THE Kindle from Amazon.com is designed to let us do one thing very well: read. To survive, it must excel at this, not only by jostling to stay a nose ahead of other e-readers, but also by maintaining an enormous lead over the Apple iPad and its coming competitors. The multipurpose iPad can do thousands of things very well; used for reading book-length texts, it doesn’t excel, but it’s passable.
Last month, Amazon introduced a pair of third-generation machines — smaller, lighter and with crisper text. One has a new, lower entry price of $139. “I predict there will be a 10th-generation and a 20th-generation Kindle,” said Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive. If that sounds a tad defensive, it’s probably because of the instant success of the multipurpose iPad: 3.3 million units sold since its introduction in April.
We know how many iPads were sold because Apple is straightforward about reporting the unit sales of all of its products. Amazon is a different story. We don’t know the size of Amazon’s Kindle business because the company is averse to disclosing details of its operations. When it reports its financial results, the company that sells just about anything that can be put in a box or sent electronically divides its businesses into just three categories: “media,” which lumps books, music and videos into one indistinguishable agglomeration; “electronics and other general merchandise,” an even larger, indistinguishable agglomeration; and “other.”
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