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Launchpad: the Kindle eBook reader

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What is it? The Kindle is Amazon’s eBook reader launched two years ago in the US and now available in the UK for £175. Think of a small, thin electronic screen on which you can read books.

Who is it aimed at? Good question. Early adopters are likely to be gadget lovers but future users are expected to be younger, female readers, or anybody feeling dissatisfied with the traditional printed book format that has served us so well for over a thousand years.

What’s the point? The Kindle device is supposedly a more convenient way of reading than traditional printed books. Purchased books are stored in its memory, so there’s no need to find space on the bookshelf, or to fill your suitcase with bulky holiday novels. However, just how much of an issue this is for the average reader is debatable.

How is it different? Like the iPod, the Kindle is not the first device of its type but it does move the genre on significantly. It allows readers to buy and download books through the device wherever there is a 3G signal. A full novel downloads within 60 seconds and there is no additional charge for this file transfer. All books purchased are backed up on your Amazon Kindle account so if you lose or break your device you can download them again. Unlike other gadgets such as the iPhone, the Kindle screen has been specially designed to read like a paper book – it’s not backlit so it is easier on the eye. All in all it’s a nice piece of kit and its ultra slim design is also pretty sexy.

Who thinks it’s a good idea? Several million Americans and Oprah Winfrey, who endorsed the US launch. If the US experience is anything to go by, there’ll be quite a few Kindles being given as Christmas presents this year. Although it is thought the UK market is about two years behind the US.

What could possibly go wrong? One of the biggest barriers to adoption of this new gadget is the current availability of titles. Only around 200,000 are available initially although new titles from the major publishers will be offered as ebooks. The other annoyance for UK consumers is the need to buy the device and ebooks from the US store until a UK equivalent is ready.

Will it be a bestseller? Short-term issues aside there are bigger challenges facing the Kindle. Consumers now expect their gadgets to serve multiple functions, and although the Kindle is the best electronic reader available, that is all it will ever be. Apple, amongst others, is developing tablet style touch-screen devices that could be used to read books whilst also providing internet access and a range of other functionality associated with a laptop. But any device will have to convince consumers that the good old paperback is a thing of the past, and that won’t happen overnight.

For more info: www.amazon.com/kindle

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