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The Amazon Kindle seems to be the current hot "must have" gadget on the market right now. It seems very much as if the ebook reader is an idea whose time has come - and the Amazon Kindle is undoubtedly the best example of such a device on the market right now. It is also, and let's make no bones about it here, cool.   The Kindle has been compared to the Apple iPod - which now has a kindle application that allows you to read kindle books on it - by a number of industry observers. Indeed, going right back to the launch of the original Kindle in November of 2007, Steven Levy's Newsweek cover article suggested that the Kindle was the "... iPod of reading". Two and a half years down the line it seems that drawing parallels between the two devices might go some way towards understanding the current phenomenal success of the Kindle - and perhaps even some insight into what may happen in the near future.   Amazon supremo Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying, again way back in 2007, that "This [the Kindle] isn't a device, it's a service." - and that is absolutely fundamental to understanding why the Kindle works so well in Amazon's business model. Some criticisms have been levied at the Kindle's high price - it currently retails at $359 for the Kindle 2, slightly reduced from the original Kindle price of $399. The original iPod was priced at $399 when it was released - prices have fallen as the product was first accepted, and then passed through mainstream to practically ubiquitous. At the same time functionality has increased.   Apple is, and has been for some time now, synonymous with music downloads and has increased the available range of products to include videos, games and a host of applications for the iPod. In a similar way, Amazon is strongly associated with books, making the kindle an ideal choice of product for them. The recent announcement of the larger Kindle DX is noteworthy, not purely because of the various technical enhancements that it offers, but because it improves Amazon's capability to deliver newspapers, magazines and even academic textbooks to its consumers.   It would be wrong to discount the technical aspects of the Kindle series of readers completely of course, but it seems that, for Amazon, the technology is a means to an end rather than the end itself. In fact, as far as e-book reader technology goes, Amazon  are pretty late to the party when you consider that there have been contenders such as the Franklin ebook (no longer being developed but still available from some sources) kicking around since 1999, and Sony have had ebook readers for some time. There are a number of others, some have already died a death others are soldiering on without, currently at least, attracting anything like the volume of interest generated by the Kindle.   Another key advantage enjoyed by Amazon at this time is the 3G wireless technology used to

enable Kindle users to download their ebooks in less than a minute without the use of a computer or an internet connection - and without being tied in to a monthly contract or having to pay a download fee. It's a great example of the way Amazon have used the technology to provide a perceived benefit for their customers.   No monthly connection fee and no download charges means that customers do not feel tied in or committed to the Amazon service, an important factor considering the relatively high ticket price and the current economic climate. Of course, whilst customers will be able to purchase ebooks elsewhere for use with their Kindle, it is still going to be a lot easier for them to buy from Amazon's large, and ever expanding, selection of Kindle friendly books. Amazon are going to see a lot of repeat business - just as Apple do with their iTunes store.   Using the iPod experience to predict the Kindle's potential future, it seems unlikely that the Kindle will have everything its own way. As previously mentioned, there are already a number of existing alternative ebook readers on the market - the Sony PRS is probably the most significant player aside from the Kindle right now, but there are others. These will either improve and provide strong competition for the Kindle or disappear from the marketplace.   Also worth considering is the fact that there are a number of new readers in development. Plastic Logic, has a Kindle DX sized reader in development which has been scheduled for release in 2010. Rumours abound about the release of an Apple tablet based computer, suggested to be aimed at the gap between an iPod Touch and a full blown MacBook. It would not be too fanciful to imagine that Apple might expand their iStore to include ebooks just as they expanded it to include videos after the release of the iPhone and iPod Touch.   And it's not just tougher competition based on improved reader technology that Amazon may have to face. In March of 2009 Google and Sony announced that Google's huge library of public domain e-books would be made available for free on Sony's reader. That's a total of 600,000 titles and is a clear signal that the ebook reader market going to be fiercely contested in future.   At the moment Amazon is sitting pretty. It has a large number of ebooks in its library, it has the wireless technology to provide fee free downloads and, most important of all - the Kindle is cool. Whether or not it develops into a ubiquitous iPod type product or not in the face of what will likely be fierce competition only time will tell. Amazon have been more than smart so far, so it seems likely that they will be a major player in this emerging market for a long time to come.   One thing seems certain, we will all have the option to read books, magazines, newspapers and even textbooks using portable digital readers in the immediate future. As competition, volumes of scale and advancements in technology combine to drive prices down this will become an increasingly popular choice for many, possibly even a majority of, readers. The way we read is about to change, possibly faster than you might imagine.

Hamish Hayward Kindle ebook reader Discover the new kindle from Amazon. You'll be surprised at it's wealth of new features.

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Amazon Kindle - Is it Really the New iPod  

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