A Bold Prediction
Zero evolution in 2 years. Compare today's Kindle 2 and DX models to the original Kindle. The current versions have pretty much the same functionality as the original. And don't tell me native PDF support was a big change...that should have been there from the start! I had totally different expectations when I opened my Kindle v1 and saw the "experimental" features. Two years later, nothing is new there and the original experimental features never changed. Here's a great example of how there's been no feature evolution: We're all waiting anxiously to see if Amazon will actually add folder functionality. Are you kidding me?! That's another feature that should have been there all along.
Amazon isn't a hardware vendor. Hardware isn't Amazon's specialty. Far from it. Just look at the Kindle's design, UI and how it operates and you quickly realize if this is as good as it gets Amazon has no business in the hardware space. (Btw, how many outstanding software/content companies are also rock stars when it comes to hardware? I can only think of one: Apple.)
Competitors are passing them by. B&N's Nook is what the Kindle should have been. See details here. I'm not saying the Nook is the answer, but Amazon's lack of innovation is making it easier for new devices to leapfrog the Kindle.
Closed platforms are dead. Even Apple opens the iPhone platform for extensibility. Amazon should have not only allowed but encouraged third-party extensions and apps for the device. What sort of new and exciting functionality would exist for the Kindle today if Amazon would have created a Kindle app store 2 years ago?
Dedicated readers won't be the answer, not for mass. Content is still critical, but as my O'Reilly colleague Andrew Savikas recently stated so eloquently, "convenience is king." Mobile, multi-function devices will rule the day.
I was reading my Kindle during a recent cross-country flight. The passenger next to me said his wife is a big reader and he's thinking about getting her an e-device. He asked me if I recommend he get her a Kindle. Sadly, I said, "no." I told him he's better off checking out the upcoming B&N Nook as well as waiting to see if the rumored Apple device ever materializes. That's the first time I've ever recommended someone not get a Kindle when they ask me about mine.
I'm not down on Amazon, btw. I'm forever grateful for the job they've done to spark interest in the e-reader space. With all due respect to Sony, If it weren't for the Kindle we'd still be waiting for the first commercial success in this space.
I had high hopes back in November of 2007 but Amazon is clearly hedging their hardware bet by offering the Kindle iPhone app as well as the Kindle for PC (beta) and Kindle for Mac (forthcoming) apps. That's a smart move by Amazon. If my prediction comes true and they abandon the hardware space in the next three years they'll still be a major e-content player.
To some extent you might say it hardly matters if they stay in the market or not. They have built themselves a market in which they get much more money from the same pie (just in digital format).
They can still leverage their delivery platform through partnering with device developers to ensure smooth content delivery (and thus money for them).
I think you are right but they will still have shifted the market to their advantage and the retreat from device sales won't be that bit a deal!
Posted by: Eoin Purcell | November 23, 2009 at 10:00 AM
You could argue that Barnes & Noble has a better online bookstore, too. It actually has more features and in some ways a better interface. But Amazon has marketshare and user account conveniences that B&N can't match. By moving beyond the bookstore, partnering with Target and others, enabling small business sales, and offering DVDs, electronics, home goods, clothing, and other items, shopping at Amazon is VERY easy. The same goes for their e-book. While the DEVICE may be lacking, it's functional enough, and it's very easy to conduct commerce (i.e., buy more books) with it.
More features don't necessarily matter to a use-case. Take the addition of wifi on the Nook. File downloads of books to reside on the device are quick and efficient with 3G. Wifi adds little or nothing to the Nook.
Sharing, color covers, in-store content -- they're all pretty lame functionality "improvements." An ebook that the seller is trying to use to train me to take to their physical bookstores? Color covers so I can get all excited about . . . colors! Sharing that will only matter if the Nook becomes a major player and there are enough people to share with?
There seems to me to be a chasm between e-readers and full-on computers like the iPhone. Staying firmly on the "reader" side of the chasm may seem dim, but actually it might be brilliant and disciplined. The Nook seems destined to fall into that chasm, being irresistibly drawn into hardware wars. One could argue that the Kindle, by staying where it is (as the only commercially successful e-reader in the US), is playing the smarter hand.
Amazon has said from the beginning that this was about leveraging its storefront. That's their advantage, and avoiding the expensive, draining, and futile slippery slope of technology creep might just be the smart move.
Posted by: Kent Anderson | November 23, 2009 at 12:37 PM
I completely disagree. I own the Kindle and am completely happy with it. And having seen the Sony, i think that's proof that you don't have to be a hardware company to do it right since the Kindle is vastly superior to the Sony. But rather than kicking the Sony, if you look at the Nook, while it does appear to have one advantage over the Kindle, the support for an external USB drive, it doesn't have good pricing on its books (Amazon is consistently less expensive) and the nook doesn't appear to offer as good a collection based on searches at B&N ebook and Amazon Kindle. And for me there is an additional feature in the Kindle that may only be useful for a few people, text-to-speech. This is a boon for the blind and the dyslexic, providing them with more affordable access to newer books. (RFBD.org is available, however, it takes a while for new books to get to RFBD and RFBD tends to focus on text books. Also with RFBD you don't have the visual access that you do with Kindle and that is a definite benefit for those who like me are dyslexic.)
Posted by: Jeffrey Fried | November 23, 2009 at 09:16 PM
As an author with ten books on the Kindle library, I can tell you that dealing with Amazon about ebooks is like talking to a cow chewing cud. I have one book which I offer in PDF format on my own site in FULL COLOR, but the illustrations on the Kindle device come out as grayscale and very crude. Also, Amazon keeps making the same mistakes all the time in selling the print editions of the books in such a way that any alteration between one edition of a book and another results in a great deal of confusion for buyers of the books. Amazon is not tech savvy and Kindle will go down as a prototype but not the best option for full enjoyment of the books as they are (for example, artists cannot use the Kindle software for that reason), while the retailer itself will lose more customers and suppliers as its selling model needs adjustment to reflect the publishers' needs instead of its own. Amazon's credo of selling "every book ever published on the planet" will soon spell its downfall as more publishers like Simon & Schuster pull their books out in disgust.
Posted by: Theresa M. Moore | November 24, 2009 at 12:57 PM
I agree entirely with Mr Wikert. May I point you toward my own assessment of the future of ebooks published in Bookbrunch a couple of months back?
Posted by: Trevor Dolby | November 24, 2009 at 03:16 PM
Whatever happens, one thing is certain given Amazon's history: they'll figure out a way for their suppliers to pay for whatever innovation/discount they offer the end customer. Maybe the lack of innovation on Kindle is lack of publishers and authors willing to take even deeper discounts to fund the initiative.
Posted by: Kallmaker.blogspot.com | November 24, 2009 at 06:26 PM
Not only that, Ron Charles of the Washington Post sez better readers coming after Christmas:
Posted by: Bill Peschel | November 29, 2009 at 10:29 PM