11.02.2017

Amazon Goes All-In with Updated Kindle Oasis

A battle on two fronts against Kobo and Apple


Amazon updated their top-of-the-line eReader, the Kindle Oasis, this week. The device has been fitted with an aluminum chassis, larger storage options, a bigger screen, and waterproofing. Some of these features are differentiating in the long-stagnant eReader market while others are examples of Seattle-based eCommerce giant playing catch-up. 

Firstly, the catch-up features: waterproofing and a larger screen. There has been a niche for big eReaders ever since Amazon introduced the Kindle DX back in 2009. The device reached end-of-life three years later and left a glaring hole in Amazon’s portfolio that until this week was left unfilled.

Kindle DX, a 9.7-inch eReader discontinued in 2012. Credit: Amazon product page

Waterproofing is a feature that has been steadily making its way into smartphones for the past few years, and that element of high end devices has already trickled down to eReaders, including 2016's Kobo Aura ONE (a device reviewed here on D&theJM). That device also has a bigger screen than the industry-standard six inches and occupies the same premium segment of the market as the updated Oasis. The two are even priced identically, at a steep $249.99.

Amazon has a near monopoly on dedicated eReaders and much like Apple in the mobile space, lures affluent and upwardly mobile buyers into its walled garden with the promise of a complete ecosystem. Nowhere is that more apparent than with the inclusion of Audible audiobook support via bluetooth in this new device. Because Amazon bought the world’s most prevalent audiobook service with that that sweet, sweet eCommerce money, it can leverage it as a value-add to differentiate it from competing products such as the Aura ONE.

For buyers considering the new Oasis, likely owners of the mid-range Kindle Paperwhite or users of the Kindle smartphone app, the Audible inclusion may be the defining feature in this premium E Ink slate. Being able to have passages read aloud to you is something no other eBook retailer, whether it be Kobo, Apple, or NOOK, can offer. 

Kindle Paperwhite side-by-side with iPad. Credit: Amazon product page

The other eReader-firsts, the aluminum chassis and larger storage size, help the Oasis achieve feature parity not with devices from Kobo or NOOK, but from Apple and its category-defining iPad. It’s Apple that Amazon is competing with through its E Ink devices, and people unaware of their options may fall for this false dichotomy. What Amazon is essential conveying is that you’ve got two options: the Kindle or a tablet. That’s just not the case.

Amazon may be the biggest game in town, but it’s not the only one. You can borrow books from virtual libraries like OverDrive, a service run by Kobo’s parent company Rakuten but available on the Kindle, or download them free and legally from archives such as Project Gutenberg. Ultimately, Amazon has one-upped Kobo in terms of hardware, but the more open nature of the Aura ONE gives it the edge for those looking to buy their books elsewhere or read free of charge.