Is Kindle the next big thing after the iPod?

  • Analyst Opinion - I’ve been using the Kindle on and off for the last week and have to admit I’m impressed.  There are a number of critical shortcomings to the offering but they don’t really get in the way of a good experience most of the time and the advantages appear to overcome the disadvantages.    

    In many ways, this product is reminding me more and more of the first generation iPod.   It too had a number of shortcomings, one was substantially bigger than the Kindle has, and that was that initially it wouldn’t work with Windows.  By generation two, that flaw was fixed and I also expect the second generation Kindle to be vastly better.

    Minor Kindle issues

    There is one major problem with the Kindle and several small ones.  The major problem is the lack of a screen light which would have given the product a huge advantage over a book in low light areas. Book lights don’t work well with the Kindle (it’s nearly impossible to find a good place to clip them), but most of us don’t use those anyway and it is no harder to use than an actual book in that regard.   The minor problems are the power and radio switches are on the back and you have to remove the protective cover to get to them (just a little annoying) and the switches for turning pages forces you to hold the Kindle in a rather uncomfortable way.  The gray-scale screen (four grades) is great for reading but is a disappointment when it comes to book art - which is displayed in black and gray blobs.    

    Finally, appearance always matters and the Kindle certainly doesn’t have a particularly expensive feel – at least not as it expensive as its price. Plus, the keyboard while useful isn’t elegant and isn’t used while reading so should be concealable.

    Kindle impressions and recalling the initial iPod

    The book selection for Kindle so far has been ok, much like the initial iTunes on-line music selection. I would expect this to change very rapidly though and Amazon is certainly in a good place to make that happen.  The book ordering process has been a wonder to work with and the only disappointment is that Amazon keeps offering me books I already bought from them earlier this year. At the very least you’d think they would give me a discount to buy a second copy of the same book for the Kindle.  This probably represents the biggest comparative disadvantage because with the iPod I could rip the music from CDs I already owned - there is no provision to get books I own onto this device in an inexpensive way, at least not yet.

    I have, however, found a large number of books available for the Kindle that I want to read. This is a huge improvement over the experience I had with the Sony eBook. Also, I can browse books on my PC and have them instantly delivered to the Kindle, which is a wonderful experience. Overall, even at $400 (recall many thought the initial iPod was over priced at $399 as well), this thing has become a must have for me and I expect I’ll use it more than my MP3 player going forward (I read more than I listen to music).   

    Looking forward

    While clearly more popular than Amazon had thought, I don’t think this version of the product is the one we will remember - just like few of us now remember what the initial iPod looked like when they hear the name. Amazon has done a great job with the back end of this offering but the front end (the device itself), as mentioned above, needs work and I do think there is room for a product that does a much better job of converging text and multi-media entertainment.

    This brings to mind the Intel Mobile Internet Device, which we haven’t spoken of in awhile.  This device, which is typically seen as running an embedded operating system and doing a few things like showing eBooks, playing Movies and Music and browsing the Web Browsing very well, might be on the path of the natural evolution of a more capable Kindle. The key will be being able to add the extra capability without detracting excessively from battery life and advancements in ePaper that allow for this functionality will likely be on the critical path to a successful effort.   

    I still think the iPhone, iPod Touch, Zune II, MID, UMPC, and Kindle are all tracking to become the parents of some future more capable, always connected, device that will transform the way we work and play.    

    It will be interesting to see how this scenario evolves. For now, I’m very impressed with this first Amazon offering and only wish they had spent a little more time with the hardware design and, at least, put a light on the product.

    Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.