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Will Amazon make a tablet? 'Stay tuned,' says Jeff Bezos

Consumer Reports News: May 11, 2011 03:00 PM

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Asked today about the possibility of Amazon launching a multipurpose tablet device, the company's president and CEO Jeff Bezos said to “stay tuned” on the company’s plans. In an interview at Consumer Reports' offices, Bezos also signaled that any such device, should it come, is more likely to supplement than to supplant the Kindle, which he calls Amazon’s “purpose-built e-reading device.”

Bezos acknowledged the popularity of reading e-books (many of them sold by Amazon) on tablet computers such as the iPad. But he added that this popularity doesn’t spell the demise of the Kindle.

“We will always be very mindful that we will want a dedicated reading device,” he said. “In terms of any other product introductions, I shouldn’t answer.”

At another event at our headquarters, Bezos responded to a question from a visiting retail reporter about a possible Amazon tablet in a way that also seemed to suggest the possible co-existence of the Kindle and other Amazon devices: “I hate the term 'killer,' as in one device killing another in the marketplace.”

Asked about the new ad-subsidized Kindle With Special Offers, Bezos said it shouldn’t be interpreted as a stepping stone to a future Kindle that’s more multipurpose or that allows e-commerce to intrude on the reading experience. In adding advertising and special offers to the newest version of the Kindle, he said, “we drew the line at adding anything that gets in the way of reading.”

The ads and deals, Bezos pointed out, are restricted to the screensaver and a band along the bottom of the device’s home page. The reason for such a limited presence, he said, is not just because ads placed within books would “disrupt the reading experience” but because people would eventually “learn to ignore [them],” and thus reduce their value.

People shouldn’t expect the company to pump up advertising on the Kindle once Amazon adds library-lending capability to the device later this year, said Bezos. While that option—long a feature offered by Kindle competitors such as the Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader—will make Kindle “supportive of those who want to borrow library books for part of their lending,” he doesn’t expect the feature to put much of a dent into the sales of Kindle books. “Most people prefer to build their libraries with books they own rather than borrow.”

Bezos wasn’t able to offer any more specific time-frame than “sometime this year” for when library lending would be available on the Kindle. But he did say that users should expect a lineup of titles that’s at least comparable to those available for competing devices that support library e-books.

He indicated that color-screen Amazon device that uses an energy-frugal technology such as E Ink (used in the monochrome Kindle) isn’t imminent: Color E Ink “is not ready for prime time…the colors are very pale.” But he added that “it continues to be improved” and “it makes a lot of sense for there to be a low-power, reflective color display. I think that’s something you could build a fantastic product around.”

Paul Reynolds

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