The following story seems to be a rare departure from my writing about "pure" Broadband Wireless Internet Access. But, it's not entirely so because without Broadband Wireless Internet Access, the Kindle would simply not be a compelling product; BWIA is completely integral to the Kindle's business model. Without BWIA, and the use of BWIA in a radically new way (paid for by content downloads, not a recurring or metered fee), Kindle would not be anywhere near the potential success I now believe it is going to be.
In initial post about the Kindle... Wow... I got an amazing number of things wrong, and completely overlooked a number of compelling features of the Kindle. My wakeup call about the worst of my goofs was Tom Evslin's Kindle – Free Internet Browsing for Just $400. So numerous are the goofs, omissions, and new info that it rated this rare dedicated post. The text of the original post is in italics, with the errors in strikethrough. I think that the result is one of the more definitive discussions technical details of the Kindle. Of course there is the "signature" Newsweek (which, ironically deliciously, isn't available as a Kindle subscription) cover story - The Future Of Reading. If you're at all interested in the Kindle, I highly recommend taking the time to read the entire seven browser pages of it.
(Almost...) all conceivable questions about the Kindle can be answered authoritatively by reading:
Radical new source of content for connected devices... books, newspapers, magazines, blogs This came out of left field for me - Amazon's Kindle; an $399 ebook tablet equipped with
(Sprint) 1xEV-DO. One breakthrough is that you don't pay a fee for the
Sprint 1xEV-DO access; apparently it's paid for in the price of a book
purchase, but you're also also allowed free online access to Wikipedia.
Re-reading my sources, I don't know where I got the idea that the Kindle had Wi-Fi capability. Apparently it doesn't - only 1xEV-DO (currently using Sprint). Amazon calls Kindle's wireless connectivity Whispernet; from the sound of things, Amazon has entered into a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) arrangement with Sprint for the use of their 1xEV-DO network.
Those are pretty cool features, but, overall,
without a general purpose browser to have access to the web (even if that was restricted just to using the Wi-Fi connection), it's a non-starter. I just can't see people carrying yet another dedicated-purpose, walled-garden digital device. Maybe,
just maybe, if you could download current news and periodicals such as
NYT or WSJ or maybe even digital editions of weekly newsmagazines it
would be viable. Oops... they have them - NYT $13.99/month,
WSJ $9.99/month, Forbes, Time, even selected blogs such as Slashdot,
GigaOm, Huffington Post, etc. (for "as little as" $0.99/month!).
My biggest oversight is that the Kindle does include a minimal-capability web browser! Evslin, and Glenn Fleishman's article document this thoroughly. I'm just in awe that Amazon is gambling that not charging each individual Kindle user for Internet browser access via Sprint 1xEV-DO will end up balancing out, and profitable, through the purchase of content. Restricting the browsing to Wikipedia made sense to me, but apparently Amazon chose, bravely, to allow not to restrict users. The browser doesn't support Flash, Shockwave, etc. - it's really optimized for text sites. I hope Amazon doesn't re-think it if it becomes very popular, but I think that a lot of people will purchase a Kindle for the ability to do "anywhere" web browsing for free... but end up getting enticed into purchasing content. That's a very, very savvy business model (if it in fact works that way; hopefully Amazon has made a very good deal with Sprint Nextel for use of their 1xEV-DO network). Random thought... imagine that much of the Kindle downloads and browsing will be done in the wee hours of bedtime reading... when Sprint Nextel's 1xEV-DO network is little-used.
But even with the discount of downloading a current book at $10,
I can't see the potential audience for this being any larger than "minuscule".
OK... maybe Amazon does have something here. This begins to make sense
to stick in your portfolio for "comfortable chair at Starbucks" times.
It's good that Amazon keeps fighting the good fight to keep Apple and
Microsoft on their toes to keep improving digital content options and
now the iPhone and Zune, respectively. Reading a bit more... one real
breakthrough on the Kindle that Apple and Microsoft just have NOT
gotten is that the Kindle doesn't require a desktop computer in the loop at all
- it's just the individual Kindle device and Amazon via the wireless
connection(s). Want it? Order it, download it, read it. Although... if
that's the case, then why is a USB cable bundled with the Kindle? This
was kind of cool too, and potentially somewhat useful: Eliminating the
need to print, Kindle makes it easy to take your personal documents
with you. Each Kindle has a unique and customizable e-mail address.
This allows you and your contacts to e-mail Word documents and pictures
wirelessly to your Kindle for only $0.10. Kindle supports wireless
delivery of unprotected Microsoft Word, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP,
PRC and MOBI files. That's a bit of out-of-the-box thinking. Someone's
going to figure out how to use Amazon / Kindle to distribute private
circulation newsletters with that feature.
I just completely missed that Kindle also supports audiobooks and MP3 files. Audio files are what the included USB cable is for because they're so big (comparatively, to text). When you plug in a Kindle with the USB cable, the Kindle appears to the host computer as a disk drive - just drag the audiobook or MP3 file onto the "Kindle drive". Apparently Amazon and Sprint aren't willing to incur the downloads (paid, or no) of (largish) audio files. Incredibly smart that Amazon has simply, completely skipped the now-inane "host" software that Microsoft and Apple still require to populate content onto Zune and iPod.
Some of the biggest controversy swirling around the Kindle is about what files the Kindle can read. From my study, it looks to me like the Kindle natively supports these non-proprietary file formats: .txt, .mobi/.prc, .mp3. That's it. You can email other file formats (currently .doc, HTML, JPEG, GIF, and PNG) to your Kindle (@ $0.10/per) and they'll be converted into the Kindle (.azw) format.
Yep - amazing as it sounds, PDF files aren't officially supported - yet. But the Seattle Time's Brier Dudley (a bit miffed at being the hometown paper for Amazon.com, one of the first content providers for the Kindle, and yet not officially invited to the Kindle's debut in NYC) reports: [Kindle] also accepts PDF documents as part of the experimental section, although "some have fixed layout so they may not layout perfectly on the device." I imagine that Amazon will be bludgeoned into supporting PDF on the Kindle, if for no other reason that "Print to PDF" is one of the very best ways to preserve formatting in a document, presentation, or spreadsheet that you want to transmit to others... and save for yourself as reference. But until then, apparently it's a pretty easy conversion from PDF to HTML and the .mobi/.prc formats.
One of the most incredibly clueful comments about the Kindle came from John Murrell: But I’ll tell you where a market might be for this or something like it: textbooks, especially post-secondary. No more crushing backpack-load of tomes, no frustrating trips to the bookstore trying to find what you need in stock, and, for the publishers, no need to hold off updating until there’s enough to make a new edition. If the textbook industry could get together on an open standard format, if schools and/or the industry subsidized the hardware, if the electronic bookstore would allow for sale or rental, if the device allowed for things like automatic handling of citations and bibliography … well, that’s a lot of ifs, but I think there’s something there. Damn... he's right!!! Kindle would be about the perfect etextbook! My wife is a currently a student at University of Phoenix, and they've developed some of their own textbooks for their classes. Given UOP's aggressive use of technology to continually be more cost-effective (as well they should as a for-profit company) I bet UOP will be one of the first to offer Kindle eTextbooks as an option for their students... what would be the downside?
Friend, colleague, and occasional highly effective critiquer of my writing, Frederick Wamsley of Security Mentor was curious if Kindle supported .txt. Yup. But Fred was way, way ahead of the pack in why he was wanted to know that - Project Gutenberg's (free, public domain) files are all plain ASCII - .txt!
SD Memory Card - there's an SD memory card jack on the Kindle, and you can put your own content on it either on another computer or when the Kindle is connected via its USB cable. 4 GB SD cards would hold a lot of content, probably more than you'd care to read, and look pretty cheap at about $50 or less.
Less than ideal: 1) I predict that
Amazon will be forced to rescind unrestricted browsing for free; it
will just end up costing them too much on Sprint's 1xEV-DO network. 2)
Amazon will end up supporting PDF at least as "enthusiastically" as the
do with the Microsoft Word .doc format. There are a helluva lotta PDF
files out there that are formatted for easy electronic reference. 3) Amazon should enable audio files to be downloaded via the wireless; charging a bit more for audiobooks, and charging a premium for MP3 files; one shouldn't need to get a computer involved with the Kindle at all if you don't want to.
Now that we're all spoiled by the free content of the Internet, it almost seems like an unnatural act to think about a return to readers paying for content, however reasonably. But the Kindle makes it so comfortable and convenient to consume paid content that one starts to think wistfully... especially those of us who have the ability to create unique content, but haven't found a path to profitability. Amazon's Digital Text Platform for self-publishing looks pretty amazing. It looks to me like it's a near-instant publish / purchase / payment cycle. Wow. This is going to invoke some entirely new publishing models .Especially when the vast majority of content remains available for reading "conventionally" via full-blown web browser, high-speed always-on Internet connectivity, flash-enabled browsers... and intrusive ads, popup, spyware, etc. I'm starting to tune in to Bezo's vision that maybe there's "enough" in Kindle and its inevitable follow-on devices for the paid-content model to catch on again. What starts to be compelling are some key factors:
- You get to keep, transfer, and backup your paid content. Apparently it's just (DRM'ed, of course) files that can be moved around as you wish. Your paid content remains on your Kindle account on Amazon, and if you lose your kindle, erase your Kindle files, etc. you can just download them again from your Kindle account.
- If you're going to sit down and read for a long stretch, the Kindle has it a lot more right than almost anything else. I've seen and played with the Sony eBook reader, and eInk displays really are much more comfortable for extended reading.
- You're not paying a monthly fee for downloading new content or Internet (web browser) access. In the US, downloading text is painless and quick (as long as you're in range of Sprint 1xEV-DO; slower if you only have (more ubiquitous) Sprint 1xRTT service. But even not paying the fee, the web browser works without restriction. That's really an amazing paradigm shift, and in many people's decision, that by itself may be the key factor.
- Like Apple did with iTunes, Amazon looks like it's going to make it pretty painless to purchase content via Kindle - not just paying for it, but getting it onto the device. Like with iTunes and iPods, once you have the device and you're comfortable with it, you tend to download more and more content because it is so convenient and each new piece of content makes it that much more useful and endearing to you.
- It ain't a (damned complicated) computer. For most things, you don't need a computer (other than for transferring audio files). For a lot of people, that's a helluva feature - that Amazon really did make it into more of an eBook than a computerish device, and you don't need a "host computer" ala iPod / iPhone / iTunes at all to get new content. This is going to be very successful and is going to shake up Apple iTunes, Microsoft Zune, and Real's Rhapsody content download models.
- In a lot of ways, it's a fundamentally better book. You can accumulate lots of books to be read without the physical clutter of stacking them up or toting them around. You can accumulate a lot of reference material - think textbooks. Newsweek points out something enormously compelling - E-book devices like the Kindle allow you to change the font size: aging baby boomers will appreciate that every book can instantly be a large-type edition.
The big-picture implications of Kindle, for me, is one of those "OMG" moments when you get a glimpse of the vision of someone so much smarter than you. Although Amazon will be selling physical merchandise for the indefinite future, if you think about it, Kindle and its follow-ons must have been in Bezo's original vision when he founded Amazon to sell "books". But the technology wasn't nearly ready back then - eBooks were clunky at best, the wireless networks of that time were unusable for applications such as Kindle, and dragging book and other content publishers into such an ePublishing model would prove to be very difficult and end up taking more than a decade. So Bezos waited, plotted, and built a sustainable business out of selling physical implementations of content. Reportedly Bezos cringes at the comparison, but it's entire apt in my opinion - Kindle and its "store" are the iPod and iTunes Store of written content. It's a delicious example that no company, even Apple's very strong lead in electronic content with the iTunes Store, can remain dominant if it isn't willing to continually reinvent itself, as Amazon has done with the Kindle.
I can sum up my overall impression of the Kindle's potential by stating that my initial skepticisms have been blunted; I will be investing in a Kindle in the near future. After thinking about it pretty intensively, even with all its flaws and "closed content" (it's open enough for my purposes) the Kindle is narrowly more compelling than my planned eventual purchase of an iPod Touch, and as compelling, in its own way, as my purchase-in-progress of an XO Laptop. If the Kindle ends up being convenient enough to download and listen to podcasts, it may well relegate my iPod to being used purely for music, on the go, in the house, and in my office.
By Steve Stroh
This article is Copyright © 2007 by Steve Stroh except for specifically-marked excerpts. Excerpts and links are expressly permitted (and encouraged).
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