Kindle2 – Tempting, but still issues of content $$ and DRM

kindle2At a jam packed press conference, Amazon unveiled the next generation of its ebook reader, the Kindle 2. In many ways the event was more like a Steve Jobs keynote at MacWorld, than what you might expect from Amazon. Rumors and high-levels of anticipation led up to the event. The event itself, featured fanfare, celebrities, and bloggers streaming every bit of information. The event was immediately followed by headline articles in all of the major online tech publications reviewing and picking apart the features of the new Kindle.

The Kindle 2 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor. It weighs 10.2 ounces, and is just under a centimeter thick. So it’s lighter than a paperback and about as thin as most magazines. The Kindle 2 has improved its button arrangement to make turning epages easier, and faster. It has more memory and stores as many as 1500 books. The display is improved as well, supporting 16 shades of gray, up from just 3 – sorry, no color yet! It also features a text-to-speach feature that can read aloud the printed page at times when your eyes are needed elsewhere.

The Kindle 2 will begin shipping February 24, and can be preordered now for $359. The devices makes use of a free wireless service from T-Mobile to access ebooks, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and other online publications and services. Content doesn’t come cheap though! Books cost around 10 bucks, newspapers like the NewYork Times and Wall Street Journal around 10 – 15 dollars per month, and magazines from around $1.25 to $3 per month. Blogs and other Web content are free.

The release of the new ebook reader has many speculating as to whether the transition from paper to pixels is about to ramp up. So far, ebooks have been adopted by a relatively small population. The Kindle has only one major competitor, the Sony e-Reader. While it is possible to enjoy ebooks on the iPhone and other smart phones, Amazon is building its bridge from paper to pixels via its dedicated device that locks down content to protect copyright. This may be the only way to get buy-in from publishers who have so far been reluctant to distribute content digitally. A key feature for the Kindle’s success is the ability to access content directly, without connecting to a computer, over a large wireless network. Amazon’s partnership with T-Mobile is game-changing. Unfortunately, Amazon has been unable to make similar arrangements with carriers outside the US, so the Kindle remains a US novelty.

Over the course of the next year, many will be watching adoption rates of the Kindle very closely. Will it take off like the iPod and iPhone? Will commuters, crammed into subways, trains and busses, have kindles under their arms rather than the daily paper? WIll campus bookstores become obsolete as students download a semester’s worth of books from Amazon in a matter of minutes. If its timing is right, the Kindle 2 has the potential to dramatically change the way we live.

For me, the new Kindle is a tempting proposition. I like the form factor, if not some of the design features. I might even go the $359. My problem is with the price of content ($10 for books, $13.00/month for the NYTimes!!) and the manner in which content is locked down with DRM. The cost savings of electronic distribution should be passed on to the consumer. Content should be free to access from any device with a display. Once these issues are settled, I’m on board!!

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