At a press conference held at the Morgan Library in New York City, Amazon announced a new version of its Kindle electronic reading device. While the new device offers important improvements over the original Kindle, it is most significant as a sign of Amazon's ambitions to dominate the transition from printed books to electronic ones.
The Kindle 2's biggest new feature is text to speech, powered by software from Nuance. The device can read a book aloud to a user, and is designed to make it easy to switch between reading and listening. At Monday's launch event, Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, demonstrated this technology by having the Kindle read from the Gettysburg Address. The device betrayed the stilted speech that is characteristic of most text-to-speech software, but nonetheless pronounced the words clearly and accurately.
Most of the other changes to the Kindle are improvements designed to further its ability to "disappear" while the user is reading, as Bezos put it. At just under a centimeter thick, the device is smaller; is, at 300 grams, slightly lighter than the previous version; and turns pages 20 percent faster, Bezos said. The e-ink technology powering its screen is also a newer generation, displaying sixteen shades of gray rather than four. And the Kindle 2 has enough storage space for 1,500 books instead of just a few hundred. The Kindle 2 will sell for $359 and, as with the first Kindle, will come with free wireless access to Amazon's store.