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Could a new Apple tablet rival the Kindle?

Apple TabletebooksKindle

Today the Financial Times reported that Apple "is racing to offer a portable tablet-sized computer in time for the Christmas shopping season," confirming long-swirling rumors. "The touch-sensitive computer will have a screen that may be up to 10 inches diagonally."

Apple's first overtures seem to be with the music industry, which sees the device as creating seamless interactive environments for music listening -- with both gatefold-style art and links accompanying downloads. Books appear to be a secondary but present concern. FT reports:

Book publishers have been in talks with Apple and are optimistic about being included in the computer.... which could provide an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and a forthcoming device from Plastic Logic, recently allied with Barnes & Noble.

“It would be a colour, flat-panel TV to the old-fashioned, black and white TV of the Kindle,” one publishing executive said.

Even bookish types care about color. Nicholson Baker took the Kindle 2 for a spin; in this week's New Yorker, he writes of his disappointment with its gray-on-gray screen.

The problem was not that the screen was in black-and-white; if it had really been black-and-white, that would have been fine. The problem was that the screen was gray. And it wasn’t just gray; it was a greenish, sickly gray. A postmortem gray. The resizable typeface, Monotype Caecilia, appeared as a darker gray. Dark gray on paler greenish gray was the palette of the Amazon Kindle.

Baker's piece gives a good overview of both the hype and constraints of the Kindle, and the background of how it works (its screen does not work like a computer's). Among the issues he has with the Kindle: an absence of notable literary works (no Nabokov), which isn't really the Kindle's fault; problems with rendering complex illustrations, significant in the case of a several-thousand-dollar manual for nuclear power plants; a kind of silly name; a $395 price tag. And that's not all:

Sure, the Kindle is expensive, but the expense is a way of buying into the total commitment. This could forever change the way I read. I’ve never been a fast reader. I’m fickle; I don’t finish books I start; I put a book aside for five, ten years and then take it up again. Maybe, I thought, if I ordered this wireless Kindle 2 I would be pulled into a world of compulsive, demonic book consumption, like Pippin staring at the stone of Orthanc....

What's clear is that expectations for what an e-reader can do may be outsized. Should the machine on which we read really change our reading habits? Is it too much to expect the device we read to improve how we read?

Perhaps if any company can make such a device, it may be Apple. Although Baker eventually finds his way to liking his Kindle 2, he prefers using the Kindle app -- on his iPhone. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Kindle DX / Amazon.com

Comments () | Archives (3)

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Personally, I think there is something afoot in terms of Apple extending its platform tools to support creation of more dynamic e-books and albums, making it a direct assault on Kindle

Think of this pitch this way:

Steve Jobs: "Book and Music industry. You are getting commoditized because you have no differentiated platform for extending/re-inventing your product for the online age. We just so happen to have a set of tools that have proven compelling to the tune of 1.5B downloads, field-tested across 65K apps and with a current footprint of 46M devices."

Music/Book Industry: "There is no way we can re-create that value proposition, and we already see the writing on the wall with Amazon. If they are successful, they will be telling us how much money we can make or worse, go direct to writers and musicians, and design us out of the equation. How do we get started?"

This is the consummate 1+1=3 for a segment that is otherwise facing a 1+1=http://bit.ly/DwziS


Old Media, New Media and Where the Rubber Meets the Road



Apple's device will be much heavier and the battery life will not be close to the Kindle. For travelers like me it won't be useful unless it is light and has a long battery life. I would have to carry my laptop and another clunky device. Also, I think that Kindle's Wispernet is a pretty innovative use of the Wireless network. Maybe the high price of the KIindle helps offset the cost of providing that to customers.

Why do you think that Apple's product will be heavier and have less battey life than the Kindle?
Let's see - Apple has been producing innovative technology for over 30 years, including the thinnest laptop, the iphone, and the ipod.
Do you seriously think that Amazon, who has been in consumer electronics a few years with one device, can remotely compete?
If Apple can get it out the door this holiday, it will essentially shut Kindle down (the hardware, not the books themselves, which I also read on my iphone).


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