Kindle will be history within a year

As sick as I am of hearing about the underwhelming Wolfram Alpha, I’m even more sick of hearing about the product-that-shouldn’t-be, Amazon’s Kindle.  This machine is destined to be obsolete within a year, so Amazon should quick-like get back to ecommerce and leave hardware to companies that know something about it.

Here’s my problem with the Kindle: when I look at it, I think “that’d be cool if I could also browse the web on it, watch movies on it, play music on it, or use it as a digital picture frame,” but despite it being essentially a small computer, it won’t do any of those things.  A netbook can do all of these things, and it costs less.  

For a few laughs, let’s look at Amazon’s pitch for their latest model, the Kindle DX:

  • Holds up to 3,500 books, periodicals, and documents – Amazon downplays the fact that this is only 4GB of storage, a pathetic number for any modern netbook.
  • Beautiful Large Display: 9.7″ diagonal e-ink screen reads like real paper; boasts 16 shades of gray for clear text and sharp images – Are you kidding me?  16 shades of gray?  Sure, that’s better than the Newton, but this isn’t 1992, guys.  Any modern netbook offers 32 bit color, giving millions of colors.  If I want to read a text book or a blog post on my Kindle DX, you better believe I want color.
  • Auto-Rotating Screen: Display auto-rotates from portrait to landscape as you turn the device so you can view full-width maps, graphs, tables, and Web pages – We’re only down to the third bullet point, and this is the best you can do?  This is truly trivial, and easy to do on a netbook
  • Built-In PDF Reader: Native PDF support allows you to carry and read all of your personal and professional documents on the go – PDF readers are free to download on any PC.  Just because this is better than the original Kindle doesn’t make it cool.
  • Wireless: 3G wireless lets you download books right from your Kindle DX, anytime, anywhere; no monthly fees, no annual contracts, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots – if you really need to download a book while you’re outside of wi-fi range, apparently this is the device for you.  If you don’t have a Kindle, just download the book to your smartphone, then transfer it to your PC.  
  • Books In Under 60 Seconds: You get free wireless delivery of books in less than 60 seconds; no PC required – You can also download an ebook to your netbook in less than 60 seconds, no Kindle required.  Fail.
  • Long Battery Life: Read for days without recharging – Who reads for more than a couple hours at a time, anyway?  Non-problem solved.
  • Read-to-Me: With the text-to-speech feature, Kindle DX can read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable – Now you can have A Brief History of Time read to you in the author’s own voice.  Awesome! 
  • Big Selection, Low Prices: Over 275,000 books; New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are only $9.99, unless marked otherwise – This has nothing to do with the device and will surely be available on any PC very soon.
  • More Than Books: U.S. and international newspapers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, magazines including The New Yorker and Time, plus popular blogs, all auto-delivered wirelessly – Again, I have a PC and a cool new thing called a “web browser” for this. 
The only things that make the Kindle superior to a PC for the purpose of reading are:
  • It’s lightweight with a super-compact form factor
  • Um…that’s about it.  I guess this isn’t much of a bulleted list.

And Amazon wants $489 for this piece of…technology.  For that kind of money I can almost get two netbooks, each of which have 9″ full color screens, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive, built-in webcams and mics, wifi, memory card slots, 3 USB ports,  and weigh in at 2.5 lbs (2 times the weight of the Kindle DX.)  With the Kindle, I can read an ebook.  With two netbooks, my wife and I could video conference with the in-laws, watch movies (chick flick for her, dude flick for me), organize our photos, play online games against each other, or…we could read ebooks.  Where to spend the money is pretty obvious to me.

 

Asus Eee Top PC with 15 touchscreen

Asus Eee Top PC with 15" touchscreen

So, I’m calling it: within one year, someone else will have an ebook platform that will be far more robust and versatile, and it will be cheaper, and Amazon will exit the game to focus on selling ebooks.  Perhaps the Kindle-killer will be Apple’s rumored iPad, perhaps Microsoft will get their Tablet PC act together, or perhaps Asus will mate their Eee PC with their Top PC to create a Kindle-beating love child.  I don’t know who’s going to do it, but the PC industry is going to put the Kindle out of our misery, and the sooner the better.  

Comments

15 Comments.

  1. Having just purchased a Kindle as a present for someone who loves reading, I have to point out a couple things for you.

    First of all, just like the iPod created a viable market for downloadable music, Amazon is using the Kindle to build a marketplace for digital books. With Amazon’s vast volume of traditional book sales they were in the prime position to get broader adoption of this notion from the publishers. Amazon will be more than pleased to own the prime place to purchase eBooks, Kindle or no Kindle. In fact, their recent launch of the iPhone software which supports reading Kindle content is an indication of this.

    Secondly, the key difference is the display technology. There really is no glare at all from the Kindle. It’s not like a traditional LCD at all. It’s got a very flat matte type look when you are reading which is much more pleasant on the eyes for traditional readers. For many folks who spend all day looking at computer screens at work this is a nice touch. Plus, you can read outside in the bright sun without problems at all.

    The built in 3G connectivity is great! I think you’re missing that it just works. No finding a hotspot, no entering network pass phrases…For the non-geeks out there it makes it much easier to use. I’d like to see more devices this seamless. Just think how many more songs Apple would sell if they implemented this delivery technology on their iPods. No computer needed. You don’t need to remember to do a sync or bring your cable… Your daily Wall Street Journal is waiting for you, even if you left it in your car or bag the day before.

    As for battery life…People already have enough to remember to keep charged. The fact that the battery lasts so long is just a bonus. Until PowerCast becomes more widespread the last thing I need to have to do is worry about keeping yet another device charged.

    In summary — I think Amazon is more interested in the delivery of eBooks and they have set the standard about how to deliver digital assets with the Kindle. The same techniques can be done on other devices, but now Amazon controls the stage since they established the market.

    Jeremy

  2. I agree that Amazon will still “win” in the end because they stand to profit from selling the ebooks, but I think that netbooks or tablet PCs will make Kindle obsolete in the near future. If you take a tablet PC, slim it down and tweak the screen, you have a much more full-featured Kindle. I’m not sold on the 3G being that big a deal – there’s plenty of ways to make downloading eBooks easy.

  3. You’re missing the point of the Kindle, the appearance of the screen. That’s essentially the reason for its existence as a product. A screen that looks like paper. It’s not easy to imitate, and literally impossible on a glossy screen.

  4. Is that really enough to differentiate it? And what happens when someone else imitates the screen and attaches it to a real netbook or tablet PC? Suddenly that price tag will look even more out of whack.

  5. As others have said there is nothing quite like the quality/readability E-ink. Will it be imitated and eventually in other form factors? Yes. I expect to see color displays eventually.

    Does Amazon care? No. I’ve got a hunch that Amazon doesn’t care about the hardware and realizes hardware is just a means of delivery of their product. By eliminating physical shipment of product AND disrupting the “old world” type of publishing controlled by a few companies Amazon helps us move forward. Rememember a guy by the name of Johannes Gutenberg a few years ago? Well it’s well past time to move the publishing industry forward ( telephone book and academic textbook publishers I’m looking at you as well ) .

  6. > Long Battery Life: Read for days without recharging – Who reads for more than a couple hours at a time, anyway?

    I’d tend to think it’d be very convenient to be able to read as long as you want, and then the next day as long as you want, and then the next day as long as you want, and maybe plug in overnight on weekends only.

    If you don’t think this is a selling point, either you haven’t read enough ebooks, or you’re just different than most people that read ebooks.

    > Big Selection, Low Prices: Over 275,000 books; New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are only $9.99, unless marked otherwise – This has nothing to do with the device and will surely be available on any PC very soon.

    “Surely”, huh? Do hold your breath on that. :)

    > Books In Under 60 Seconds: You get free wireless delivery of books in less than 60 seconds; no PC required – You can also download an ebook to your netbook in less than 60 seconds, no Kindle required. Fail.

    Can you get the Wall Street Journal? Delivered every day? While you’re on the subway?

    Really, though, you may be right, Kindle may be gone in a year or two or five or ten. So? In the meantime, it’s a neat product and making people happy and Amazon money.

    Four years ago I got a laptop for circa $1000 that I could get today for less than $300. Should I have waited? I’ve gotten a lot of use out of that laptop since then.

  7. The Kindle store is already on the iPhone, so if you think it isn’t coming to the PC soon, I’ll take that bet.

    I can get the WSJ on my phone on the subway, which is much more convenient to carry than a Kindle. I can also have it “delivered” via RSS to my PC daily. Still a fail. ; )

    You have a valid point about the Kindle “kicking off” the e-reader space. If people like it now, that’s fine, I’m just saying it won’t last long…

  8. Having read on notebooks and netbooks for years, I recently got to “test read” a kindle 2 that a friend got as a gift. It is perfect in ways that a netbook will never achieve. I’ve never, EVER, been comfortable reading vast amounts on a computer screen. Neither has any other book lover that I know. Not a problem with the Kindle. Over 3 days, I spent nearly 15 hours reading on that thing, and not only did my eyes never get tired, but I didn’t have to worry about screen angle, or getting into a comfortable position (I tend to read nearly upside down when reading for a long time–impossible to maintain comfortably with a laptop or netbook). The bottom line is that it does all of the things previous e-readers did, while at the same time overcoming most of their problems. When I finished using it, I had only two complaints: the small screen size and the negative flash when a new page appears. The DX fixes one of those problems, showing that Amazon is listening to their consumers.

    It is true that for people such as yourself, who find that they can read the WSJ on their phone in the subway (I would rather hit myself in the face with a hammer than try and read an article of any length on a cell phone screen), this is a useless product. For people such as myself, who find this reading experience so much richer, there is simply no substitute. And we will likely keep it alive for longer than a year (I have already pre ordered my DX.)

  9. From what I’ve seen, most people who complain about reading on a PC complain because the bright white is hard on their eyes over time. This is pretty easy to fix by simply reversing the colors – using white text on a black background. Many programmers code like this because for exactly that reason – it’s easier on the eyes over long periods of time. This is a very easy thing to fix if someone wanted to create a low price competitor to the Kindle.

    As for reading articles on a cell phone, I’ve found it to be quite adequate. Sure, I wouldn’t want to read a book on my phone, but news articles that take a couple minutes to read are no problem. Of course, some phones have bigger screens than others – the iPhone is pretty good for this – but phones will smaller screens may not accommodate it well.

  10. Joel, one of the great things about the Kindle is its functionality. Yes, if there was a multi-purpose Kindle that had music and tv, and games built it, I’m sure that would do great on the market. However the truth of the matter is people who have purchased the Kindle, such as myself, are not looking for an all in one device. If I buy something to necessitate reading a book more comfortably, why would I want it to have the ability to go online and play music etc? I think you’re judging the Kindle against a generation of the ever popular Multi-Purpose Gadget. I’m sure you are wondering why they haven’t thrown a camera on the back of the kindle yet. As for the Screen, it has already been said why it is amazing. It wouldn’t really make sense to throw it on a netbook.

  11. I side with the Kindle. I don’t own one personally, but my roommate has one, and I do have Kindle on my iPhone, there’s even a huge difference between the iPhone version and the standalone. While I do love the color version on my iPhone, it doesn’t company to the standalone at all. As people have pointed out, the fact that it doesn’t cause eye strain is a HUGE plus! I get that you can reverse colors to help alleviate this, but honestly, that DOESN’T get rid of the strain. The problem here is the backlighting, for the most part, which Kindle doesn’t incorporate for that very reason, and it’s NOT quite super easy to reverse the video on a computer/laptop/netbook display. Also, for those claiming they read The Wall Street Journal via the Kindle App on your iPhone…you’re full of it! The iPhone/Blackberry Kindle app DOES NOT support periodicals at all, and neither does the PC app…one of the major complaints. You must be readon WSJ via their own website on your phones…

  12. BTW…it’s going on a year now, and I don’t see that the Kindle has failed yet… I hope you don’t make predictions for a living (i.e. meteorologist or psychic)…

  13. I am a Kindle owner, and have been so since November. It was a gift from my exhusband, who had owned one of his own since pretty much the day it came out. I agree with many of the points other owners have stated here, especially with the screen. I am an avid reader, especially when my health issues confine me to bed for long periods of time. I can only handle my laptop screen for so long before I go insane. I have been known to read for lengths of time close to 5 hours or more, so your statement that people do not read longer than about 2 hours at a time is wrong. As to music and web, if you will look up the update version 2.5 that came out in May of this year, you will find that the Kindle 2 and DX now support music in MP3 format as well as basic web-meaning web pages that are mostly text based. So there go 2 more of your arguments. Perhaps before making such unsupported accusations in the future, you will actually purchase the item in question and try to use it:)

  14. Well, this article is over a year old now…so perhaps the prediction was slightly early, but I think it’s starting to become clear now that eReaders as a whole are already on their way out thanks to iPad and other forthcoming tablets.

    You read for 5 hours at a stretch, eh? Okay, *most* people don’t read for more than 2 hours.

    And my statements about MP3 and web browsing were true as of the time of writing the article. Oh, and who wants to web browse “text-based” web pages in black and white anyways? Yawn.

    eReaders are a niche product and will continue to be forever. iPad, tablets, and netbooks, even though they are newer, already outsell them by a wide margin.

  15. The Kindle is dead, long live the Kindle | Productible - pingback on October 10, 2011 at 9:10 am

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