Amazon.com announced Nov. 24 that it has added a native PDF reader to its Kindle e-reader device, letting users store and display documents on the device. In addition, the company announced on its Kindle Website that the e-reader's battery life has been increased by 85 percent, now offering a week's worth of power on one charge.
The upgrades come as Amazon.com finds itself in an increasingly pitched battle to maintain its share of the e-reader market. In addition to Barnes & Noble, which debuted its Nook e-reader on Oct. 20, smaller IT startups such as Plastic Logic and Spring Design also plan to enter the space with their own designs.
Amazon.com's new PDF functionality seems specifically designed to counter that of other e-readers. For example, Plastic Logic had been marketing its Que e-reader, set to debut in 2010, based on its ability to store and display business documents in a variety of formats, including PDF, Word, PowerPoint and Excel.
Meanwhile, the increase in Kindle's battery power addresses one of the more general concerns about e-readers, which other manufacturers have tried to address in different ways. During the Nook's debut, for example, Barnes & Noble executives took pains to emphasize that the device's iPhone-like touch screen, which is paired with an e-ink display and meant to help users navigate through their libraries and purchase books from an online store, would shut off soon after use in order to conserve power.
Despite being a relatively small segment of the tech market, with a predicted 3 million units sold in 2009, e-readers are potentially on the verge of a greater expansion. On Nov. 20, Barnes & Noble announced that anyone ordering the Nook after that date would not receive the device until the first week of January, thanks to high demand. Amazon.com continues to maintain that its Kindle line of e-readers is a bestseller, although the company has declined on several occasions to break out exact sales numbers.
The increasing competition in the segment has driven down prices, with both the original Kindle and Nook now selling for $259. By contrast, Amazon.com's larger-screened Kindle DX, which has no major competition, continues to sell for $489, the same price as when it was launched May 6.
With a rising number of players in the space, however, come more stepped-on toes. Spring Design sued Barnes & Noble at the beginning of November, alleging that the bookseller copied its upcoming Alex e-reader.
"Spring Design unfortunately had to take appropriate action to protect its intellectual property rights," Eric Kmiec, Spring Design's vice president of sales and marketing, said in the Nov. 2 statement announcing the lawsuit. "We showed the Alex e-book design to Barnes & Noble in good faith with the intention of working together to provide a dual-screen e-book to [the] market."
Spring Design claims that the Alex, like Barnes & Noble's Nook, features a design with both touch-screen and e-ink displays. A Barnes & Noble spokesperson told eWEEK that the bookseller had no comment on the litigation.
If the past is any indication, other companies may react to Amazon.com's most recent announcement with claims that their own devices' battery life has been increased. While competition between these companies may be fierce, they all face a common problem in convincing potential buyers that battery life will be a minimal problem even when compared with a traditional book, which requires no electricity at all.