In what industry observers expect will be a launch event for version two of the Kindle, the e-tailer plans to hold an event Feb. 9 at Morgan Library & Museum in New York, with CEO Jeff Bezos on hand to host. E-mail invites to the event contained scant information on its program, and Amazon declined to comment on the event or its plans for Kindle.
Yet that hasn't stopped Amazon-watchers from speculating that the date will mark the appearance of the Kindle's first revamp since the device made its debut in November 2007.
Since then, the $359 e-reader has proven popular, although the company has steadfastly declined to break out sales figures. But Mark Mahaney, director of Internet research at Citigroup, said in published reports that he believes Amazon sold about 400,000 Kindle units in 2008 and that hardware and related e-book sales could contribute $1 billion to the e-tailer's bottom line through next year.
The current-generation Kindle has been out of stock since before the holidays, and according to Kindle product page, new units aren't expected to be back in before another four to six weeks.
Despite the device's apparent popularity over the past year, a relaunch could come arrive at a challenging time, with consumers buttoning down on spending amid a backdrop of economic uncertainty.
Yet Amazon may be counting on the fact that some related technology segments have proven resilient in the face of the downturn. Consumers especially do love their gadgets and the ability to do things on the move, as shown by Apple's second iPhone, which arrived last summer just as the recession hit, and sales of which remain strong.
Other players in the smartphone and mobile device space have yet to show signs of suffering as badly as other tech industries. That may be good news for the Kindle, which also taps into demand for devices catering to on-the-go users: The device relies on wireless connectivity is free via Amazon's Whispernet, a nationwide high-speed data network (EVDO) provided by Sprint.
During the next several years, e-books are also likely to continue seeing growth. Technology research firm iSuppli has predicted that revenue for global e-book readers will grow from $3.5 million in 2007 to $291 million in 2012.
Kindle also is thought to reap a tidy profit for Amazon on each sale. Users pay $9.99 for each book downloaded from Amazon's book store, and can also purchase newspaper subscriptions as well as magazines, at a number of price points.
Last spring, Amazon said customers were ordering 2.6 times as many books -- both print and electronic -- as they did before buying the e-book reader. Amazon now offers 225,000 titles for the device -- double its number at launch.
A Gartner report from last month agreed that the e-book reader market has growth ahead of it, but the analyst firm said that challenges remain, such as competing content standards and limited catalogs due to publishers' hesitancy to dive in.
"The e-book's day finally appears to be dawning, and major e-book proponents will not give up easily, because they see long-term value in the technology and it fits well with their businesses," Gartner said in the report.
What's ahead for the next Kindle?
Gartner also said that new innovations developed for smartphones are solving glitches with e-book readers' screen resolution, processing speed and storage content -- issues that had plagued earlier versions of many readers.
Today's e-book readers are lightweight, provide good readability and battery life and boast needed processing power, according to the research firm. The big challenge ahead is developing what Gartner said is the right combination of design factors, such as screen contrast ratio, weight and form factor.
According to tech blog site Boy Genius, which last year reported a new Kindle in the works, Amazon has tinkered with the model's design in response to criticism of the initial version, making it less bulky and boxy.
The blog shows images purportedly of Kindle that sports smaller buttons for navigation and with a directional thumbstick replacing the scroll wheel. The device has vertical page-turning buttons on both sides, and page-turning buttons on both the right and left sides so it can be used with one hand.
The Kindle, while achieving great attention when launched, joined a market already with a number of entrenched competitors. Chief among those is Sony, which has several different products now on shelves.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.