SEATTLE — Amazon.com, in a bid to keep reinventing the reading experience and rekindle waning passion for e-readers, has thrown its design book out the window.
The Kindle Oasis, unveiled Wednesday, is the eighth generation of the e-reader first launched in 2007. It looks very different from previous models, which for years have had more or less the same rectangular shape with rounded edges even as they got slimmer.
The $290 Oasis is a big departure, one motivated by the need to find new ways to cut down on weight and size. “To get smaller and lighter, we had to rethink the format,” said Neil Lindsay, Amazon Devices vice president, in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Seattle.
About 30 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than its predecessors, the Oasis is squarish and asymmetrical. The screen is pushed to one side by a big bezel that lies atop a relatively bulky grip that can be comfortably held by one hand. The grip side is about a third of an inch thick, while the device’s thinnest side is about an eighth of an inch (3.4 millimeters.)
Want to grab it with the other hand? No problem: Just flip it around, and the incorporated accelerometer (the first in a Kindle device) will make the screen follow suit.
Another first: It comes with a leather cover that opens like a book and acts like a charging case that can provide months of battery life, according to Amazon. The case, available in brown, black or burgundy, snaps magnetically to the device, nearly doubling its 4.6-ounce weight.
The new Kindle’s official presentation comes a week after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced via Twitter that the device was coming — triggering a wave of speculation and underscoring how central selling books is to Amazon’s ambitions, even though the company has evolved far beyond its origins as an online bookstore.
It also comes at a time when many readers have been abandoning e-readers for smartphones or tablets (the Kindle App can be freely downloaded on those platforms, and one can read Kindle books on a PC, too).
A survey released in October by the Pew Research Center said ownership of dedicated electronic reading devices had dropped to 19 percent of U.S. adults last spring from 32 percent in early 2014.
Some 27 percent of the more affluent readers still had an e-reading device — perhaps the target Amazon’s aiming for, as the Oasis costs $90 more than the next most expensive Kindle.
Another challenge: Kindles are sturdy and can last for years, making upgrades less necessary than for other consumer-electronics products.
The company doesn’t disclose Kindle sales, but Amazon’s Lindsay said sales have continued to grow and that the Oasis will strike a chord with “avid readers.”
“We believe this will sell very well,” he said.
At the same time, Lindsay said Amazon cares less about which type of Kindle device (or Kindle app) readers have than about bringing them into the Kindle store ecosystem. “We make money when they use the device,” he said.
The Oasis — so named, according to Lindsay, because it evokes the feeling of “sanctuary” for readers weary of interruptions — also sports a display that’s brighter than previous versions. Pages can be turned either by touching the screen or the two buttons on the bezel.
The device will begin shipping in a couple of weeks, Lindsay said.