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Amazon debuts Kindle e-book reader

The retail giant forays into gadgetry with the launch of its electronic-book reader, hoping to succeed where hardware companies have failed.

NEW YORK--"Why are books the last bastion of analog?" Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asked an audience at New York's W Hotel in Union Square as he unveiled Amazon Kindle, the online-retail giant's new electronic book reader.

Kindle gallery

"Books have stubbornly resisted digitization," he elaborated. "I think there's a very good reason for that, and that is, the book is so highly evolved and so suited to its task that it's very hard to displace."

Indeed, with the launch of Kindle, Amazon is hoping to succeed where hardware companies like Sony have failed. No e-book reader has ever been a market success.

CNET reported last week that Amazon would be debuting its much-delayed e-book reader, which the retailer on Monday started selling for $399.

Kindle tips the scales at a total 10.3 ounces--"That's less than a paperback book," Bezos said--and uses an "electronic ink" technology to mimic paper, not a computer screen. There is no backlight. Currently, the screen is black-and-white; Amazon executives have confirmed that E Ink, which manufactures the screen technology for Kindle as well as for other e-book readers like the Sony Reader, has a prototype of a color display; however, that technology is not yet ready for market.

The battery life, company representatives said, will last several days to a week. A charger can juice up the battery in a matter of two hours.

Notably, Kindle does not require a PC for synchronization or any software to be installed. "Instead of shopping from your PC, you shop directly from the device. The store is on the device, and then the content is wirelessly and seamlessly delivered to the device," Bezos explained.

Amazon's new "Kindle Store" now stocks more than 90,000 titles, "including 101 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers and new releases, which are $9.99, unless marked otherwise," according to a release from the company.

"This is BlackBerry for blogs."
--Guy Kawasaki, managing director, Garage Technology Ventures

Kindle, which was manufactured by an undisclosed Chinese original equipment manufacturer, connects to its specialized Amazon store via an EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) cellular network through "Amazon Whispernet," built atop Sprint's EV-DO network. No data plan or monthly bill is required. "We pay for all of that behind the scenes so that you can just read," Bezos said, adding that he estimated that it would take "less than a minute" to download a book.

The device can hold about 200 books, the CEO explained. A slot for a standard SD memory card can increase that capacity to about 1,000 books.

Bezos also announced that dozens of newspapers, from The New York Times to France's Le Monde, would also be available for the device, as well as magazines and 300 of the most popular blogs, such as BoingBoing and Slashdot. "On Kindle, newspapers are delivered while you sleep, automatically," he said. The publications will receive a cut of the subscription fee revenue, as no advertising will be displayed on them.

Additionally, Kindle comes with an electronic dictionary and access to Wikipedia. Each device, as reported, also provides the user with a personal Kindle e-mail address so that word-processing files such as Microsoft Word documents, as well as image files, could be sent to the e-book reader.

After unveiling the device, Bezos showed the audience a video of numerous literary and technological luminaries who provided testimonials about Kindle; including authors Toni Morrison and Neil Gaiman, and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki, who said, "This is BlackBerry for blogs."

But even though the development of Kindle took three years, Bezos said, it still couldn't be entirely perfect. "We never did figure out how to do virtual book signings," he said. Nevertheless, the Amazon chief executive reiterated that the book is due for a 21st-century makeover.

"We forget (that the printed book) is a 500-year-old technology, and we sort of forget that it's even a technology," Bezos mused. "Gutenberg would still recognize a modern-day book."