Amazon’s on again off again flirtation with large screen ebook readers appears to have cooled off once more.
There’s been no announcement from the retail middleweight, but news is circulating today that the Kindle DX is out of stock at Amazon.com with no mention of when it will return. The Kindle DX is still available via 3rd-party retailers, but none are listed as being fulfilled by Amazon, so I doubt that the device is coming back.
And that’s a shame, because I had been hoping Amazon would release a new KDX with a higher resolution screen, more features, and other improvements.
Originally launched in May 2009, the Kindle DX was Amazon’s first bid to enter the academic market. The KDX was the first Kindle model to directly support PDFs, and Amazon hoped that the KDX’s larger 9.7″ screen would work as an adequate replacement for paper textbooks.
Unfortunately for Amazon, the pilot programs they arranged showed just how wrong they were. As part of promoting the initial release of the Kindle DX, Amazon convinced a number of major US universities to launch digital textbook pilot programs based on the ereader, and they did not go well.
The pilots pretty consistently showed that the Kindle DX is too slow and too feature limited to work well with textbooks. Universities as diverse as Reed College, UVA, and (as well as several later pilots like the one at the University of Washington) all reported that students didn’t care to use their digital textbooks on the Kindle DX. Sure, E-ink is a great for reading, but it’s not so good at the meta-activity of studying.
Students commonly needed to make a lot of annotations and then access them quickly, and the KDX simply couldn’t match the speed of a student with a pen in their hand. The students who participated in the pilot programs also reported that the Kindle DX couldn’t turn the page fast enough nor jump around inside a textbook as quickly as they needed. And then there’s the issue of having only one screen to display several textbooks for a course, but that is a problem all ereader share.
But even before the pilots were done, the Kindle DX effectively was banned from any widespread deployment. In 2009 the National Federation for the Blind sued several universities on behalf of visually impaired students who couldn’t use the Kindle DX.
The universities were sued for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law specified that the disabled students were to be given equal access, and that has long been interpreted to mean that schools and institutions can’t buy new tech if the visually impaired cannot use it.
Those suits weren’t settled until mid-2010, but naturally that put the kibosh on large-scale adoption by schools and libraries.
A second-gen Kindle DX was released in 2010. It had a faster screen and more features, and even though Amazon released a firmware update in early 2011 the Kindle DX has largely been ignored. So far as I know it doesn’t even support KF8, Kindle Print Ready (Amazon’s own PDF format), or the Kindle fixed layout spec.
This is the second time that the Kindle DX has been discontinued. Amazon first retired the ereader in October 2012, only to launch a comeback tour in May 2013. And now, nearly a year later, it has been retired again.
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