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Barnes & Noble Taps Kindle Designer For Its Athena e-Book Reader

Posted by: Peter Burrows on October 14, 2009

Yes, it’s true. The much-anticipated device from Barnes & Noble, which has been eliciting oohs and ahs since leaked photos appeared on Gizmodo , was designed by Ammunition Partners, a San Francisco firm headed by former Apple design chief Robert Brunner.

amazon athena.jpg

Although Amazon has never confirmed this, two sources tell me that Brunner’s team also designed the initial Kindle for Amazon in 2007. Back then, the Net giant had yet to design a hardware product of its own, so relied heavily on Ammunition to come up with the look and feel for the device. Brunner, among other things, is famous for overseeing design of Apple’s first laptop.

Actually, Ammunition worked with Project 126, a secretive Amazon subsidiary that’s holed up just down the street from Apple in Cupertino. The group’s staff is chock full of experts in wireless technology, software interface design and other disciplines. It’s president is Greg Zehr, a former vp of engineering for PowerBooks at Apple. The group’s charter, according to its website, is to “develop easy-to-use, highly integrated consumer products to serve Amazon customers.” The first of those was the Kindle.

For whatever reason—could it be the decidedly negative reviews of that initial effort?—Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos soon decided to show Ammunition the door. Instead, he hired his own internal industrial design team, to be led by an alumnus of frogdesign, the famed Silicon Valley design shop created by Hartmut Esslinger. Indeed, many frog alums are also at Lab 126, says the blog Kindle Review.

Word is that the Athena will be announced sometime next week. A Barnes & Noble spokesperson declined to confirm this, nor did she say whether Ammunition was involved in the design of the unconfirmed product. Amazon also declined to comment for this story. So did Brunner.

Here’s an excellent side-by-side comparison of Kindle and Athena, from the blog Kindle Review.

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Reader Comments


October 14, 2009 09:54 PM

Surely these hot hot designers can come up with something different!!! All these look the same.

And these guys are the innovators??? Hahahahahah Amazing

Reuben Gathright ~ Computer Hardware Analyst

October 15, 2009 08:48 AM

Wait, why would I pay all my hard earned dollars on a Kindle or Athena when I can just buy a netbook for the same price?

I am very impressed with my ASUS 1005HA netbook. I wrote a review at the following link that details the Intel Atom N270 performance:


October 15, 2009 11:07 AM

@ Rueben: Do you take your ASUS 1005HA netbook when you go for a run and listen to music? Or when you're driving and need directions in the car?

Paul in Michigan

October 17, 2009 05:42 PM

Hopefully the price will be around $200.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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