STRANGE THING happened today. Apple stock wobbled around all over the place after a week of steady gains. According to a Financial Times chart, the upset started around the time of the launch of the new Amazon Kindle DX. If so, why? This is all very curious because at first glance the Kindle can have little relevance for Apple Inc.
Yet there is clearly something going on here. On April 29 we mentioned the name of Apple in the context of eBook readers and suggested that the company already owns the ideal name for such a device–the iBook. And there have been repeated rumours in the past three months that Apple are working on something midway between the size of the iPhone and the MacBook. Various possibilities have been discussed, including a double-size iPhone and a 10-in touch-screen tablet device. No one has mentioned the possibility of an ebook reader.
The really interesting facet of this story is something we missed completely when it was announced on April 28. On that day Amazon acquired Lexcycle, publishers of Stanza, our favourite ebook reader for the iPhone. Lexcycle distributes ebooks from rival retailers, including Fictionwise, the digital book store recently acquired by Amazon rival Barnes & Noble. This almost certainly presages a direct attack by Amazon on the iPhone reader market and could be a very strong competitor for Apple should they decide to create an ebook store.
Whatever is afoot, an Apple ebook reader without an e-ink display is almost certainly a non-starter because of the problem of battery life. While the iPhone makes a good stab at doubling as a reader, the battery drain of reading a novel is fatal. The big attraction of e-ink technology is the miserly power usage which enables a battery to last several weeks rather than a few hours. With this in mind, convergence between a tablet Mac or a giant iPhone with a really practical book reader seems unlikely.
Of course Apple may be planning two devices, one of them an ebook reader. Amazon currently have the market and there is no doubt that their marketing muscle and relationship with book publishers puts them in an almost impregnable position. There is probably only one organisation able to rival Amazon in developing a viable ebook system and that company is Apple.
The marketing success of the iTunes store, first with music, then with movies, drama and specialist video, was already impressive by the middle of 2008. Then along came the iPhone 3G and the App Store to create an even bigger success story, again using the iTunes model. It is tempting to think that the same success could be achieved with ebook marketing. Apple must be actively considering some initiative and, just maybe, that is why the launch of the Kindle DX seemed to have an unsettling effect on the stock price today.