I have been a huge Amazon Kindle fan and evangelist for quite a while (yes, that’s an Amazon affiliate link – make me rich! :-)). I did an excited video unboxing of mine when I got it, and I’ve written about it a fair amount since then. I use it an hour or two every day. I don’t know exactly how many people have been led to buy a Kindle after getting a breathless demo from me, but it’s more than a dozen. I’ve signed up for and done “See a Kindle in Your City” show and tell events. It goes with me in my cargo pants pocket everywhere. I pretty much love the thing. So of course, I’ve followed the rumors of the next Kindle version pretty closely.
Besides some pretty convincing photos of what Kindle 2.0 might look like that leaked on Boy Genius Report last year, there hasn’t been a whole lot of credible information on the subject. For most of its life, Kindle has been almost synonymous with supply problems. After it sold out in hours when it launched in November 2007, you had to wait 1-2 months for delivery of a Kindle. This persisted through April 2008, and happened again around the 2008 holidays (blame Oprah for that one). All year, the rumor mill has been on fire with Kindle 2.0 speculation – TechCrunch, Scoble, you name it, they’re predicting a new Kindle. Amazon has been typically coy, and has only said “the soonest we’d do a new Kindle is next year”. Well, now it’s next year, and there’s something afoot.
The New York Times reports that Amazon is holding a press event at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City on February 9, and that Jeff Bezos is going to be there. They haven’t said this event will have anything to do with a new Kindle, but given the fact that the original Kindle launch was held at a similar venue, this is like Apple saying “we’re going to have a music-themed press event, and Steve Jobs is going to be there, but we’re not going to tell you what we’re going to announce.” Everyone knows that means new iPods.
So what will Kindle 2.0 be like? The NYT blog post I linked above has some speculation about a new ebook reader chip from Epson and e-Ink (who makes the Kindle’s distinctive electronic ink screen. Called Broadsheet, it would enable smoother screen refreshes by breaking the screen into a grid of 16 pixel areas that can be individually updated, rather than having to redraw the whole screen (at the cost of 750 milliseconds) every time something needs to be changed. This sounds plausible to me (apparently Sony’s latest Reader device already has the Broadsheet chip), but it’s not mind-blowing. I expect this to be an incremental upgrade to the Kindle, rather than something revolutionary.
The big question on my mind is, how will Amazon treat the enthusiastic early-adopter Kindle community when the new device comes out? They’ve legitimately earned a reputation for caring about the people who forked out $400 for one of their devices. They’ve been really lenient about replacing accidentally damaged or destroyed Kindles. They encouraged and even help facilitate people staging “See a Kindle in Your City” events, which means they understand the value of an in-person, hands-on demonstration in order to help people “get” the Kindle. Almost every Kindle owner I know has become an enthusiastic fan and unpaid Kindle salesperson. So what, if anything, is Amazon going to do for us?
That sounds really whiny and “entitled”, I know. Tell me how stupid it is in the comments. It would be absurd to hope for “free Kindle 2.0 to all 1.0 owners!” or something that doesn’t make business sense for Amazon. But it would be in line with how Amazon has heretofore treated the early adopter community if they did something like “$100 of the new Kindle for previous Kindle owners”. They’re a big company, their job is to make money. But I can’t help but hold onto a sliver of hope that they might do something nice, even though they don’t have to (sort of like Apple did with it’s $100 rebate for 1st gen iPhone buyers).
Bottom line is, I’ll likely buy a new Kindle, sooner or later, regardless of what Amazon does. Can’t help but hope Uncle Jeff will help a geek on a budget out a little.