Job Postings Hint at Amazon’s Plans for the KindleBy NICK BILTON
It looks as if color screens and Wi-Fi might be the next additions to Amazon’s Kindle.
Last week, Brad Stone and I reported that Amazon had acquired the New York based multitouch screen company Touchco to integrate into Lab126, the Kindle hardware division.
This move sends one clear message: Amazon is not going to back down from a fight with Apple and its iPad. But it does leave open a plethora of new questions, one in particular: Will the next Kindle be solely an e-reader or a full-fledged computer?
Robert Brunner, founder of the design company Ammunition, worked with Barnes & Noble to create the Nook e-reader and says he believes that the Kindle will actually become two Kindles. “I think they are going to have to split their line. They can’t abandon E Ink screens, but they will need to create a color device too,” said Mr. Brunner. “Where it gets interesting is, do they just do a device that’s a color Kindle or is it a full computer?”
One thing is certain, the company is looking at color for its device. You can take a look at the over 50 job listings on Amazon’s Lab126 career board and see a range of new positions that suggest more about the next Kindle.
One job opening in particular, for a Hardware Display Manager, tells the applicant that “you will know the LCD business and key players in the market.” The key point here is the word “LCD,” which means the Kindle is possibly exploring color (unless they are hiring an LCD manager to simply gain an understanding of the color-display market).
Other job openings include Wi-Fi specialists (the current Kindle has only a 3G wireless connection), and openings for someone to “lead the software development teams that develop and maintain the applications.” The applications division could signal a move to create more apps for the Kindle, or someone who will manage the latest app store developments after Amazon announced a new software development kit was released last month to independent programmers.
But if this is true, and if the next generation of the Kindle will be full color, full multitouch, with Wi-Fi and apps, then what about the operating system?
There the crystal ball is murkier. Brian Jepson, a senior editor at O’Reilly Media who programs extensively for Google’s Android, makes the point that building a operating system to handle multitouch and color on an LCD Kindle might not be the best use of resources and time. “It’s a question of necessary versus new,” Mr. Jepson said. Amazon could go through the difficult job of baking touch into their current OS, he said. “But is it necessary to do all that when you could just grab the Android OS and use that instead?”
Using an existing platform, like Android, that already comes with thousands of applications would allow Amazon to focus on selling content and customer relationships — two areas where they clearly excel. Mr. Brunner said Amazon should be less concerned with creating something new just for the sake of it and “rather than just take a book and drop it on the Kindle, they could work with publishers to create content for their device.”
Robert Fabricant, vice president for creative at Frog Design, believes Amazon could even offer a better experience than Apple when it comes to purchasing content. “Part of what Amazon could offer is a device that is a entrance into a store, into a richer experiences for you,” Mr. Fabricant said.
“One way to think about it, one of things that seemed backwards about the iPad was that dorky bookshelf that was like something from the mid ’90s,” Mr. Fabricant said. Amazon doesn’t “just put products on a shelf, they create experiences around the products.”
Either way, Amazon’s Kindle team have their work cut out for them as they try to stay relevant as e-readers evolve quickly. Even for a company that doesn’t specialize in hardware, it’s clearly not over yet. As Mr. Fabricant put it, “If people buy a phone from Google, why won’t they buy a media device from Amazon.”