Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amazon Kindle needs to evolve before widespread acceptance


I have followed the development of ebook readers for quite a few years so was naturally interested in the mention of the Amazon Kindle in the 2008 Horizon Report, a report produced by Educause each year that identifies key trends in technologies that will affect teaching, learning, and creative expression. I was not familiar with this new product so I went up on Amazon and gave it a look.

Essentially, it is an evolved version of the Franklin ebook reader with the two most advanced features being its electronic paper display (this technology is not exactly new - Microsoft Reader uses a display that is easy on the eyes as well) and cell phone-like wireless connectivity. I like the concept of using cell phone technology for wireless support although it wouldn't be very helpful to someone like me who lives in a cell phone dead zone.

I was also underwhelmed that it appears to be monochrome and text only. Haven't they grasped the concept yet that a picture is worth a thousand words? For these kinds of major limitations I found the price too hefty as well - $399. What we really need is something thin and light with a decent sized display screen (sorry iPhone) and the ability to download text and images for a price of about $129 - sort of a derivative of an electronic picture frame device. Hewlett Packard has had the perfect device in development for a number of years but it has not been released to the public (a too conservative administration??).

Another shortcoming of the Kindle is the price point for the content. It says best sellers are $9.99 - come on, that's more than the price of a printed paperback and there's no printing cost, no inventory requirements, and no unsold copies!! Give me a break!! I suppose the major publishers are dictating the prices just like the film studios are insisting on $9.99 for downloadable movies from iTunes.

Steven Jobs recently expressed his disappointment that movie downloads have not been as successful as music downloads for Apple. It's not a mystery - mainstream DVDs can be purchased at Best Buy or Circuit City for $4.99 - $7.99 and you don't need to burn them to DVD or use Apple's set top box to watch them on your TV. Apple charges $3.99 for a download rental but again you have the conversion problem unless you use their set top box or watch it on your computer. Most of us have cable or satellite TV already that offers pay-per-view movies for $3.99 and no conversion is required. In addition, we can record them if we wish and keep them for as long as we wish (or until the DVD deteriorates).

What makes iTunes music selections so attractive is the ability to buy one song at a time for $.99 and forgoing the cost of an entire album. The price point is right and provides real savings to consumers. Such is not the case with most movie offerings and, in the case of the Kindle, ebooks.
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