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.