Saturday, July 17, 2010

Remind me Again, Why is There a Kindle?

Don't me wrong--I've been the proud possess or of a Kindle (I) since Mrs. Buce presented me with one a couple of Christmases ago. I carry it with me; I've got 100 books on it, including a complete Shakespeare; I was reading on under my little clip-on light, just last night when I couldn't sleep. It's a little beat up around the edges (I am a serial abuser of physical equipment). But we're practically joined at the hip.

And don't get me wrong again: electronic books are here to stay. Complain as we may, they're only going to get more pervasive and, on the whole, better--more readable and more generally usable.

But--why the Kindle? As many have pointed out, what we've got here is an overpriced and underpowered laptop. Is there anything--anything--that can be done by the Kindle, which cannot be done by any computer appliance with a laptop connection?

I can think of only two possible ways of saying "yes" to that question, and neither seems decisive on the larger issue. One: long battery life. The tradeoff of having such a limited machine is that it doesn't suck up much juice. You easily can bang around with it for several days without a refill, if you are discreet about your actual use. And two: instant access to the Amazon honey pot from any place in the US (sic, not yet "the world").

But is that enough? Lately we've encountered the Ipad (I don't own one) which offers--so they tell me--something very close to the same experience. And closer to home--even more telling--I've got that Kindle app on my little $329 netbook. It isn't quite the same as the Kindle itself. To read, I do have to peer over the keyboard. So far as I can tell, I don't have instant access to the Apple net. I don't have a week-long battery--but I do have a battery which runs 6-9 hours (depending on how I use it) which for almost every purpose is, thank you quite long enough. And backlit. Did I say backlit? I could do away with that little clipon light.

So on balance, the difference between the Kindle and the netbook is at best pocket change.
There's also the matter of availability on my mobile. I don't have it right now; turns out my device is too old or kludgy to install. But that's a detail; like everyone else on the planet, I will be buying a new mobile soon, and I'll make sure to get one that will take an ebook app. No, no, I don't want actually to read War and Peace on a 1.5-inch screen. But as a distractor while standing in line at the DMV--oh, I can only dream.

So: had Amazon simply introduced the app first, I can't see why anyone would have bought the app at all. They made one of the oldest of business mistakes: they failed to understand what business they were in. They weren't selling devices, they were selling books, and they could sell them as well or better without the device. Oh and perhaps needless to say--if this is true of the Kindle, I really can't see any future for the Barnes & Noble Nook. And those other guys, those poor forlorn first movers, I forget, name begins with S.

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