That explosion you heard today? That was the sound of a thousand heads hitting a thousand desks over at Barnes & Noble HQ today as Amazon pulled the rug out of B&N’s temporary lead in eBook technology. For the last year Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color has stood alone on the tablet eReader front, and their more-recently announced Nook Touch was at the top of the technological heap of eInk devices. Amazon has always had the better ecosystem for eBooks, as well as a better catalog of books.
Well, that changed today in a big way. Amazon announced their first LCD-based eReader, the Amazon Kindle Fire, a media tablet designed to tie you to the Amazon ecosystem in new and interesting ways. It’s a 7 inch tablet that runs the Android operating system, although you wouldn’t know it from the interface. Amazon has completely revised the UI, and built their own experience from top to bottom that integrates the Kindle eBook experience, the Amazon Instant video streaming service, the Amazon CloudPlayer music storage and playback system, and the Amazon AppStore for apps that extend the capabilities of the tablet. Also included on the tablet will be an email app that integrates your disparate mailboxes into a single interface and a WebKit based web browser called Amazon Silk.
Another new service that Amazon announced that is a part of the new Kindle experience is X-Ray, a service that was described as bundling background content along with the book. The example given by Jeff Bezos was that instead of just a dictionary that will give you the meaning of a work in the book you are reading, if you highlight a word that has deeper background information than a simple definition (for example, historical significance, etc) then perhaps X-Ray would cross-reference the Wikipedia article on the concept as well. It was clear at all how this works or what the content will actually be....we’ll just have to wait until their release to see how it works.
The Fire wasn’t the only new member of the Kindle family announced today. Amazon hit the lower end of their price-curve hard with three new models (well, 5 new if you count variants). They introduced the Kindle Touch, a keyboardless Kindle with an IR-based touchscreen that is available in both a wifi and a wifi + 3G model. On the low end of the price curve they have what is now the only model called simply “Kindle”, a 6 inch eInk reader that relies on buttons for UI, with no touchscreen. The prices for these new devices look like this:
I’d say that they’ve covered the spread on possible price points. My guess is that the two best-selling on the list will be the Kindle Touch Wifi with special offers and the Kindle Fire. $99 and $199 are powerful price points for consumers, and they are the sweet spots for functionality as well. The Kindle Fire is, to my mind, the most interesting overall. The combination of a Kindle Fire and a Kindle Prime account (which gives you discounted or free shipping on anything from Amazon for year, as well as free Amazon Instant streaming) gives you an unmatched amount of media for an unmatched price.
For libraries, however, with the exception of cheaper cost-per-device you want to provide...well, nothing really changes. Amazon is still providing books at the publisher’s set cost that are licensed in such a way that limits the ability of libraries to circulate them (the books, not the devices). The Kindle/Overdrive deal doesn’t change at all...you can just buy a Kindle to circ to patrons for $40 less than you could yesterday. But the technological hurdles for our patrons on the user-experience front as well as the backend limitations of the DRM provided files are still the same as ever.
This isn’t to say that there aren't ways to use the Kindle well in a library setting...you just have to be thoughful about it. And now you can afford to be thoughtful about how they are used and get twice as many devices when you buy them. There's one thing this is definitely going to change for libraries: You can be certain that come the first week of January 2012, we’re going to be beseiged by hordes of post-Xmas Kindle owners, looking for their first eBooks. Are you going to be ready for that?