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For The Second Year Running, Amazon Trounces the eReader Competition

I’m back home from the airport and I wanted to take a few minutes to put down my thoughts on the the Amazon event today. Amazon’s press events are usually packed full of information and short on the wow factor, but that works for Amazon.

The thing is, Amazon doesn’t have to do anything to wow you – just the basic facts of their new features, hardware, and prices is usually enough to take your breath away.

Once again Amazon has stolen the show. Do you know how this morning we all thought Kobo was being aggressive in developing new models at competitive prices? Yeah, it turns out that Kobo is still a step behind Amazon. Kobo’s new cheap 5″ ereader is undercut on features and price by the K4, which got a firmware update and a new lower price of $69 (ad supported, of course). And the new Kobo Glo is matched, detail for detail, by the Kindle Paperwhite – which also costs less.

And on the upside, we actually got to see the Kindle Paperwhite, which goes quite a ways toward convincing bloggers that it will live up to Amazon’s claims. Kobo’s new device still has not been seen in the wild, so right now we don’t know if it still has the touchscreen problems that the Kobo Touch is still experiencing to this day. Seriously, there are still Kobo owners showing up and reporting the same issue.

Amazon has also managed to once again match  B&N. Last year saw the Nook Touch release in May, and in September we saw Amazon matching the hardware specs and beating B&N on features and price. This year we saw the Nook Glow, and today Amazon beat it in specs, features, and price. That’s a trouncing, no matter how you look at it.

And it’s even worse for Sony.  Last year Sony released a single model, a move which turned out to be a mistake once Amazon released 3 new models. The thing is, Amazon figured out last year that the ereader market could support specialized devices so long as the varied by ability, spec, and price. Sony could have beaten Amazon to the punch had they kept the 3 models they had in 2009 and in 2010. But instead Sony re-released what is effectively the same device as last year and saw everyone take a step ahead of them. All of the major ereader makers have a frontlight equipped ereader – except Sony. Two of the majors are even using the new HD E-ink screen.

And don’t get me started on Pocketbook. I have their latest device in front of me, and it truly does not measure up. The Pocketbook 622 is the equivalent of the Kindle Touch, Nook Touch or Kobo Touch, only it costs a lot more and doesn’t work as well as any of the others. Pocketbook is still somewhat strong in Europe and Asia, but they have no US presence because of that price issue (also poor marketing, but that’s another story).

And Amazon reigns supreme for the second year in a row – or fifth, if you look at just the Kindle platform and not the hardware.

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Mario September 7, 2012 um 1:15 am

Nate, how do you compare contrast to regular Touch/K4? As I understand, they do not use Neonide IR for touch but regular capacitive digitizer layer over screen? I remember that Sony PRS-600 had lower contrast and higher glare and thay used similar tech.

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2012 um 1:58 am

It really does look whiter. The difference is surprising.

DavidW September 7, 2012 um 8:40 am

With the light off right? That’s what I want to know. If the *native* contrast is better. With the hd screen and capactive touch, I’ve preordered it anyway… but I’ve been looking forward to a better screen for so long. Tell me that it’s true, better native contrast!?!?

fjtorres September 7, 2012 um 8:14 am

No, no, no, no! 🙂
People keep bring up the Sony readers but the Sony readers used *resistive* pressure sensitive films, not capacitance. And they had air gaps between the eink and the touch layers.
Amazon is using a proprietary laminated display with the KPW.
Nowhere near the same thing.

Toni September 7, 2012 um 1:19 am

"And the new Kobo Glo is matched, detail for detail, by the Kindle Paperwhite – which also costs less."

Perhaps you could elaborate why you favour Kindle over Kobo. I’m sorry if it’s just for me but I didn’t quite get it from your post.

I’m just comparing the specs on the net here, but
1) Kindle is heavier
2) Kindle is larger
3) Kindle doesn’t support epub (major drawback)
4) Kindle doesn’t support cbr or cbz

And for the price difference – 10$. Insignificant; one is buying an ereader for quite many years.

How about a side-by-side when you get hold of them?

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2012 um 2:05 am

The size and weight differences are negligible. Considering that both devices could easily be carried around all day without any hassle at all, I don’t see how wight and size matter – not for the latest generation devices, anyway.

And you know that the Kindle was never going to support Epub. There comes a point where a fault becomes a fact and you simply have to accept it and move on. Also, is there something that the Kobo Glo can do with Epub that the Kindle Paperwhite cannot do? (Besides support for Japanese text.)

BTW, in only looking at the device details you glossed over the many things the Kindle platform can do that Kobo cannot. That platform is the pivot on which the success of the Kindle swings. You should not discount it.

Toni September 7, 2012 um 2:23 am

I totally agree that weight and size are so close that they really don’t matter. As in fact are ALL the specs; I could very well imagine myself having either one and being as satisfied. But just a little more satisfied with Epub-support 🙂 (I just happen to stumble to that format quite often.) And when fault becomes a fact …it’s still a fault, right (though it’s probably hackable…)

You’re also quite right about the platform being the crucial point. …but could you give some examples what Kindle can do that others can’t?

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2012 um 2:28 am

How about:

Kindle Cloud
email conversion
pushing ebooks to the Kindle
syncing notes across multiple devices and apps – on my ebooks, not ones purchased through Amazon

There’s more, but that’s what I can think of right off the top of my head. Amazon’s back end is the reason the Kindle was the best ereader in 2007.

fjtorres September 7, 2012 um 8:18 am

Besides, epub is no longer a unified commercial ebook standard.
It has been forked into irrelevance.
Kobo has Kepub, Apple has ibook, and B&N has DRM nobody wants to use.
And once you get into rich-format ebooks, all three implement different subsets of epub3.
Buying into Kobo is as much a lock-in as buying into Kindle.
epub promises much but delivers little.

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2012 um 11:09 pm

It turns out there’s a reason why the KP weighs more. I was just checking the specs and the KP has 2 months of battery life while the Kobo Glo has only 1 month. I think the extra weight is a good tradeoff.

flyingtoastr September 7, 2012 um 1:41 am

So Amazon comes late to the party (again) and has the most recent equipment.


Ralph Hummel September 7, 2012 um 1:49 am

For me the real exciting news ist that the three versions of the Kindle Fire have been announced by Amazon for release in Europe (confirmed on the French and German website), with availability dates as of october 25th, contrary to what happened with the last model change, where some models never were available in Europe at all.
It also seems (I am not sure here, as the descriptions are not very explicit in the Amazon sites) that K3 has been replaced by the new K4 – price set at 79€ with an availability date for september 12th, the KTouch appears to be the old model at 129€, so the whole product range is available.

Tim Gray September 7, 2012 um 4:00 am

Looking at the two Kindle Fire models on Amazon UK, I can’t see the point of having the basic Kindle Fire available. The HD is just £30 more for more memory and better screen and battery. I can’t see many people passing that up.

Nate Hoffelder September 7, 2012 um 4:15 am

I would tend to agree with you, but I also know that there are tablets selling for less than the cheapest KF. If the price difference is as little as £20, those cheaper tablets won’t be quite so attractive. And each device sold is one extra customer who might buy more content.

Tyler September 7, 2012 um 8:20 am

There may be lots of Kindle Fires either left over from last year. Or, as it looks, they can just make them cheaper than ever so have a price point that is much lower to compete with the low end (such as Pandigital’s crap) with one that is much better.

Lynne Connolly September 7, 2012 um 9:25 am

The Kindle Fire comes with ads – Bezos didn’t mention that yesterday. I hate ads. And there’s no 3G model on offer in Europe, so the choice isn’t as clear-cut.
I’m keeping my Nexus 7. Faster, smoother, (Jellybean is gorgeous) and far more open. I can have the Kobo, Nook and Kindle apps on that.
Paperwhite isn’t available in the UK. That would be my choice, but we can’t have it. Bezos constantly misses the worldwide market. Probably because he’s been unable to set up contracts with European 3G providers.

fbr September 7, 2012 um 9:37 am

I believe both Kindle and Kobo have introduced really good products. However in an apples to apples comparison (no pun intended) meaning ad free, the Kobo is actually the cheaper of the two. The Kindle is less expensive only if you are willing to deal with ads for the lifetime of your device in order to save a total of $10.

Your point about content is valid when comparing Amazon to Kobo. But a more valid comparison would probably be between the total epub market vs. the mobi market. The epub market offers a variety of bookstores: Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Goggle, Sony, Books On Board along with many others while mobi is single source – Amazon.

I don’t like ads and while I do think Amazon has done a great job with their bookstore, I still prefer the ability to chose from multiple content providers. So for me I’m more likely to chose Kobo.

Rashkae September 7, 2012 um 10:49 am

It’s not true at all that mobi is a single source. Anyone is able to sell Mobi’s if they are willing to forgo DRM. Baen is the 1st example everyone always has to mention first in comments 🙂 (They even built in their website to e-mail the mobi to your Kindle account for you, if you don’t mind the 3G fees for the 3g models.)

Other examples include the new Dragonmount book store selling all TOR books, Weightless Books, and just about any other independant book store outlet. The *only* bookseller that I’ve ever found who doesn’t provide Mobis (other than the ones attempting some form of Epub lock in) is Angry Robots. I can’t figure that one out.

fjtorres September 7, 2012 um 1:02 pm

Some people actually buy the "epub standard" kool-aid.

JimS September 7, 2012 um 10:11 am

Gee, Bezos did not claim the new Kindle e-readers could also read Nook e-books. Keep the garden walled! Meanwhile, my (rooted) Nook Touch has no problem reading Amazon or Google e-books.

So until he clever folks at xda-developers tell me they have rooted the new Kindle e-readers, I will have to live without Paperwhite.

Andrys September 8, 2012 um 7:52 am

Jim, rooting an e-reader does not make the resulting added capabilities 'marketable' in press conferences. B&N wouldn’t mention in its press conferences that you can read Amazon books on it.

As far as them walling their garden, the older KFire (which still works fine for me so I’ll look more at the 8.9″ HD one to join my Samsung Tab 10.1), at $159 now, doesn’t have to be rooted to get the other bookstore goodies.

The old Kindle Fire I have, which is NOT rooted, has the Nook app and tons of other apps that are not in Amazon’s store. Amazon, unlike B&N, decided to have the KFire let customers install apps from "unknown sources" on the KFire and many of us do.

fbr September 7, 2012 um 12:28 pm

@Rashkae: Your point is well taken, I did forget about Baen and Tor. However I don’t think the argument that Kindle is better because it’s Amazon’s store vs. Kobo’s store or Barnes and Noble store is a valid agrument. Epub opens a greater host of possiblities and while the actual book count probably varies very little between the two (mobi or epub) the possibilities to take advantage of promotions, sales etc., increases when you have multiple options to buy from.

Like I said, I don’t have any problems with Kindle or Amazon. I have brought both devices and books from Amazon and they have been an excellent company with good products for me. Having said that, I prefer epubs because there are more buying options in the epub world.

Karl September 7, 2012 um 12:53 pm

One point I find interesting in all of the new releases from Amazon and Kobo is the lack of competition from Sony. With the new PRS-T2 being a non-upgrade from the T1 I have to wonder about their future in the ebook market. Are they planning a midyear release of a new 'new' reader, are they thinking tthat all ereading is moving to color tablets, or are they going to get out of the business. Considering their current financial situation I would not be suprised if the T2 signals the end of their ebook business.

fjtorres September 7, 2012 um 1:07 pm

Considering Sony tablets have performed significantly worse than even their eink readers, if they think ebook readers are moving to tablets, they might as well close up shop.
Then again, they may not have noticed that any more than they have noticed what is going on in eink readers.

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