Tuesday, November 20, 2007

So Amazon has announced its e-book reader, the Kindle. This means I can now spend $400 on a device so that I can then buy books in softcopy for $10 each rather than, say, $20-$25 for real, actual books. The real draw of this thing though is supposedly its abilty to hold 200 or more books and enable you to carry them around with you - this is a good thing if you're tired of having to trundle around a wheelbarrow with you to carry your physical book collection with you.

I'm not sure who the target demographic is, but the video overview shows someone who could be a student carrying the thing around. That makes sense on one level, because I remember carrying at least 187 books with me between classes when I was in college. Actually, no I don't, because I didn't. I carried maybe one or two books with me, tops, and a notepad. "Ah!" you say, "But college textbooks are reeeeeally expensive, so this thing gives instant payback!" which, yeah, it might if a) college textbooks were available for purchase in softcopy and b) college students weren't able to buy all the textbooks they need second-hand from last year's users for, you know, $10. Plus - show me the college student, who, given $400, wouldn't immediately turn it into mad quantities of weed, beer and Ramen, possibly not in that order.

It has what looks to be one piece of cool technology, which is the display technology and which is touted to be almost as good as real paper! - for $400. Yeah.

So then what of the device's aesthetics and its behavioral design? Jeff Bezos' stated design goal is to make "Kindle disappear in your hands", as in, have the experience be as immersive as a (real) book. I can see what he means by saying a real book does this, but my larger concern would be over reading this thing in public where it may well literally disappear from your hands - along with your wallet, cell phone, iPod and any other valuables. But then you watch the video demonstration and, right there at 1:01 in, the dreaded phrase "page turn buttons" (emphasis mine, but it hardly matters) surfaced, and my heart sank. I was thinking - oh, hey, page turn gesture, like the iPhone ... but no. Stinkin' buttons. It gets worse - "Use the select wheel when you want to choose an item on the page or menu". Groan. So much for immersive, and disappearing in your hands. Plus, one other little kicker - "the display doesn't use backlighting, so just like paper, it's as easy to read outside in bright sunlight as it is inside your living room or office" - and, just like paper, is illegible unless you have pretty strong frontlighting. Again, the iPhone (and other devices) have already solved this problem - it's called a transreflective LCD, and it works very nicely.

To sum up - FAIL. As a device, ironically, I believe, because it doesn't have enough advanced technology in it - no touch screen, no colo(u)r (thus no killer app), and no transreflective goodness. As a cultural artifact, it will also FAIL because, oh yeah, FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS.

But, hey, go ahead. Be a good American, buy several of these things and use them in the manner suggested by the device's name, and also by the residents of the state next door to mine who refer to "books" by a different word.

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