By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 12:35 am
I’m pleased by the news–inevitable though it was –that Amazon is working on a Kindle app for Android phones. But I’m more intrigued by this Nick Bilton post at NYTimes.com on Amazon’s current hiring spree for its Kindle team. Amazon surely has a strategy in place for the future of its e-reader platform–one which must respond to the arrival of the iPad, even if it responds mostly by studiously ignoring it. It’s going to be fun to watch it unfold.
So What Will Bezos Do? The way I see it, Amazon has four major options.
1) Take on the iPad. It could build something that does e-books, but also does most everything else that the iPad does–apps, movies, music, the Web, e-mail, and more. In other words, build a tablet computer, complete with an LCD touchscreen.
2) Keep it simple, stupid. It could build devices much like today’s Kindle, with incremental improvements–better software, for instance, and maybe even color–at pricetags that keep coming down. In other words, don’t take on the iPad.
3) Create the e-reader of the future. It could build something much more powerful, versatile, and pleasant to use than today’s Kindle–but something that, unlike the iPad, is focused entirely on reading. Let’s call it a Superkindle, shall we?
4) Stop making e-readers. With Kindle software available on the iPad, Windows, OS X, iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android, is it clear that Amazon needs to stay in the software biz?
With Amazon staffing up with more hardware geeks, it presumably doesn’t intend to try option 4 just now. Other than that, I don’t have a clue which direction it will pursue. But option 3 is the most entertaining one to ponder, since it’s least obvious what the upshot would look like.
Great color, period. I’m intrigued by electronic-paper technologies such as Qualcomm’s Mirasol. But I’d still get giddy if Amazon announced a Kindle with an LCD, because it remains the only technology capable of competing with the splendor of good old fashioned ink on paper. At its default settings, the iPad’s display is a tad bright for reading–you can crank it down–but an LCD-equipped Kindle could ship with settings designed to be easy on the reader’s eyeballs.
Less weight. When I think of the iPad as a netbook alternative, it’s delightfully portable; when I use it as a Kindle alternative, lifting it up like a book, I’m keenly aware I’m holding a pound and a half of electronics. A Superkindle might have to weigh more than the current small Kindle’s 10.2 ounces, but it oughta decisively beat the iPad, even if it means reducing the screen size. Let’s shoot for a pound.
Books with pictures. And lots of ’em. How about aiming to double the selection of books available for Kindle over the next 18 months–with most of the additions being art-heavy tomes that just wouldn’t work on the current Kindle?
Beautiful magazines and newspapers. The current Kindle has a bevy of big-name titles, with nifty automatic delivery–but their E-Ink incarnations are text-heavy and dreary. On the iPad, publishers are building separate apps with varying approaches. There’s still room for the Superkindle to deliver the best of all worlds: An array of periodicals that look great, read great, and show up in one convenient place once you’ve subscribed.
The first great e-reader software. I don’t think we’ve seen it yet. The Kindle hardware has lots of features, but they’re tucked into a dowdy interface that’s forced to work its way around E-Ink’s limitations. Apple’s iBooks, Amazon’s Kindle apps, and most other e-reading programs don’t let you do all that much but flip through pages of not-very-sophisticated type. I want more sophisticated layouts, better tools for annotating and research, and s0me sort of plug-in architecture. In other words, I want something sort of like a modern Web browser–but tailored specifically for reading.
It’s a kick to toss a theoretical Superkindle around…but I’m not arguing that it’s Amazon’s most logical option. Even prosperous gadget freaks, if forced to choose between an impressive one-purpose device (the Superkindle) and an impressive Swiss Army Knife (the iPad) might opt for the latter. Assuming you like the idea of leaving dead trees behind at all–at least some of the time–what would your ideal e-reading gadget look like?