I’ve Got News for You, Amazon: A Kindle With a Touchscreen Ain’t No iPad
“We have chosen not to do so because it reduces the reading legibility and clarity of the E Ink display. It increases glare, and decreases the amount of light reaching your eye. Today for the Kindle there is nothing between your eye and the E Ink screen. That’s what makes it easy to read on.”
– Steven Kessel, an Amazon senior VP for digital media, explains why the Kindle lacks a touchscreen
When Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the company’s new iBookstore and iBooks application for the iPad last week, he said that while Amazon (AMZN) has gone a great job with the Kindle, Apple (AAPL) plans to “stand on their shoulders and go a little further.”
Those words clearly put the FEAR into Amazon’s leadership, because today comes news that the online retailer is scrambling to improve Kindle, buying Touchco, a start-up based in New York that specializes in touch-screen technology. News of the deal was first reported by The New York Times.
Established by a small team of computer scientists from New York University’s Media Research Lab, Touchco has developed a low-cost, low-power multitouch screen with a technology called interpolating force-sensitive resistance. It hasn’t yet commercialized the product, so what Amazon is really doing here is buying some engineers. A wise move, particularly if the multitouch screen these particular engineers have devised can detect an unlimited number of simultaneous touch points and will cost as little as $10 per square foot.
And, clearly, Amazon must do something to defend its e-book turf against Apple’s looming incursion. But is simply slapping a touchscreen on Kindle enough? A Kindle with a touchscreen is, ultimately, still just a Kindle–a monochrome device designed for a single purpose.
And that’s what it will remain, unless Amazon is able to develop the same sort of intuitive multitouch control metaphor that we see today in the iPhone and iPad and a vibrant software ecosystem that makes good use of it. But Amazon is not a hardware company and it’s already straying far afield from it’s core competencies here.
Really, what Amazon needs is an entirely new device, because when it finally arrives at market, the iPad isn’t just going to set the standard for tablet devices, it will redefine consumer expectations for e-readers.
And, if it’s not able to create such a device? Well, it best start thinking about recasting Kindle as an inexpensive, or even free, single-purpose reading device or hope that the Kindle app proves as popular on the iPad as it has on the iPhone and iPod touch.