Amazon Releases Kindle, Its eBook Reader: Top 10 (Un)Answered Questions *Updated*

Amazon Kindle*Update* Thanks for the emails and comments that answer some of the questions posed below. Each of the questions has been updated with the latest answer (even if not all are satisfying). The product page for the Amazon Kindle provides some good information as well. Also, check out Boing Boing’s excellent review plus read here for more on the polarized responses this new technology is creating.

So the big technology news for today comes from Amazon. The company is trying to reinvent one of the forms of media which hasn’t taken off digitally: the book. Here’s what we know:

The eBook reader is called the Amazon Kindle and is priced at $399. It weighs 10.3 ounces and has a keyboard. It can hold 200 books via built-in memory and has a long battery life of approximately 30 hours (with 2 hours to recharge)

Bestsellers and new editions of books will be on sale for only $9.99 in a digital format. Users also can subscribe to newspapers such as the the New York Times or Wall Street Journal and magazines such as Fortune or Time. Newspaper subscriptions cost anywhere from $5.99 to $14.99 per month and magazines range from $1.25 to $3.49 per month. Interestingly enough, blogs will also be available for $0.99 per month. About 88,000 digital books will be on sale for the device on launch.

The Kindle’s six-inch screen uses display technology from E-Ink, which tries to replicate the clarity of a printed book. Perhaps the most significant feature is that the device functions independently of a computer and has wireless connectivity that is free. You can go to the eBook store, browse for books, check out recommendations, read reader reviews, post your own reviews, etc. all from the device itself.

Amazon is calling the wireless connectivity system Whispernet and has based it on the EVDO broadband service offered by Sprint. This means your online book buying can happen almost anywhere. It also allows some limited Internet connectivity via Wikipedia, Google search, and links followed from blogs and other sites.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, had some choice words at the launch: “This is the most important thing we’ve ever done… It’s so ambitious to take something as highly evolved as the book and improve on it. And maybe even change the way people read.”

Now for what we don’t know (but should know, in no particular order):

1. What is the warranty? Still unknown but likely at least one year like most gadgets (let us know if any of you can confirm details)

2. Is the battery built-in or can it be replaced? What technology does it use and how long (how many charges) before that 30 hours of battery life starts to die down? Yes, the batter can be replaced, it’s lithium

3. Will Amazon be offering these ebooks for sale to be used on anything other than the Kindle? Not confirmed but unlikely that these ebooks will work on anything but Amazon’s Kindle

4. How is it on the eyes? It sounds like a promising technology, but I personally notice a difference between staring at a screen for hours versus staring at a book. Which is it going to be more like? Apparently very easy on the eyes, “ePaper” reads almost exactly like regular paper

5. How will Internet usage be limited exactly? Also, if Amazon will be charging for blogs (content that is otherwise free online), what are the terms? Can blogs (like this one) request to be added for no charge as a potential free subscription for the consumer? You can browse directly to blogs using the device’s “Basic Web” browser for free, but it’s still unclear what the limitations are of this Internet browser

6. Is the wireless always on like a cellphone or can it be switched off? This would be good to know before trying to read on a flight, as any wireless activity is generally prohibited in flight. The wireless can be switched off separately, though there’s talk of tech consumers needing to educate flight attendants that this is, in fact, the case

7. Can you ever transfer your “read” copy of a book to someone else like you would in the real world? The answer looks like a big “no” but plans down the road? Even if the system somehow made sure that there could be only one book floating around per purchase, it’d be nice if there was a way to transfer/give books. There may be plans for this in the future, but right now the main reason for the highly discounted price of $9.99 per book is to make up for this limitation… Also, you can bind five or six devices to a single account and share books you’ve purchased to those accounts

8. Is this technology to be limited to those with deep pockets or are there plans to integrate into public libraries? Amazon is looking into how it could partner with libraries, but any more information on this isn’t really available at this time

9. A dictionary comes with the Kindle, and you can look up any word in any book. However, can you keep track of your dictionary usage for help in building your vocabulary? Or is each use of the dictionary an isolated incident unable to be stored anywhere? While currently the device doesn’t do this automatically, you can add annotations to text, just like you might write in the margins of a book. And because it is digital, you can edit, delete, and export your notes, highlight and clip key passages, and bookmark pages for future use

10. If this is to be marketed as a “green” initiative in any way (saving trees), what is this electronic device made out of and how should it be disposed of? Unknown at this point

As I’ve posted previously, I blame the Internet for my lack of reading books. But perhaps Amazon will change that for me by merging books with the Internet. Whatever the case, I don’t think I’m ready to be an early adopter. I want a few of my questions answered first and will wait for the first price drop (as will be the likely scenario for many so-called early adopters after the iPhone pricing fiasco).

In fact, speaking of the iPhone, there’s plenty of talk that Amazon’s pricey device will be a difficult buy when compared to the iPhone.