It will take more than an "innovative Web browser" to save Amazon's Kindle e-reader from the onslaught of competitors, including tablets from Apple, HP, and seemingly every company in China that owns a soldering iron.
We're talking about this today because of the appearance of a job posting on Amazon's Web site. It says Amazon's Lab126 is looking for help building an "innovative Web browser," widely presumed to be for its Kindle e-reader since the browser is described as "embedded."
Repeating: An innovative Web browser will not stop what is going to happen to Kindle. The device will not be able to compete with next-generation, color-screen tablets that feature e-reader functionality and do more.
Amazon has two choices in responding to the coming e-reader wave: It can either dump prices on the Kindle or develop a competitive tablet-computer-Kindle hybrid device of its own. It could, of course, also do both.
My bet: Two years from now, Kindles will cost between $100 and $200. Obviously, I am expecting Amazon to choose the first option and then exit the e-reader hardware market over some period of time. Or it might stay in the game by private labeling someone else's tablet device and brand it a Kindle.
That bet, however, disregards the job posting, which can be read to vaguely suggest that Amazon wants to go high-end with a device that includes the, ahem, innovative Web browser.
Of course, the world does not need a high-end Amazon tablet and neither does Amazon. The Kindle was created to kick-start an e-book industry that never seemed to quite get going on its own. In that regard, Amazon has succeeded marvelously.
In the future, Amazon can expect its customers' move to e-books to accelerate, but won't need its own branded e-reader to compete. Sure, Amazon's total share of the e-book hardware marketplace may decline, but it would still sell more e-books than it does today due to overall market growth.
Amazon can certainly hold on to some top-tier spot in dedicated e-readers, which is where the Kindle is positioned today. The self-destruction of the Barnes and Noble Nook has helped burnish Kindle's reputation as the device to own, but that comes with a horizon.
Once Apple starts shipping its iPad on April 3, it will become the new standard for comparison with e-readers. Yes, the iPad is expensive, but it also does a lot more that a mere e-reader and arrives with a ready market of well-heeled Apple partisans.
Ten years from now, we will fondly remember the Kindle as the device that helped take book publishing out of the forestry business and onto the small screen. It will have been a huge success in changing the world, but, alas, its days are presently numbered.