The Heroic Kindle Of The People

I agree with all of the points Jason makes in this TechHive piece about the Kindle’s limitations.

(I would add one item: international access. The Kindle is fab, if you live in those parts of the planet where the device and its library are available.)

I also agree with the tone of the piece, which is spot-on. These are things about the Kindle that annoy us. They aren’t reasons why the Kindle is a bad product.

The Kindle is exactly as important and exciting a product as the iPad. When Amazon introduced this e-ink device, it cost $399. Today, the most expensive e-ink Kindle is $119…and the cheapest is only $69. Amazon has continued to add features and build the product up, year after year. But they’ve also worked just as hard to drive the price of the basic model down, down, down.

Every year, Apple updates the iPad and magically delivers a device that’s twice as good as the previous edition, at exactly the same price. Good. But they’ve done next to nothing to put iPads within reach of a broader economic range of consumers.

As with Jason’s complaints about the Kindle, this is meant only as a criticism, and not as an argument that Apple’s a bad company. Apple’s whole business is based on high markups. And at the same time, their whole brand is based on high-quality products. A+B equals a company that isn’t in any position to make things for people who are on a tight budget. Apple is set up to build the slimmest, slickest, and most elegant $999 notebook on the market. They can’t build a chunky, $399 plastic notebook that’s reasonably well-made and will competently suit the needs of most users.

Those $399 notebooks are important to a lot of people. The device that they can afford is way more useful than the device they can only dream about owning.

Amazon keeps finding ways to get the price down. Another five bucks here, another ten bucks here. Ads? On the lock screen?! How gauche! But there are many people for whom that $20 discount is the difference between between “affordable” and “impossible.”

The e-ink Kindles have plenty of faults. Almost none of them get in the way of their core function: book reading. And when we gripe about the build quality of a $69 Kindle compared with our iPads, let’s also try to think about a kid out there who has access to every great work of classic literature, free, for life, for one eighth the cost of the Apple product.

5 thoughts on “The Heroic Kindle Of The People

  1. tz

    It goes further. What happens when the battery will no longer hold a charge, how much to replace it? The cost difference also goes to the 3G v.s. Wifi only versions (and Amazon’s Whisper is free to download purchases). iTunes v.s. Amazon’s store, but also for user files – can you really avoid installing iTunes on a computer and tethering every so often?

    To expand on the difference in business model, Amazon may lose a bit on each Kindle, but a few e-books and they have made up for it and you’re in their ecosystem. Making it more versatile would bend if not break that model so it would have to be priced to show a profit at the point of sale.

    The main reason for me having two Kindles (I have all kinds of devices – I like the DX large screen) is reading outside in sunlight (even voice isn’t the same). Only e-ink does that well (though my old Nokia n810 tablet was usable with its transflective LCD). There is nothing else I can find that will allow me to do that.

  2. Simon

    The low entry level price is what makes me buy my content from Amazon. I’ve never bought any content from Apple aside from Apps. Apart from preferring to read plain text on e-ink, if I buy an IBook and I lose my iOS device, I’m locked out of my content until I stump up several hundred dollars – with Amazon content I can read my books from almost anything, including any computer with a web browser, and it’s only $69 to get a completely new e-reader.

  3. minimalist

    I see Kindles as just another device that hooks into Amazon’s amazing book cloud. Kindles are sturdy and cheap enough to take them places where I won’t be taking my 850 dollar iPad 3 (or even a 400 dollar iPad 2).

    They are the Nanos and Shuffles of the Kindle kingdom… affordable ways to access your ebooks in very specific situations (in bed where you might break a 10″ glass screen should you fall asleep while reading, on the beach with sand, by the pool where you might get splashed etc).

    Not to mention, the Kindle takes all the distractions of my mobile device away, makes me forget I’m looking an an electronic screen and lets me get into that deep reading zone. I love my iPad 3 but my Kindle paper white is my go to device for long form reading now.

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  5. ash966

    I still like the build quality of the e-ink Nook much better. Also, locking me into a proprietary format no one else uses sucks. I mean, they didn’t want to support PDF at first until pressured.

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