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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazon Kindle - wireless eBook reader. Hmmm. Unconvinced.

There's apparently a lot of fawning and drooling today over Amazon's new gadget - an eBook reader connected via CDMA EVDO, which lets you download digital books (and magazine subscriptions) wirelessly. It costs $399 to buy, and then $8 or $10 for a book, and some other number for a magazine sub. Oh, and $1 for a blog/RSS feed.

And apparently there's a charge for converting PDFs to the inhouse proprietary protocol if you use the email service. Amusing, as I've joked before that in an all IMS world, we'd never have got free PDF clients, but instead be stuck with some lousy billable document viewing service. (I'm really going to have to stop writing up what I think are really stupid ideas as that's the second time in a month someone's actually gone & tried them out).

I like idea of a wireless tablet-type device in general (it fits in with my belief in multiple devices, and divergence). And the fact that there's no ongoing wireless service subscription fits in with my comments that we'll see more devices that subsidise the service, rather than the other way around.

But I'm totally unconvinced that this particular one will succeed. "This isn't a device, it's a service" says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Funny, but actually I like to own stuff that I read. I don't want a personal document & library service. I want it tangible, sitting on my shelf or on my coffee table.

Some thoughts:
  • In the eye of this particular beholder, it's hideous. The name's a bit naff too.
  • It's black & white. OK for text in novels & newspapers, but not ideal for magazines.
  • It's quite expensive for what's essentially just a screen & some memory.
  • There's limited content. Checking the Amazon Kindle website for my favourite author, it only lists 3 of Iain Banks' novels. Same deal for Haruki Murakami. And there are none of the Lonely Planet travel guides listed (which would be pretty good to have in electronic form).
  • "The captain has switched on the seatbelt signs. Please secure your tray-table and turn off your ebooks."
  • "Long battery life. Leave wireless on and recharge approximately every other day". Am I missing something, or is that not really 'long' for a mobile device with the radio off?
  • I'm not really interested in locking my reading matter to a proprietary device for all eternity. At least with iTunes I can play music back through my PC as well.
  • It's not as obviously 'personalisable' as an iPod. And it doesn't come in pink.
  • What's the point of reading most blogs if you can't follow the links? (or, presumably, add comments). OK yes there are some news-type blogs which I just scan, but I'm unconvinced I'd pay for this.
  • I've seen some fairly spurious "save the trees!" environmental commentary. That's not convincing as most paper is made from farmed forecasts. And I'm sure that the plastics & silicon of the gadget itself have a fairly large energy input in their manufacture. Books and magazines are rather more easily recycled too.
  • Magazines are delivered 'overnight' - which suggests Amazon cut a great MVNO deal with Sprint to get low-cost data transmission. I know that there is a part of the magazine market (subscriptions) for which timeliness is less important - but quite often I want instant gratification with reading material. [my gut feel is that the subs part of the magazine market is quite a small % vs. newsagent in-store purchases, but maybe that's different in the US]
  • Not everywhere in the US has Sprint EVDO coverage. Let's hope people test it out before giving it as an Xmas present.
  • I've got a pile of old magazines in bathroom. Maybe there should be a Kindle-holder accessory next to the loo roll holder.
And at least in London, there's actually huge competition from paper-based alternatives to mobile devices - there are now 3 free newspapers handed out on street corners every workday, one in the morning and two at night. Plus a couple of localised ones in the City and elsewhere. Sure they're not the pinnacle of journalism, but they're perfect for a 20 minute tube ride.

I think I'll be adding this to the 'What's not' column on my website's Opinions page.

1 comment:

DBC said...

Isn't an MVNO deal what got ESPN in trouble with the ESPN phone? Isn't this just a grand form of branding a mobile phone to accept proprietary services, with little else to gain from it other than being the only service that does it in this way? I can see this taking off, and then sputtering like a bi-plane. That is not to say it's a bad bad idea, but it's only the beginning. In cases where this has happened -- the ESPN phone -- it might be better to go back to being a provider of books, like, real books...