Amazon unveils slimmer Kindle reader

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO Mon Feb 9, 2009 6:27pm EST

1 of 4. Amazon.com founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos holds the new Kindle 2 electronic reader at a news conference in New York where the device was introduced, February 9, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

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NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc unveiled a slimmer version of its Kindle digital book reader with more storage and faster page turns, but kept a high price tag that may limit its appeal to a mass audience.

The new Kindle, still priced at $359 on Amazon's website amazon.com/kindle2, is available for preorder and will ship February 24, the company said on Monday.

The world's largest Web retailer, which began as an online seller of physical books, has steadily beefed up its digital offerings -- with the Kindle drawing the most attention.

"Our vision is every book ever printed, in every language -- all available in less than 60 seconds," said Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, speaking to an audience of about 300 at New York City's Morgan Library.

But the company gave no international roll-out plan and did not disclose how many Kindle 1 units were sold, nor how many of the new versions will be available for preorder.

The company may not want to push the Kindle too quickly so it can preserve a much higher revenue base from printed books and avoid direct competition with widely popular multimedia devices like Apple Inc's iPhone, analysts say.

Unlike the iPhone which plays music and videos, Amazon says the Kindle is primarily meant to be a reading device.

Bernstein Research analyst Jeffrey Lindsay said the new Kindle was an improvement, but its price showed Amazon was not moving aggressively to bring it to the masses.

"Really we don't see them as having taken the device to the next level," he said. "We think it's an incremental step of improvements. They're advancing very conservatively."

The device is a tiny part of Amazon's web retail business, but attracts out-sized interest from investors and analysts as a potential source of new growth.

"It's still little threat to Apple's iPhone and iPod touch, or future Apple Internet tablets; or so-called netbooks -- inexpensive, lightweight laptops from PC makers like Dell and Acer," wrote Dan Frommer on www.siliconalleyinsider.com.

While the previous Kindle could store more than 200 titles, the new version holds more than 1,500 and includes a feature that reads text aloud to users, Amazon said. Also on Monday, Amazon said Stephen King, the best-selling author of horror stories, will release a novella, "Ur," exclusively on Kindle.

Customers awaiting their first versions on back-order will be automatically upgraded to the new Kindle, Amazon said.

KINDLE FIXES

First launched by the Seattle-based company in November 2007, the Kindle allows users to read books and newspapers wirelessly on a device weighing less than a typical paperback.

It took sales from Sony Corp, whose Sony Reader beat Amazon to market, and Amazon touted its existing ties with book publishers. Most bestsellers cost $9.99 on the Kindle and newspapers and blogs are also available.

The latest model of the Sony Reader retails for $399 and holds about 350 digital books. Its non-wireless device -- a wireless version is in the works -- has a touchscreen, unlike Amazon, allows sharing with PCs, highlighting and annotating.

Some 100,000 titles are available through Sony's eBook store, and Sony allows users to check out books from public libraries and read them on the device.

Kindle users had criticized its clunky design and complained about the placement of its buttons, lack of backlighting, slow page turns and high price.

The new version fixes a problem with involuntary page turns and sports a five-way controller that allows users to jump between articles and sections of newspapers. A power charger is more portable and a cover that comes with the device is more secure, the company said.

The new "text to speech" function converts words on a page to speech. Users can choose a male or female voice to read to them and choose a speed.

The company has not disclosed Kindle sales figures. Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney has estimated Amazon sold a half-million Kindles in 2008, about one-third more than the number of iPods sold by Apple in its first year.

Barclays Capital's Douglas Anmuth said that if the Kindle made inroads in the educational market, it could generate $3.7 billion in revenue and $840 million in gross profit in 2012.

Amazon shares closed up a quarter of a percent at $66.71 on the Nasdaq on Monday.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Andre Grenon and Matthew Lewis)

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