Amazon Buys Multitouch Company for Kindle

| News

Amazon looks to be ready to ramp up the Kindle's features to include multitouch support now that it has purchased Touchco. The small company specializes in touch screen technology, and Amazon plans to roll the Touchco team into its Kindle division, according to the New York Times.

The Touchco Web site says the company stopped "doing business" in January and Amazon isn't talking about the deal, but sources that were briefed on the transaction apparently leaked the details.

Assuming Amazon finds a compelling way to include Touchco's technology in the Kindle, it could give the company's ebook reader a competitive boost in its pending battle against Apple's iPad. Touchco's screens are flexible, can detect an unlimited number of simultaneous touches, and cost far less than the multitouch screens used in the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

Apple's iPad won't be available until March, but the company gave consumers a preview of what to expect during a media event in late January. The iPad includes a 9.7-inch color multitouch display, a built-in ebook reader called iBooks that supports in-book multimedia, the iBookStore online ebook store, the ability to run iPhone and iPod touch applications, movie and music playback, and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G wireless data support.

Amazon's current Kindle offerings are limited to monochrome E-ink displays, don't offer touch-based controls, use a physical keyboard for basic data entry, and don't offer the wide range of applications that are available for the iPad. Adding multitouch technology, coupled with Amazon's recent announcement that it is opening the Kindle to third-party developers, might help sway some consumers that have been considering an iPad over a Kindle.

The prospect of a competing product, and actual shipping products, however, aren't the same thing, and for now Amazon's current Kindle lineup will have to fight for marketshare with Apple's iPad when it ships in March. Unless the iPad stumbles out of the starting gate -- which doesn't seem likely at this point -- Amazon will likely have to play catch up with future Kindle models.

Comments

Jeff Gamet

This looks like a pretty smart move to me. Multitouch technology that’s cheap and potentially better than what Apple is currently using? Assuming Amazon can write software that makes the Kindle more versatile, they company could have a product that’s hard to beat.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I know this is highly speculative, but I think this company’s technology is probably more inline with Amazon’s AmazonBasics cables than with Kindle. If you could buy a sheet of this stuff to cover a TV screen or a whiteboard for under $100, and it didn’t look like a hack when installed, you’d open up touch computing from the inside out, rather than depending on whole systems approaches.

Tiger

Again, it comes down to vision though. Why didn’t they buy this three years ago and bring this technology to their devices? Because they don’t get it. They get it after the fact.

Somebody in Cupertino is a visionary genius. Not sure who it is. Maybe we do have aliens on this planet.

But going after multitouch now that it’s been out 2 years seems like an “also-ran” business model.

geoduck

By the time they come out with a MT Kindle, the iPad and the rest of the world will have gone on to the next level.
Playing catch-up is not a winning strategy.

JulesLt

The key to the iPhone (and iPad) is the software, not the hardware.

Good luck to Amazon if they can rival it - the sensible move may be to switch over to Android, rather than trying to develop yet-another-development-platform (tools, documentation, etc).

I do wonder how many of these App stores are simply going to be like some people’s open source efforts (i.e. dumping a bunch of source online without support or documentation).

Nemo

Touchco’s multitouch technology is very interesting.  And it could provide a challenge to Apple, if it can perform as advertised in a shipping product, which means that Amazon would have to develop an OS and development tools and an application store.  That’s tall order.  JulesLt may be correct in writing, supra, that Amazon’s best bet may be to adopt Android or some other Linux-based OS, rather than try to develop an OS, development tools, and application store from scratch, none of which is among Amazon’s core competencies.  After all, Touchco’s technology, even if it’s great, is only an interface; it would need an OS and a complete ecosystem for that OS, including a rich supply of apps.

Moreover,  it is unlikely that Touchco’s technology is so superior that it offers a compelling competitive advantage.  It is almost certain that Apple was offered and reviewed Touchco’s technology, and passed on either licensing that technology or buying Touchco, which it could have done, because Amazon can’t match Apple’s 40 billion in the bank.  That Apple probably passed on acquiring Touchco or licensing its technology suggests that Touchco’s multitouch is at best merely an alternative multitouch technology.

Dean Lewis

It can detect an unlimited number of simultaneous touches? Cool. But I only have ten fingers. Will I be using my nose and tongue on it, too? If I work on my yoga, maybe I can get 20 toes onto it. Do they have them big enough to hold giant Twister parties?

Seriously, because something can do a thing, doesn’t necessarily means it matters. Also, it’ll be nice to get a Kindle with e-ink screen that is multi-touch capable, but is it going to do more like the iPad or even a PC tablet computer does? It’ll be interesting to see what OS Amazon comes up with, if they move to color e-ink (which I think may be still very expensive and still not capable of video and such? anyone know on that one?), and how they plan to deal with a hardware division that wants to do all of this but a software and sales division that just wants to sell as many books as possible no matter what device is used.

Rob2005

Apple’s $499 starting price is high enough, it’ll put people off for a while.

The Kindle at $259, could easily go down under $199, maybe even less $149 - approaching that magic price point of $99.

I think Amazon has time, not a lot, but time.  The kindle is lighter than the iPad and the e-ink device is still better for reading books.

Log-in to comment