The latest buzz on the Internet comes in the form of the Amazon Kindle e-book reader. I had first initially dismissed it as another e-book reader, but with time it has come to interestingly reminds me of the good old “Internet Appliance” product that was all the rage in the late 1990’s. Launched about 2 weeks ago, it was, according to Engadget, sold out in 5.5 hours! While there is no reports of how many Kindles were available, it does to me, sound of marketers creating artificial demand by keeping the number of units for sale low, ah lah Apple style. Oh well.
Despite that, I am interested to see if this USD$399 product, heralds the start of the new generation of “Internet Appliances” that also includes the likes of the Chumby, Roku Internet radio, and the recent Bug Labs open source product. Why? Unlike the Sony’s e-book reader this connects to the internet.
It’s only 360 Degree Industrial Design!
The Amazon Kindle looks wafer thin and seems to me designed to be a carry and go device. I’m not sure who did the Industrial Design, but the overall form seems very retro computer-ish with its angular surfaces and beige color scheme. (Beige?) Accordingly to Jeff Bezos, the Kindle was inspired by the characteristics of what makes a book, a book. Check out the impressive 360 degrees strategic industrial design planning in his interview below:
As well placed as Amazon was to jump into this scrum and maybe move things forward, it was not something the company took lightly. After all, this is the book we’re talking about. “If you’re going to do something like this, you have to be as good as the book in a lot of respects,” says Bezos. “But we also have to look for things that ordinary books can’t do.” Bounding to a whiteboard in the conference room, he ticks off a number of attributes that a book-reading device—yet another computer-powered gadget in an ever more crowded backpack full of them—must have. First, it must project an aura of bookishness; it should be less of a whizzy gizmo than an austere vessel of culture. Therefore the Kindle (named to evoke the crackling ignition of knowledge) has the dimensions of a paperback, with a tapering of its width that emulates the bulge toward a book’s binding. It weighs but 10.3 ounces, and unlike a laptop computer it does not run hot or make intrusive beeps. A reading device must be sharp and durable, Bezos says, and with the use of E Ink, a breakthrough technology of several years ago that mimes the clarity of a printed book, the Kindle’s six-inch screen posts readable pages. The battery has to last for a while, he adds, since there’s nothing sadder than a book you can’t read because of electile dysfunction. (The Kindle gets as many as 30 hours of reading on a charge, and recharges in two hours.) And, to soothe the anxieties of print-culture stalwarts, in sleep mode the Kindle displays retro images of ancient texts, early printing presses and beloved authors like Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen.
But then comes the features that your mom’s copy of “Gone With the Wind” can’t match. E-book devices like the Kindle allow you to change the font size: aging baby boomers will appreciate that every book can instantly be a large-type edition. The handheld device can also hold several shelves’ worth of books: 200 of them onboard, hundreds more on a memory card and a limitless amount in virtual library stacks maintained by Amazon. Also, the Kindle allows you to search within the book for a phrase or name.
Some of those features have been available on previous e-book devices, notably the Sony Reader. The Kindle’s real breakthrough springs from a feature that its predecessors never offered: wireless connectivity, via a system called Whispernet. (It’s based on the EVDO broadband service offered by cell-phone carriers, allowing it to work anywhere, not just Wi-Fi hotspots.) As a result, says Bezos, “This isn’t a device, it’s a service.” ~Source: Newsweek
Perhaps the designers, wanted to break away from the “Apple” effect, and I don’t blame them, but I’m not sure if the result is right for today’s consumer market and that the bookish tactile or haptic aspects does not seem to be well applied. Perhaps it is too literal in form and the graphic comprising of alphabets on the back does not really help. It is difficult to see in the pictures, but I would have liked to seem some heavy texture similar to that of paper bound hard back books. Regardless the detailing and large usable buttons are superb, that to me is the most important, especially in mobile product.
The Kindle also sports the new e-ink, low power consumption high contrast display, that allows for a 30 hour battery life (recharge in 2hrs), and can be viewed under any light source. The amazing thing is that, in the US, Amazon has purchased free Wireless access all around the country via the Sprint mobile network. It’s not Wi-Fi but according to Amazon it is “wireless similar to that of advance mobile phone network” that allows for connection anytime, anywhere. Hmm… I wonder if it is 3G?
Anyways, while that is all great and dandy, the problem is that it is a pay per use model to access the information. In particular access to free information such as blogs (USD$0.99/month) or the latest News, you now have to pay to get it on the Kindle via a system many people liken to the iTunes. While it does it sound to me another way for the high traffic blogs to make affiliate money, the reality is why pay for something when you can get it for free? While I understand the Amazon shop selling novels through the Kindle, charging for News and Blogs to me seems like a contradiction as most people do fine on the computer.
However, we should not discount the fact that it can link to blogs. As described in the Newsweek article, the fact that it is always on, means it has the flexibility for books to be updated, revised or even serialized. I think the greatness of this device is that it will change the way books are written, and I would not surprise if newer versions of it become some kind of blogging platform that allows authors to write their work on and interact with their readers directly.
But what about the identity of this product? Will it be confused as a PC or a PDA? The product seems to be a device targeted as an extension of Amazon’s on-line shop, therefore other than limited access to the Internet, the Kindle can’t do much more. Strange though, as wanting this device to do more does go against what an Internet Appliance is supposed to be, and that is a focused and dedicated device for doing something off the Internet. Many people are already poo-pooing the device in favor for their multi-functional Windows PDA and iPhone.
So then the next question is, are we really ready for dedicated devices? Or do we still want convergent products like the Nokia N-series phones and PDAs? Perhaps people have progressed with technology and are now advanced enough to handle the complexity that comes with multi-function devices? I’ll have to think on this more.
Going forward and looking at the bigger picture, there seems to be an interesting trend of what I like to call the New Age Internet Appliances. These devices will be low cost, but will make money by providing curated Internet content, which is either free (paid for via advertisers) or will charge in either a subscription or pay per use model. Furthermore these Appliances, are also fairly focused as opposed to the general web surfing Audrey of times past. (So we did have a product that can do more? But it does not seem to work as well eh?) It seems these days, selling products only does not cut it. The Product 2.0 era looks like will start with people selling content before they even start selling their product.
Not only that, it is interesting to see that the successful Internet companies who made their money virtually (for example Amazon + Kindle, or Google and the fake Gphone, or Skype and the Skype mobile phone) are coming back and offering tangible solutions as a means for direct access to services. I wont be surprised if there is a Flickr Camera product in the works. It is ironic that Jeff Bezos (CEO Amazon) commented, especially since he founded a business that is an on-line empire:
Books are the last bastion of analog…~Source: Newsweek
Perhaps this is the inspiration for him to create the Kindle? What ever it is consumer electronics of the future will never be the same and it seems to me the business model will need to start on-line virtually before it comes back to the real.
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