A Handful of Thoughts one the 2011 Kindles

The 2011 Kindles are very impressive, if uninspired compared to the Kobo and upcoming Sony Reader. Brand logo, one major button (okay, Sony has five), and pearl e-ink with infared touch technology. Design-wise, all three products are looking more and more alike, and we’re getting closer to the universal container. There used to be so many buttons around these screens. The new Kindles are really nothing new. The touch technology is identical to last year’s Sonys. The real advancement here is the price, which isn’t an advancement so much as a knee-capping of competition. With specs and offerings becoming less indistinguishable, the only difference becomes price. The least expensive Kindle is now less than half the price of the current Sony Pocket, and has wi-fi. And yet, differences abound. The same restrictions the Kindle held years ago are still there and shine brighter than ever: mobi over epub, whispersync over computer sync. I don’t think anyone argues that whispersync isn’t terrific; it’s the killer app of the Kindle, really. But Amazon’s stubborn refusal to conform to the standards that every single other ebook reader uses is frustrating. Yes, you can do conversions. But if you decided to go with something other than a Kindle—or may one day decide to—you’ll find no friendly passage. Books from the Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Sony stores simply won’t work. Open epubs can be converted to mobi, but regular people likely won’t bother. And don’t even think of reading Kindle books on anything but one. But that’s the new line of readers. What of the new tablet? If the iPad had one major criticism (it had many but let’s choose the biggest) is that it was a consumption-only device. Though that’s largely been curbed by a slew of , what can we say about the Kindle Fire? It’s very essence is in consumption. It boldly states: This is all the media we could find—now relax. And that’s a great idea because actually highlights the fact that the iPad perhaps isn’t the best lit ebook reader, not the best way to casually surf the web (Amazon Silk impressively leverages their servers to not only load pages faster but also predict what you may click next), and not the best way to watch a movie on a train. It highlights that since iPad isactually trying to be both a consumption and creation device, and there’s a tension in design there. By choosing consumption, Amazon has said that this is the best size for such things. The logic is a little frayed. It’s an extension of the ebook read—because people buy them onlyto read books, not write them—and that’s fine as a place to plant a flag. But—and this is a big but—hasn’t the iPad shown that people do want to create on these things? Increasingly, ebook apps are promoting interaction: highlighting, sharing, annotating, margin-writing, and achievement-collecting. The Kindle has these features, and I’m sure the Fire will be no different. These marginalia constitute creation (or at least extending) and maybe that’s what the Fire will promote, at least with books.


October 21, 2011