One of the most interesting products that’s come out recently is Amazon’s Kindle, which is attempting to do for books what the iPod did for music (even offering titles for $9.99 apiece on their website). The design is impressively sleek, and the new version boasts a whole host of interesting digital features–from internet access for immediate downloading and wikipedia lookups to text-to-speech for an instant (if mechanical-sounding) audiobook.
But the Kindle 2’s biggest “features” all seem to revolve around its ability to emulate paper–glare-free screen for reading in the sun, 16 shades of gray for that real bookish look and 20% faster page-turning. Interestingly enough, despite the supposed power of the digital book, one of the primary focuses of purveyors of these fine goods has been to de-digitalize the reading experience as much as possible. Kindle boasts the increased power of portable internet access, but still attempts to make its product as book-like as possible.
I wonder if this is a problem that Gutenberg encountered when he first invented the press–was there an adjustment period for literate Europeans (and there were way fewer of them at the time) to get used to movable type? I have always heard complaints about the eye strain caused by reading type on a screen, and I wonder if it may be something humans are capable of genetically adapting to.
In any case, my other interesting point about Kindle is its marketing strategy. In March, Amazon added a free Kindle App to the Apple store in order to allow iPhone users to read books without a Kindle. This strategy actually mirrors Apple’s own approach with the original iPod–offering Kindle as the go-to digital book reader, regardless of who was offering the access. I’m assuming that Amazon hopes that offering the Kindle on multiple platforms will give them a near-monopoly on the digital book market, much as the iPod has become synonymous with mp3 players.
Unfortunately, the iPhone App doesn’t offer what I find to be the Kindle’s most intriguing feature, which is their newspaper reader. With the industry slowly fading out across the world, it’s interesting to see Kindle offering a clearly modern solution to keep newspaper subscriptions alive. Should the technology become widespread, the effect on newspapers would be tremendous–distribution would be revolutionized, although the paper industry would take one hell of a hit. All in all, I would say that Amazon has something here, although it’s hard to tell if Kindle has the staying power to truly replace paper (especially at the similarly iPod-esque price of $350). But it certainly has the potential, and that fact leaves me fascinated. We’ll just have to keep watching to see what happens.