12 September 2011

Why the Amazon Kindle might be the new iPod

A couple of weeks ago, MG Siegler of TechCrunch fame confirmed that there will be a new Kindle coming soon, and that it will be an e-ink-free tablet:

It’s called simply the “Amazon Kindle”. But it’s not like any Kindle you’ve seen before. It displays content in full color. It has a 7-inch capacitive touch screen. And it runs Android.

I find this whole thing fascinating.

As you know, dear reader, I am very much a writer but I am also a bit of a techno-nit. In fact, I’m probably this close to being a nerd or a geek or both. I don’t know what happened to me. I used to be like, really, really cool.

Anyway.

There are many interesting things about a Kindle tablet, but I want to focus on the fact that it will not be a pure e-reader. Unless they’ve come up with some hitherto unknown technology, its backlit display will not be anywhere near as pleasant to read as the e-ink used on the current Kindle 3.

I say that as an iPad user too. I happily use my iPad as an e-reader, but I know that as a pure reading experience, the Kindle 3 is far superior. And remember, that’s why Amazon have sold so many of those things. They’re light and reasonably priced, but more importantly, they are an excellent way to read.

King of the content castle

What Amazon also has, of course, is an existing ecosystem. If content is king, Amazon is like, I don’t know, whoever controls the king. They own the content, both literally and in the more modern, ha ha I’m totally more awesome than you kind of way. Through the Kindle, they also provide a great way to enjoy that content. So we buy into the ecosystem.

If the new Kindle tablet is a totally different beast, and without question the tablet that Siegler decribes will be, are those millions of readers who’ve been turned on to e-books in the last couple of years going to pay more for a compromised reading experience?

I think not. I don’t believe current Kindle 3 users want a tablet. I think that they want a better Kindle 3. But then that doesn’t matter, because the Kindle as we know it is going nowhere, as Siegler writes:

As far as the existing e-ink-based Kindles, all I’ve heard is that they’ll continue to co-exist with this new tablet (though the DX may or may not stick around). They’ll simply be the low-end, low-cost Kindles, whereas this new one will be the high-end one (at least until the 10-inch version comes out, if it does).

So basically, the Kindle will become one product in a larger collection of devices. And that’s where I finally come on to the iPod.

One thing well

When the iPod was released in 2001, the market for mp3 players was relatively new. It was a huge success for lots of reasons, but one of them was its ability to do one thing well. Sure, it could do a handful of tasks, like hold your contacts or run basic games, but it was primarily an MP3 player. A brilliant MP3 player.

I think you can compare those first few iPod models with the first few Kindles. What the iPod did for music, the Kindle has done for books. It took an untapped market by the scruff of the neck and kicked it up the arse. Or ass, if you prefer. Instead of producing a catch-all media player, Amazon focused on books and built an e-reader that was better than anything that had gone before.

To own a Kindle so far has meant to own a one thing well device. That won’t be the case when the tablet arrives.

Building a product line

In the future, owning a Kindle might mean a number of things. When you tell people you own a Kindle, you’ll have to say which one. The e-reader or the tablet. Maybe something entirely different, eventually.

Just like the iPod evolved and had its variations to fit different customers and lifestyles, from the iPod Shuffle to the iPod Touch, I can see Amazon building a similar type of product line. There will be no one Kindle, just like there is no one iPod.

Customers who want to read will choose an e-ink device, an improved Kindle 3, or whatever they decide to call it. Those who want to do more, or access all the other content that Amazon offers, they will go with the tablet.

And the reasons they’ll choose the Kindle tablet over the iPad include its price, trust in the brand and access to that content we’ve already talked about.

Careful copying

I was surprised when I first read Siegler’s overview of the Kindle tablet, because I didn’t see how Amazon could convince all the e-ink devotees to switch. But that’s not what they’re trying to do.

The Kindle tablet might be a new product, but we would perhaps be better thinking of it as an addition to an existing line of products, all be it a line of one until now.

With the iPod, Apple succeeded in all corners of its market because it offered something for everyone. In the last year, techno-companies have tried and failed to compete with the iPad by copying its basic premise and design.

Amazon are doing something slightly different. They’re not copying the product, as such, but the very notion of a product line that covers all bases. And I think that they’ll succeed. Wildly.

Further reading

Why the Amazon Kindle is already in trouble | Nerdgap
The Amazon Tablet | Shawn Blanc

6 Comments

  1. Graham Storrs

    I hope you’re right, Iain – that the e-ink Kindle will still be available, I mean. The other drawback of the Kindle tablet, as described by Siegler, is that it won’t have any physical buttons. This means turning a page will probably involve swiping the screen with a finger – or something equally twee – making it a two-handed job. One of the ways a Kindle is currently better than a book is that it can be used one-handed.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      I’m not so sure. Turning the page on the iPad is either a swipe or a simple tap. The swiping is a bit of pain but the tap id perfectly fine and doesn’t feel at all unnatural, so I’m guessing they’ll take that route. As for handedness, I think that will come down to the weight. iPad is very much a two-handed experience. 

  2. First of all, I think you’re still totally cool, though that might be partially due to the fact I’m a technology nerd myself. Still. Counts for something, right? 

    Anyway, I’d heard mumbles about a new Kindle, but didn’t realize just how different it  intends to be until I read this. I have yet to buy an e-reader (I tend to hold out until all the kinks are worked out, and now the ones I’m interested are on the pricey side…), but I think when I do get one, I’d lean towards a tablet-like device. That being said, I’d always leaned towards the iPad. 

    However! Sounds like the new Kindle might just rival some of those tablet-like capabilities, so I’ll be interested to see what exactly it turns out to be.

    Should be interesting! 

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      It will be interesting, but it’s unlikely to be as good a tablet as the iPad if any of its previous Android-based competitors are anything to go by. However, it may be much cheaper, which is a big thing. We’ll have to wait and see.

      And thanks. ;-)

  3. I don’t buy it – ditching eInk and moving to Android wipes out pretty much all of the Kindle’s unique features, the page-like screen, small size, weight and price tag. As soon as it starts getting bogged down with other features it’ll start to run slower and will lose its identity. I know Amazon are looking at colour eInk which sounds a lot more likely and a touch screen is inevitable. I think extra features will come but they’ll always remained limited so that the device so concentrate on doing what it does best.

    I think one thing about the iPod analogy works though is the way with each release, awareness of the device leapt up. Right now there’s tons of people aware of or wanting a Kindle but just as many who’re oblivious to it’s existence or don’t want one yet. I think the next generation is going to change that and with the one after we’ll see global Kindle domination as with the iPod.

    • Iain Broome (Author)

      Thanks for the comment David. I totally agree that ditching eInk would be a bad move, which is why I think they’ll keep the Kindle 3 and build something that’s more like a product line, with something for everyone.

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