When you think of e-readers the Amazon Kindle edition has been the most ubiquitous. Since 2007 the Kindle has been selling like hotcakes and selling out within a few hours of the official launch. Today, we look at the devices, packaging and promotional materials that have assisted Amazon in controlling most of the eBook market worldwide and being the dominant player in hardware.
The Kindle 1
The first generation Kindle e-reader was made by LAB126, the braintrust that has developed every single tablet and e-reader ever made by Amazon. It was released in 2007 retailed for $399 and sold out within 5 hours of being available to order. The demand was so high that people couldn’t even order it for a further five months.
One of the big hyping factors about this e-reader was the fact it had free 3G internet access to buy books on the go. It also had an SD Card, the only Amazon product ever to do so. It was only available in the US, because international carriers would not give heavily subsidized internet access away to make it viable to buy books, which limited the global impact.
Amazon Kindle 2
Amazon saved on the packaging on the second generation Kindle e-Reader by gravitating towards recycling based cardboard. It was half the size of the original which allows Amazon to store twice as many in their warehouses using the same amount of space.
The Kindle 2 hit the market in February of 2009 for a fairly expensive price point of $359 dollars. It was the first e-reader to have the text-to-speech option to read the text aloud. Amazon decided to forgo the inclusion of the SD card, because it kept prices down in this era.
To promote the new Kindle, author Stephen King made UR, his then-new novella, available exclusively through the Kindle Store. On October 22, 2009, Amazon stopped selling the original Kindle 2 in favor of the international version it had introduced earlier in the month. On November 24, 2009, Amazon released a firmware update for the Kindle 2 that it said increased battery life by 85% and introduced native PDF support.
Amazon Kindle DX
Amazon took a departure from the standard six e-reader and took the risk to release the 9.7 Kindle DX on July 1 2010. It was the slimmest device they have issued to date. It was able to read native PDF files right out of the box and was marketed towards people who needed to read newspapers and magazines.
Originally at launch it was only able to connect in the US, and international users had to wait once more for the international edition which launched in 100 different countries on January 19, 2010.
At launch, it was very expensive, retailing for $489, which put it out of reach of the average consumer. It was relegated to being a niche product for people who needed it for specific purposes.
Kindle 2 international version
A few short months later in October 2009, Amazon finally brought more carriers involved and issued an international edition. It was able to download eBooks via 3G internet access in 100 different countries. The international Kindle 2 is physically very similar to the US model, the only thing that was different was the different network it was using.
As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained it “The two Kindles are identical, except for the radio.” The new device does not sync with Sprint, which was previously the exclusive supplier for Amazon’s Whispernet technology. Instead, it works with AT&T’s wireless network, which has the global reach that Amazon needs for its international plans.
Amazon Kindle DX Graphite
On July 1, 2010, Amazon released the Kindle DX Graphite, a revision of the DX. As well as dropping the price from $489 to $379, the new Kindle DX has an E Ink display with 50% better contrast ratio (due to new E Ink Pearl technology) and comes only in a “graphite” case color. It is speculated the case color change is to improve contrast ratio perception further, as some users found the prior white casing highlighted that the E Ink background is light gray and not white.
This e-reader came with the same free 3G internet access as prior models and also featured text to speech and a built in audio player. Users could hit the spacebar and ALT key to start an audiobook or music file.
This e-reader did not sell well at all, and was discontinued in early 2012. A year later Amazon started selling them again at the low price of $199 and finally laid it to rest in May 2014. “With regards to the Kindle DX, Amazon vice president Jay Marine said “we are pretty much done with it.”
The DX was always a very solid device but always was the odd man out in terms of software enhancements. It never got X-Ray, Whispersync for Voice or GoodReads. The software was really basic and not much changed in the 5 years that it was sold online.
Kindle 3 – the Kindle Keyboard
The Kindle Keyboard marked the first time Amazon offered a cheaper WIFI alternative in conjunction with their 3G model. The WIFI hit the market for $139, while the free 3G model was $189, which also included WIFI. This was one of the cheapest e-readers ever and really boosted sales and finally made the mass market embrace reading digitally.
When the Keyboard Kindle came out, this was the high point of the e-reader industry where close to 12 million units shipped out globally in 2010, which was a 40% increase over the 2009 figures. In late January 2011, Amazon announced that digital books were outselling their traditional print counterparts for the first time ever on its site, with an average of 115 Kindle editions being sold for every 100 paperback editions.
In order to facilitate more sales Amazon augmented the firmware in May 2011 to include the “Special Offers” program. This subsidized the cost by $20 and displayed advertisements on the homescreen and screensaver. Special Offers became a staple in all future products, giving away a way to make money with sponsors and affiliates and build the framework for their own in-house advertising system.
Kindle 4 – Kindle Basic Edition
The 4th generation Kindle departed away from the physical keyboard in a bid to make a smaller device. Instead of physical keys, Amazon made a software driven keyboard that was accessible via the D-Pad. This new Kindle is the lightest one ever and feels noticeably different from the 3rd generation models. Amazon claims this edition is 30% lighter and it does fit into your pocket, unlike prior models.
The Basic Kindle started the trend of abandoning audio functionality and the quintessential 3.5 mm headphone jack. There was no 3G variant of this model, and all of these factors allowed the entry level price to be $79 when it was released September 28, 2011.
Amazon Kindle Touch
The Kindle Touch was released in September 28, 2011 and it was a milestone achievement for the company. It did away with physical page turn buttons and incorporated a touchscreen for the very first time. Smartphones and tablets were starting to become very popular around this time and the touchscreen was an easy adjustment for the majority of customers.
On the back of the device on a slanted edge are the two stereo speakers, which is refreshing since the Amazon Kindle 4th generation was billed as budget reader and did not have any audio functionality at all. The sound is very solid and I found it was a significant upgrade from previous iterations of the Kindle. I also loved the fact that the speakers were not on the physical back of the unit where your hands might cover it up. It is in a fine position to always give you a great audio experience.
The Kindle Touch introduced X-Ray, a fabulous new addition that taps into crowd sourcing and gives you a massive list of central characters to any given book and how often they are referenced. When you open up a book, such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and tap on the X-Ray button, it gives you a massive list of all of the main and tertiary characters. It lists them from most referenced to least and gives you a small graph on how much they are talked about during the book. If you click on a particular character name you are greeted with a small biography of the character and then a chronological listing of a small paragraph of text citing the context in which all of these references were used. Not only can you do this with characters, but also specific events or other tangibles that are mentioned throughout the book. X-Ray really made Amazon stand out from the competition and set the stage for X-Ray for Movie for their Kindle Fire.
The Kindle – 5th Generation Amazon Kindle
The 5th generation Amazon Kindle was released in September 6, 2012 and was announced the same time as the Kindle Paperwhite. This model is still being sold today and is one of the most cost effective readers on the market at $69 ad-supported, $89 no ads. The Kindle has a black bezel (compared to the Kindle 4, which was available in silver-grey), better contrast, and hand-tuned fonts. It is claimed to have 15% faster page turns and was one of the lightest ones yet. This is as basic as it gets when it comes to e-readers with WIFI only.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 1
Amazon started to embrace the same technology being employed by the Kobo Glo and Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. It finally allowed people to read in the dark, without relying on ambient or a dedicated reading light. In a side by side comparison with the Kobo Glo and Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight, there is simply no contest. The Kindle Paperwhite had the best e-Reader in the business and the glowing feature that was almost pure white. Both Kobo and B&N give you a blueish tinge that sometimes gives you a weird contrast and saturation effect on cover art and images.
The Kindle Paperwhite 1 was released October 1, 2012 for $119 with no advertisements and $139 with adverts. The 3G edition sold for $179 for the Special Offers model and $199. There was simply so many different versions of this e-reader, that it appealed to a wider demographic of users.
This e-Reader is very internationally friendly and has a myriad of supported languages to customize the UI. You can set your default language to Dutch, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, and Portuguese. There is also 8 dictionaries that are automatically inserted into your Cloud account. This is tremendously useful because when you read a book, you can translate a specific word or series of words from one language into another. This is a critical new feature that will appeal towards people learning a new language or in an academic environment.
In many households there are normally one or two e-Readers and people share them with each other. There are strong parental controls on the Paperwhite that allow you to disable access to the internet, store or access to the cloud. Making your own collections further elevates this reader into a family friendly unit.
This e-reader was the first 10/10 we ever gave to an e-reader after checking out over 100 over the course of the last six years.
Kindle Paperwhite 2
The second generation Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is the most current model currently available. It was originally released in September 2013 for $119 ad-supported, $139 no ads), and the 3G/Wi-Fi version was released in the USA on November 5, 2013 ($189 ad-supported, $209 no ads).
This was the first e-reader ever to use E Ink Carta display technology, which eliminated the bothersome full page refreshes every time you turn a page in an eBook. It also employs a 1 GHZ processor and increased performance over 25% over the first generation Kindle Paperwhite.
There were a few notable software enhancements to make this device fairly compelling. The first was GoodReads integration that allowed people to add books they purchased from Amazon directly onto their shelves. It also allowed people to join virtual book clubs and discuss reading with like minded souls. The second major enhancement was Kindle Freetime which allowed parents specialized controls to create profiles for their kids and lock out specific elements, such as internet access.
One of the best aspects of the Kindle Paperwhite 2 is the overall PDF experience. You can instantly translate words and take notes, something no other e-reader allowed you to do.You can also double tap to enter a special reflow mode, which smartphone and tablet owners will find fairly intuitive. The pinching and zooming functionality is also fairly robust, but not as solid as with the Sony PRS-T3. One of the drawbacks is the absence of the preview pane when navigating a PDF while being zoomed. This is something that both Kobo and Sony have always done very well, and helps orient you on where you are at on the page.
Michael Kozlowski has written about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. Newspapers and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times have picked up his articles. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.