Is Amazon readying a new RSK?

Is Amazon readying a new RSK?

Brian Hartman, a reader and commenter of mine, and others, have expressed concern that the Kindle Keyboard (formerly colloquially called a “Kindle 3″) is no longer featured in the Kindle “family stripe” at Amazon.

At first, it was still available new from Amazon after that: now, it isn’t (you can find used ones). I have a place where I can search for ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers), and I’m not even finding it there. That suggests to me that this is just a fluky supply problem.

One could make the assumption that they are just going to discontinue it, but there is a particular reason why this one fills a niche that the other RSKs (Reflective Screen Kindles…anything but a Kindle Fire) don’t.

Text-to-speech on an RSK.

Text-to-speech is software that reads the book’s words out loud to you. I typically use it for hours a week in the car. More importantly, it’s valuable to those with print disabilities, and print challenges which do not rise to the legal definition of a disability.

Yes, the Kindle Fire has TTS (and I do think the software is superior to what is on the Kindle Keyboard). You might think, then, that since the visual part doesn’t matter to those with print disabilities, the backlighting shouldn’t be a problem.

That’s not the case.

First, certainly, some of those with print issues still can see enough that they use the screen sometimes.

Second, the RSKs weigh considerably less (the Kindle Keyboard is 8.7 oz…the lightest Kindle Fire is 13.9 oz (yes, you’ll probably feel the difference), the battery charge lasts much longer, and the RSKs are cheaper.

Neither the Kindle Paperwhite, nor the “Mindle” (which is what I call the least expensive Kindle) have sound…so they can’t do TTS.

As of right now, you can’t buy an RSK with TTS new from Amazon.

I wasn’t particularly concerned at first, because I thought it was probably just a temporary shortage of devices. Now, I’m more convinced that the Kindle Keyboard will not come back into regular stock.

That would get me upset…I think TTS RSKs are a huge convenience for the disabled.

My guess, though, is that Amazon may release something else (and may announce it before too long). It could be a Paperwhite with sound. If they did that, they might drop the price of the current Paperwhite, and then release the new one at the same price as the old one.

That is my sincere hope.

In my

The Year Ahead: 2013

prediction post, I didn’t think we’d get any real anything groundbreaking in Kindle EBR (E-Book Reader) hardware, and a Paperwhite with sound would be an improvement, but no groundbreaking.

If we go, oh, a week with no announcement, I’ll contact Amazon.

I want to point out that I’ve seen people now routinely referring to September as a time for Amazon hardware announcements. While that did happen last year (September 6) and in 2011 (September 28), that hasn’t always been the pattern:

  • Kindle 1: announced November 19, 2007
  • Kindle 2: February 9, 2009
  • Kindle DX: May 6, 2009
  • Kindle 3: July 28, 2010
  • Mindle, Kindle Touch, Kindle Fire 1st Generation: September 28, 2011
  • Paperwhite, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire 2nd Gen: September 6, 2012

So, while they have been “clumping” several things together in September for the last couple of years, I could see them doing a new Paperwhite during the summer. That especially seems true to me if they start a new line (like an Amazon phone) in September…they might not want to dilute that  announcement.

I’ll keep my eye on it. Thanks again, Brian, for getting me thinking about this.

Bonus deal: one of today’s Kindle Daily Deals is Dead Witch Walking, the first book in Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series. I reviewed it close to three years ago, and did recommend it. It’s $1.99 today: do check the price before you click that Buy button.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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13 Responses to “Is Amazon readying a new RSK?”

  1. bfree2read Says:

    There are many reasons why I still love my K3 even though I own (and rarely use) the Kindle Fire 1st gen and (my daily device) the Nexus 7 tablet. You mentioned two reasons the K3 is still great: lightness and battery life. I will mention two more reasons why it is still a preferred device: forward/back buttons on each side (great for whichever hand is holding the device to turn pages with one hand using either right- or left-handed) and the forward/back chapter movement using the 5-way controller. Plus my K3 is 3G capable and has saved me in a pinch for emails and essential web browsing (kindlemap.net which is now called ereadermap.com has been a great map service).

    The Kindle Paperwhite was intriguing but the lack of TTS/audio (I also use Audible) and the page turn buttons kept me faithful to the K3.

    By the way – Does the Kindle Paperwhite organize books into Collections like the K3?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, bfree2read!

      The lightness and battery life are good comparisons to the Fire, which is Amazon’s TTS (text-to-speech) device right now. The Paperwhite (with 3G) is about an ounce lighter than the K3 (Kindle Keyboard), and the battery life is comparable. If we compare those two as a pair, the Paperwhite is arguably preferred over the K3.

      You do have to reach over a bit to whichever half of the screen you want to go forwards or backwards. I don’t think it is much of a stretch to do it (I’m an ambidexter…I might be holding the device with either hand), but that is a bit easier on the K3, in terms of handedness…I’d give that to the K3, although many find the screen easier than the buttons.

      I do like the Go To a specific chapter menu on the Paperwhite, but I don’t think there is an easy “jump to the next chapter” command.

      Collections are basically the same.

      The “no audio” situation, meaning no TTS, would eliminate the Paperwhite as a primary reader for me.

  2. rogerknights Says:

    A forthcoming upgrade to the K3 would or might explain something that’s been puzzling me for about six months. That’s roughly how long ago I went to the Amazon site and told it to send me the latest upgrade to the OS, version 3.4. I’ve been running with it since then, but my sister hasn’t had it sent to her K3 wirelessly and invisibly, although she’s left it alongside her router with wireless turned on overnight.

    Maybe Amazon decided to make the 3.4 enhancements part of its announcement about the K3+, to make a bigger “splash.”

    Or maybe my sister has done something wrong and everybody else has received their 3.4 upgrade. Have you received it, Bufo (or did you go get it yourself from the site, like me)?

  3. Jennifer J. Martin (Gran Jen) Says:

    Oh, no! The K3 is my favorite. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and cataracts. I have a Fire HD 7# that I use to watch movies, and play games, but it gets heavy after a while, and I don’t like to read on it. When I want to read, I always go back to my trusty K3.

  4. Brian Hartman Says:

    Great post Bufo! Sorry I didn’t write sooner but I was helping my Dad, who dousn’t have, and doesn’t think he needs (but he does–I do, at least) wifi. Read it on my KK pretty soon after you posted it and yes, that’s like an ad for the “99 cents” RSK subscription. ” I can keep up with my blogs, even at Dad’s house!” You summed up the situation perfectly. I,too, obviously hope a new model with sound is coming. It doesn’t even need speakers if they’re too expensive, although I certainly would prefer them. An audio jack would do.

    On an unrelated note, I know you like to do a “what’s coming up” post about books in the near future. In the Kindle store search for “buzz books 2013.” It’s free. I have it and it looks pretty fun. I’m just a private reader, as you know, not shilling. Again, great post. -Brian

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Brian!

      Great, I’m glad you liked it! After all, you helped inspire it. :)

      Thanks, too, for being a subscriber! :)

      I have asked Amazon about it…I’ll let you know if I hear anything I can share.

  5. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I’ve been sitting on this one for a couple of days now — for me it was a very thought provoking post — which in it’s way asks the question what is Amazon going to do not just in 2013, but going forward beyond that, and how does that relate to what the other big technology companies are doing/plan to do?

    For many (still) Amazon is not regarded as a technology company — many of the technology media types find it unbelievable (flabbergastingly so) that Amazon is the market leading cloud platform services provider with its AWS offering. Actually Amazon is many things — not so easy to categorize anymore.

    It seems at this time of the year many in the Amazon Kindle community begin to hope/speculate about possible imminent Kindle releases. As you pointed out in the past few years, Amazon has confined itself to a consolidated product announcement geared to the Christmas selling season in the September/October time frame. They are not alone — it seems like most technology companies do this (with the exception of Smartphones which now seem to be on a blistering 6 month product refresh cycle (excepting Apple) — which seems at odds with the cellular carriers’ two year contract requirements :-) ).

    To my mind there are three product announcement periods in a year: Christmas; post-Christmas, and Graduation/Back-to-School. We are coming to the end of Post-Christmas, and entering graduation/Back-to-School. As you mentioned Amazon has in the past announced new products in the current season. I don’t think they will do this anymore. I don';t think they have the interest in the educational market they once had; doing multiple product announcements spread over the year is expensive; announcing long before your competitors do for the Christmas season would give those competitors information and lead time to respond that could be disadvantageous — so everything devolves to September/October..

    We all have our feature wishlists that we think/hope Amazon will incorporate in their new releases. Some on the more technical blogs hope for features that will make KF’s more competitive with the Nexus 7, Galaxy Tab/Notes, or iPads. You, predictably mentioned TTS (:grin). For me it would be management improvements especially around collections on accounts with multiple kindles attached to the account.

    However, when I step back and try to look at the big picture Amazon-wise, what I see are lots of press releases about feature and price adjustments in the AWS space, and lots of PR’s about content deals, new ways to create/publish content, etc. And of course, we must be cognizant of how close to the edge Amazon has been running for the last few years, financially. Some products with decent margins would be nice? Nahh!

    Taking all that in I have a couple of viewpoints to share. eBooks are becoming an ever larger part of the book publishing pie; other media (music, movies) are increasingly moving to cloud distribution models (CDs and DVDs, etc are not long for this world — they will disappear faster that pBooks IMO). Amazon will want to foster quick migrations here. IMO the best way to do this is through aggressive pricing of the media consumption devices, and not so much on new features. In the RSK EBR space I see device consolidation with perhaps only two devices: one a bare bones RSK priced in the $25-49 range (perhaps based on the KT), and one (based on the paperwhite) priced in the $50-99 range. Further I’m seeing a reduction in non-Amazon ads on my special offers devices — so I wonder how much financial offset SO is providing — it would not surprise me if that “feature” were dropped from future RSKs..

    On the KF front, I agree with you: I just don’t see much beyond some modest evolutionary improvements — I would like to see them improve the browsing experience with Silk, but I don’t frankly see much upside for Amazon in doing that or any of the other management software improvements I’d like to see.

    There are rumors that Amazon is going to do a 3D phone — quite frankly I don’t see it — all the newer entrants into the Smartphone space are struggling — I don’t see Amazon having anything compelling to offer here.

    There have also been rumors of an Amazon TV box. This makes more sense and would fit in nicely with all the content initiatives Amazon has been pursuing Also given the sorry state of TV set top boxes, IPTV boxes, Roku-like boxes, there’s ample room for Amazon (or someone else like Microsoft with the Xbox One :grin) to shine here.

    OK, all of the preceding was the conservative “rational bloviating” on Amazon’s future. Now for some “irrational exuberance” :D.

    Just last week Amazon confirmed that they have bought Liquavista from Samsung, and set up a subsidiary in the Netherlands to operate it. Liquavista is attempting to commercialize an electrowetting display technology. The technology press has been a bit askance at this move by Amazon. If the technology is so good, why has Samsung been shopping it around for the last 6 or 7 months (they bought it in 2010)? Samsung has invested heavily in large sized OLED displays for their TV business (based in Korea). They may have decided that it was best to focus only on one display technology, one they already have in volume production whose fabs are located close to home.

    Electrowetting displays are full color with full motion. They are very bright, yet have power consumption as low (or lower) than e-ink. Further the manufacturing process is identical to that for an LCD display save for one step, and overall manufacturing costs are lower than for equivalently sized LCDs. EWD’s surpass LCDs and OLEDs in bright sunlight — so what’s not to like?

    Moving on, Amazon EBR devices have all been based on ARM chips provided by Texas Instruments. TI has decided to get out of the consumer chip business so going forward they need to find another chip provider. For ARM chips, the choices (mostly) are Samsung, Qualcomm, or Nvidia. Samsung has the most interesting chip, but most of their production is committed to in-house consumption. Nvidia and Qualcomm are used by everybody else — so there’s no chance of differentiation — it would be a me-too choice.

    However, on June 9 Intel will be announcing their Haswell X86 chip and 3 months later their Bay Tail chip. This latter is a low cost, low power consumption, modest performance chip (though it will beat all the ARM variants). Haswell has low power options, but is much more powerful (and more expensive) than Bay Trail . But an out of the box choice follow-on for the KFs would be to use an Intel X86 chip.

    With Liquavista Amazon could unify the e-ink and KF brands back into a single device line, and since they would control production of the most expensive component in an EBR (the display), they might be able to price these things aggressively. One final note apropos of nothing at all (:grin) liquavista displays can be flexible and transparent.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Marvelous comment! I’m glad you took some time to get your thoughts together…not that you usually need to do that. :)

      For me, one question is whether digital content is going to stand as a profit center on its own, or just as a “glue” to get people to use your company for other things (back to “diapers and windshield wipers”). That’s where Amazon can beat just about everybody else…who else is digital content and physical non-media goods?

      I originally was negative on Amazon doing a SmartPhone (I think that niche gets folded into tablets in the next few years), but that would be a perfect use of the Liquavista display. A color, animated, non-backlit screen for a phone? Since, in my opinion, Amazon doesn’t have to be profitable on that hardware, they can make it work.

      What Amazon wants, I believe, is for people to say, “I get everything from Amazon.” That’s going to be the thing that eventually makes them really profitable. They are still, as Jeff Bezos once put it, buying marketshare.

  6. Laura Says:

    Bleh, I just caught wind of this. Touch screens and I do not get along well. I wonder if I should buy a used KK as a backup.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Laura!

      While I do think TTS will continue to be around, I’m not equally convinced about keyboards for RSKs. I douse a Bluetooth keyboard with my Fire sometimes…that works very well. Might be some kind of option for that in the future…

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