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A friend of mine goaded me into buying a Kindle—Amazon’selectronic book reader. “You are supposed to be some kind of high-techvisionary. Electronic books are the future! How can you not own a Kindle? Youought to be ashamed of yourself.”

 

Thus chastened, I raced to my Amazon account and 1-clicked—$359.Ouch. I wonder how long till it’s below $100.

 

I have to say, I was surprised by how good it is. I’d readreviews describing it as “clunky and ugly”,but I found it to be light, easy to use, and—most important—the electronic ink is very easy toread, even in bright sunlight. That was critical during my beach vacationearlier this summer. Unlike LCD, it’s not backlit and has no funny polarizingeffects with sunglasses; it feels just like ink on paper.

 

Another friend told me, “My Kindle completely changed theway I read.” That surprised me, so I asked him to explain. He said he used toread magazines in bed, because they are light and easy to hold, but books,especially hardcover books, are heavier and a bit awkward. The Kindle convertedhim from magazines (candy), to books (meat), and he’s happier for it.

 

One of the knocks on e-books is that people like the feel of a real book with real pages toturn. People worry that an electronic gadget will get in the way of reading. Perhapsthat’s why I hadn’t bought an e-book. I can report that after the first couplebooks, the Kindle “disappeared”—it vanished from my conscious awareness. Forpeople who like flashy gadgets, that may be a disadvantage, but as an avid reader,I thought that’s how it should be. Interestingly, the Kindle doesn’t have thesame addictive attraction for me as a smartphone or a web browser. Maybe because the book just sits there, waiting for meto turn the page—no new-message alerts or latest news flashes.

 

Part of what appeals to me is the Kindle’s appliance nature. The Kindlesucks if you think of it as a small computer, PDA, or web browser: the keyboardis clunky, the display updates oddly, and browsing speed is slow. But forreading a book, the Kindle is absolutely perfect. An appliance does just onething, and it does it well.

 

What’s most innovative about the Kindle is not the deviceitself, but the way it integrates so cleanly with the cellular network and withmy Amazon account. Even though it downloads books using cell-phone technology, Amazonpays the bandwidth cost—pennies per book—directly to the phone company, so youdon’t have to deal with yet another cell phone account. There was no setup atall: it said “Dave’s Kindle” as soon as I turned it on. (It knew because I hadordered it with my Amazon account.) You can order books from the Kindle itself,via a somewhat clunky web-like interface, or you can use your regular Amazonaccount. If you buy the “Kindle edition”, listed right next to “hardcopy”,“paperback”, and “audiobook”, it downloads automatically. And Amazon remembers whatyou’ve already purchased, so no backup is necessary.

 

This kind of tight integration can radically change therules of an industry. It’s what Gary Hamel calls “strategic innovation” in his bookTheFuture of Management. He contrasts it with “product innovation”. Folks whohave tried the SonyReader tell me that it’s absolutely beautiful—much sexier than the Kindle—butto download books you have to cable it up to your PC and go to Sony’s specialweb page. Great product innovation, not great strategic innovation. It’s like thedifference between a generic MP3 player and how Apple has integrated the iPodwith the iTunes store.

 

My favorite feature is that there is an email address whereI can send JPEGs or Word documents to my Kindle. Whatever I send to dave_hitz@kindle.comshows up on the Kindle in seconds. The bookI just finished writing won’t be published until January, but I sent themanuscript to my Kindle, and it made me feel all official and important seeingit there with the other “real” books!

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