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Amazon Hopes to Kindle E-Reading Fervor

Amazon Kindle 2 redesign
Spectators examine Amazon's new Kindle. Photo: Judy Mottl
NEW YORK -- Amazon debuted a thinner, lighter and more rounded version of its Kindle e-book reader this morning, baking in new features designed to address complaints with product's first incarnation while adding a slew of enhancements.

Among the new features include greater storage and battery life, a sharper display, more ergonomic page controls and text-to-speech capabilities. The price for the unit remains the same at $359, and is slated to ship Feb. 24.

"We don't want anything to take you out of the flow state when you're reading that great book," Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos told a standing-room-only crowd at the e-tailer's Kindle 2 launch event here at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

"But we also want to do things a book can't do," he said. In addition to the text-to-speech feature -- which enables the Kindle to read aloud to a user -- the new version of the wireless e-book reader also includes access to instant word definitions through a tie-in with the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Kindle 2 arrives as tech players acknowledge market potential with e-book technologies -- and are undertaking new efforts to capitalize on that market.

Industry observers expect that Amazon could rake in $1.2 billion in 2010 from sales related to its reader, according to a recent Citigroup analyst report that also indicates the online retailer sold 500,000 units in 2008. If Citigroup's revenue forecast is accurate, the result would increase Amazon's annual revenues by 4 percent, it said.

Google also sees opportunity in e-reading capabilities as well. The search giant said on Thursday it would make its 1.5 million public domain titles at its Book Search service available on smartphones, including the Android-based G1, the Apple iPhone and certain Nokia devices.

The next day, Amazon confirmed that the e-commerce pioneer would extend its Kindle offerings to smartphone users as well. However, the company has since revealed only scant details on the effort.

"It will be complementary to the Kindle," Jay Marine, Amazon's director of product management for the Kindle, told InternetNews.com today. "Users should be able to sync back and forth between their smartphone and their Kindle."

The company declined to provide additional information on a mobile phone version of its reader.

A larger selection of content is also making e-book readers more enticing. Amazon has grown the number of titles supported on the Kindle, from 125,000 last May to 230,000. Since launching the Kindle in November, 2007, Bezos has said repeatedly that his aim is to make Amazon's millions of books -- as well as every book in the world -- available for its e-readers.

The market is also ripening in part due to improved technology. Research firm Gartner said new innovations developed for smartphones are solving glitches with early e-book readers, such as poor screen resolution, processing speed and storage content. Today's e-book readers are lightweight, provide good readability and battery life and boast needed processing power, according to the research firm.

But for companies like Amazon, Sony and others selling e-book readers, the challenge is balancing design factors like screen contrast ratio, weight and form factor, Gartner said.

Redesigned reader

Amazon's Bezos said today he believes Kindle 2 achieves the right combination to improve the reading experience -- helping readers focus on the content rather than the device.

Amazon Kindle 2 redesign
The new Kindle (left) is thinner and flatter than the product's first iteration (right).
Click on the graphic to enlarge. Photo: Judy Mottl

The unit now sports a flat, white tablet design instead of a wedge, with a magnesium rear panel replacing a rubber backing. At 8 inches, the Kindle 2 is half an inch taller than its predecessor, but it's also half as thick -- now about 0.36 inches, or roughly the width of a pencil. It remains 5.3 inches wide.

Kindle 2's redesign replaces its scrolling dial with a tiny thumbstick for easier vertical and horizontal navigation, boosts the old unit's 4-level grayscale display to 16 shades of gray -- providing sharper contrast -- and cuts the form factor by a tenth of an ounce, slimming the unit down to 10.2 oz.

Amazon also said it redesigned the unit's button layout after customers called the previous design awkward. It said that Kindle 2's new button locations make it easier to turn pages and simpler to operate with one hand.

Page 2: But will it grow beyond a niche?