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Amazon Kindles a wireless plan

The mobile services market is turning into a free for all at the moment, with online retailer Amazon announcing an innovative assault on the mobile content space this week.

From November 29, the internet book shop will start selling ‘Kindle’, a wireless-enabled electronic book, in the US.

The gadget is basically an internet terminal with a big screen and some ebook software installed and allows users to download new books and other content over the mobile interweb.

Kindle, which will retail for $399, has an always on connection to Sprint Nextel’s EV-DO 3G network so users can grab new content anywhere, although sideloading is also allowed.

But the interesting thing is that there’s (almost) no subscription model – the data charges are included in the price of the ebook. A typical best seller or new release will cost around $9.99 and should be downloaded in less than a minute, Amazon claims.

Ovum analyst Steven Hartley said that Amazon taking care of the device’s connectivity on behalf of users is a particularly welcome move. “The idea that the ‘essential plumbing’ is handled by the device manufacturer means that consumers simply pay the price on the box. This certainly makes the consumer proposition far simpler, although the scenario of the operator becoming ‘merely’ the bitpipe is brought a step closer.”

Users also get free mobile access to the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia as well as 250 or so top blogs and international newspapers, although these are available on a monthly or annual subscription basis for a range of prices starting at $0.99.

Users can also email their own files to the device for $0.10 a pop, or just use the USB cable supplied.

However, Hartley was unimpressed by these subscription charges, especially for blogs which are free, calling the offering, “Not a totally ‘out of the box’ model then,” he said.

“In addition, naysayers will argue that Amazon can afford to provide connectivity, because uptake will follow the same path as previous ebooks, i.e. low,” he said.

“According to the Association of American Publishers, less than 1 per cent of sales by US publishers in 2005 were ebooks, suggesting that the Kindle faces an uphill struggle. Certainly Amazon is pushing content hard with bestsellers retailing for $9.99 or less compared to the hard back average of $25), but Amazon’s ebooks can not be shared like a printed edition.”

The device measures 7.5″ x 5.3″ x 0.7″, weighs 10.3 ounces and boasts a 6″ diagonal display based on something Amazon refers to as ‘E-Ink electronic paper’ – apparently it’s electrophoretic and easier on the eye when reading for long periods of time.

Kindle has 256MB of internal storage, which is reportedly good for around 200 books as well as an available SD memory card slot. If wireless is turned off, Amazon reckons users should get a week’s worth of reading before needing to recharge. With wireless on it needs recharging every other day.

The device sports a USB port as well as an audio jack and support for formats including MP3, which suggests it should play music too, although it’s not clear whether a media player is installed. It will play audio books though. The device also features a full QWERTY keyboard, to make it easier for users to search for content.

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