The new Amazon Kindle 2 was proudly unveiled to the world earlier this month, improving on the original Kindle e-book reader in just about every way. The design was simplified, the keyboard was made easier to use, and it was skinnier than ever before. You still get the same Amazon store integration with the ability to download new content over a wireless 3G connection. Many people are saying that the Kindle is to e-books as the iPod is music. That’s a pretty bold comparison.
For us poor Canadians, however, we left out in the cold when it comes to wireless e-book enjoyment. It is possible to purchase e-books through a laptop when you’re in the presence of a Wi-Fi hotspot, but you don’t get the same kind of ubiquitous access as you would with a Kindle. Even if you were to invest in something like the Sony Reader, you’d have to go through the process of loading e-books on there before you could get down to any reading.
In tackling this little conundrum, Indigo Books & Music is releasing its own version of the Kindle for Canadians… sort of. Indigo, which also runs all the Chapters bookstores across the country, wants Canadians to enjoy e-books too and they’re doing it with what they call Shortcovers.
What is Indigo Shortcovers?
Instead of offering a dedicated device like the Amazon Kindle, Indigo is taking a wholly different approach. Shortcovers is a mobile book store that can be accessed from a number of different wireless devices include the popular Apple iPhone and a range of BlackBerry smartphones. There’s mention of upcoming Android support, but since there is no Canadian carrier with Android yet, this is kind of a moot point.
Since you will be using your chosen smartphone (Shortcovers should also work on a regular laptop as well), you still have the same kind of ubiquitous wireless data access as the Kindle, only in Canada and not on a dedicated device. From the online store, you can directly purchase and access a range of material, including books, news stories, and serialized content.
To give a sense of what Shortcovers is all about, here is a brief promo video that the Indigo people put together.
Why Shortcovers Is the Amazon Kindle Killer
Unofficially, people are saying that Indigo’s Shortcovers can be a real Amazon Kindle killer. Why? Let me count the ways.
- No need to purchase dedicated hardware: One of the biggest hurdles preventing a more widespread adoption of Kindle is the $359 entry price. That’s pretty expensive for something that “only” displays books. When the iPod first hit the market, it didn’t encounter the same kind of hesitation, because we were accustomed to buying Walkmen and Discmen. People aren’t used to buying something to read a book. With Shortcovers, you make use of your existing BlackBerry or iPhone. RIM and Apple have got to be loving this.
- Buy a Chapter at a Time: The Amazon Kindle lets you subscribe to things like the New York Times, but if you want a book, you’ve got to buy the whole thing. It seems that Shortcovers could be taking a slightly different approach, allowing you to read the first chapter for free, picking up each additional chapter for 99 cents. That’d suck for books with a lot of chapters, but you’re only paying for what you actually read.
- Available in Canada: Want a Kindle in Canada? You could buy one in the States and bring it up, but it won’t be able to latch onto the EVDO network anyway, since Amazon doesn’t have a deal set up with Telus or Bell. Shucks. By contrast, Shortcovers will work with any compatible network in Canada, assuming that your chosen device can handle the app.
Why Shortcovers Will Never Kill Kindle
Shortcovers, which launches February 26th, certainly has a few nice things going for it, but it’s not without its shortcomings. In the end, it probably won’t kill the Kindle and here’s why.
- Not an E-Ink Solution: For those of you who work in front of a computer all day (like me), you already know that staring at that monitor can cause a whole lot of eye strain. The same can be said about squinting at your iPhone or BlackBerry and that’s where the Kindle wins. Reading an e-ink display is supposed to be almost identical to reading a physical piece of paper. Easier on the eyes, especially with extended reading sessions.
- Still Have to Use Own Data: The $359 up-front price for the Kindle covers the cost of lifetime wireless broadband data. With Indigo Shortcovers, you are downloading content on your own bill, so you’ll need to get a data plan of some kind if you don’t already have one. This adds about $30 to your monthly bill.
Only Available in Canada: In order to kill the Kindle, Shortcovers has to at least compete against the Kindle. Whereas the Amazon Kindle can only be enjoyed in the States, Shortcovers is largely enjoyed in Canada. They’re not directly competing, at least not yet. This is like saying that NTT DoCoMo is competing against AT&T.
I must have been misinformed. Shortcovers is launching in both Canada and the US.
- Battery Life Concerns: This goes back to the argument about e-ink, but leaving the screen on your iPhone or BlackBerry on all day while you thumb through Pride and Prejudice has got to put quite a strain on your phone’s battery. With an e-ink display on the Kindle, the battery can last much longer.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Shortcovers in the coming months. Will it have the same impact in Canada as the Kindle had in the United States? Time will tell.