Is Amazon's Kindle the Killer App that Puts E-Paper Over the Top?
SEATTLE – On November 19, Amazon, the world's largest online retailer, announced with great fanfare the launch of the Kindle(pictured), a portable reader that wirelessly downloads books, blogs, magazines and newspapers to a high-resolution electronic-paper display. While this is certainly far from the first e-reader that utilizes electronic-paper technology to create a paper-like display, the Kindle introduction sparked hopes that it could serve as the "killer application" that truly launches e-paper products into the consumer mainstream.
Kindle uses a high-resolution electronic-paper display from E Ink Corp. to provide a sharp black and white screen that E Ink and Amazon claim is as easy to read as printed paper. The display is 6 inches diagonal and has a resolution of 600 x 800 at 167 dpi, with a 4-level gray scale. The electrophoretic display (EPD) is similar in nature to the electrophoretic display developed by E Ink for theSony Reader. The Kindle device weighs 10.3 ounces, measures 7.5 inches tall x 5.3 inches wide x 0.7 inches thick, and retails for $399.
Amazon has been tight-lipped about sales figures and projections for the Kindle, but company spokesperson Andrew Herdener said the initial inventory of Kindle sold out in 51/2 hours on November 19, and since that time, the Kindle page on amazon.com has stated that "Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out."
The first full-fledged assessment of sales of the Kindle was expected when Amazon reported its earnings for the fourth quarter of 2007, which was scheduled to take place January 30. However, Prime View International (PVI), the Taiwanese company that was the first to assemble the E Ink film into display modules for Amazon, reported in its quarterly earnings filing in January that e-books are expected to double in growth in 2008, and that the company cannot currently meet demand from Amazon, though there is no component shortage problem at present. According to E Ink, LG.Philips LCD is also assembling the E Ink displays.
The Kindle's major step forward from other e-readers currently in the marketplace is that content can be downloaded wirelessly to device using the same technology (EVDO) that allows content to be downloaded to cell phones, as opposed to using WiFi, a PC connection or syncing the device. More than 90,000 books are available in Amazon's Kindle Store.
Amazon's Herdener claimed in an e-mail interview that the company didn't focus on competitors when designing the Kindle, but rather aimed to provide the best product to its customers. That led Amazon to E Ink.
"Our No. 1 design goal for Kindle was to make the device disappear, just as the book disappears when you read and become engrossed in the author's words," Herdener explained. "We couldn't make Kindle disappear if the screen had glare, didn't look like real paper, couldn't be read outside, or required constant re-charging of the battery. The E Ink display solved all these problems."
Herdener declined to discuss any of Amazon's future plans, but those would almost certainly have to include a color display.
Still, no matter how many improvements Amazon and other e-reader manufacturers make, many are skeptical that these devices will find widespread traction with consumers. Notable among them is Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, who expressed his doubts at Macworld when asked about the Kindle.
"It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don't read anymore," Jobs told reporters. "Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don't read anymore."