Kindle Sequel on the Way, But Will it Play on Campus?

(Pictured right: The Intel Classmate prototype)

Speculation on the next generation of Kindle (my wife refers to them in Yiddish as Kindeleh) is reaching fever pitch, such as this piece on cnet news by Adam Richardson and another on engadget by Thomas Ricker.

The prognostications seem to be focusing on student applications, and though Kindle 2.0 will probably be a bit bigger for collegiate use, my own opinion is that that is not where e-book readers have to go to win the premio gordo of universal college adoption.

At the dawn of the E-Book Era, circa 2000, I recognized that pocket-portable e-books would never succeed for student use. The reason is size. Textbooks and other illustrated books simply cannot be crammed into anything smaller than a screen close to the size of a laptop. That’s why I advocated the tablet concept and design. Tablets have all the virtues of laptops PLUS touchscreen functionality. For students, reading books on an e-reading device is highly desirable but not as imperative as the ability to handwrite notes on their device’s screen. Resistance to widespread adoption of e-textbooks is explored in an excellent article by Andy Guess in Inside Higher Ed, Next Step for E-Texts. “Whether — or when — e-textbooks become as ubiquitous as laptops or smartphones on campuses depends on several factors that continue to hinder widespread adoption. Observers of the nascent market point variously to available hardware, consumer demand and the dearth of content made specifically for digital formats,” writes Guess.

Manufacturers are not unaware of these issues and have been developing a variety of readers, variously called netbooks, ultraportables, and mini-notebooks such as the Intel Classmate, that appeal to the specific needs of the student. No one has hit a home run yet, but there’s a fortune waiting for the manufacturer that does.

– Richard Curtis

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One Response to Kindle Sequel on the Way, But Will it Play on Campus?

  1. Michael (E-Reads) says:

    A few recent guesses by pundits are saying that the Kindle 2.0 will be thinner all around, so that the additional bulk away from the screen is further minimized, such as the prognostication today at Wired.com. I imagine that the Kindle project’s master design reference is to approximate the comfort of something easily handheld and portable like paperback, so that would limit the screen size from approaching laptop proportions right off the bat. Unless it?s flexible and foldable, I don?t think there is going to be an A4 sized Kindle for quite some time.

    Netbooks already have screen proportions that are small and similar to Sony/Kindle’s e-ink screen, but with the added bonus of a responsive operating system, keyboard, and great multifunction ability. So why didn’t Amazon design a netbook like device? Well, two years ago, the manufacturing costs were still really high and e-ink devices are far less complicated. Another reason is that netbooks require more sophistocated operating systems as underpinnings. As Apple and Microsoft know, the ability to run additional 3rd party applications makes the project much more complicated to contain and support. The Kindle is only meant to be a vector for encouraging book sales through Amazon. Finally, netbooks still have short battery life, and the necessary powering-up habits that go along with that, which discourages long reading. But if the iPhone and iPod have taught us anything, it’s that when a device can go a full work day without charging (so that the power cycle is when we sleep), it’s something we’re keener to adopt, and that’s why e-ink devices and iPhone?s still hold their own against tablets for reading.

    Eventually, by the time Amazon and Sony have figured out better ways to protect their sales channels for ebooks, the future netbooks and tablets will get to the battery life they deserve and the Kindle may not be necessary anymore.

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