Amazon.com's Kindle may be in fierce competition against the Apple iPad and other e-readers, but that apparently hasn't dampened consumer enthusiasm for the latest version of the device: Amazon now lists the Kindle as "temporarily sold out," with orders expected to ship "on or before September 4th."
The cheaper Kindle WiFi, which lacks a 3G connection for downloading books anywhere, is also sold out. The larger-screen Kindle DX remains in stock, however.
Amazon announced its third-generation Kindle e-reader July 28, in a bid to leapfrog both the iPad and e-readers such as Barnes & Noble's Nook, which have squeezed a market that Amazon once comfortably dominated, at least with regard to mindshare. The newest Kindle features a 6-inch e-ink screen with 50 percent better contrast, a body that's 21 percent smaller and 15 percent lighter, and an advertised battery life of up to one month.
In a bid to make the Kindle more appealing as a personal-document device-and to presumably counter smaller e-reader manufacturers planning devices for that market segment-Amazon also added support for password-protected PDFs, Wikipedia access and dictionary lookup to the device.
The Kindle retails for $189, and the Kindle WiFi for $139. Both were originally scheduled to ship Aug. 27.
Since early 2009, when some analysts dismissed them as largely a niche product, e-readers have managed to grow in both features and popularity. After months of tit-for-tat software upgrades, which saw the introduction of Android-based games for the Nook and social-networking integration for the Kindle, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble took their cold war to a new level with radical price cuts. On June 21, the Nook's cost dropped to $189; not to be outdone, Amazon lowered the Kindle's price tag to $189 that same afternoon.
Barnes & Noble also introduced a WiFi-only version of the Nook for $149, which Amazon's new Kindle WiFi undercuts by $10.
Despite the back-and-forth between the two companies, their biggest competitive threat may have arrived in the form of the Apple iPad, which includes an e-reader application.
"Last night, Apple stated it has shipped 3.27 [million] iPads since the April product launch, surpassing our estimate for an installed base of [around 3 million] Amazon Kindles to date despite supply constraints," Marianne Wolk, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group, wrote in a co-authored July 21 analyst report. "As [Apple's] supply constraints ease, Apple iPad shipments should ramp and it could ship as many as 12 to 15 [million] iPads in 2010-a compelling base for publishers to consider."
Although Amazon has argued that the Kindle's e-ink screen offers a better reading experience and battery life than backlit screens such as the iPad and traditional desktops, it has nonetheless been aggressive in pushing its Kindle e-reader application for the iPad, PCs and a plethora of mobile devices.
On Aug. 2, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced an investigation of book publishers, Apple and Amazon over "agreements ... that may block competitors from offering cheaper e-book prices." Should that investigation gain momentum, it could add yet another wrinkle to what has already become a very complex competitive arena.