When it launched last year, the Amazon Kindle gave new life to the flagging world of e-books. And rightly so: The first Kindle had a flawed industrial design, but it nonetheless had two distinct benefits that no other competing device had.
The first secret weapon: Kindle's 3G cellular radio and Whispernet EvDO service (supplied by Sprint), which provides free, integrated connectivity to the Internet. The second: Kindle's seamless integration with Amazon's storefront, which Amazon says now offers 150,000 titles in both paper and print versions.
This double salvo has kept the Kindle in a class all its own. But with the second-generation Kindle, Amazon has a chance to really to reshape Kindle and the role it could play in the nascent e-book market.
Rumors abound as to the features we'll find in Kindle 2. Those rumors should be put to rest at a press conference on Monday morning, where Amazon is expected to officially unveil Kindle 2. From the looks of the leaked Kindle 2 photos and information, the new Kindle will be notably thinner and less angular--which means Amazon has addressed at least part of the first item on our list for Kindle improvements.
So what else could Amazon offer in Kindle 2? The wish list below considers not only Amazon's need to stay competitive with other e-book readers, but also takes into account the competitive pressures Kindle could face from other mobile devices, like the Apple iPhone 3G and T-Mobile's G1 (I, for one, enjoy reading news and books on my mobile handset, and am thrilled by the prospect of a news that Amazon is working on a Kindle book reader for other platforms, too.
1. Better Design
The first Amazon Kindle was boxy and angular. It had a tapered depth, but that thickness ultimately became an albatross. When inside its leather case, the Kindle's spine indeed resembled that of a book--but that was the last thing I was looking for. I stopped carrying books while on-the-go years ago, simply because of the room it required in my gear bag. And while the Kindle's built-in storage and SD Card slot together mean I have what feels like infinite space for e-books, the reality is, it still was another device for me to carry.
The leaked pictures for Kindle 2 indicate that Amazon has indeed improved its design dramatically. The unofficial pictures show a more rounded design, and one that's significantly slimmer (no scuttlebutt on the weight or dimensions). The buttons for paging through texts look smaller, too; I was among those who liked the larger buttons (it meant I didn't page through with just one finger or part of my hand; but, I, like everyone, found those buttons also meant I inadvertently paged ahead when I didn't intend to). The keyboard also appears to have undergone a dramatic change: Gone are the angled, more QWERTY-style keyboard; instead, the keys are smaller, more round, and mushed together--reminiscent of the keys now common to cell phones.
The presumed design changes may help make Kindle more attractive for road warriors. While my colleague blogged about how indispensable his Kindle has become, this road warrior found herself using her Kindle at home more than she did while traveling (ahem--I already regularly push the allowable carry-on weight limits for some airlines, thank you). Its bulk and weight were just two reasons I skipped traveling with the Kindle regularly. But size and weight weren't my only reasons for removing Kindle from my travel kit. The next reason was . . .
The next Kindle needs to take advantage of the USB power revolution. That the first Kindle relied on its own power connector (albeit one shared with some Sprint phones) was an annoyance and a travesty; that meant remembering yet one more charger, and having yet one more charger on hand to jack in my messy power strip. Yes, I can go buy an iGo tip for my iGo charging system, but ultimately, I'd rather be able to simply jack in a mini-USB cable, same as I use for countless other devices. This would open me to charging the Kindle off a USB-powered battery pack, such as the mobile battery pack that Kensington cells; charging from my laptop; or even charging via USB on my Monster Outlets-to-Go power strip, (OTG300 USB) which includes a USB connection.
3. Faster Speed
Rumor has it that Kindle 2 will use the latest E-Ink technology with a chipset from Broadsheet. Already found in the newest of Sony's Digital Book Readers, the new chipset is faster, so pages redraw faster than before.
4. Better File Handling
Kindle needs this desperately. Unlike its competition from Sony's Digtal Book Readers, Kindle doesn't have integrated PDF reading. Its PDF handling is downright kludgy, as its Word and Excel document handling is nearly as poor (with all of these formats, and others, you have to e-mail the file to yourself).
By opening up Kindle to handle other file types, Kindle broadens its usefulness and moves beyond being a one-trick gadget. And its flexibility. Suddenly, you could store all of your device manuals in PDF on a Kindle; you could use the Kindle to proof documents; or, you could use the Kindle in ways heretofore unimagined, but mad viable by something as simple as universal file handling.
5. Integration With Amazon S3 Storage
If Amazon gets the document handling under control, what's to stop the developers from taking things one logical step further, and allowing you to access your files stored online using the Amazon S3 Web-based storage platform? Imagine a service offering that lets you use your Kindle to handle documents you store documents online, only to access them as needed via your Kindle or your PC. It's a minor thing, perhaps, today, but it could also open up how Kindle can be used--and could expand Kindle's usability beyond just being a digital book reader. That, in turn, could make broaden its appeal.
While Kindle could easily run the risk of trying to be trying to do too much, and do none of it well, the idea of broadening Kindle's scope and capabilities has potential, too. In tight times, even a gadget that does one thing very well will become more appealing to buyers if it can also do a few more things well, too.