Thursday, November 22, 2007

Let's Hope Kindle Is Only Chapter One's Jeff Bezos has done the seemingly impossible: He's created a piece of technology more bookish than a book.

The Kindle, launched Monday, is a slim handheld device that holds around 200 novels' worth of words and--using electronic
ink technology that physically arranges a dark chemical under the screen--displays them so crisply that the text is only
barely distinguishable from ink on a page. Unlike the Sony Reader, a device launched about a year ago that uses the same
e-ink display technology, the Kindle connects to Amazon's servers with an EVDO cellular connection to download books
from a stock of more than 90,000 titles, and can pull an entire novel's text directly onto the device wirelessly in
less than a minute.

Weighing just over 10 ounces and displaying text on a 6-inch  diagonal screen, the Kindle does a remarkable job of
reproducing the feel of a book. The passive display  technology produces no light, so a two-hour charge of its
battery lasts for 30 hours of uninterrupted reading. In fact, it only takes thumbing through a few digital pages of a novel
to forget that you're using a newfangled gadget and become  completely immersed in its content. The goal, says Bezos, was
to create a device that "disappears completely and lets you  enter the author's world."
watch kindle video

But from a design perspective, the sooner the  Kindle "disappears" the better. Amazon's reader is in many
ways the anti-iPhone. It does one thing very well: downloading and displaying text. Unlike Steve Jobs'  wondertoy,
 it's not likely to become a status symbol for hip  digerati.

The Kindle is an off-white, asymmetrical tablet. Its screen  is entirely gray-scale and never gets brighter than a dingy
gray; images look as if they were printed in a Depression-era  newspaper. Menus are navigated with a clunky up-and-down
click-wheel, and when they load, the screen flashes black  like a TI-82 calculator.

The Kindle's business model has another set of problems. To avoid a monthly subscription fee, Amazon is charging a wallet-
taxing $399 for the device--then $9.99 or so for every book that you download from Amazon's "Kindle Store." Publishers
seem reluctant to put their entire stock into the discounted  e-book format. Bezos brags that 101 of the 112 current New
York Times best sellers and new releases are available for  download. Just don't ask about best sellers from past years.
I went searching for Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff and came back with only I Am Charlotte Simmons.

For content that's already available on the Web, the Kindle  is even less practical. A variety of magazines, including
Slate, The Atlantic Monthly, Time and Forbes are available by  subscription or individual purchase: for instance, $1.50 will
get you a single issue of Forbes, or $2.49 will get you a  month's subscription.

No comments: