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November 19, 2007

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It’s sort of amazing how the blogosphere has completely inspected and chewed up the Kindle in like eight hours. Done and done.

Tim has a great round-up of links which is worth clicking through. I generally agree with the consensus (“Not shiny! So expensive. Why closed?”) but I do think people ought to wait to touch one before completely writing it off. However bad the Kindle is, the Sony Reader was and is ten times as bad, and yet, when I actually held one, and flipped a page… I was intrigued. E-Ink displays are unlike anything else; it’s almost unsettling to see what you know is digital information rendered absolutely matte, just like a piece of paper. I think it’d be a trip to see a web page on a display like that.

And that indicates where I part ways with Tim, who thinks Apple could make the device that beats Kindle and its kin. Here’s my thing: I think the real revolution is going to be electronic paper — or at least electronic cardboard. That is: a display that’s kinda flexible, and matte, and cheap, and connected to the internet — but without much style or content of its own. Maybe it’s still five years away; but when it comes, I don’t think Apple’s going to make it. It’s just not… shiny enough, you know?

Also: The thing that’s really potentially interesting about all this stuff is that, per if:book, our very notion of the book could change: finding one gets faster, reading one gets more social, writing one gets… weird. This seems to be what got Stephen Levy excited in his Newsweek piece. But it also seems that, barring big changes, Kindle abdicates most of that, because it’s a closed system. Boo.

(This is a placeholder for the awesome Kindle post I am going to write tonight. In the meantime let Tim and Umair get you started.)

Posted November 19, 2007 at 10:21 | Comments (9) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted


ha! I came here to see if there was an awesome Kindle Post. I will come back later

Well, "beating Kindle" and "the real revolution" are hardly the same thing. I don't think that e-paper or e-board is likely to have much traction UNLESS at least a fraction of the audience is already used to reading documents on a handheld device. The iPhone is already the first handheld that handles PDF documents well; a larger model with a different target audience can do even better.

So this is really my argument: I bet that Apple can deliver a better reading experience than the Kindle TODAY, with very little modification with the underlying technology of either the hardware or the software.

I still think that what book and document reading needs is less the next iPod than the next iTunes; a killer client app that makes reading, subscribing, organizing, and purchasing e-documents dead easy.

The big hurdles that a tablet PC or multifunction device will have to clear that a dedicated device like the Kindle already has? Battery life and viewing angle. You might read and annotate lots of smaller documents on a "iBook"; but if it can only deliver four-five hours of battery life, you can be really stuck. Ditto if you have to look at the thing straight-on to read the text.

Last; a lot of reviewers went negative about the Kindle even though they hadn't seen it. But isn't it strange that Amazon didn't get it in more reviewers' hands? We should have had Walt Mossberg's take on it, and David Pogue's, and Engadget's, well before the Newsweek article. It smells of those movies that open on a Friday without anyone from the press being able to see them first; either you're a total control freak, or you're taking out the trash.

Re: iTunes

I think I disagree here as well. The success of the iTunes Store relative to the iPod is overblown; Apple did research and iPod users buy, on average, something like 2 iTunes tracks apiece. The vast (VAST) majority of iPod users get music onto their shiny little machines by a) burning CDs or b) downloading it illegally. No joke!

So that makes iTunes a successful app but an unsuccessful ecosystem. Good product; bad service.

If 'e-documents' were mainly going to be PDFs and e-books as we understand them now, then Apple might still have a shot, b/c they could just make an app that organizes them well, as you suggest. But I don't think e-documents are going to be that limited. I think the real 'iTunes of e-documents' is going to be more a refinement of the web browser than an echo of iTunes.

Just refined my thinking a bit: The thing is, the iPod didn't change the economics of music. It's a cool device for sure, and a big success, but the real game changer was the MP3 format + Napster + the web + Kazaa + MySpace + broadband internet + music blogs. So, likewise, I'm sure Apple could make a neat iReader, but it wouldn't change the economics & dynamics of publishing & reading, and that's what's most interesting to me. We need the web + blogs + [X] + [Y] + [Z], where X, Y and Z are yet-to-be-solved :-)

Bezos himself identifies Kindle as a service, not a product, and that at least is the right approach. (It's just the wrong service!)

I still think the killer app for ePaper is... paper! I want a flexible, cheap piece of ePaper without any clunky electronics attached to it. It just has a tiny strip of contacts on one edge for input. Everything else is handled by the more than ample computing/storage/power/wifi resources in my mobile, iPod, or whatever. In the office, ePaper comes out of my printer and goes back in when it's ready to be recycled.

Issues to be resolved: getting the price down (going slowly, but going), specifics of the input interface (could it be wireless or at least only very casual contact required?), how to take notes in the margins (smart pens that store electronic copies of notes as they're written? magnetic pens that can flip the bits of the eInk directly? scanners built into the ePaper printer/recycler for digitizing?). Anything else?

(Naturally, my ePaper will have an open API so that any device can be made to talk to it.)

Peter, yes! Am totally with you. And, regardless of whether it's 10 years off, or 50, or actually coming next month b/c of the Singularity, it's just a lot more interesting to talk about because it feels like a truly new medium. Being able to lay out a page with text and graphics... AND video, and web-connected live data feeds, and social context, and interactive widgets, etc. -- all on something that you can fold in quarters and stick in your back pocket -- now THAT is nutso.

That's also when the newspaper will make a comeback ;-)

I think iTunes isn't necessarily a failed ecosystem, but it's an open one, which I think adds to its success. In iTunes you can organize the music you already have, rip CDs to enlarge your digital library, or you can buy new media or download it freely. (I use iTunes to find, subscribe to, and organize all of my free podcasts, audio and video. What do you use?) It's an omnibus service, and its success and ubiquitousness means that even though buying music and movies is about the last thing anybody does with iTunes, they're still able to snatch up the lion's share of the market, and have proven that legal digital music sales are viable.

Part of the problem with the Kindle (and with eBook readers more generally) is that it's difficult to get the content you already have onto the device. If you had a broad-based organizer of PDFs and other book-like documents, that could organize material by dates, content ("Books," "Magazines," "Newspapers," "Blogs," "My Writings," "Maps," "Menus") which could then sync to your handheld document reader, then people would be much more likely to use the thing to read documents. Then when the market for consumption of electronic documents on handheld devices is proven (as it was for MP3s via Napster and other services before the iPod), then you're ready for a dedicated device. But not before.

The point is that the user experience at the software end has to change, and change for a lot of people, before the "store" component of the thing ever will. Amazon should be giving e-books and/or Kindles away right now.

There are people in the printing and publishing game who area already doing a good job at making their products available electronically via a subscription. Periodical publishers, from newspapers to academic journals, are already changing the way they do their business. Maybe book-reading isn't really the right frontier for a dedicated e-text reader. Nor is book-reading the physical/mental experience necessarily the one to recreate. It's the newspaper experience, the journal-reading experience, the blog-reading experience, the wire-service experience, the sample-chapter experience -- all of which we already do electronically, but not on the go.

It's conceivable that a player like Google could come up with a device/service that allowed you to access all of this subscription-based content by logging you in through a library account, as I already do to access the e-resources at my library. Or by giving away newspaper subscriptions, etc., by selling unobtrusive advertising.

But I think the browser is actually very poorly suited to handle reading, unless you whipped up some magical style-sheet or Java/Flash app that made it not look or act like a browser at all.

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