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Amazon’s Kindle: Looking Forward or Backward?

Posted on November 20, 2007

Amazon Kindle

Update: John makes a good point in the comments about the closed system the Kindle plays in. I should have mentioned that in the post as it is a serious drawback. My hope is that Amazon eventually realizes that and, with their considerable power in the book sales arena, pushes book publishers into freeing things up a bit more. They will also hopefully free up the device so I can read other e-books I have in PDF form or otherwise.

Original Post:

The response to Amazon’s Kindle has been overwhelming and not very surprising. As soon as I saw the device I knew the tech bloggers out there would rip it to shreds. There were a few points of contention that one could easily see would top the list.

1. Blogs come with a monthly cost on the kindle.

Clearly this is due to the fact that the kindle runs on an EVDO network and it costs money to send data through that network. However, I think the online media piece of the Kindle was something that was added on later (at least I hope it was since there were some clear mistakes in the execution of that idea) and that the device is really meant for reading books which it clearly does well. In fact, Bezos made a point of saying the Kindle was a device for reading books.

2. The form factor and UI aren’t exactly pleasing.

Just look at the device. It is clearly evident that no designer at, say, apple had their hands on this one. All in all I don’t think it is a bad first shot though. It can only get better right?

3. It’s just another device to lug around.

A lot of folks see the future of content distribution moving to devices like the Blackberry and the iPhone and I can see that as well. I mean, if I can carry one small device with everything on it I want then I will be a happy man.

However, that line of thinking doesn’t work when it comes to books. When I sit down to read a book I want to be comfortable, feel something of substance in my hand and not have to strain my eyes. I can’t even imagine reading a book on my Blackberry. I do read the news on my Curve a lot and even that strains the eyes. The Kindle, however, addresses all of those issues.

Also, I tend to carry a book (or two) with me all the time to read on the train, while I am waiting for something and to read during my constant travel. That said, carrying the lighter Kindle with multiple books loaded on it (and the ability for me to buy a new book anytime anywhere) is perfect for me. I look at it as a huge space and weight saver as opposed to another gadget to carry around.

4. The price is a little steep.

I would have to agree on that. At $399 it is pretty close to being too rich for my blood. I am thinking about waiting a little bit to see if a price drop occurs after the holidays. I don’t know though. I really want one of these suckers (yeah, I said it). Amazon - think you can spare one for this blogger? (It’s worth a shot.)

The Real Deal

Honestly, it seems as if this is just another case of the echo chamber jumping on a product that may not fit our/their thoughts for the future but that a lot of people would actually use. I still think the future that is discussed in the echo chamber will come to light but it is still a ways away.

iPhones and Blackberrys are not nearly at the point where I, or anyone else, could read a book on them and I am not sure they will ever be. Why? Well, we want those devices to be small and, when people want to read books, they want a large screen and something they can hold on to without contorting their hands as they slide into their chair for a long read. They also want something that has a screen that emulates paper/print, not a blacklight screen that causes eye fatigue.

The Kindle is a great device that still gives the user the feeling of reading a regular book without the hassle of carrying a bunch of books around and without having to wait for books to get shipped to them.

I really like this device a lot. I hope that in future evolutions the design and UI improve but the basic concepts and features seem to be spot on. My favorite things are:

I have to hand it to Amazon on this one. This is certainly a device that will make my life easier and my reading more enjoyable while also making all of my content easily accessible anywhere. Let’s just hope they can lower the price and make the thing look a little nicer while improving the UI a bit.

I have to agree with Joseph Weisenthal when he says:

Although Amazon’s been working on this for awhile, this is very much a first-generation product. It’s not going to revolutionize the industry overnight, though it sounds like Amazon is going to take this business seriously and continue to invest in it. It seems safe to guess that in a couple years, the top-of-the-line Kindle will be a much-improved product. The concept is definitely sound [emphasis added by me]. Bezos’ speech had most of the audience pretty enthusiastic about the device—the problem is the gap between the description and the device itself. With some improvements to the display and a more intuitive navigation system, it could become an attractive product, even at the price.

Well said. Now, all I need Amazon to do is let me port my current library of books, both read and unread, into the Kindle and I would be sold on buying one of the first generation devices.

I have about 20 books in my backlog now sitting at home on a shelf that I would love to port into a Kindle. I am not sure how Amazon would determine that I bought them though. Perhaps they could look through my purchase log at Amazon.com, Half.com, etc. and let me port anything in those lists? Any thoughts Amazon? Is this possible or is it in the works? Paying for books twice would definitely be a bummer.

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5 Comments so far
  1. John Zeratsky November 20, 2007 1:55 pm

    > Paying for books twice would definitely be a bummer. Yes, it would. And what about the books you buy from the Kindle? They're DRM'd and cannot be read anywhere else, resold, shared, transferred, etc. And what's worse is, the Kindle's support for other e-book formats — even PDF! — is very poor or non-existent. To re-iterate what John Gruber said, the Kindle is what clueless pundits *think* the iPod is — a device that only works with content from a single vendor. Oh, and I wouldn't mind reading a book on my iPhone… the screen's a lot nicer than the Blackberry's :-)

  2. Eric Olson November 20, 2007 2:31 pm

    Good point John. The closed ecosystem is definitely a big negative (and is why I haven't plopped down the dough for a Kindle yet). I hope things will get better over time with the kindle and devices like it in terms of a more open ecosystem though. This is just the first shot at something like this. It is like web content was before the movement to free up content and open up the walls. Big content producers (in this case book publishers) have to get comfortable with the idea first and then we can push them to what's right. In fact, since Amazon has so much power in the book sales ecosystem they can push to create a more open ecosystem and the publishers should listen (one would hope). Generally though I think I would like the device as a way to manage all of my books and an easier way to travel with them even though it is a bit restrictive. Its really a decent (maybe even good) book reader with a lot of other ill conceived features. Its not perfect but it is interesting and it should shake things up one way or another.

  3. Jeff Judge November 20, 2007 4:09 pm

    I am bummed as I just wrote up a big comment and then tried posting using OpenID, and I got a message that said "missing comment value". I had a substantial comment value to post :) I'll have to reserve judgement on the device itself until I can physically play with the device. I love the name too. I also really like your use of the term 'echo chamber' - it's a perfect description for that group of people. This product is not geared towards folks that have an iPhone or a BlackBerry, it's geared toward the average person. Why else would they go through the trouble of EVDO vs wifi? They've approached a market that's wide open with their first stab at the product, no matter how good or bad it is now, it's only to going to get better. I think that once the price drops a bit, you're going to see a lot of people adopt this device.

  4. Jeff Judge November 20, 2007 4:17 pm

    Look at the reviews on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/review/product/B000FI73MA/r… This must be the first time I've seen a product that is being reviewed, where most of the people reviewing it have never used the product!

  5. David Levine December 28, 2007 1:58 am

    Had my kindle about 72 hours
    Let me address a couple concerns
    Cant use other content? well it may or may not work with any given PDF files, but a simple and free conversion tool from mobipocket creator converts PDF, DOC and HTML files for you just fine, a simple USB connections allows transfer, other sites like http://www.feedbooks.com/ offer all their 2000 plus titles free for kindle and even have a script that lets you browse through them and transfer them wirelessly. The E-ink is deeply easy to read, no strain. It has some clunky design issues, but all and all when you curl up, its easy to use and read