The Kindle 2 was unveiled today.
It's thinner, lighter, the battery lasts longer and it flips the pages faster. The resolution is a bit crisper, 16 shades of gray vs. 4. (Review here.)
It all looks great, except for the one fatal flaw with the Kindle 1: the screen is way too small. The press release doesn't mention it, but it appears to be roughly the same size. It's also still way too expensive.
I tried a friend's Kindle 1 and hated having a paragraph or two at a time instead of the whole page. Maybe I'd get used to it. I doubt it.
I think the main thing holding back ebooks is they have to meet and beat all the key aspects of the reading experience. Only techhounds (and people with specific circumstances, like reading a lot of books at once) are going to swap to a new way of reading that is almost as good as the old way.
It needs to be the size of a book, except thinner, preferably. It's perfect there, as thin as a magazine. It needs to be lighter than a paperback, so it feels similar in your hand, but better, easy to hold up hours of reading. It's a winner there, too: 10.2 ounces.
Most importantly, it needs to be as easy to read as a book. The Kindle 1 was in the ballpark, but not there. I'll have to see the new one in person to evaluate. (Anyone here held one yet?)
And every page needs to be as rewarding as a book page. Major bomb there. The screen is about 1/3 the size of a book. Completely unacceptable. (And there's all sorts of wasted space.)
I'm not sure what it is about having more available, but it's important for the pleasure of the experience. Jeff Bezoz's team seems to have put that one through the rationality test, figured out that you can only scan a few lines at a time anyway, so it makes no difference. Wrong. Imagine a book fed to you one line at a time. Ugh.
Perhaps it's just the conditioning of hundreds of years of a book page holding a certain amount of info. Regardless, we've been conditioned.
Otherwise, there seems to be a lot to love. But not enough for mass market yet, I'd say. Make it like a book, people.
As a writer, I've been excited about ebooks for years. I expect and hope the printed book to stay around in some form for most of my life, but I believe that once publishers make reading easier and cheaper and more available, they can bring a lot more people into the reading fold.
(Half the cover price of a book goes to the retailer, and another big chunk goes to printing, shipping and warehousing. Ebooks allow the writer and publisher to make as much money per copy at about 1/3 of the cover price--or, as is actually happening, somewhat less money per copy, but at a much lower price to the consumer. If ebooks eventually all sell for $10, we'll sell a hell of a lot more books. That's good for everyone.)
Which brings me to the price. One of the best long-term features of the ebook is how it will allow books to be priced reasonably. Yet here we have a huge economic barrier standing in the way of the whole revolution: $359 for the device
$359? Come on. If they want this thing to take off, it needs to be under $100. They need to bite the bullet on some up-front costs and make it happen.
Update: Thanks to Saturn Smith for word on Plastic Logic's really big ebook device. I love the way they're thinking.