An explosion of competing e-reader devices, and the emerging challenge from tablet PC's is driving Amazon to aggressively retool the Kindle. However, the updates and modifications will fall short of delivering a tablet PC experience to compete with the iPad, and will alienate core Kindle users in the process.
Amazon brought the concept of the e-reader to the masses, and took it from a niche novelty to a mainstream gadget with the Kindle. The e-reader is now slowly making the transition from consumer gadget to business tool. But, a growing stable of competitors has emerged, including the Barnes and Noble Nook and the Plastic Logic Que proReader, to challenge the Kindle's e-reader dominance.
The Nook, in particular, has caught the attention of many users. The dual-screen approach of using the black and white e-Ink display on top, but including a color touchscreen--reminiscent of the iPhone display--on the bottom for navigation seems to offer a more intuitive and user-friendly design that have made the device popular. Unfortunately for Barnes and Noble, and fortunately for Amazon, the Nook was so popular that it outsold demand over the holidays and helped drive record Kindle sales.
Amazon was already faced with the challenge from competing e-readers, and then along came the Apple iPad. The iPad is not an e-reader. However, it's also not really a computer. It is, more or less, a giant iPod Touch and its primary purpose is to enable users to display and consume content--including books.
Along with the iPad, Apple also announced partnerships with top-tier publishers and unveiled its iBooks store. Combined with the fact that the iPad (and iPhone) also have a Kindle app for reading Kindle-format books, and the similarities between the Kindle and iPad form factors, the iPad certainly appears to be stepping on Kindle territory.
Amazon has responded by courting developers with a KDK (Kindle developers kit) to enable the creation of Kindle-based apps. It then followed up by purchasing Touchco, a maker of flexible touchscreen displays. It seems the next-generation Kindle will be a touchscreen-enabled, app-executing multi-function device in addition to providing a means for reading books.
The legions of loyal Apple fans, combined with the millions of iPhone users, and the explosive success of the Apple App store will almost certainly make the iPad a winner for Apple. The moves by Amazon will not pose any threat to the iPad. Amazon does run the risk of alienating its core Kindle market in the process, though.
Kindle users have let me know through comments on previous articles that one of the primary reasons they love the device is that it is unsurpassed as a means of reading digital content. They love the almost limitless battery life. They enjoy the clarity of the e-Ink display and the ability to recreate the traditional book-reading experience, and even to read in direct sunlight.
Apparently, though, Kindle users are not interested in expanding the functionality of the device. They just want a device that enables them to enjoy reading and they are satisfied with the Kindle the way it is. Adding apps, or a touchscreen interface, or any other bells and whistles will impact battery life, and detract from the reading experience.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with innovation and evolving the concept of the Kindle. Stagnation certainly won't breed success. Even if Amazon is only concerned with the likes of the Nook, and not really interested in combating the iPad, it has to continue to do new things with the device to continue to raise the bar and drive sales.
Perhaps Amazon has its eye on extending the functionality of the Kindle to make it a more valuable tool for business professionals. Expanding the scope of what the Kindle can do might enable Amazon to build on the foundation of Kindle users it has already established, and capture a foothold in the business world as well.
Amazon needs to closely examine that strategy, though, and keep its eye on its own target market rather than trying to outdo the competition for the sake of doing so and lose its own audience in the process.