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A Kindle User After My Own Heart

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 29, 2007

Go read Josh Taylor’s post on how he took a Kindle to the Carribean and why he has fallen into “deep like” for the device after that.  Being able to travel without a suitcase full of books was the first lightbulb that lit for me when I heard about Kindle.  The truth is, I’d seen an eBook a long long time before Kindle.  I can’t even remember whose it was, but we’re talking before Blackberry even existed.  It was a lame device back then, but I would still have bought one but for lack of decent book selection.  Despite O’Reilly not being there yet, I think Amazon has the means to fix the selection problem, and the device is certainly light years ahead of most of what we’ve seen even if many are still unconvinced.

Tidbits from Taylor’s post:

  • Taylor loved the Kindle’s screen for reading text, but says graphics, even black and white pictures, are almost hopeless.  I still haven’t personally seen a Kindle, but my friend Song Huang was recently telling me how impressive the eInk display is.  He saw one at a conference somewhere and was convinced they had just stuck a piece of paper behind glass as a mockup.  When the thing updated and showed it wasn’t paper, he was blown away.  I’d love to hear whether line art looks good on a Kindle.  That’s the sort of thing I’d want if reading a technical book, although it’s a shame actual pictures are so poor–it’ll make it hard to see screen shots.
  • As to the UI, Taylor loves the navigation but laments you can’t put Kindle away without accidentally flipping a page.  Has no one ever been reading their paperback, nodding off, dropped the book and lost their place entirely?  Must be my age if I’m the only one.  He also had an incident where his wife went to the beach without a proper charge and the Kindle died.  Doh!  Hate when that happens!

I also liked learning that Amazon will let you grab the first chapter of any book free to see if you like it before purchasing.  As I wrote in my original Kindle post, there are lots of ways the buying experience can be enhanced by Kindle.  One of my minor book purchasing peccadilos is an inability to keep track of all the authors and which of their novels I already have.  Every now and then I wind up with two copies of something.  Nothing worse than diving into what you think is a new offering from a favorite author only to discover you’ve already read the book!  I want to be able to get into a book club for my faves whereby I get notified as soon as something new is available and I can get the book with one click.  BTW, Amazon is famous for patenting the one click (I believe the recently lost that patent too).  I would expect them to try to patent a lot of the new stuff behind Kindle.  Patents are not my favorite thing, but they are a fact of life.

Scoble ran an interview on the street with a woman who wanted to see his Kindle while he was giving a talk at Stanford.  I came away from the interview with a slightly different reaction than I think Scoble and others may have.  There is a view that Kindle’s foibles are disasterous, but I’m not at all convinced.  Scoble points out that this woman hit many of his complaints almost immediately:

Notice that she accidentally hits the “next” button. That she tries to use it as a touch screen. That she is bugged by the refresh rate. But, she, like me, is interested enough to want to buy one (she’s the first that I’ve shown it to that has that reaction). Imagine if Amazon had designed it better? Imagine how many more people would want it.

The thing is, if you watch the video, none of that bothered her.  She made an assumption that is common outside Silicon Valley: if the thing didn’t work as she expected it to, it was not a problem, it just meant she needed to learn.  Sometimes I think we get too focused on a particular view of how things have to work in the Valley, and we’re way over the top critical when they don’t.  Many successful products are riddled with inconsistencies, but work so well compared to the alternatives that we ignore them.  I’m typing this in WordPress and let me tell you, it has at least as many UI foibles as Kindle, but it doesn’t matter, and it’s wildly successful.

I do agree with Scoble that if Kindle had been as perfect as iPhone or iPod from the get go, if it had been just as sexy, and just as “right”, Kindle would be a much bigger success.  However, let’s reflect on two thoughts.  First, Josh Taylor remarks that the Kindle must be popular because you can’t get one.  Note that this may not be the whole story.  Amazon may be limiting supply for a variety of reasons.  They want to understand usage patterns better to see if they can make money, or they want to respond to user criticisms without having a ton of inventory, or even they want to make sure it doesn’t damage their lucrative Christmas season.  Second, iPhone and iPod were not first generation devices in their categories.  I suppose we can argue that Kindle isn’t either, but it seems to me the precursors of the Apple products were much closer to success than Kindle’s precursors are.

All this has, um, kindled my desire to have a Kindle.  Still not sure I’ll put it on the Christmas list (you can’t seem to get one anyway), but my birthday is early in the year.  I just hope to see the rumored Apple Tablet device before I have to pull the trigger.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if Amazon takes the Open Road and has an OEM offering for other eBook builders?  Wouldn’t it be even more awesome if the Apple Tablet picked up the backend of the Kindle service and accessed it from their own UI?  Whoa!  Stranger things have happened, but not often…

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3 Responses to “A Kindle User After My Own Heart”

  1. [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI still haven’t personally seen a Kindle, but my friend Song Huang was recently telling me how impressive the eInk display is. He saw one at a conference somewhere and was convinced they had just stuck a piece of paper behind glass as a … [...]

  2. mikecane said

    There is also the Sony Reader. It has fewer buttons and was designed to mimic a book more than the Kindle:
    http://mikecane.wordpress.com/2006/10/26/sony-reader-multi-part-report-index/

  3. richnieset said

    I find it amazing that no one has gotten this technology right yet. I have been reading e-books on a Palm Tungsten for years, and that device works reasonably well for that dedicated application. It costs $99; takes about 2 minutes to download and open a book online. Most books average about $5; and the selection is decent; but not terrific. I started my e-book love affair with the Rocket Book; I think circa 1998? Any way, it was lovely concept and bad execution, it weighed as much as a Tolstoy, had terrible battery life and horrible resolution. That’s when I defected to Palm Reader. When I saw Kindle, I thought finally, we are going to get a serious e-book. But based on this article and Tayolor’s review, I am sticking with my Tungsten until V2 comes out. There simply is no excuse for not getting the resolution, battery life, UI, and graphics down properly for such a single purpose device as this. If we early adopters are going to be the focus group that works out the engineering kinks; we should get a discount. Oh, and I did check out the Sony; I never did figure out how their UI works; and you have buy the books from only their store? I guess they still have a few Betamax product managers hanging around…

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