For the moment, I have little enough to say about Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader, either as product or service, except to note the following:

– Post iPhone, especially, the physical product looks dowdy and retrograde. I’m not surprised, given that it’s been in development so long, but the sharply-canted bevels look distinctly mid-90s. To my eye, anyway, Kindle looks something like what we might have been offered had GRiD made it through the dot-com years. Haw.

– And those thick margins. Objectively, there may be a legibility advantage to them. But doesn’t Jeff know the visual rhetoric of ubiquity is frameless displays?

– Unless something comes along to radically reorient my thinking, I’m willing to bet Chris Heathcote has nailed it in eighteen words: “Kindle is what happens when a non-cool company attempts to do a closed service: a car crash.”

– I’m not sure that any product with a full, physical keyboard has ever had less justification for one. Sure, it’s nice to be able to take notes, and I’m far from blind to the e-commerce angle. But primarily, what I’d like to be able to do with all such devices is read. In this light, chosing to sacrifice a full third of the expanse available for display to the keyboard seems like a curious decision.

– I’m also perplexed by the presence of so many hard buttons. If ever an application has ever cried out for an iPhone-style gestural interface, actually justifying what might otherwise be a lazy, component-availability-driven, flavor-of-the-week decision, it’s this one. “Leafing” through a book? Come on, it’s a gimme.

– I’m fascinated by the way Amazon’s explaining and simultaneously merchandising e-paper technology to an audience for whom it’s presumably quite novel: “The screen works using ink, just like books and newspapers, but displays the ink particles electronically.”

– Above and beyond any other consideration, validating Michelle Malkin by including her in your first round of invited bloggers is a deal-killer for me. If it’s balance you’re trying to achieve, surely the right offers one or two more qualified voices.

– Hard to filter this from the background radiation, but it sure seems like Everyware is selling unusually well at the moment. The Kindle edition, especially. I’m not silly enough to think this necessarily has anything to do with the fact that Kindle as conceived is a pretty everywarish object, but it’s not impossible either. (Which reminds me, I need to check my contract to see what, if anything, it specifies about royalties for proprietary-format electronic-edition sales. How much do you want to bet it’s not to my advantage?)

17 responses to “Kindling”

  1. alex says :

    Yah. This is slightly less disappointing than the Chumby (but only because we all knew it would be soggy milquetoast). Amazon is a utility, and so is Kindling. Too bad the devs can’t stay up late nights and push changes to the physical interface like they did with amazon on the web.

  2. speedbird says :

    Heh, yeah, that would be cool. Hey, you never know – I can easily enough imagine “nightly builds” being pushed out to some smart-material envelope.

    Where my skepticism vis à vis the Kindle really comes to bear, though, is its hybrid product-service business model. You probably don’t remember the modo – Dennis Crowley does – and that, too, was a buy-once/be-subscribed-“forever” service model. And we all know what happened there: they blew through $40 million with astonishing rapidity, and went belly-up the day before their launch party.

    If anybody has the deep pockets to see something “Whispernet” through, it’s probably Jeff. But how fragile the proposition is, how very fragile…

  3. Christopher Fahey says :

    Heh, it’s the same price as OLPC.

  4. speedbird says :


    Hey, you want to be alternately depressed and reassured that ordinary people know full well when to flip the bozo bit on something they’re being stovepiped, check out the comments here. (It’s also fascinating to me that the Times thought it made sense to describe the Kindle to their readership as “a wireless iPod for books.”)

  5. Andrew says :

    I’ve actually held one of these things up here at the office,’s not quite as weird as you think it might be. It’s extremely sturdy, and the physical design is definitely biased towards long-term reading comfort, not towards sexy appearance. (To me, it evokes one of my favorite pieces of tech ever: the Alesis MMT8 sequencer, c. 1985. The e-ink is pretty slick, but that weird loading bar thing on the side is outright bizarre: it’s not a material I can identify…not an LCD, more like some sort of analog foil strip, it doesn’t feel digital at all.

    To me, the Kindle’s perfect not for book-lovers, but for people who have to deal with lots of often-updated technical documents or schematics without easy access to a computer. I don’t know, repairpeople or something like that. Something you’d chuck into a work truck on the way to the job site.

  6. igj says :

    “Something you’d chuck into a work truck on the way to the job site.”

    Which reminds of an unintentionally hilarious quote from a tech mag in the mid-90’s: “You can’t give truck driver Windows.”

  7. speedbird says :

    How could you *not* love the MMT8? Tony Banks uses it!

    I hear you on the jobsite applications – in fact, ruggedized is one relatively low-cost and -effort way to make something approximate the ambient. It would have been really, really interesting if they designed Kindle specifically for use of the verify-in-field sort.

  8. talishapiro says :

    I’ve just heard about portable readers, yesterday. For me a reader would solve ton’s of critical time-management problems. Looking at the Kindle prompted me to look for a better, less costly design. That’s how bad it looks.

  9. Vidiot says :

    um, no .PDF? And you have to pay $0.10/file to e-mail a document to it? And it has an MP3 player, but only in shuffle mode? FAIL.

  10. Kai says :

    Re: “Kindle = car crash”

    Check out amazon’s cool drop test video which would have a “Blue Danube” soundtrack if amazon wasn’t such an uncool company… :-)

    [URL redacted]

  11. Ira says :

    Looks like a big flop, although a rugged document pad that displays PDF files (natively…hello) without the bulk or viewing problems associated with a laptop would be a blessing for us field-oriented folks. It will find a home with a small minority of readers, but hopefully is a stepping stone towards something more pleasing to the masses.

    I have to mirror your blog on the importance of leafing through the pages. The tactile sensation of flipping through the pages is a part of the reading experience. The difference between the left and right side of the page or holding the book to keep it open are part of “reading time” as well. The mass of a book (whether heavy or light) is important. I could go on and on.

    For personal reading pleasure, I’ll wait until a product comes along that brings the rewriteable capability of the digital age with some of a book’s physical qualities. I don’t want them to become obsolete. For technical reading and drawings, this product is close, but the resolution needs to be better, and it needs to support normal document files.

  12. Christopher Fahey says :

    When I read the NY Times headline saying it’s a “Wireless iPod for Books”, I thought to myself, “Those Times people sure are good at coming up with elegant, easy-to-understand headlines that draw you into the story.” Thanks for busting my bubble.

  13. Jim Treacher says :

    “…validating Michelle Malkin by including her in your first round of invited bloggers is a deal-killer for me.”

    What, HuffPo and Crooks & Liars don’t balance her out? “I refuse to get cable TV because Fox News is on it.”

  14. speedbird says :

    Uh, no, Jim, they don’t.

    For one thing, the whole idea of “balance” is specious. If I assert that 2 + 2 = 4, should we have to give equal time to those who insist that it isn’t?

    Far more importantly, though – as I assume you’re well aware – Malkin deals in a kind of pure gutter calumny for which there’s no ready equivalent on the left. Oh, sure, there may be one or two vile little cowards posting similar vitriol, way down the bottom of the DU boards, but certainly not a name-brand equivalent nearly as prominent on the left.

    And as far as I know, nobody at either the Huffington Post or Crooks & Liars has ever, e.g. posted the home address and phone number of a private citizen and encouraged their readership to harrass and threaten that citizen. So, no, your disingenuous line won’t walk the dog.

    Thanks for playing, though.

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