Why is the new Kindle eBook reader from Amazon and not Apple?

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In the current Newsweek cover story “The Future of Reading” Steven Levy describes Amazon’s new eBook reader Kindle. In development since 2004, the stats on Kindle are impressive:

$399; 10.3 ounces, paperback size and shape; 6-inch high-res 167 ppi screen from E-Ink; 200 book, extensible storage capacity; 30 hour battery, with 2-hour recharge; wireless connectivity via Sprint EVDO; 88,000 books for sale, most new books at $9.99; prominent newspapers, magazines subscriptions; Wikipedia, Google searches; always-on, PC tethering not necessary.

But we’ve heard so many eBook promises for so long that it’s hard to take them seriously: Franklin eBookMan, Rocket eBook, Sony Librié, iRex iLiad, to cite some of the better known ones. The latest (and the first major implementor of the E-Ink screen technology also used by Kindle) is the $299 Sony Reader. None of these devices have caught the attention of readers in any meaningful way. Why should Kindle be any different then?

Potential

Because it’s from Amazon, the most prominent retailer on the web. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is careful not to position Kindle as yet another digital gadget: “This isn’t a device, it’s a service.”

Levy speculates on the potential for reading devices like Kindle that are always-on to aid the discovery process by links to other eBooks and reader communities, automatic subscriptions, community annotations, cross-book searches, recommendations, hyper-targeted advertising, even serialized books where the text is never quite finished as it’s constantly updated by the author or the community. These can all play to Amazon’s strengths, unlike earlier attempts that have not been successful in cultivating services for connected devices.

The price of Kindle may be too high (Bezos points to the iPod that was priced also at $399 at its introduction). Kindle’s design may be clunky, DRM too restrictive, screen not as large or colorful, storage capacity not enough, store not as extensive, and so on. But in Amazon, Kindle has a parent that is determined to take a loss to expand the market and the reach of the device.

“The iPod of reading”?

Levy says “Though Bezos is reluctant to make the comparison, Amazon believes it has created the iPod of reading.” While “the iPod of …” has become a cliché to describe any product with a semblance of distilled design sensibilities emanating from Cupertino, there is one fundamental strategic reason why Kindle won’t be like the iPod.

As Steve Jobs often repeats, the vast majority of music on existing iPods are not purchased from the iTunes Store. The music labels claim they are pirated, Apple and others say they are mostly ripped from existing CD collections or otherwise acquired online or from friends. Either way, iPod users have had an easy way to populate their devices, without having to repurchase most of what they have already paid for or illegally downloaded.

Kindle users, however, will have to purchase or repurchase all the content on their reader. Whereas it was possible to pay $399 for an iPod and enjoy all the music you wanted legally or illegally without any additional expense, not so with Kindle. Amazon is banking on the proposition that readers will indeed pay more for the convenience and additional social aspects of the digital device, just as they have for iPod/iTunes.

Kindle or iPhone?

Bezos’ comparison aside, I think Kindle is far more comparable to the iPhone than the iPod. The iPhone is roughly half the weight (4.8 ounces) of Kindle, its screen (3.5 inches) is about 40% smaller and its resolution (160 ppi) is almost the same. The two devices seem to share a lot of capabilities. In fact, Levy drops a either a juicy hint or a common wish-lits item regarding the iPhone’s potential as an eBook reader itself:

I’ve been reading Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” on my iPhone, a device that is expected to be a major outlet for e-books in the coming months.

This invites us to further speculate. A device like Kindle embodies many Apple strengths: small form factor, connectivity, easy interface, service back-end, media integration, systems design, transactional fees, untapped market, existing patents, etc.

While its screen is smaller, the iPhone’s connectivity, storage, integration with the web via Safari, multimedia capabilities, etc., are equal or better than Kindle’s, at a much better price considering all the other features it supports. So why hasn’t Apple brought in the publishing industry to the iPhone? Yes there have been a few announcements like the Texterity portal, but by and large, prominent brands and especially book publishers are absent on Apple’s device. Does Apple believe that long-text reading is not suitable for mobile devices and thus not a viable business? Or is it possible that they are already in touch with publishers for iPhone partnerships? Or will the iPhone get bigger and transform into the fabled “iTablet” device everybody’s been waiting for?

In digital music, despite Apple’s seemingly insurmountable lead, Amazon has shown its willingness to compete with Apple head on. With no apparent current interest in the market, could Apple be ceding the eBooks front to Amazon? If Apple were to compete, would it be wiser to build its eBook business on the iPhone or a new, larger and perhaps a more dedicated device?

64 thoughts on “Why is the new Kindle eBook reader from Amazon and not Apple?

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  4. I own a Kindle and have to say I’ve been very pleased with it. As an avid reader I appreciate eInk for its clarity, low power consumption, and readability. The Kindle does what’s it’s supposed to and does it well.
    I don’t wanted a bloated device where people can call/IM/twitter/blog/etc/etc me while I”m reading.
    For those frenetic multi-taskers who have the attention span of a gnat then go ahead and read away on the iPhone. I’m a happy Kindle customer who will continue to purchase books through Amazon, read for pleasure, and appreciate the times when I’m not ubiquitously “connected.”

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  6. I think the tablet computers to come, the MacBook Air, and the eBook readers on iPhone and it’s challengers will combine to block all the sunlight from allowing the Kindle to grow.

    PDAs were useful once, but we now see them as an interim solution until other devices emerged that can do that and more. While PDAs started life ahead of the curve, I think the Kindle is already behind the curve.

    An eBook reader was an intriguing idea at one time — circa 1999.

  7. THe Kindle has a great model of instant access to Amazon’s vast resources, Wikipedia, an internal dictionary, and periodicals all accessible via keyboard.

    The difference in the iPhone and the Kindle is that the Kindle has E-Ink instead of a backlit LCD. I love bright shiny things, but not when I’m reading. Also it’s not clunky when you see it in person. Flat pics don’t do it justice. Different colors would be a good evolution.

    I’m buying one right now. I just wish I wasn’t on a waiting list.

  8. Hasn’t anybody seen the elephant in the room on eReaders? When somebody writes and publishes a killer eBook that cannot be experienced in print, the demand for the new toy will catch fire. Unfortunately, we have the DRM folks and the distributors driving this model rather than the content creators.

    Whoever wants to steal this business needs some writers with an appearance on Oprah to jump start the medium. When you can enjoy a book club or a blog chat on a portable reader (bigger than an iPhone), the social networking aspect may just change the world of ideas.

  9. I love the idea of having 90k books to choose from to buy but I don’t like the idea that I can only read them on one device, the Kindle. I think they could have done wonderfully selling ebooks but right now they’ve locked out an entire market or people with Sony Readers, the Cybook, or anyone who wants to read books on their palm pilots and iphones.

    Just wish they stuck to what they do best which is sell books.

  10. Apple did reduce their prices. iTunes Plus tracks now cost the same as regular iTunes tracks. So instead of having $1.29 + songs, they are now at $0.99. I’ll bet sales are way up since over a dollar gives you a huge price resistance. (I know it does for me, anyway.)

    This product really needs a retail presence to sell, and in this way it really is very similar to Apple. When I was visiting the Apple Store to look at iPhone, I could see the thing selling itself. People not intending to buy anything when they came in were talking about breaking cellular contracts and trying to figure out when their expiration date was. In the same way, I’m skeptical of these claims being made about e-ink, but it’s possible that a demonstration would convince me.

    The biggest problem other than the price in my view is that I think most people, including myself, have gotten used to full color. A lot of computer books have full-color printing nowadays. The downloadable detailed manuals included with many Apple products are in color PDFs. Blogs and the like all look more vibrant in color.

    I’m already carrying my iPhone around and it has the best screen so far that I’ve seen on a portable device. If I hold it close to my face and use the double tap to resize the text to the size of a column, I can read it pretty easily. And of course I can read anything. I remember vividly trying to replace the hard drive on my PowerMac G5 and using iPhone to pull up the PDF instructions from Apple’s web site. I was even able to zoom in on key parts by pinching.

    iPhone has made me used to a multi-function device. It’s my phone, my web browser, my email, my music, my clock, etc, etc. I think it would be hard to justify spending sizable amounts of money on something that does only one thing even if it does it well.

    D

  11. “Will it propel Amazon? ..only if they drop the price substantially. (comparable to MicroSoft dropping the price of the Zune to $89 from what was it… $299?)”

    I’m waiting for the MSFT “Zune-dle”. Can’t let any other company build even a losing device in any market, can they?

    “Amazon is countering iTunes with DRM-free music”

    And when Apple so desires they can simply lower THEIR prices and shut AMZN down. The fact they HAVEN’T should tell you something about AMZN’s “traction” so far.

  12. Jeff, as you know Apple’s been successful because it has iPod+iTunes+iTunes Store triad, that is HW+SW+Service. That’s also the way Jeff Bezos positioned Kindle: “This isn’t a device, it’s a service.”

    So yes, Apple can out-design Kindle while sleep walking but where will Apple’s “service” component come from? As the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon has a definite edge there.

    Amazon is countering iTunes with DRM-free music, so maybe Apple will compete against Kindle via DRM-free books on PDF, if it entered the market. Now that would be ironic!

  13. This is a great device! Now I can carry my Kindle, my Zune, my phone, my digtal camera and all the associated cables and batteries at the same time! …just joking… Seriously, anyone who knows a tiny bit – about what’s just over the horizon at Apple – can “write-off” this device w/o a second thought.

    Will it propel Amazon? ..only if they drop the price substantially. (comparable to MicroSoft dropping the price of the Zune to $89 from what was it… $299?)

  14. I think the problem of Ebook readers is that they don’t offer compelling advantages to users. A pop song is about 4 minutes long. Listening to music on the go for a longer time used to be cumbersome (carrying cassettes and CDs, changing Cassettes/CDs, creating mixtapes), so the utility of a device (iPod) that made it easy to access your whole music library on the move was clearly visible.

    With books, it’s different. You don’t read a different book every few minutes, taking two or three books with you is enough for most people’s holidays. Two or three books don’t take up a lot of space, don’t need batteries, are legible in difficult lighting situations, and can be flicked through, passed on, resold, etc. In addition, they flatter the vanity of readers twice: First, when others see you reading it and second when it’s standing on the bookshelf in your livingroom, showing visitors how intellectual you are.

    So I think the kindle is not going to fail because it’s a particularly bad implementation of the eBook idea, I think it’s going to fail because eBooks don’t offer obvious utility for the majority of people (geeks aside).

  15. Watt: “you don’t pay extra for the EVDO service”

    Amazon justifies, for instance, the money you pay to access blogs that are otherwise free on the web and Kindle’s browser by saying that it goes for compensating the additional wireless charge. While I love the always-on nature of Kindle, this is the most bizarre ‘feature’ for me to understand.

    Regarding the screen, on Charlie Rose, Jeff Bezos said that color was off by at least 2-3 years on E-Ink. Others have said inherent latency (cause of lack of animation, motion presentation and video) is going to remain a significant problem with E-Ink. These seem to leave the door wide open for an Apple iTablet device to flank Kindle on the high-end within the next 18 months (or earlier according to Werlingdervish, see above comment).

    It looks like Kindle and iPhone are two sides of the same coin: groundbreaking in many respects, beset by certain shortcomings. Price, Edge and single-carrier for the iPhone and the key limitations for Kindle already mentioned. It’ll be interesting to see how these two products fare in their first year.

  16. Having actually used a Kindle for a while, there are a few points that people don’t seem to actually understand about it.

    First off, you don’t pay extra for the EVDO service. Period. It’s subsidized by your book purchases. Kindle books cost much less than the ones for other e-book readers, also. Second, you don’t actually *need* EVDO to use the thing: it can also transfer books via USB, and it can use slower cellular data networks as well.

    The “E-Ink” display is not an LCD and doesn’t act like an LCD, and this is both good and bad. It looks more like paper than a computer display. In theory, it’d be a lot less tiring to read. It’s relatively slow in updating, though, which is the answer to a lot of the “why doesn’t it do X” questions people keep asking. (It’s not fast enough to do the animation for an on-screen keyboard without extremely irritating lag, for instance.)

    From personal observation, while the 167 dpi sounds good-as-or-better than the iPhone’s 160 dpi (and smaller screen), the iPhone can produce 64 levels of gray (6 bits per color) to the Kindle’s 4, and that means the iPhone is *much* better at anti-aliasing. This makes a real difference. Reading from the Kindle is like reading from paper, yes: fax paper.

    There are other ergonomic issues, which David Pogue’s review touches on. But compared to all previous competitors the Kindle’s per-book prices are lower and the selection is much greater, and the data service is absolutely groundbreaking for a device like this. Are these enough to make it successful? Maybe. A lot of people are going on about how terrible the DRM is, but if there’s something that Amazon *has* learned from Apple, it’s that if you have a wide enough selection and a low enough price, you can find an audience. Actually, make that two things: if you want to be groundbreaking, you’d better do it one step at a time. Wide selection is more important to consumers, particularly initially, than lack of DRM. (Yes, Amazon itself has a DRM-free music store now and that makes this seem ironic, but if Apple hadn’t been successful with iTunes, Amazon would never have been able to pull that off.)

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  18. You might become a Kindle fanatic if:
    -You are an avid reader who consumes 3-4 books a week.
    -You travel frequently.
    -You are used to lugging at least 4 paperbacks for a one week trip.
    -You often run out of books to read when B&N is closed or far away.
    -You often wake up at 4am and hate the book you had been reading when you went to bed.
    -You want to have reference books with you at all times.
    -You care less about cool design than functionality.
    -You are willing to forgive V.1.0 flaws as long as your ebook reader offers an experience comparable to a dead tree version.
    I think that might describe me–and my wife is going to kill me when I order the thing.

  19. Kontra, It just came to me where I found good source/references for Samsung’s 2008 mass release of larger OLED displays that can be integrated into a Newton sized ultra-portable. The links begin at OLED-Info.com in their history link http://www.oled-info.com/samsung/samsungs_oled_roadmap_21_monitors_by_2009_42_full_hd_tv_by_2010 and end most recently end with a Samsung’s VP’s
    October presentation on their roadmap for mass production http://techon.nikkeibp.co.jp/english/NEWS_EN/20071029/141477/

    I still think that one can reasonably infer that Apple can introduce a multi-touch tablet with eBook functions that mimic a color page with all the qualities desired by you and others here. They could do it by the end of 2008.

  20. You people don’t get it. The iphone is too small, doesn’t have enough battery life and the screen is night and day different from the Kindle.

    The Kindle looks like a sheet of paper. E-ink. This is huge. This allows you to read without eye strain.

    Please don’t forget that important fact. Would you really spend hours curled up with the iphone reading a book? Not me.

    But the Kindle can offer that experience. It’s simple. It’s connected to the web automatically. You can download from a huge library at amazon.

    Some have complained about the design. I can only laugh. It looks pretty retro to me…where on the other hand the iphone is too thin, and is a poor phone ergonomically.

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  22. One doesn’t get true scratch resistance without glass. But, glass shattering is a real problem as I found out when my son lost his $600 iPhone in a low level, simple drop on its aluminum corner to a hard floor. Apple refuses to cover a total loss due to what I consider is normal use under warranty. Many, including myself, would like to see a class action suit on the issue of the impractical use of glass in the current iPhone design–its just too fragile.

    In a larger display that is likely to be carried in a separate protective protective pouch flexibility and shatter resistance of the tablet screen trumps scratch resistance as the practical solution.

    While I hope to see OLED plus multi-touch in 2008 because of Samsung’s commitment to the mass manufacture of 3.5 inch plus OLED screens, a more conservative time frame would probably put it out at 2009.

  23. Werlingdervish: “I know I am inferring a lot here.”

    :-)

    I don’t see the combination of OLED+multi-touch screens on mass-market devices in 2008 just yet. As you say, OLED screens have begun to appear on mobile devices. For example, Motorola U9 MOTO:

    http://www.motorola.com/motoinfo/product/details.jsp?globalObjectId=212

    But OLED+multi-touch is not here yet. Another thing I haven’t seen yet is a surface as scratch-proof as the iPhone screen. How does one get that without glass?

  24. Balda, a German firm, holds the current multi-touch screen technology used by Apple. It is a separate layer on top of the LED display and under the glass. Apple upgraded Balda’s specs to work under optical glass so glass is not a requirement of a larger, more shatter resistant screen. Newer multi-touch screen technologies may also allow the fusion of touch screen and OLED displays . http://www.macnn.com/articles/07/10/18/auo.ultra.thin.multi.touch/

    At this point the convergence of multi-touch technology with OLEDs is a little murky especially as many writers incorrectly reference a limited term “LCD” when they really mean to reference a more generic “LED” or light emitting diode display.

    The timely convergence of these separate screen technologies is really at the heart of your original question as to why Apple is taking so long time to introduce a tablet supporting ebooks. A multi touch Mac tablet will most likely be first introduced with current iPhone technologies in a Newton sized display of five to seven inches. Apple will then migrate upwards to newer mecury free OLED models with the right convergence of cost, larger display size and battery life. Inexpensive OLED displays are already in place in cell phones and the ones to be mass produced this next year by Samsung will be in the iPhone to Newton size range.

    I know I am inferring a lot here. But, Apple’s reputation for introducing state of the art technology seems to match up well with the development of multi-touch OLED displays that will meet their needs. I include the fact that Leopard is well designed for use on a small screen using core animation etc. I conclude that a whole range of ultra-portable models is being developed by Apple in Steve Job’s “post PC” world up to and including a slim, flash drive Mac Book which is the most likely candidate to be introduced at MacWorld in January.

  25. I think the iPod of book readers will be the iPod. Though it may not be called the iPod… the Apple touchscreen OSX platform (with SDK, and assuming Apple doesn’t completely screw it up) could easily become the “windows” of portable consumer devices. One platform, various sizes, many readers to choose from.

    As others try to copy the ipod in making special purpose devices, Apple is riding the wave of hardware evolution (and revolution) and moving toward devices that are actually powerful computers. People expect them to stay closed and special purpose… but Apple has been building computers a lot longer than ipods. And I don’t expect SJ to be able to resist making his beloved old NextStep (in the form of OSX) into a ubiquitous platform.

  26. Kristy, do you recognize the Amazon’s sole control of the DRM for the books as a serious problem? As you may recall, another giant company, Microsoft, essentially abandoned PlaysForSure for its own DRM scheme with Zune. Do you not care at all that your entire digital library may evaporate if Amazon were to decide to abandon it for business or other reasons?
    Also Amazon is positioning Kindle not just for b&w book reading but for magazine and blog reading as well, which is a full-color universe. Are you completely satisfied with the current capabilities of E-Ink?

  27. Geesh to read some of this commentary you’d think that when they did away with records there were a few dozen suicides. Seriously. New technology requires new purchases, lifestyle changes etc. New ways in which to look at things. I personally read at least 2 novels a week. After I’ve read them I could care less if I see them again. I have a Sony E-book reader and I am not tied to Sony to gain my content. If can copy/paste it to word and save as a rich text format file it’s mine for free. I do purchase from Sony’s connect site and I do have to hook up my bookreader to my laptop to get the books on it. So what? It takes 3 minutes to do this and I’m set for a weeks worth of reading for me.

    Kindle is interesting because of it’s new featuers to ebook readers. However, I don’t want to marry amazon like one appears to have to. I think anytime a new company takes an interest in ebook readers it’s good for all of us. If you’re a person that doesn’t truly read a lot then carry on reading on your crappy glaring screens (iPhone included). But trust that if you read avidly you will be blind before you die. E-ink is where it’s at if you truly want to read on any device and enjoy it. Unless or until you use or see e-ink…you are not well versed in it.

  28. Many of us in the Apple investor community are awaiting the rumored Mac tablet to finally premier in 2008. Not only will the tablet have page flow that emulates turning a page, but Apple will quickly adopt or upgrade it with a state of the art organic LED color screen that is ideally suited for eBooks.

    The unique qualities of color OLED screens are that they are not lit from the back like crystalline LCDs because OLED electro-phosphorescent pixels can emit light from a flexible, plastic surface layer. Consequently, they can be read from any angle, in broad daylight, and with great fidelity to a full color spectrum at a huge savings in battery life.

    The screens are very thin, with a width that is less than human hair. The fast video or static OLED display can be mounted on many substrates including aluminum. This makes them very portable in the format of a super slim but large tablet with a touch screen. See the informative but dated reference on OLEDs: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/oled5.htm

    Sony already is marketing an 11 inch TV sporting this technology this Christmas. Samsung, Apple’s primary producer of its current, conventional LED iPhone screens is committed to producing millions of larger OLED screens by mid 2008.

    The upcoming Mac tablet will have all the appeal of the iPhone with full video color, a Safari browser and wifi access without the draw backs of the current LED screens. An eBook function will likely be one of its touch screen buttons.

    I will continue to love physical books. But, I think that the almost certain premier of the Mac tablet, like the iPhone, will instantly recognized as the state of the art in ebook browsing, especially on the road and in low light conditions. Apple’s tablet will contain the ebook of the future while the Kindle is clumsy emulation of old keyboard technologies, colorless interfaces and limited, one purpose gadgets

  29. I agree that the Kindle is way too expensive as of right now, but it’s definitely a great concept, and I think with time, it will become the iPod of the next 2-3 years. Information is where it’s at right now, and this devices brings it to your fingertips, literally.

  30. I prefer audio books and paper books to e-books. I love paper books for the paper, the texture, the smell. I have an iPhone where I listen to podcasts on my way to work, in addition to audiobooks. I’m listening to a free audiobook from the University of S. Florida you can get at iTunes U. It’s Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, and the reader is as good as any commercially sold audio book costing $30. Honestly, if I can’t stick the Kindle into my pocket to read or listen to, I’m not going to buy it. A paperback or an iPod/iPhone can do that.

  31. CC, while I cited the fact that having the most prominent online retailer and the largest book seller on the service back-end is a huge differentiator for Kindle, I don’t think Amazon has done enough to bake in sufficient incentives for people to consider the device. Just one factor would have done wonders for Kindle’s prospects: with every new physical book purchase (if available) include an electronic version free of charge, or for something like $.99.

  32. I’d only consider this if Amazon honors all of the books I already bought from them, and converts them for me without additional charge. Of course, all off-copyright PDFs should be available. Otherwise you are all correct, no one is going to buy a $399 device just to pay additional for converting items they own already. I have bought thousands of books from Amazon already, so conversion of existing purchases is a must.

  33. Most reviews of eBook devices on the Web are nonsense. You have to experience e-Ink to understand what you are looking at is not a laptop screen, no refresh rate, no backlighting – almost real paper.

    “I’ve been reading Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” on my iPhone, a device that is expected to be a major outlet for e-books in the coming months.”

    And did you have a splitting headache after that? Are you an idiot for having read from a backlit screen in the first place? I cannot understand how a Palm or a laptop or an iPhone can ever be a suitable device to read books! Jesus!

    This baby is going places, whether bozos like you would really like it to play music and make coffee.

  34. Tim Anderson: “This assumes no DRM, of course.”

    Well, therein lies the problem. The only way for you to read a new book or one you already have in your physical library is to purchase or re-purchase it for your Kindle.

    As other readers have pointed it out above, non-DRM material can already be read on your PC, mobile device or iPhone.

  35. I’m with you, PAPA, though I’m ok with the current size. But I’d say, lose the ugly design and all those buttons. Make the entire face of the e-book reader a glass touchscreen (I’m sure there must be a way to integrate that with this new display type they’re using). That’ll give you lots more reading surface. The touchscreen interface might cut back on the battery life rather significantly though. The good news is that if this turns into a success for Amazon, others will climb into the ring, and turn out next-generation book readers that are more to your and my liking.

  36. simply put, the kindle looks like a device from 20 years ago. For $399 you have an ugly shaped, black-and-white display that resembles a toy. And those weird buttons to turn pages? Terrible. But now imagine a bigger iPhone, a tablet, displaying 2 pages on a screen, but not just flat pages…a 3D realistic book you could flip through by sliding you finger across a touch screen…something that after 5 minutes you wouldn’t know if it’s an electronic device or really a book.
    eBooks are awesome in their functionality but paper books are a richer experience. And the only way a device can compete with it is to emulate the feel of reading a book.

    • Yup, that’s what I want – an Apple iTablet that makes reading an ebook *feel* like reading a real book! Wolud buy one in a second!!

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  38. Rick: “Ebooks are the future, just give it a chance!”

    I don’t have a strong allegiance to physical books, as I have been an avid reader on PDF…zoomability, annotations, search, copy&paste being among the advantages.

    What’s in question here is not if eBooks is the future, but if Kindle is the eBook reader of the future.

    I followed various takes on Kindle at Techmeme, for example:

    http://www.techmeme.com/071119/p38#a071119p38

    there seems to be no consensus on Kindle as a breakthrough device. Perhaps, it doesn’t need to be. But as I argued in:

    “The Hit Parade: Hollywoodization of gadgets”
    http://counternotions.com/2007/09/27/the-hit-parade-hollywoodization-of-gadgets/

    new devices that fail the “blockbuster” test often don’t quite make it in the market place. We’ll see if the service aspect of Kindle from Amazon can pull it through.

  39. Ebooks are the future, just give it a chance! I have been reading ebooks for almost 8 years now, noway I’m going back to paper books. Almost all my friends I have convinced to give it a try have converted even if it took them a week or two to get used to it. The connivence to always have my library in my pocket is just great when traveling or just to kill randomly dull moments. And best of all; not have to turn my bed light off when falling asleep when reading in bed.
    The greatest obstacle is feeling like a traitor when stop using real paper books but I still buying books, nice hard-cover books for fire-place browsing and witch also fits for display in my book shelf. All my “consumer books” would have been paper-backs and not suitable for display anyway and these are since long replaced by ebooks.
    I also had a problem to give up on my CD collection but now they are all ripped in to my iTunes library and I’m very happy with that.

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  41. I don’t think this will fly. I read a LOT of books. At night before bed. I am tired of looking at electronic screens all day. I read for pleasure. It is not that I want to ‘surf’ book links during the time I want to be reading. I don’t want to search a database of character traits – when I want to be reading for enjoyment. I think it is a research tool. And as a very avid reader, I would think they want me to buy this. I’m not ready to stare at a screen for more hours a day.

  42. Maybe someday we’ll all be reading books on screens. So this, if anything, could be the opening round.

    But still – Google is starting to offer books free online, which the iPhone is fully capable of handling. Plus you can listen to music while you read.

    I wonder, though, if you can scribble notes or highlight passages like you can in meat-space books…

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  44. Seems it’s only being done because the book world wants in on the download world.
    It’ll only work if a) the screen is not glaring, like a real book.
    b) You can have a left and right page in one go, just so we still feel it’s a book and and not a tablet.
    c) Battery life is long.
    d) It’s easier to download a book then it is to pick up one from a shop.

  45. Well, Amazon is copying the most important “flaw” in the iPhone – it’s carrier locked. While I applaud the fact the Amazon is picking up the tab for the network connection, what if you don’t live anywhere near a Sprint EV-DO network?!? Since I don’t, it would be a $399 brick to me (just like the iPhone).

  46. Dane: “Amazon is playing Apple here. It wants to lock readers into a format…”

    The iPhone/iPod handles MP3, PDF, .doc and H.264, hardly lock-in formats from Apple. Indeed, all content that used to reside on CDs (that have no DRM) can be stripped off their (FairPlay) DRM by converting them to MP3s, whereas you are locked into Amazon’s DRM without the ability to convert. That’s a big difference.

  47. I think it’s all about form factor, and the standard size and shape of the traditional book is pleasing. The book evolved to its present shape and form because it works well with the size of our hands, has a page width our brains comfortably scan, and a range of text size that suits our eyes when the book is comfortably readable in a resting-armed position, etc. On the other hand, books have some serious drawbacks that have always bothered me, ever since I was a kid. You have to wrestle them to keep them open, sometimes cramping your thumbs…or you have to practically break the binding of them to get them to lay fairly flat in your hands so you can read all the way to the inside of a page. They age, yellow, get musty, store poorly, take up amazing amounts of space if you have a lot of them, and weigh a ton if you have to tote them around. Their covers wear, their bindings fail, and their pages wrinkle. You can stop to scratch your nose, accidentally close your book, and lose your place. Some books are printed with squintingly-small text, which gets annoying as you hit your middle-ages. Books also have the unfortunate quality of being fairly linear and difficult to search. How many times have I read something in a book and later wanted to refer to it, or tell someone about it, and spent ages trying to find the passage again.

    I think the form factor and features of Kindle and some of the other book readers that have come out of late seems just about right. I can imagine snuggling up in a chair and reading from one, just like I would a book. It’s the right physical dimensions and page size (I have difficulty picturing myself curling up with a nice PDA), can adjust its text to my eyesight, holds a whole library of books in a 10 ounce package, is just as clear to view outdoors on the patio as it is in the den, will undoubtedly remember what page I’m on if I get distracted, will let me mark my place without having to use a comb or whatever’s within reach, and will let me skip around in it rapidly, leaping to chapters rather than flipping and thumbing a lot..

    While I haven’t learned all the features of Kindle yet, I have to assume that if it can search Wikipedia, it may also be able to search its own contents, meaning the reader should be able to rapidly find something he/she read earlier. That’s a real plus.

    To me, the larger question isn’t whether this type of device is valuable; it is to me, definitely. I’ve wanted a paper book substitute for a long time. It’s whether Kindle is the right one. Amazon is playing Apple here. It wants to lock readers into a format and force them to buy their books and publications through them. They’re so protective of their book reading format that you can’t even read a PDF unless you first submit it to them for proprietary conversion to Kindle format. If I’m going to spend that sort of money on an e-book reader, I want it to be universally useful. There’s something a little insulting to be about being told, we’re going to sell you this at a premium price, and then charge you for the privilege of only being able to get your content for it by purchasing it from us.

    • I’ve had my Kindle 3 days and already want to send it back. Too little for the money and cumbersome to use the little 5-way controller. I keep thinking that I should be able to touch the screen and drag my fingers over the area I want to highlight and just push a button and speak my note into a speaker that types it out for later editing. Sure, it’s a big book store in a small device but the free PC Kindle app that I used for four months was just fine. I’ve just gotta go back or be extremely angry when something better comes out in 8 months or less.

  48. By and large, people don’t read whole books on screens – whether computer screens, e-book screens or whatever. I’m not saying it will never happen, but thus far no electronic device has come close to providing the complex of esthetic and sensory rewards that you get from reading a real paper book. Electronics are great for access, delivery and searching – but they just don’t feel as good to use. The Kindle doesn’t sound as if it changes this at all.

  49. I think Amazon doesn’t understand that nobody wants to pay $399 for zero books, just for the chance to pay more money for ANY books, or get locked into a service… (Sprint EVDO extra or not?) If I wanted to pay more than the device cost for a gadget then surely I would buy an iPhone for the same price? Then I could carry it in my pocket AND use it as a cell phone and iPod and fashion statement! (Or I could buy an iPod touch for less than the kindle and read unlimited content on that, from my pocket.)

    Consumers are limited with what devices they can commit to with their time and money. I think Bezos is forgetting that whether he likes it or not, he IS competing with the iPhone/iPod touch. When the SDK comes out in February, I can just make my own book reader (there will probably be ten eBook readers published in the first week of the SDK release) and read classics from Project Guttenberg for free (with a slick touch-gliding interface! reading eBooks on the Palm IIIc was kind of unrewarding from a user interaction point of view). If I want a book constantly updated by the author, I can just use Safari on the iPhone/touch and read my favorite blogs.

    Wishful thinking is not going to float this eDevice. Even if it is the iPod of eBooks, that’s not much to brag about: king of a market that won’t take off despite every heavyweight’s best attempts (Sony, Franklin, don’t forget the underwhelming Microsoft Reader; have you even heard of it)? How many people read physical eBooks? My prognostication is that consumers will never by solo eBook readers en masse; they will either want eBooks on their computers/the web/smart phones or they will prefer real books that they can loan to friends and set on their real bookshelves. Trying to create a new market to sell DRM of content consumers already own is what keeps killing the Zune and what made the iPod into the iPod of music players. My money says that the iPhone/touch will be the iPod of eBook readers.

  50. Tom B wrote >>I think Amazon doesn’t understand how hard it is to create compelling hardware.<<

    Yeah it looks like they got Casio’s old designers working for them. Why didn’t they call it the Clunky?

  51. I doubt this baby could compete with a more multifunctional device like the iPod Touch or the iPhone.

    I think Amazon doesn’t understand how hard it is to create compelling hardware.

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