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Amazon Kindle


November 19, 2007 11:06 AM PST


The Kindle is a new e-book reader from Amazon. I decline to link to it here because it's so lame. Yes... this is an editorial, not a review.

For $400 you get a small e-paper reader with a built in cell phone connection to download books, newspapers and blogs (and possibly email). The first thing about the device that is so ridiculous is how badly the device is designed. It's like they just haphazardly threw buttons and scroll wheels all over it. In this day of the iPhone - you just can't have poor design like this.

The second issue is the price of the device and content. At $400 the device is retailing for far more than the BOM cost. The OLPC XO is only $200 and includes both a color screen and an e-paper display. And the $400 Asus eePC is a full Windows running notebook. The electronic content at $10/book for new releases is cheaper than full priced hardcover books, but the DRM limitations offset that to some extent. The price is OK, but definitely not game-changing. Then there's the $1 per blog subscription cost. Of course blogs are free, but I suppose the idea here is to offset the cellular download cost. Somehow bloggers also get a cut of this price, so it's more than just data costs obviously.

My final peeve is that there is a mini-usb port AND a charging jack. Why can't current devices standardize on freaking USB for charging? Two of the wires in USB are for power, so why include a separate power brick and jack?

Overall - I just can't get past the poor hardware design and hardware cost to even begin thinking about any benefits to this thing. Let's wait for the Apple iRead with multitouch.
Comments (5)

John, November 19, 2007 11:19 AM:

Well it is certainly ugly. The new Sony reader looks much nicer and is $100 cheaper (without evdo though):

I am very surprised by the price also. Ebooks have had a real hard time gaining traction in the market. I would have thought it would have been smarter to really make this as cheap as possible to get more people converted to ebooks. As it is, this is really only targeted at the high end power reader / early adopter.

Oh and $1 per RSS feed per month is, a non-starter I thin - at least for this feature.

More comments coming...

Paul, November 19, 2007 11:19 AM:

Even if this thing wasn't fatally ugly, it's still another device that I'd have to carry around. Sorry, this should be software for the iPhone or whatever, not a separate device.

The DRM is just another non-starter for me. Even the music industry realizes that DRM doesn't work.

John, November 19, 2007 12:20 PM:

Kindle Thoughts

I think Amazon is in a tough position here. We all know that the future of reading is ebooks in some fashion. The question of how to get there is a harder one however. I'm a big ebook fan, although I'm a much bigger audio book fan. I carry piles of e-books with me everywhere I go on my PocketPC. In fact I have purchased electronic versions of paper books I received as presents - just for the convenience. I'm even resigned to the DRM somewhat - although the restrictions could be lighted up a bit.

In Amazon's case I think they are targeting to solve the PC sync, easy access to buying content etc issues over cheap price at the moment. This unfortunately restricts the device to only the fringe high end power reader. At $400, you could buy a lot of cheap paperback books. Most of 'middle' America is hard pressed to read more than a few books a year anyway (if that many). High end power users that are also geeks, might not be the target market either since we already have e-reading ( and mobile RSS solutions. Plus I don't see myself paying 1 dollar per RSS feed, or 1 dollar for a normally free project Gutenberg book, not to mention paying money to read my OWN MS word file.

That's not to say it won't be successful, it is just going to be a long battle. Maybe they are hoping that the early adopters will drive things and make it trendy? Hard to say given how ugly the device is - seriously how many odd sharp angles does it need? And why? It does look pretty good from a general usability view though (excluding the multiplicity of next / prev buttons). The keyboard gives it search capabilities the Sony reader doesn't have. The EVDO is a very gutsy move. Being able to buy books from anywhere (withing EVDO coverage at least) is a powerful feature. But I fear it was the wrong tradeoff. I don't see books being a 'spontaneous' purchase. At least not something I couldn't at least plan ahead for. Will I really need to buy a book at the airport? Seems I could have thought about that before I left my house. I think WIFI would have been a good tradeoff for the first gen product. They could have partnered with Starbucks like Apple did, and lower the cost of the device. $200, seems about the max I could imagine for this device. And you'd have to pre-load it with a pile of books.

It would seem that e-books would be the killer platform for the long tail of books, but as Seth points out, the long tail only works when 'everyone' has access to your product. At $400 that just isn't true.

Then there is the whole issue of a fixed purpose device. It is hard to guess how that is going to work out. One more thing to carry, one more thing around the house to 'lose'. But the lower power e-paper display is hard to beat for battery life and readability. Seriously if you've ever seen one in real life they are very impressive. The down side of course is that they are super slow to refresh (almost 1 second), so you couldn't use the device for say, surfing the web, it would drive you mad. No line by line scrolling that is for sure, and the screen inverts / glitches for a moment while it does refresh. That kills my favorite ebook feature - auto scroll.

My opinion is that if Amazon really wanted to further e-book adoption I think it should take a different approach. There are several reasonsebooks have not taken off, and I think Amazon could really use its leverage to solve these issues:

1. Too many incompatible formats. No momentum on any given format. No guarantee the format will be around tomorrow.
2. DRM is overly restrictive, and rights very from platform to platform.
3. Ebook cost is too high. The consumer expects things that aren't physical to cost less.
4. Limited availability. Not enough publishers are offering ebooks.

I think Amazon could really be a champion here. It could help pioneer an open e-book standard that allows interoperability between publishers, software readers, devices (iPhone) etc. Sure there would be DRM, but somethings can help, like allowing multiple simultaneous devices, re-download, 'rights' transferability etc. I would like the choice of reading on my laptop, PDA, cell phone OR dedicated ebook reader. (Actually I'd like to switch between these easily like I do today with a browser - with my bookmarks synced across devices!) Amazon could also push the publishers to keep the prices down and provide incentives for releasing ebooks. I think that by opening up a common standard to multiple vendors (hardware, software, publisher and storefronts) they would increase the overall ebook market (which would benefit Amazon as well). I think that would be much more beneficial than creating yet another closed standard. -I'd like some confidence that the book I buy today, will still be readable tomorrow. That is a problem that paper just doesn't have.

Amazon, I really think you missed a golden opportunity here.

George, November 19, 2007 06:06 PM:

I think the price point is the real killer. $400 is beyond the impulse purchase for most people (John excluded). Especially for something you can't touch in real life at the store before you buy it. Under $200 and then it's more palatable. May Especially if they add to the device's capability over time.

However, there's still a few things that interest me:

1) Audible support. I don't quite get why they support this format. As far as I can tell Amazon doesn't sell Audible drm'd books. Audible support make it less of a uni-tasker.

2) Web browser - buried in the user manual is information on using the "experimental" web browser. No web 2.0 experience but it should work for basic sites. No mention of any cost in the manual for web browsing.

3)Make your own content for free. It looks like you are only charged for the "conversion" process if you get the converted docs pushed to the device via the wireless connection. Conversion is free if you copy the docs over via the usb connection or through an sd card It is surprising that PDF is not one of the formats supported for conversion.

@J - I read that the usb port will charge the device, though only at a "trickle" rate. I suspect the auxiliary power port will push more current than the standard USB spec.

John, November 19, 2007 06:45 PM:

I think browsing the web on a device with a slow refresh / monochrome screen and no touch input / pointing device would be very painful. That said, however, Having Wikipedia and some online dictionaries everywhere would be pretty cool.

Making your own content for free is uber yawn. We have tried that before with various 'pocket' document formats for viewing on the go etc. In this day an age you need to 1. Support popular native formats directly, and 2. Support .pdf - that's what it's for!

One thought crossed my mind on how to make this popular. Offer college text books for purchase or rent. If a student could get through a semester carrying nothing but the Kindle, then you might be on to something.

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