Amazon.com is venturing into the hardware industry on Monday with the launch of their new ebook reading device, Kindle. The image I have included to the right comes from a September 2006 post at Endgadget, so I have no idea if that is just a prototype or if it is a reasonable representation of the shipping product. I hope just a prototype, because it’s kind of ugly. The device is 4.9 inches by 7.5 inches by 0.7 inches and weighs 10.2 ounces (so slightly larger than the iPod classic, and double the weight).
Newsweek has a seven page article up all about the device, and after reading it, I’m pretty excited (though still distraught over the look…beige is so pre-Internet). I encourage you to go read it for yourself, but here’s the gist of the article:
- The Amazon Kindle will sell for $399 USD.
- It has no back-light, and utilizes E Ink technology that mimics the readability of ink on paper.
- Battery will last 30 hours and will fully charge in just 2.
- Wireless connectivity via Wi-Fi and EVDO.
- Does not require a computer. You can buy the books on the device with one-touch and start reading.
- There will be 88,000 books available at launch, for $9.99 each.
- You can subscribe to newspapers like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
- You get a private Kindle email address. Send a PDF to it, and the document is automatically added to your library, ready to read on the Kindle.
The Newsweek article then goes into the history of ebooks, and provides a pretty good analysis of how the Kindle could transform both reading and writing.
Don’t you wish you had one of these? Or maybe one of the second generation Kindles, with color screens, a sleeker design, and a lower price? I do. I know ebooks have been talked about for years, but the Kindle could be the device that finally opens the floodgates. The killer feature, as far as I am concerned, is the inclusion of wireless connectivity. It’s a big, big deal.
You don’t always have access to your computer, and even if you do, connecting a device to it is an annoying step that needs to go away forever. With a wireless connection, the Kindle can do everything on its own, without the need for a computer. Score one for the inclusion of wireless.
As the Newsweek article states, the Kindle is "the first ‘always-on book". That could transform the way books are published entirely! I read a lot of non-fiction, and I like to buy the books when they are brand new. For instance, I bought Freakonomics as soon as I heard about it. The problem is that these books almost always have a second "revised and expanded" edition! There’s no way I’m going to buy the book again. With the Kindle however, I could subscribe to the book. The author could update the book on the fly, and I’d see the changes instantly, wherever I am. How cool is that?!
Another key advantage to the Kindle’s wireless feature is the ability to venture out onto the web. You can look up something on Wikipedia for instance, and then capture passages to your Kindle library "with an electronic version of a highlight pen." Combined with the fact that you can send documents to the Kindle, it could become your hub for all kinds of reading. Books, newspapers, blogs, documents, and web pages.
There will always be critics and individuals who say nay to the idea of ebooks, but it’s a losing battle for them. From the Newsweek article:
"I’ve actually asked myself, ‘Why do I love these physical objects?’ " says [Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos]. " ‘Why do I love the smell of glue and ink?’ The answer is that I associate that smell with all those worlds I have been transported to. What we love is the words and ideas."
Microsoft’s Bill Hill has a riff where he runs through the energy-wasting, resource-draining process of how we make books now. We chop down trees, transport them to plants, mash them into pulp, move the pulp to another factory to press into sheets, ship the sheets to a plant to put dirty marks on them, then cut the sheets and bind them and ship the thing around the world. "Do you really believe that we’ll be doing that in 50 years?" he asks.
Amazon’s Kindle attempts to solve the first problem – the affinity for the physical book – by being a device that disappears as you read. The print is clear and crisp, the device mimics the size of a paperback, and there isn’t much to distract you from reading (I guess that’s one advantage to the less than sleek look). It solves the second problem – environmental waste and inefficiencies – by getting rid of the need for paper altogether.
I think the Kindle could be good. Read the Newsweek article, and also this post by the author, Steven Levy. In it, he addresses the "ugly" reaction that bloggers like me have had. There’s even more on the device at Techmeme. Maybe in a few years you’ll be reading this on the Kindle!
Oh, and don’t let the $399 price tag get in the way of realizing how much potential the Kindle has. After all, when the iPod launched in 2001, it was priced at $399 too.