Is Amazon Planning a “Mini” Kindle?

New Amazon small Android tablet Kindle Nano or Mini?

Tuesday the Kindle got some new competition! Barnes and Noble announced a new touch-screen version of the Nook. And there’s also a new touch-screen version of the Kobo ereader.

But is Amazon planning their own surprise for the next generation of the Kindle?

Each digital reader is fighting for an early lead against its competition. (Barnes and Noble announced their new Nook today, even though they won’t actually be able to ship them until June 10.) It’s possible that they’re worried Amazon will steal the market by releasing their own touch-screen tablet device soon. But I wonder if Amazon has another idea.

Today a technology analyst described the reactions you’d have if you held the new Nook. First you’d admire it’s form factor, he said. (Besides the power switch on the back, the device’s only button is a shortcut for reaching the home page — plus a “fast forward” page-turning bar.) And I noticed a few other mild improvements, like the ability to look up definitions just by touching a word. (Though the Nook still doesn’t have a text-to-speech feature.) The new Nook is one inch smaller than the Kindle, and it weighs one ounce less. But inevitably, the analyst notes, you’d start comparing it to the larger, full-featured tablets. And eventually you’d begin thinking that the new touch-screen Nook “shouldn’t really cost a lot because it’s basically an oversized drink coaster!”

The analyst’s conclusion? e-ink readers like the Nook and the Kindle will drop below $99 by the end of the year. But one way to do that, I’m thinking, is by making the Kindle smaller! It’s a possibility that’s at least implied by the latest rumors about Amazon’s plans for a tablet-sized device. Besides a full-sized tablet device, there’s also speculation that Amazon might also be working on a powerful but compact 7-inch version!

But I’d like to see Amazon release a “Kindle Mini” — about the size of a smartphone, but with a fully-functioning e-ink screen. I say this partly because I’ve already seen Amazon’s Kindle app on a smartphone-sized screen — and it works great! A smaller screen must refresh faster than the larger ones, and that also would extend the device’s battery life. And besides e-books, it could also store music and audio files (creating a nice alternative to an Apple iPod).

And the device could also play audiobooks — available through the Amazon-owned web site Audible.com. One technology blogger is already listing the advantages, noting that an even-smaller Kindle could be carried in a shirt pocket. And he’d like to see something like a “Kindle Nano” — modelled after Apple’s smallest music-playing device — which was actually optimized for audiobooks.

I’d had the same idea, but this blogger is so enthusiastic that he’s issued a plea to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. “Jeff, buddy, I know you’re out there. Give us our Kindle Nano.

“Don’t worry, we’ll buy it. You know we will.”

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