When Amazon introduced Kindle, its pioneering e-reader, in 2007, society was on the cusp of being changed by mobile devices.
The iPhone had only just come out, and in the years to come smartphones and tablets asserted themselves as the primary devices for people who wanted to communicate, play games, browse the web and get stuck in the flytrap of social media.
But Amazon’s Kindles, which now seem quaint in their singular focus on reading, found their niche. And recently, the company introduced its eighth-generation Kindle for people willing to pay a tidy sum for an ultra lightweight device that is meant for reading and not much else.
The product, Kindle Oasis, will cost $289, placing it at the very top of Amazon’s family of e-readers. The previous top-of-the-line e-reader, Kindle Voyage, is $200. Kindle Oasis is very light, weighing just 4.6 ounces — about 20 percent less than any other Kindle. For comparison, the latest iPad Mini is more than 10 ounces.
Amazon is charging a premium for Kindle Oasis because it comes with a leather case containing a battery that significantly extends the charge time of the device. Magnets in the battery pack on the cover solidly click together with the Kindle Oasis. With the cover, Kindle Oasis gets “months and months” of battery life, more than any other device in the family. Without it, it lasts weeks, Amazon says.
In an interview at Amazon’s headquarters, David Limp, the senior vice president in charge of the company’s devices business, said that Amazon’s Kindle business was still growing, despite all the challenges it faced from other mobile devices.
Limp said there was enduring appeal for a dedicated reading device that is a sanctuary from the hailstorm of distractions on other gadgets.
“There’s nothing wrong with reading on a phone or a tablet but in the modern world, when you read on a tablet, you are bombarded,” he said. “Incoming email. I might get a notification, a text message from my family. I might get a notification from ‘Clash of Clans.’ It takes away from our original vision, which is to get lost in an author’s story.”
It’s worth noting that Amazon has no qualms about bombarding people electronically since it makes the Fire family of general-purpose tablets, and used to offer a Fire phone that did not succeed with consumers.
Kindle Oasis is all about reading, though. The device has an unusual asymmetrical back, which substantially thickens the device on one side. When the device is held, the slope between its two thicknesses acts as a grip for the hand. Limp compared it to the spine of a book.
Holding the Kindle Oasis is more comfortable than holding any other Kindle, but Amazon has accomplished that partly by moving some of its battery capacity out of the device proper and into its cover. Kindle Oasis comes with Amazon’s Paperwhite display, which closely mimics the resolution of print.
At $289, the new e-reader is likely to appeal only to the staunchest electronic book fans. The least expensive Kindle costs $80.
One hard-core reader, Jeffrey P Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, could not quite contain his excitement after seeing the device last week. Limp said he was with Bezos when his boss did the very un-Amazon thing of tipping the world to the imminent arrival of a new Kindle over Twitter. Amazon is normally extraordinarily secretive about such things.