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

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About 500,000 of the original Kindles have shipped, according to IDC. However, Amazon.com appears to be ending shipments of the original model, which ran out in November. According to its Web site, "if you have previously placed an order for Kindle 1, and have not yet received it, your order will automatically be upgraded to Kindle 2."

But Kessel said the $359 price is "a great value," since it covers wireless access without the need for an annual contract or monthly wireless fee while also providing a device that is basically "the same technology as a cell phone."

Baker also said that Amazon's claim to being the largest e-book store is irrelevant, since even 230,000 titles is not enough. "It will have to get to millions or billions of books to matter to the mass market," he said.

In response, Kessel said Amazon plans to add many more titles. "Our vision is that every book ever printed in any language will be available in 60 seconds from a Kindle," he said. "That's an audacious goal and will take us time. We already have tens of millions of book customers buying physical books. We have 103 of the 110 New York Times best-sellers today, and we're moving on from there."

Kessel said one of the new features of the Kindle 2 is text-to-voice, which allows a user to read 15 pages on the screen, for example, then drive a car and have the next few pages read to him by voice.

But Baker said the text-to-voice technology might be important to only a few customers. "Why do I need a device to read me something?" Baker asked.

Shim said the Kindle 2's display technology could still use some improvement, such as the addition of color text.

But Kessel said Kindle 2 has display enhancements, including 16 shades of gray compared with only four in the original, making text appear sharper and crisper. He also defended not deploying backlight technology as some have called for in Kindle 2, calling its electronic ink display "absolutely the right technology, since you don't want to read a backlit screen for three hours and have it shorten battery life."

The device can also be read in bright sunlight, he noted, adding that it ships in white, which provides the best color for framing the text and easing eyestrain.

Even though Whispersync could enlarge the market for e-books, some analysts said that will depend on other mobile devices that don't have very clear displays today.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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