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.
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.
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.