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Shhh: Whispersync could be the real news out of Kindle 2

Syncing of e-book readers with other mobile handsets may be on the way

February 9, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The introduction of "Whispersync" technology may well be the bigger technology news from Amazon.com Inc., which announced its Kindle 2 e-reader today in New York.

Not much was said about Whispersync by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during today's announcement, but the official Amazon.com press release defines Whispersync as technology that "automatically syncs Kindle 2 and the original Kindle, which makes transitioning to the new Kindle 2 or using both devices easy for customers."

What has caught the interest of industry analysts, however, is the next sentence from Amazon: "Kindle 2 will also sync with a range of mobile devices in the future."

The statement suggests that a Kindle 2 user could start reading a book on the e-reader and finish reading it on an iPhone or an Android phone, analysts noted. Last week, Google Inc. announced a mobile version of Google Book Search, making it possible to read books on the iPhone or Android devices.

If a world of interoperability could develop between the Kindle and other mobile devices, that would be saying something, said Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

"If you could extend the function of the Kindle to additional devices or, even better, if you could acquire content via another device and have it end up on Kindle, then that's getting more compelling as a value proposition," Baker said in an interview.

Baker, who has been critical of the Kindle and of e-book readers for serving only a niche market of mobile professionals rather than a mass consumer audience, said Whispersync "sounds like a step in the right direction. I applaud Amazon for that. If users of iPhone could access Amazon books, it would make Amazon a more compelling value proposition."

Analyst Richard Shim at IDC said that Whispersync appears to be the kind of technology that will increase distribution capabilities for book, magazine and newspaper publishers, and that it could be the remedy that publishers, which are suffering huge losses with print publications, have been hoping for.

Amazon.com won't say when the future Whispersync capability will be available on other devices, but analysts said it would require a major effort by the online retailer to work out the interoperability of devices and wireless networks.

Amazon.com Kindle 2 e-reader
Amazon.com's Kindle 2 e-reader, priced at $359, is thinner and lighter than the original e-reader.

Amazon's Steve Kessel, senior vice president of digital media, the group behind the Kindle, said Whispersync will mean a user can "read a book across multiple Kindles and mobile devices," which means it will work across multiple networks as well. He refused to say when it might be launched or to divulge which other devices might work with it.

$359 price too high in a recession

As for the Kindle 2 hardware announced today, both Baker and Shim said the enhancements in the Kindle 2 are a step in the right direction, but both criticized the $359 price as still being too high for wide adoption.

Shim said he had hoped that the original Kindle would be marketed as well as a lower-priced model, with a price tag of around $250.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates, also said that at $359, the Kindle 2 will not sell well during the recession.



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