Amazon’s front page today is announcing that the Kindle is back in stock. They also provide a link to Jeff Bezos’ annual letter to Amazon shareholders, which is dedicated to his thoughts about the Kindle. Nothing earth shattering, though I do think he tries to get to the heart of the question about why someone would buy a Kindle when they already own both a Blackberry and a desktop or notebook computer. After the obligatory reference to Gutenberg, Bezos writes:
Lately, networked tools such as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and PDAs have changed us too. They’ve shifted us more toward information snacking, and I would argue toward shorter attention spans. I value my BlackBerry–I’m convinced it makes me more productive–but I don’t want to read a three-hundred-page document on it. Nor do I want to read something hundreds of pages long on my desktop computer or my laptop. As I’ve already mentioned in this letter, people do more of what’s convenient and friction-free. If our tools make information snacking easier, we’ll shift more toward information snacking and away from long-form reading. Kindle is purpose-built for long-form reading. We hope Kindle and its successors may gradually and incrementally move us over years into a world with longer spans of attention, providing a counterbalance to the recent proliferation of info-snacking tools.
This is an interesting way to position Kindle or any eBook reader–the competition isn’t the other devices per se but the habits these other devices have accommodated. This is true, I suppose, but I still think that devices will emerge that support both kinds of information consumption–the short form and the long form. What’s missing in Kindle, interestingly, are some features that would make “information snacking” also possible–and useful. As David Guenette pointed out, the Kindle could have readily added MP3 support (“It has the ICs and jacks for playing MP3 files, but no playlist management, nor–absurdly enough, considering that Amazon is set up to sell things like music–any iTunes-like music downloading.”) Plus the idea of paying to read a blog that is otherwise free on the Web is just silly.
So we are still left with, as David calls it, the “additional device conundrum.” I have been using an eBook reader lately, and enjoying it, but there are limitations with that one and what I can read on it. I want to be able to read, at minimum, books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, general web sites, and a wide range of personal content including but not limited to Word, HTML, PDF, and XML formats. I want it to be brain-dead easy to download and access new content. As David points out, I also want multimedia. And I want a level of interactivity to include links, forms, and feedback. I want it to be cheap, powerful, and sturdy, and I want the reading experience to be superior to my notebook computer in terms of size, weight, portability, and readability. In other words, I want something like the Kindle in form factor that behaves much like a really good notebook computer.
Is that too much to ask?