Today Amazon takes the wraps off the Amazon Kindle, an e-book reader they hope will transform publishing and reading. Offering an initial catalog of 80,000 titles, Amazon will sell bestsellers for $9.99 and "classics" for $1.99. The device itself has a strangely 80's-futuristic vibe to it, with a white molded plastic body featuring angular edges and a thumb-keyboard. Kindle does have some game-changing features: an EVDO wireless connection allows you to browse the web and buy books, and the battery life is estimated at 30 hours of "reading time." It holds roughly 200 books in internal memory (assuming you've bought them), and can subscribe (for a fee) to major newspapers and magazines, which are automatically delivered to the device (this may be the killer feature, in my humble opinion -- I've always wanted a "breakfast computer" to stand in for a newspaper while I'm eating).
It all sounds pretty neat, but the test will be in how good the screen is and how well-designed the device is -- will the screen compete in clarity with a printed page? Will the device be as portable as a paperback? Priced at $399, the Kindle will have to be pretty awesome to gain any marketshare. It feels deeply unlikely to me that any device will supplant traditional books any time soon, but then again, I was wrong about the Web, so I don't exactly have a technology track record to stand on.
Newsweek has a feature about the Kindle, including some details about its creation and the publishing industry's reaction. Have a read (online, of course!) and head over to Amazon.com if you've got $399 burning a hole in your pocket.