Early this morning, at a press event held by online shopping giant Amazon, a complete revamp to the company’s Kindle electronic reader lineup was announced. Four new models, with prices ranging from $79 to $199, were demonstrated to the media-filled audience. New features include introducing touchscreens to nearly every model (except for the aforementioned cheapest $79 model), a “fact library” customized to the book you’re reading called X-Ray, smaller size and weight, and the introduction of a completely new device: the Kindle Fire.
Unlike its predecessors, the new Kindle Fire was designed for much more than reading. With a 7-inch color touchscreen, the device links directly into Amazon’s streaming movie, TV show, and music services wirelessly. Its existing Kindle models are still on sale and have been rebranded as the Kindle Keyboard, due to the removal of a physical keyboard on these new devices. Amazon expects these new devices to sell well and is introducing them just in time for the upcoming holiday season. However, much like any new technology, getting the consumers to embrace it can be a daunting task, even for a company as large and ambitious as Amazon.
In a time when reading has declined among the general population, well-known bookstores like Borders have shuttered their doors and public libraries have struggled for government funding, the e-reader has been seen as the revitalization to a changing publishing industry. Much like the shift the music industry had to face with the invention of the iPod and the movie industry with the creation of services like Netflix, it is now the publishing industry’s turn to “innovate or die.”
Fortunately, innovation most certainly has taken place, with electronic reading products with many different features being sold by many companies. Additionally, publishers are beginning to offer digital editions of their books, known as e-books, for sale alongside their physical companions. However, this new technology can sometimes be confusing and difficult to comprehend, so here is a basic breakdown of what the world of e-reading offers and how to prepare for its eventual acceptance.
Today’s e-readers can be split into two main categories: those with capacitive color touchscreens (much like on a modern smartphone) and those with electronic ink, or E Ink screens. E Ink screens have become popular with e-readers because they’re easier on the eyes than ordinary backlit screens, due to its paper-like appearance and smooth texture. These newer screens also have outstanding battery life, lasting up to a month (with an average of one hour of reading per day) without needing to be recharged. Color touchscreens have also proven popular, but are less suitable for reading due to shorter battery life.
Other features common in e-readers include the ability to change font size and style, wireless syncing of new books from an online store, virtual bookmarks and notes, and a built-in dictionary. Many popular e-readers also offer free loaning of books from friends and, recently, local libraries (including the New York Public Library). Books aren’t the only consumable item available on many e-readers, as newspaper and magazine subscriptions are also offered (A shameless plug: you can now subscribe to THiNK on your Kindle). Basic games and applications are available for e-readers, including Chess, Crosswords, and Minesweeper.
The two largest players in the e-reader game, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have their roots in the physical book world, but recognized that e-readers would be popular enough to cause their sales to suffer. Amazon released their first Kindle in 2007 to mixed reception, followed by competitor Barnes & Noble releasing their first Nook device in 2009. Both devices rely on E Ink for displaying content, and both offer similar features and price points, with both currently starting at $139 for the base model. These black-and-white screened devices are primarily marketed towards avid readers, as their features are fairly basic. Both devices now have infrared touchscreens, unlike their predecessors, which used hard buttons to turn pages. They also boast similar impressive battery life times and slim designs. However, the ideal comparison is with their content sources, as books from Kindle Store and the Nook Store have many different titles, and you can’t use books packaged for one device on another due to copyright protection.
With the introduction of the Nook Color last year (and an updated version expected to be announced soon) and the announcement of the Kindle Fire today, e-readers are expected to become more popular than ever before. Indeed, earlier this year, e-book sales surpassed the sales of physical books on Amazon. If you decide to make the jump into the world of electronic reading, remember that it is still an emerging field, and there will always be room for improvement. However, if you have a passion for reading, or are an early adopter of the newest technology, e-readers are beginning to look more appealing to satisfy your craving for printed words without the extra guilt of repurposing a tree.
The three new Kindle models that use E Ink (Kindle, Kindle Touch, and Kindle Touch 3G) are now available to order from Amazon.com. The new Kindle Fire is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and will be released on November 15th.
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