Just weeks after announcing it would release a new, refined version of its electronic book reader, Amazon.com has not only held true to its promise, but is offering the device earlier than previously announced. Amazon.com made the Kindle 2 e-reader available to consumers Monday through its retail Web site, one day earlier than expected.
"The response from customers to Kindle 2 has been tremendous," said Cinthia Portugal, a spokesperson for Amazon.com. "In order to ensure we ship Kindle 2 by the original ship day of Feb. 24, we started shipping one day early."
Kindle 2 is a new, souped-up version of the old Kindle. The device has a 25 percent longer battery life, weighs 10.2 ounces, and is thinner than the old version. It comes with a five-way controller enabling the consumer to navigate through content and highlight text.
The Kindle 2 also includes wireless coverage for no fee. Users can download newspapers, books and other content using Amazon.com's coverage, which has recently been expanded.
The Kindle 2 holds more than 1,500 books, and users can choose from more than 240,000 different titles, according to Amazon.com. The device also comes with a text-to-speech feature which enables users to listen to the book if their hands are full or when they are driving.
The "Read-to-Me" feature has stirred some controversy in the publishing community about audio rights versus e-reader rights. Amazon.com told USA Today that providing software that reads the text aloud is not breaking the law. The software is Realspeak Solo by Nuance Communications.
Portugal said Kindle's software is similar to text-to-speech applications currently in use on PCs, Macs and other devices. Audiobooks, however, are different. "Audiobooks, such as the 30,000 professionally produced audiobooks available from audible.com and also playable on Kindle 2, are individually recorded spoken-word productions carefully produced and recorded for each book, with the performer specifically chosen for the book," Portugal said. "Audiobooks are designed to be listened to from beginning to end. We do believe the text-to-speech application could cause readers to become more interested in professional audiobooks and begin to purchase them from audible.com."
Pages turn 20 percent faster with Kindle 2 and text can now be adjusted.
If users get stuck on a word, Amazon has built in the New Oxford American Dictionary, which has more than 250,000 words and definitions. If there is some background information they need, users also have access to Wikipedia on the Kindle 2.
Mass Market Challenges
Amazon's Kindle is based on E-Ink technology, as is its largest competitor's device. Sony and Amazon's competition has brought attention to e-book readers. With the attention came other players in the market, including Fujitsu with a device and Harper Collins with an application for seeing titles on the Apple iPhone.
The $359 price for the Kindle 2 may be one of its biggest challenges to reach a mass market, according to a Gartner report. Gartner said the high price for the device will be limited to those who want the new gadget and to high-end consumers.
Other challenges Amazon.com and others face includes include dueling standards. Amazon uses the AZW format and Sony BBeb. Readers' comfort with hardcover or paperback books may also be a challenge in reaching the mass market.
"A societal transition as major as this -- comparable to the horse to the automobile -- will take decades to complete," wrote Mark Raskino, lead author of the Gartner report.