I just watched the promo video stuff for Amazon’s Kindle, and I was struck by a couple of things. Kindle is obviously aimed at becoming something like the iPod of the reading experience, so it seems fair to compare the two. Quick reactions:
1) I’m really interested in Amazon’s model of connecting the Kindle to Amazon’s store over a cell network, without a computer intermediary. It seems like an generational leap from the iTunes store, and it appeals to me. Kindle is a book and a store, in one device, which means it removes some barriers to buying. If I’ve been thinking about picking up Jeff Vandermeer’s latest, but was never really getting around to it, then the next time I’m bored and sitting around waiting for my car to get its oil changed, something like Kindle would certainly help me grab some new reading material. That’s pretty appealing, really. And the ubiquity of the networks that they’ve chosen means that impulse buying for books could be around the corner. iPods should do this, it would be great to be able to grab a song whenever you ran across it, thought of it, or heard it.
2) Sticker shock. $399 is painful. I want Kindle to play mp3′s (correx- according to enGadget it does) and do my laundry for $399. And $9.99 for a book seems steep, too ($5.59 for Naomi Novik’s new paperback Tremeraire novel which has a cover price of $7.99) . The reality is that there are other digital products out there in the world, and for better or worse, the expected price points for digital media have already been set by things like iTunes, so when I spend 99 cents for a song, I’m thinking a digital book, with no covers, no manufacturing cost, and no distribution cost, is probably a lot happier selling for something like 3.99. That gets you into the almost impulse buy range. iTunes was genius because they priced themselves in the “what the heck, I’ll give a try” range.
3) Design = Clunky. Again, Apple sets expectations. iPods are fun to have, fondle, show, touch, rub, etc. They are lifestyle devices, and people use them not just as tools, but also as badges of their hipness and identity. The Kindle looks… serviceable. Even M$FT’s Zune looks more fun to hold. And returning to the $399 price, if you’re going to ask people to pony up the cash, it makes sense to make the device attractive enough that they can feel excited about owning it. People have been building irrational relationships with Apple for years; even though its devices are often more expensive, the experience of the object itself is so pleasurable that it overrides price considerations. Amazon should take a page from Apple on that front and hire some top-notch designers to turn Kindle into not just a reader but a fetish object.
Now I just want to hear if anyone actually ponies up for the thing and what they think of it in the flesh.