¶ The New Kindles

There is no doubt that my favorite company is Apple. Amazon, however, is a close runner-up. One of the driving forces of that is their Prime membership. It’s a fantastic deal if you order often from Amazon. Since getting Prime, my wife and I order just about anything from Amazon that is cheaper than buying locally. Heck, I even get my razor blades off Amazon with the added bonus of frustration-free packaging.

But I like Amazon for more reasons, and one of those is the Kindle. My parents gave me a Kindle 2 a couple years ago and it has been a great way for me to enjoy books. My wife likes our Kindle for reading while at the gym. And recently, our local libraries have added support for borrowing eBooks via Kindle. The Kindle is to books what the iPod has been to music for me.

Now, wait, I have an iPad, as well. Surely that is good for reading books? Well, it is, but the Kindle has its advantages. John Gruber’s thoughts reflect my own:

I got a Kindle about a year ago, and I use it much more than I expected to. I like reading on e-ink. I look at glowing backlit displays all day, every day. I’ve been obsessed with computers my whole life. I love glowing screens. When I’m away from my computer for days, I’m happy when I sit down in front of it. There’s a certain feeling I get when I use any computer — a Mac, an iPhone, an iPad, my TiVo, even an ATM or the credit card slider at the supermarket. Cool, a computer.

I read books on my iPad, too, but reading on the iPad doesn’t have the same mental-mode-switching effect. When I read with the iPad I feel like I’m doing the same basic thing I do as I read on my Mac all day long — just with a different device. It’s more pleasant, in many ways, and definitely more personal. But I’m still in the same mental mode — fully aware that anything and everything is just a few taps and few seconds away.

E-ink feels peaceful to me. The Kindle doesn’t feel like a computer. It feels — not to the touch but to the eyes and mind — like a crudely-typeset and slightly smudgily-printed paper book. That’s a good thing. Battery life is un-computer-like as well: Amazon measures e-ink Kindle battery life in months, and they’re not joking. It’s a surprise when the Kindle actually needs a charge. I was a doubter until I owned one, but now I’m convinced that e-ink readers have tremendous value even in the post-iPad world.

The Kindle brings a different mood and mindset to reading. In a nutshell, I prefer web browsing and reading articles on my iPad (and my Mac). But when it is time to read a long-form book, I prefer the Kindle.

The New e-Ink Kindles

One thing I don’t care for about my Kindle 2 is the wasted space taken up by the physical keyboard, which rarely gets used. Amazon finally ditched the keyboard from their baseline Kindle. Instead, when you do need to type, you use the d-pad to navigate around an on-screen keyboard. Certainly not very elegant, but I would trade the physical keyboard for a more compact reader, and I think many other folks would consider it a fair trade-off. And at a jaw-dropping $79, I think a lot of people will be getting new Kindles.

The elegant solution, however, comes in the form of the Kindle Touch (3G variant). The Kindle Touch dispenses with most hardware buttons and relies on an infrared e-ink touchscreen, like Barnes & Noble’s Nook Simple Touch. At $99 ($149 for 3G), this is going to be the Kindle everyone actually wants. This Kindle has all the fantastic qualities about reading on an e-ink display, without all the clunkiness of previous Kindle models’ cheap-feeling buttons.

Needless to say, my Kindle 2 is in serious jeopardy of being replaced by a Kindle Touch.

The Kindle Fire

Amazon has dipped their toe into diversifying the Kindle family outside of e-ink readers. The Kindle Fire is a 7-inch LCD touchscreen tablet, playing to the strengths of Amazon’s music, video, app, and book offerings. All for $199. It runs Android, but you wouldn’t know it from the complete customization Amazon has done. In fact, the only mention of the word Android is in the Amazon Appstore for Android.

I’ve already seen many people saying the Fire will eat the iPad’s lunch, but I don’t think so. Marco Arment explains:

It’s definitely going to compete with the iPad for some customers, but I doubt it’s going to make a significant dent. It’s probably a high-end Kindle, not a low-end iPad. But this will almost certainly hinder the already negligible sales of other Android tablets.

What we’ll see with the iPad depends on why people buy iPads. My theory is that there’s an iPad market, not a “tablet market” — that people want the iPad and specifically seek it out without comparing it to other tablets.

The iPad was never positioned by Apple as just a “content consumption” device. The media did that. Apple kicked off the original iPad with the entire iWork suite, and on it’s first birthday added iMovie and GarageBand to the mix. And don’t forget the thousands of developers who have made fantastic creative apps for the iPad.

In contrast, Amazon demoed the Kindle Fire entirely as a device for enjoying content. They tacitly tack on at the end of the feature list that is has an email client — which is hardly much in the way of content creation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Kindle Fire will be a great device. In fact, I think it will be the first great Android device, and I think it will harm its fellow Android tablets more than it will the iPad. The iPad targets one aspect of the market, and the Kindle Fire targets a different one. Unfortunately for companies like Motorola and Samsung, they and Amazon are targeting the same market. And Amazon knows how to sell to people.

If you’re thinking of picking up one of the new Kindles, I just wanted to let you know that all the Amazon links within the articles are my affiliate links. A purchase through one of those links helps keep the lights on for this site.