Un-Kindled


kindle.jpgThe Kindle — Amazon.com’s e-book reader and fledgling entry into the consumer electronics market — seems like a good concept. It certainly looks good, and there appears to be some interesting technology under the hood. But there are some puzzling choices being made by Amazon here as well. I’m not buying one, and I think I’m not alone.

What I could see myself — and by extension, other academics and college students — using a device like this for would be to read and annotate documents on the go without the physical burden (and relatively poor battery life) of my Macbook. And when I say “documents”, I mean PDF’s. The PDF is the hydrogen atom of the electronic document world — the most commonly occurring element and appearing in all different platforms. I have mountains of e-documents I have to read and take notes on in all areas of my profession, and they are almost all PDF’s. If I had an electronic device that was light, small, didn’t get hot when I used it (like the Macbook still does), has a nice display, allows me to read and annotate PDF’s easily, and was priced around $150, I’d snap it up in a minute.

The Kindle gets all of these right except the last two, and these are deal-breakers for the academic market. A $400 price tag for a “document reader” that won’t let me read the format which 90% of my documents are in? It makes me wonder if Amazon truly understands the concept of the “electronic document” if they think the Kindle is marketable to all but the have-everything early adopters in its current state. (And yes, I’m aware that there are third-party workarounds for the PDF issue, but really, this is like saying that it’s OK if a car only runs on kerosene and not gasoline because there are third-party solutions to convert one to the other.)

Update: Scobleizer unloads on the Kindle. There’s video. I think he makes too much of the lack of social networking capabilities, but his UI criticisms are hard to deny.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Un-Kindled

  1. If you classify this device purely as an ‘electronic document reader’, than your comments are accurate. However, I believe this device is more of an extension of Amazon and a ‘electronic book reader’. An important distinction between books and documents is the underlying point. I don’t think Amazon is billing it’s Kindle device as an all inclusive electronic document reader.

  2. I think you’re right, michael, which makes me even more puzzled at this device. A book being a specific type of document, why would you make a device that reads only books and not documents in general? Amazon could have added a little more support for broad classes of document file types (like PDF) for cheap or for free, and added loads of value to this device at little to no cost. But they didn’t. Why? Sure there’s a distinction between books and documents in general, but what’s the point of making that distinction in the functionality of your device (other than Amazon makes money off of books and not off of PDF’s)?

  3. It certainly leaves the door open for someone like Adobe to come along and offer an open, extensible platform, similar to that of Google Android. Sony’s device is proprietary, the Kindle is proprietary, etc… But so is the iPod. My take is that Amazon is trying to copy the iPod ecosystem with digital books rather than innovating on both sides of the equation (one side being the device itself and the other being the service).

  4. Michael-
    Sony’s device reads PDFs, doesn’t it?

    I think the reason people paid $400 for the iPod was that they already had hundreds of albums in either CD or MP3 format, which go easily onto the iPod.

    Since you basically have to buy all of the content for Kindle (aside from .txt ebooks you load), I see it as being in the same category as the PS3 or Wii. But PS3 and Wii offer a great experience with content you have to buy, but can’t get any other way. Since Kindle is a far less impressive device, and there are lots of other ways to read text, I don’t see how it’s worth $400 – at least, not unless they start offering tons of free, current books with it.

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  6. David Levine

    Having had a kindle for just over 72 hours
    a simple websearch led me to mobipocketbook creator, which allows you to convert all your PDF files, html and other electronic formats to kindle freindly files easily, no real problem there, Amazon aparently is already working on PDF direct compatability, but the conversion is easy enough. sites like http://www.feedbooks.com/ already offer their 2000 plus classic titles and creative commons titles in kindle friendly format, with a script so you can download them via the wireless! other sites like http://manybooks.net//require you to use usb or the 10 cent email kindle offers, I personally have no problem with the USB. Books tend to be between 10-30% off, which for serious book readers adds up. If you buy a paperback or so every couple months, don’t get a kindle, If you are a serious reader, its got a lot going for it

  7. Paul T. McCain

    I generally agree with some of the criticisms here; however, PDF *does* work on the Kindle. I’ve uploaded several PDF documents and they have translated through just fine, including a huge book that is in PDF, double columns. Fancy fomatting? Nope, doesn’t work. Ditto to what Levine said.

    My major concern/observation is that the thing is terribly overpriced: $400? Ridiculous.

    I was given this as a gift, but definitely would not have paid for it myself.