Amazon Upgrades the Kindle DX, Concedes Defeat to Apple?

Kindle DX graphiteIt's a big news week for Amazon: They've announced an update to the big-screen Kindle DX e-reader in a week or so, with an improved e-ink display and lower price. Way lower—down $110 to $379. Is this Amazon's first response to iPad?

The new Kindle DX will come with a graphite body, partly to make it stand apart from earlier incarnations of the device and partly to demonstrate Amazon does take some elements of style seriously (and, we also wonder, partly because a dark gray enclosure may make the faintly grayish e-ink screen look whiter to the eye via an optical illusion). The 9.7-inch screen itself has been updated with newer electrophoretic technology so that its contrast ratio is said by Amazon to be 50% better—which is a huge bonus as contrast one of e-ink's last remaining benefits over competing display tech. Inside the electronics and software driving the Kindle have had a much-needed warm-over, and there's now Twitter and Facebook connectivity in the updated OS. The battery lasts a week of operating time with the wireless Whispernet system operating, and other features like the auto-rotation and keyboard are still there from the older model.

How Amazon is selling this upgrade is, however, pretty telling. It notes that Whispernet is free, that the e-ink display "reads like real paper" and "works in bright sunlight" unlike "backlit computer or LCD screens." Though this last phrase is slightly confusing (pretty much every portable device uses a back-lit LCD unit, as OLED tech is still pretty rare) we can forgive Amazon this as they've dropped the price of the device by $110 to $379—a 22% fall that's going to tempt many new customers to the Kindle platform. But all of these maneuvers are designed to combat Apple's iPad, which has a 9.7-inch screen but relies on LCD tech, its 3G service relies on paying a third party provider for access, and the base model with 3G capabilities is $629 which is a hefty $250 more. Amazon, in comparison to this limited description of the iPad, seems to be offering one heck of a deal.

Except it's not. The Kindle's e-ink tech may be more efficient power-wise, but only anecdotal evidence suggests it's easier to read e-books from than an LCD unit. The Kindle's battery life may be impressive, but the iPad can easily last a whole-day's worth of use. The new Kindle may deliver Twitter and Facebook integration, but the iPad's Twitter and Facebook interactivity, via Web browser or dedicated app, is significantly richer. And while the Kindle is cheaper, it's pretty useless for anything other than browsing e-books. Spending the extra cash on an iPad delivers a similar-sized platform that can let you play games, watch video, and compose content for work purposes. And you can get a free Kindle app for it that's fully integrated into Amazon's e-book ecosystem.

Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos may well be on record saying that the platform and ecosystem of Kindle are separate, and that the iPad and e-reader are in a different "product category," but this half-hearted upgrade of the Kindle totally confirms that the e-reader is limited to filling a niche product category in the medium term. If Amazon truly thought the e-reader had a big future they'd have spent, say, 50% more effort on the Kindle to turn it into something really attractive—something surprising, or with powerful bonus features over those of its predecessor. Amazon just confirmed that the e-reader is doomed.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

Add New Comment

10 Comments

  • mLamont

    Like others, I have a cynical comment to make on this topic. I am starting to think that authors of such topic simply want to get a rise out people. At this stage, they have to know in general what people are going to say.

    So here goes, I have a watch that simply tells time at home (given to me as gift). I also have a nice Swiss analog digital watch, and I have a Suunto Core Extreme with an altimeter and compass. I do not go hiking often and I rarely climb. I do not fear getting lost but if I did my phone has a compass and GPS.

    Comparing the iPad to the Kindle is getting old and a bit ridiculous and kind of odd. Just because there is some overlap in the uses, features/capabilities, and size does not mean that people should compare them. Consumers and potential owners should be aware of the differences but they should simply consider which product fits their needs best.

    I can make phone calls from my PC but I am not going to abandon my phone for the fully featured PC that will also allow me to surf the internet, read and send emails, and watch video. Yes, I can do most of these things on my phone as well but I am not going to give up my PC and write papers or design the layout of kitchen redesign on my phone.

    We live in a world where we own redundant products. And yes, if you could only buy one, you might want to get more functionality out of that one or more for the money. If I read a lot, I want a Kindle. I have a Kindle and I am also eyeballing the iPad because I do like the fact that if I am out and about, I can more easily read websites and read online newspapers than I can on my iPhone. I will not give up my Kindle and I would get a Kindle for my sister before an iPad. I get an iPad for my mother before getting her a Kindle. The simple reason is that one reads books more and the other is retired and reads websites more.

    I wore my Suunto with a tux a few weeks ago because I like the all black design with the dark face. It is thicker than I like but I had the choice between 2 or 3 other watches that I own. I do not compare my watches to decide in general which is best. There needs to be conditions around best - best for what.

    I will admit however, that if I bought an iPad before a Kindle DX (@ $489), I would wait longer to buy the Kindle than I will to buy an iPad. I am waiting at least until the fall but I am also considering waiting until the next version of the iPad when it is rumored to add more RAM and the screen resolution is made denser.

  • Terence

    I have a Kindle DX and recently got an iPad for work. Now that I've had both devices for a month, I can see a place for both of them. At least in the short-term.

    To be frank, I really enjoy reading using my kindle. It's light, the battery lasts forever, it looks just like a book and I can purchase/read books within minutes.

    The iPad is not the ideal eReader. It's heavy and I agree with Belinda - it taxes my eyes. Besides that, it's easy to get distracted with e-mails, alerts, etc. When I'm reading, I want to disconnect. I wouldn't want to read e-mail on my television either.

    I wouldn't have bought an iPad if I wasn't asked to review it's capability for business use. That said, I've been very impressed. I've used my home computer twice in the last month (primarily because of flash). The 'instant on' feature alone makes it worth it. E-mail is great and the possibilities, especially once they add a camera, are amazing.

    Amazon is taking the right strategy in being hardware agnostic (kindle on BB, iPad, Droid, etc.). Unfortunately we probably simply don't have enough real "readers" in the world for the kindle hardware to last...but I hope it does.

  • Belinda Wagner

    I work at a computer screen all day. My reading suffered because I downsized, have just enough storage for the hard copy books I love that aren't available as e-books, and when I have time to browse for books, the library is closed. Enter the Kindle - my eyes actually HEAL from the day's screen abuse!! I can be absorbed into the reading material without distraction. While I might someday replace my laptop with an iPad, I have ZERO interest in purchasing one to replace my Kindle!!

  • kaeli denison

    and it is a lot lighter - try lying in bed reading on an iPad for any length of time.

  • Rita Ashley

    Kindle: It's a book. We don't expect books to shine our shoes or take in the mail. I love my kindle because it IS singular. When I want to read, I want to read. I have the smaller form factor and it travels well and is not fragile. I can pop it into my purse or computer carrier and I don't have to worry about size or breakage. I can take it anywhere I can take a paperback, but have hundreds of titles and PDFs from which to select. I have an iPad. I prefer reading long text on the Kindle because the iPad wearies my eyes after a short time. It is too bright for long books. It is very good at being a compact internet-ready device.

  • Nancy Ambrosiano

    I love the idea of the iPad, have laptops and iTouches all over the house, but the Kindle is the thing I keep next to my bed instead of a pile of books. If a book is a true treasure I'll buy the paper version to keep and share, but for quantity reading of things that don't need or deserve archiving, the Kindle can't be beaten. And NOT having email or Facebook on the Kindle keeps me on task with the reading at hand.

    The fact that Kindle can download books anywhere, anytime, without needing a wireless network is also a big positive point, especially for those of us who live in remote areas without much in the way of wireless availability.

  • TheKid

    I have a Kindle and absolutely zero interest in purchasing an iPad or other tablet (which I have used, via work), especially for reading. I have an iTouch, phone, and laptop if I need to go online or play games -- I don't feel a need for a tablet, which at this time doesn't really help me reduce devices. When it comes to reading books, I'd rather have a specialized reading device for that purpose - the Kindle's size/ergonomics and screen is a much better user experience, which is important when spending hours reading a book. The lack of a monthly charge and/or contact is a top priority as well. I have high-speed at home and work, and I don't use or need a data plan. The few times where it was a "nice to have" (and I stress few - I've used it three or four times in a couple years with the device), Kindles browser actually allowed me to search for restaurant reviews and directions.

    An "all in one" is nice to a certain extent, but when it comes to reading - something you spend longer periods of time dedicated to - a custom device makes sense. I forget I'm reading a screen when using the Kindle (no eye strain), and I never forget that when looking at an LCD at work all day long. Tablets would need to significantly improve the user experience and form factor when it comes to reading before I would use it for that purpose.

  • Rick Gelinas

    I think you may be missing a significant benefit of the Kindle. And that is that it's NOT an iPad. Let me explain...

    To begin with, I am an Apple junkie. Between my business and my personal computers I own 13 Mac's. I love everything Apple. My wife and I also have iPhones. And I think the iPad is a really cool device!

    But the Kindle is about READING. It's not about surfing the web or checking e-mails. And that's what I like about my Kindle. I can read without the constant distractions --- Should I check my e-mail? Oh there's a message - I should respond to that. I should check a message board post that I made earlier - I better respond to that question. Oh, there's an instant message - I ought to give it a reply right away.

    With a Kindle, I can relax and tune out the infernal world that is tethered to me via the internet. Isn't that what reading is all about?

    So while the Kindle may not be as sexy as an iPad, I believe that it's a better platform for reading. After all, that's what I use mine for READING. I already have an iPhone, 3 MacBooks, 2 MacMini's, and 8 iMac's for all the other stuff. For reading - I appreciate the Kindle's uncluttered approach. As a reader it shines. :-)

  • Michael Shoemaker

    Maybe I'm just too much of a bibliophile, but I still don't see it. eReaders may not be around forever, but I don't see any usefulness in comparing a Kindle - even a DX - to an iPad. I buy a Kindle to read books. That's it. It's amazing at that one very important thing. It goes for weeks without a charge, is as easy to read outside (which I do all the time and thoroughly enjoy) as inside, and allows me to carry one slim device on the plane vs. five paperbacks. An iPad is so much more than an eReader, but precisely for that reason may never be a suitable replacement for one.

    I'd like to see us put this iPad vs. Kindle nonsense to bed so we can go back to enjoying our devices for what they are and what they were designed to do.

  • David Hancock

    We do need to give credit to Amazon for kindling our desire for eBooks in general. But this is good news.