Amazon launched a new generation of Kindle e-book readers on Wednesday, featuring improved screen performance, a smaller design and an even lower price to compete against Apple's iPad.
Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) claims the Kindle's E Ink-powered screen has 50 percent better contrast than any other e-reader, plus the new design is 21 percent smaller and 15 percent lighter than earlier versions yet still retains its six-inch screen.
The new Kindle also offers 20 percent faster page turns, up to one month of battery life, doubles the storage to 3,500 books, includes built-in Wi-Fi and comes in a choice of two colors. This will be the first model to come as a Wi-Fi only, and it will sell for $139. The 3G unit is $189, a price difference of $50. The price difference between Apple's iPad with and without 3G support is $130.
Amazon has not revealed how many Kindles have been sold, but it did say last week that its growth rate tripled after the price was cut from $259 to $189 last October and said for the first time that e-books were outselling hardcover books.
In its most recent earnings release, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) said it sold 3.27 million iPads, which start at $499, and claims it could have sold many more if it could make enough product to meet demand since its April debut.
"If you don't need the convenience of 3G wireless, we have an incredible new price point--$139 for Kindle Wi-Fi," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement. "Kindle Wi-Fi has all the same features, same bookstore, same high-contrast electronic paper display, and it's even a tiny bit lighter at 8.5 ounces."
"At this price point, many people are going to buy multiple units for the home and family," he added.
Kindle has driven quite a bit of business for Amazon since it was introduced in late 2007 for $359. The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 630,000 books. More than 510,000 of these books are $9.99 or less, including 80 New York Times best sellers. There are also more than 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books available.
In addition to regular reader improvements, the new Kindle sports an improved PDF reader with features like dictionary lookup, notes and highlights, and support for password-protected PDFs. It also features a WebKit-based Browser and new text-to-speech-enabled menus to augment the text-to-speech for reading the books aloud.
The new Kindle will ship to customers in over 140 countries and 30 territories beginning August 27.