispersync may be all very useful...but as we all know, cell-phone networks don't reach everywhere (yet). Although Wi-fi powers would be another drain on Kindle's battery, they're easily managed with intelligent power management and a dab of user smarts—and who'd complain about having to charge up your kindle every three days or so, anyway?

Wi-fi would also help with the international edition's performance. And it would enable more of the always-on connectivity for apps that could boost its utility. Such as an email browser, or Exchange-enabled calendar. This would place Kindle 3 on a par with Plastic Logic's Que.

Re-price the bugger

Amazon's device is never going to be as multi-purpose as Apple's Swiss Army Knife iPad, and indeed Amazon shouldn't try to make it so: It's just never going to be able to compete with Apple. Instead it should concentrate on serving the e-book crowd better, and one simple way to do that is to price the Kindle 3 well.

Somewhere far below the iPad's entry price, but around the Kindle 2's price would be sensible (since it'll be delivering far more usability than Kindle 2, but that edition is looking very jaded and overpriced now). That way you're establishing yourself as a force to be reckoned with in the e-reader/portable media device without trying to compete with iPad.