I Was Wrong About The Kindle

It’s been a year since Apple first released the iPad. Back then, I declared the Kindle dead, and argued that the iPad was going to be the reading device of the future.

I was wrong, of course.

The lesson I learnt here is that one technology very rarely replaces another – or, as David Pogue calls it: “things don’t replace things, they just splinter”. Even if cannibalization happens, it takes years before you see no more of one technology: television didn’t kill radio, and mp3s didn’t kill CDs (or at least, not yet) – and so the iPad won’t kill the Kindle.

But I was wrong about another thing: the iPad is a different device altogether. See, for instance, this Kindle ad:

The value proposition is clear: the Kindle is cheap, readable under sunlight, and light enough to hold in one hand. None of which describes the iPad.

Now, I’m not saying that people won’t read on the iPad. I spent my last holiday reading five books and two web fiction serials on one, taking notes on the reading experience as I went along. The iPad is great on a sofa – and is even better when you’re using it to read what you would otherwise read on a computer screen. But it’s no paperback – and you can’t use it on trains or in parks or on beaches the same way you would a Kindle.

Yipeng's Kindle

Yipeng, one of the co-founders at Pandamian, is known to call his Kindle ‘shitty’. (He’s in charge of .mobi conversion, if you’re wondering, because he owns one: see above). And yet he’s read a ton of books on it, and downloads still more to load onto the device. The reason? The Kindle is meant for reading, and reading alone. No distractions. No web surfing. No addictive pig-killing games.

With speculation of a free Kindle to be released later this year, it’s now rather clear as to why the Kindle is built the way it is – cheap and plasticky, with a user interface that kind-of sucks. It doesn’t need to be amazing. It just needs to be good enough for book nerds – like me – who’re sick of lugging heavy paperbacks around.

(Incidentally, I find it interesting as to what the Kindle gets right – typography on the Kindle screen is gorgeous, and the fact that it’s got battery life of close to a month helps when you’re bringing it with you on a long-haul flight. Plus – and this is obvious – the Kindle store has all the might of Amazon behind it).

I’m not sure what the future of ebook reading is, but – seeing as Apple appears to be relatively disinterested in eBooks – I’m fairly confident that the Kindle, the Nook (and other devices like them, no matter how horrendously constructed) would be a big part of it.

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Category: Publishing