Amazon's Kindle reader apps for Apple's iOS devices – the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch – now support books with audio/video elements. The ability to play embedded video/audio, however, does not extend to its flagship eReader. There are currently 13 e-books that leverage this new feature, including five travel guides, a cookbook promising “heavenly cakes”, and a knitting guide for beginners.
"In the new Kindle Edition with audio/video of 'Rick Steves' London,' the embedded walking tours allow customers to listen to Rick as they explore the sites of London," said Bill Newlin, publisher of Avalon Travel. "Rick's narration adds depth to the reader's experience, while listeners can follow the routes more easily with the text."
Apple is trying to present the iPad as an alternative to dedicated eReaders like Amazon's Kindle. Factor in the growing number of mobile devices capable of doubling up as eReaders and dedicated eReaders begin to appear vulnerable.
But Amazon harbors no intentions of going down with the ship it commands, if it does drown. The company is hedging its bet by porting the Kindle experience to disparate consumer devices. It currently provides free reading apps for the PC, Mac, iOS devices and Blackberry, and plans to support Android soon. Its software presence across a wide range of devices is like an insurance policy against the threat these very devices pose to its eReader.
If you're in the market for an ebook reader, you picked a good time to go shopping. Both Barnes and Noble's Nook and Amazon's Kindle recently received significant price reductions, and it had nothing to do with either company feeling particularly generous. Instead, iSuppli says the price cuts represent a change in business strategy brought on by increased competitive pressure from Apple's iPad.
"With these cuts, ebook readers from Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon now are priced at about the break-even level with their bill of materials (BOM) and manufacturing costs, according to iSuppli's Teardown Analysis Service," said William Kidd, director and principal analyst, financial services for iSuppli. "With zero profits on their hardware, both these companies now hope to make their money in this market through the sale of ebooks. This is the same 'razor/razor blade' business model successfully employed in the video game console business, where the hardware is sold at a loss and profits are made on sales of content."
Barnes and Noble kicked things off on Monday when it slashed the price of its Nook by $60 and introduced an even cheaper Wi-Fi only model, and then hours later, Amazon followed suit with a $60 price cut of its own for the Kindle.
What this means in the grand scheme of things remains to be seen. According to iSuppli analyst Jordan Selburn, ebook reader sales are likely to spike in the short term, as they now cost less than half of an entry-level iPad. But looking longer term, Selburn sees ebook readers becoming more of a niche product.
If you were waiting for the ebook reader wars to get a lot more interesting, it just happened. Throwing a one-two combo punch at Amazon, Barnes and Noble today cut the cost of its 3G Nook ereader (KERPOW!) and also introduced a new Wi-Fi only model at a comparatively bargain basement price (BAM!).
The 3G Nook now sells for $199, which according to B&N makes it the market's first under-$200 dedicated full-featured ebook reader offering both free 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity options in one. And while B&N can spin this one however it see fits, at less than two Benjamins, and $60 less than Amazon's Kindle, the price point speaks for itself.
And what about the new Wi-Fi only model? That will only set you back $149 and includes all the same features as the regular Nook, sans 3G. At that price point, B&N is likely to attract users who previously might have been on the fence because of the well documented speed issues. Equally important, these new prices put B&N in a much better position to compete with Apple's iPad and every other tablet that's due to come out.
China will be the first to receive BenQ's nReader, which is slated to launch overseas in August, says company vice chairman Jerry Wang. One month later, BenQ will launch its ebook platform, eBook Taiwan, also in China.
It's unclear exactly when the nReader will make its way to North American shores, but as Jerry Wang tells it, BenQ's goal is to ship 100,000 ebook readers to the Taiwan and China markets in 2010, and 300,000 worldwide before the year is up. It would seem, then, that BenQ might be aiming for a holiday release here in the states.
BenQ's nReader, also known as the "K60," will sport a 6-inch capacitive touchscreen. It will display 16 levels of gray and come with 2GB of onboard memory, a microSD expansion slot for up to 16GB of additional storage, 802.11g/b Wi-Fi, a micro USB 2.0 port, 3.5-inch headphone jack, and support for a variety of media formats, including ePub, PDF, HTML, TXT, JPG, BMP, PNG, and MP3.
Amazon last year launched its Kindle Pilot Program, in which it sold a number of Kindle DX readers to several universities at a 50 percent discount. Students were allowed to use them free of charge, but as it turns out, most college students aren't yet ready to trade in their textbooks for Kindles.
At the University of Virginia, for example, about 80 percent of MBA students who participated in the program said they wouldn't recommend the Kindle DX for classroom use, even though they enjoyed it for recreational reading. And at Princeton University and Reed College, students said they missed the ability to write in the margins, easily highlight passages, or view color charts and graphics, the Seattle Times reports.
"You don't read textbooks in the same linear way as a novel," said Roesner, a 23-year-old graduate student. "You have to flip back and forth between pages, an the Kindle is too slow for that. Also, the bookmarking function is buggy."
The complaints haven't fallen on deaf ears. Amazon last month announced software upgrades that enable Kindle users to sort books into collections and zoom PDF documents.
"The pilot programs are doing their job -- getting us valuable feedback," said spokesman Drew Herdener.
Acer today announced plans to join the ebook reader market with its upcoming LumiRead, a 6-inch device that will participate in the company's clear.fi initiative.
The LumiRead sports a monochrome display and QWERTY keyboard, as well as 2GB of internal flash memory (expandable via a microSD card slot). That's enough to hold about 1,500 ebooks, according to Acer, and you'll be able to purchase them from Barnes and Noble. In addition, Acer also inked distribution deals with Germany's Libri.de, and China's Founder.
It also comes with Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, and there's an ISBN scanner to create your own wishlist. No word yet on pricing, though Acer is apparently aiming for a Q3 release.
Pandigital's bread and butter up to this point has mainly been digital photo frames, and now the company wants to try its hand in the e-reader market. Kicking off this new venture is the Pandigital Novel, a 7-inch e-reader with a full-color 800x600 touchscreen display and an edge-to-edge glass screen.
Ready to roll right out of the box, the Pandigital Novel also comes with Barnes and Noble's eBookstore built-in, giving readers access to over 1 million ebooks, newspapers, and magazines. The device will support B&N's "LendMe" technology, which allows users to share publisher-approved ebooks with others for 14 days
"First and foremost, the Pandigital Novel eReader was designed to deliver a world-class e-reading experience," said Dean Finnegan, CEO and founder, Pandigital. "By focusing on delivering superior content from Barnes & Noble, an easy-to-use design and an excellent customer experience, Pandigital is delivering a value proposition not currently available in the eReader category. With its many additional features, Pandigital Novel customers will be able to read what they want and do more of what they want on the go with an affordable product that is simple and fun to use."
The Pandigital Novel measures 5.5 inches (w) by 7.5 inches (h) by 0.5 inches (d) and weighs 16 ounces. It comes with 1GB of memory expandable to 32GB via its SD/MMC memory card slot and supports a number of ebook formats, including PDF, EPUB, and HTML.
Starting in June, you'll be able to pick one up "at several national retailers" for $200.
Amazon is doing everything it can to keep its ebook platform relevant, and to help do that, the Web store went and partnered with Asus, who has agreed to pre-install the "Kindle for PC" application on select netbooks and notebooks sold at Amazon.com.
"We are thrilled that customers will begin to enjoy the Kindle for PC experience right out of the box with ASUS devices," said Ben Thacker, VP Sales and Product Management, Systems Business Group, North American Channel, ASUS Computer International. "Kindle is something our customers have been asking for and by pre-installing Kindle for PC on select long battery life products, we believe we are providing our customers an even richer PC experience. Working with a customer-centric company such as Amazon and pre-installing their Kindle for PC application is a natural fit for ASUS."
The move also helps Amazon stave off what's sure to be increasing competition by a handheld tablet market on the verge of exploding. Apple's iPad is just the first of what's expected to be many tablet releases this year, and as the iPad has shown, tablets are up to the task in performing ebook chores.
So far there are six Asus netbooks/notebooks sporting the Kindle app, including the 1005PE-MU27-BK, 1005PE-MU27-BU, 1005PE-MU27-WT, 1005PE-MU27-PI, UL30A-X5K, and UL30VT-X1K.
Amazon today announced that its Kindle for Android app will make its debut this summer. It will be available as a free download and give readers access to over 540,000 books in the Kindle Store. Amazon says that, like all Kindle apps, this one will include the company's Whisersync technology, which saves and synchronizes a customer's bookmarks across their Kindle, Kindle DX, iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, PC, Mac, BlackBerry, and of course their Android device.
"Kindle for Android is the perfect companion application for Kindle and Kindle DX owners, and is also a great way for customers to enjoy over 540,000 books in the Kindle Store even if they don't yet have a Kindle," said Jay Marine, director, Amazon Kindle. "We think customers are going to love the convenience and simplicity of having instant access to a massive selection of books from Amazon on their Droid, Nexus, Incredible and many more Android devices."
There isn't a whole lot new here, other than being able to use Kindle on your Android handset. Kindle for Android will let users choose between five different font sizes, read in portrait or landscape mode, browse by genre or author, read the beginning of books for free, and access their library of previously purchased Kindle books stored on Amazon's servers for no cost.
Nothing was said about upcoming tablet devices, but this could be prove to be a fairly significant development as Android-based tablets start to come out.
In the electronic reader wars, arguably just as important as the hardware itself is the software platform, and towards that end Sony announced that book lovers have downloaded more than 10 million books from the company's Reader Store.
"We want to thank our customers for helping us reach the 10 millionth book milestone," said Chris Smythe, director of the Reader Store. "The Reader Store is proud to offer them access and choice of the broadest range of ebooks today from hot new releases, to New York Times Best Sellers, to classics and hard to find manuscripts such as those available for free from Google Books."
The 10 millionth book download was Digital Fortress written by Dan Brown, the same author who wrote The Lost Symbol, the Reader Store's most purchased book of all time. Not surprisingly, several of Stephenie Meyer's books were also among the top 10 most purchased books at the Reader Store, including Breaking Dawn (No. 3), Eclipse (No. 4), Twilight (No. 6), and New Moon (No. 7).