Monday 19 October 2009

Kindle or kindling?

The Kindle is Amazon's attempt to do with reading books what Apple did with the iPod with listening to music. It's an e-book reader using a monochrome e-paper like screen which you can hold in the hand. And its strongest point is that it is linked to the Amazon book store machine which has been so successful with paper versions.

However this will not revolutionise book reading like the iPod revolutionised the music industry. Certainly it will mean that more players in the publishing industry release more electronic titles but I don't see it replacing the paper book in the same way that electronic music downloads have replaced the majority of music media forms. It's all about the experience. The actual experience of listening to music is basically similar whether your earphones are plugged into an iPod or a Walkman or a stereo system. The actual experience of reading a book feels quite different when holding a book of paper pages and when staring at a screen and pressing a button to advance pages. I can see that a minority of people who travel and carry around a lot of heavy tomes with them at present might choose the device but its wider attractiveness is questionable.

And then there is the overall experience of using the Kindle device. The screen is quite small. There is less text on each screenful compared to most books' pages. And there is a waste of space on the bottom third of the device where Amazon has found it necessary to put a plastic button keyboard which makes the Kindle look reminiscent of an electronic calculator of old. The Sony e-Reader is at least a better design with more touch screen real estate and no plastic keyboard. However they do not have the relationships and hence volume of media content to bring to their offering.

There is another player in the wings who could combine ease of use, an experience which is much better and a store/portal with content in the e-publishing area. It is also likely that they would attempt a rather different business model too ... the price of a device with the required design and features needs a use case more than just reading books in order for people to buy it in enough numbers to ever become a mass market or revolutionary device. Watch the Apple space!

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