Blog Post

A Kindle-r, Uglier iPod For E-books?


Unless you’ve been enjoying an early start on your Thanksgiving vacation, you couldn’t avoid reading about Amazon’s newest effort to purvey their wares, the Kindle reader. Some are even calling it “Reading 2.0”.

BusinessWeek threw down the gauntlet with their “Buy Amazon – Kindle is the iPod of books” story today. That is a brazen statement to make and requires a response, though it’s reassuring they admit Apple is still setting the bar.

What the Kindle is:

  • an e-ink-based e-book reader – similar to the technology in Sony PRS-readers – that can also play mp3 files & audiobooks
  • an EVDO-enabled, portable device from which you can purchase new books, audio files and access to blogs & e-subscrptions to newspapers and periodicals
  • based – in part – on open source code (looks to be a Linux 2.6 kernel with an interesting cadre of libraries)

What the Kindle is not:

  • a two-way communication device
  • a tool to browse the general Internet
  • a stylish, well-engineered testimony to modern industrial design (despite being 3-years in the making)
  • an open, extensible platform (though I’m sure Sprint & Amazon will have their hands full with hackers, especially with that “free” EV-DO network connection and linux kernel just waiting to be pried open)

In essence, you’re paying Amazon $400.00USD for the privilege of buying more books and content from Amazon that can – for the most part – only be used on their device. And, while I write-for and enjoy reading TAB, I’m not sure it’s worth a buck a month to be viewed in RSS-feed-form in four whole shades of gray, especially since my monthly subscription fees for all blogs I’d want access to – if Amazon is gracious enough to let me view them – would be more than my AT&T iPhone plan charges.

How anyone can claim that the Kindle will be to books what the iPod was to audio or the iPhone is to … – well, the iPhone pretty much is in it’s own device class – is beyond me. I can easily load my own content on my iPod/iPhone (and my Sony PRS-500 for that matter). The iPod/iPhone is engineered beautifully and the user-interface is intuitive and well designed. Apple created an entire culture around their i-devices and succeeded – in part – because they hit the consumer market at the lowest common denominator (i.e. folks are far more likely to listen to music or watch videos than they are to read). My iPod and Sony Reader do not require me to have Internet access and my iPhone enables me to view the Internet even without EDGE access (provided I’m near Wi-Fi).

I’m no Jeff Bezos, and Amazon has innovated far more than I ever will, but I can’t help but believe that they released this device too early and have taken no lessons from those that have gone before. The Kindle will not have the same legacy as the iPod, but will, hopefully, spark further development in the e-book arena.

For now, the best Christmas present I can receive would be to see the Net’s code-twisters release the Kindle from it’s dysfunctional bondage (and make Sprint wish it never agreed to their partnership).

Full disclosure: Apart from being an happy iPod/iPhone user, I’m also a very pleased Sony PRS-500 owner.

6 Responses to “A Kindle-r, Uglier iPod For E-books?”

  1. I think the design is horrible, but the idea is brilliant. Having the ability to download an ebook at any moment, any place, sounds really handy. The way its networking is designed, with you not having to worry about connectivity at all, is, in my opinion, what could make this product truly successful.

  2. I quite like the device. From what I’ve seen you CAN load your own books onto it (including text-based PDFs). You may have to do it by email though… at a small cost, I believe?

    The charge for reading blogs could be expensive, but considering the incredible fact that Amazon are not charging a monthly fee and still provide EVDO access to things like Wikipedia, it’s fairly understandable. Allowing unlimited access to blogs as well would cost them a fortune.

    Once they get some desktop software going (which I hope they will), equivalent to iTunes, things would get a lot better and this device would look great compared to any competition. The only trouble is the DRM and the fact that Amazon could drop the service at any time that worries me… I would need some guarantees (like knowing that they’d unencrypt all books before closing the service down).

  3. I’m sorry, but this device is badly designed, and the idea is totally wrong.

    It would be consiberable if:

    1. You could display unprotected books / PDF
    2. You would get a free copy in ebook format for every old fashioned, printed book you buy from Amazon.
    3. If the Amazon-Ebook-Format would be readable by other devices and you can print out.
    What sense does a book make, when you want to work with it, do research and can’t copy parts of it, or print them out?
    4. Redesign it to be very, very easy and a lot thinner – take away those awful array of buttons!

    This idea defies everything a book is and what you do with it. What if I wanted to give a passage, like I and many others do, to somebody? I put it on the copier and give it away. Just to show somebody and interesseting passage. Not to make an illegal copy of a book. It’s more free advertising for the book: what companies just don’t get. According to companies like Amazon – and for example the music industry, too – this is all illegal and we are bad, bad, bad. We should never do this.

    They just want to shut of every social interaction, every sharing of information in favor of them selling more, more.

    I’ve got nothing against good business, I am pro free-market. But this is a big pile of bs. Sorry.

    In the end, they cripple this – already badly designed “niche-product” – so much, that it’s beyond any use for me …