Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Newer, Bigger Kindle

Okay, I'm going to put out there right now that Kindle's newer bigger self is not going to work. I seem to be in the minority, so let me be clear about what I mean by that: It will not sell as well as the original-sized Kindle, and it is not the way of the future.

The ways in which it will be moderately successful are as follows: As an entrance into the Boomer market (i.e., people who find the iPhone and even the original Kindle too small). What's going to hold it back here somewhat is the price. For folks who are already slightly skeptical about digital, $500 is a pretty big chunk of change. It will also be somewhat useful for folks who depend a lot on graphics--students who use textbooks, professionals who use manuals. For everyone named above, it's an interim step backwards, opening up the market for more users to become comfortable with the technology that already exists.

It's also a threat to Apple, because it's an interim step in the direction of a new kind of laptop technology: something like this could be your new computer someday. Make it a touchscreen, with a touchscreen keyboard, and you could run a pretty full OS. Apple is already responding to this threat with their Mediapad. If the Kindle goes in this direction, that's the one way that this thing will become a big player.

But I'm not sure Amazon is going in that direction because they seem pretty set on thinking of this as a *reading* device. And that's the real problem. The media device of the future is going to have to be an all-in-one, like the iPhone is.

The all-in-one mindset is important for two reasons. First, portability: if the logic behind the Kindle is that you don't want to carry around multiple books, then you also don't want to carry around multiple devices, and you probably don't want to carry around a big one. Portability is a key factor in mobile devices, and this Kindle just ain't it. If you're in the general market (not Boomer, not infographics-focused) and you wanted a digital reading device badly enough to pay that much money for it, you would have tried out the original Kindle, and by now you'd be used to it, and so why ever would you get something bigger?

Second, because we always want more functionality, not less. Why would I want to carry around a huge slab of computer that can only do one thing, when I could carry around something that could also act as a GPS, as a phone, as a Red-Sox-game-score tracker? I already expect more of my mobile devices. I think this is really important: if Amazon is trying to present a disruptive innovation (something that does less but reaches a broader market), they've got their price wrong. And if they're just trying to present a new innovation, then they are just innovating by looking in the rear view mirror.

So fire away. Why am I wrong?


Bsurette said...

I think the initial pitch was “stop carrying around so many books”. The new pitch is “why go to the bookstore at all?”. If that’s the case, it may come down to who has the bigger store. Amazon is by no means putting its eggs in one basket - it opened up its Kindle books for multiple devices and may even welcome the Apple media pad. If the Kindle fails (and I agree the DX price point is a problem) but digital books continue to take off, Amazon still wins. It is also interesting to note Amazon's digital music program, which, while no Itunes, is quite impressive.

The question I want to know is what the cost structure is for each device. Amazon can arguably lower the price on the Kindle to a fairly significant loss and still come out ahead through increased book sales. I’m not so sure Apple would want to do the same – sure it can sell books through Itunes but Amazon controls a hefty chunk of the publisher digital book supply chain at this point and reaps more profit sale for sale. Those relationships are invaluable.

Both are savvy competitors - it will interesting to see how they choose to compete and collaborate going forward.

C said...

I think the price is going to be a big deterrent. Unless it has some serious upgrades in functionality--which it doesn't appear to have--I don't see people paying double they would for a smaller version for this one. Portability crossed my mind as a problem, but then again, for briefcases, I guess it's not that big of a deal. I can see this as being great for textbooks, though without color capabilities yet, even that's not the best.

I do think, though, that in a year, Amazon will probably have this exact product in a better model, and those that buy this one now will be very unhappy. This seems like a stepping stone to a better product in this size.

Danny Liss said...

Believe it or not, this post made me assess whether I want to get a Kindle 2, and I actually find its uniformity of function to be a strength. Here's my reasoning: if I'm spending $350+ for a device, I don't want to then be forced to spend $30/month in wireless subscription fees. The one-time outlay, plus $3/month for the New Yorker, plus $0-3 a shot for the kind of book I read is a pricing model I can get behind. I'd fear that a multi-functional device would cost monthly maintenance fees (like the absurd $30/month "bottled water fee" for internet access on smart phones).

But it's more than pricing -- it appeals to me to have a device that really can only do one thing well. If I get it, it'll be to read on. Whether it's the New Yorker on the subway or thinking deciding to pull Death in Venice out during a 4-hour flight, or being able to have Chaucer and the other Medieval greats available at any time, that's what I want it for. If it's something that can enable me to check e-mail or Sox scores, I feel I'd actually be giving something up, as I'm constantly tempted away from von Aschenbach. If I want to distract myself, make me go through some trouble to do it.

But I realize that I'm relatively unique and that business would go broke modeling themselves on how to sell to me, so I do think you have a good point. (The determining factor for me will probably be whether they've solved the problems that mp3 players never have: the quality of what you put on the device and the ability to find things once they're on it.)

Tim Zajac said...

Do you know how many real books I could buy for $500? That's all I have to say (other than that I agree with you, Ania--it's about multimodality and multifuctionality. I want a text reader that's one part of an iPhone or other multimodal device).