May 11, 2009

1755 words 9 mins read

Thoughts about the Kindle DX

So last Wednesday, the brand spanking new Kindle DX was released. As has now become usual (considering the 2 previous announcements of the Amazon Kindle), the “cat was out of the bag” before the show even started. Amazon doesn’t have nearly as good information control as Apple, or they realized that it drums up interest so they don’t try to cap it; my belief is the latter. The DX is very similar to the Kindle 2. The major changes are: bigger screen (9.7” vs 6”), more memory (3.3gb vs 1.4gb), Rotation detection (like the iPod, you tilt it on it’s side, and it rotates the screen to match — oh and unlike the iPod you can disable it), and built in PDF support (versus the previous need to submit it for conversion). Other than that the two units are very similar in look physically (excepting the obvious size difference) and run the same UI.

So is the Kindle DX the “next great device”? Well… it really depends on who you ask. It seems a good portion of people are upset by the fact that Amazon announced the KDX just 3 months after they announced the K2. A fact that does not get lost on many of the Engadget editors in their editorial on the KDX. Thankfully, it seems there are at least 1 or 2 editors that have some sense left in them. I’m sure you’ll find just as many people angry at Amazon and the KDX for one reason or another, as you’ll find people excited about the KDX (and of course loud, angry people stand out more than the happy ones). What do I think? I think that these 2 devices are targeting very different groups and purposes. On top of that I think it is worth pissing off a few people in order to put out multiple devices quickly in order to snap up a bigger segment of the market (a market which is still considerably small). You can look at the KDX and the K2 as being just like the iPod versus the iPod Nano, they serve typically different markets. Yes, there is some overlap in markets for the KDX/K2, but unless you’re company only makes a spoon and a space shuttle, you’ll probably have market crossover too.

Before the KDX was officially announced I saw the rumors and thought “that would be cool for my mother”. She has inherited my Kindle 1 since I got the K2. I noticed that she prefers to jump up the text size rather significantly, to the point in which there is fairly little text on the page of the Kindle. I told her about the rumors of the 8×11 sized Kindle and asked her if she wanted one, thinking that more text = less page turns = better. She flat out told me no and that she is perfectly content with what she has, specifically she stated that a larger form factor would be inconvenient. Carrying something the size of a paperback book was just fine and dandy since she was used to that, and it can even fit in some of her purses. Something the size of the KDX simply would not be convenient for her. I have to agree with that since one of my favorite places to store my Kindle for transport is in the pocket of my (ACU-Styled) fatigues. The KDX might fit width-wise in the pocket, but length-wise it will be several inches too tall. I’m very sure that there are a number of people that have said “Hey the Kindle DX looks cool, but it is simply too big for everyday use” and won’t buy it for that reason. That is why Amazon also has the K2, and why it came first.

One of the interesting possible uses of the Kindle DX is to “give them away” free with a year (or longer) subscription to a major newspaper. Many people have thought of this, in fact it was used as part of the plot line for LICD. Sohmer goes into more details on his daily postings. I read somewhere (too lazy to find it) a few months back that it the New York Times (or similar very large newspaper) could “give away” Kindles with 1 year subscriptions and it would cost them less than delivering an actual physical newspaper. I think Amazon should seriously pursue doing something like this, though it was revealed that Amazon takes 70% of Kindle newspaper revenues. Amazon would need to drop this percentage pretty significantly to support this endeavor. In return Amazon gets a TON of new customers who all have Kindles and once they were comfortable with their eNewspaper, would probably move right into buying eBooks. It goes back into the Razor/Razor Blades that Sohmer talked about, and that is a popular topic when discussing iPods. The devices themselves, be it Kindle or iPod, are going to die; they are designed with a built-in obsolesces. However the (in the case of the Kindle) books are saved on for you to keep always and forever (and download them whenever you want, something Apple has a hard time understanding). It is a fantastic feature too because then the end user doesn’t have to worry about getting their books onto new devices when they upgrade.

The Kindle DX has 3 potentials markets, including newspapers. After newspapers, come students. A very logical choice, and one that was actually touted at the press conference. I would have sacrificed a small goat to have something like the Kindle DX when I was in high school and college. Actually I think the Kindle is better suited for high school. When I went to high school the campus was 80 acres, with a population of roughly 2,000 students. At that point in time, lockers were being phased out, but most of us still had them (I don’t think the younger classes were getting them though). The problem with a passing period of just 5 minutes between classes is that if your classrooms were farther apart than the same building, you needed to book it. If your classes were on opposite sides of campus (which they seemed to always do), it was literally impossible to make it in time. Now explain to me how one is supposed to get from class A, to their locker (which is never in a central location), to class B within 5 minutes. Not. Freaking. Possible. Of course each teacher wanted their own specific textbook (or two) along with a binder (or two), there just isn’t enough room in backpacks for several classes worth of “gear”. I think most teachers in my high school realized this and with a few exceptions (like math or science) stopped requiring students to bring their textbooks with them to class. Fat lot of good they do sitting in lockers all day. If every textbook was available on one single Kindle DX that weights less than a pound, kids could actually have their textbooks with them and USE them. Plus, as with most public schools, our books were years out of date and beat to all hell. Imagine if you could buy a Kindle and “rent” your textbook for the year for something like $10. You always have a textbook with you, it’s always the most up to date copy, and no trees died in the making of the book. Everyone wins (even the money grubbing whores of book publishers). And for you critics that says “High school students aren’t careful enough, they’d break a Kindle”… well… most kids these days have cell phones right?

The last “market” that I think could prove to be interesting is the office. Many documents in today’s office are PDFs and many of those documents are printed out just because it is easier to read that a computer screen. With a KDX’s 8x10ish screen, you get all the joys of a printed copy without actually having to kill trees. Granted the lack of color screen is a detractor in some cases, but really, most documents done in business don’t need color or are printed out in black & white anyways. I think the corporate accountants would like this idea since if it saves on office printing costs. It would have to save them significantly, but it is possible with enough Kindles & spread over enough time. Of course, this “market” isn’t one Amazon is going to make a lot of money on, but as with the other markets, once people get comfortable with the technology in the business setting, they’ll use it at home to buy books.

The last point for today is the cost of the Kindle. After reading Sohmer’s post, John and I got into a discussion about what the Kindle actually costs versus what they are selling it for. To paraphrase: he believes Amazon is probably making a tidy sum on each unit. As I’m no expert in the cost of raw components, I’m not sure, but I don’t think they are making much off of each unit (if they are making a profit at all). When the AT&T Tilt (HTC Kaiser II) came out, it sold for ~$400-500 MSRP. If you compare that smart phone to a Kindle you realize they have much the same for inner workings. Both units are essentially tiny computers with 3G cellular modems and built-in batteries. The major difference comes in the screen. LCD’s are terribly cheap since there are billions of them out there. On the other hand the Kindle DX uses a LARGE eInk display which is a relatively new technology (new = more expensive). The KDX actually has a faster processor and more storage than my Tilt, albeit the Tilt is several years old now. The Kindle DX is selling for $489 which compared to the selling price of new smart phones (anywhere between $400 and $700) is not a half bad price.

So… after all this. Would I buy a Kindle DX, even after I got my Kindle 2 just two months ago? Yes. In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered mine. It probably won’t be out for a few months, but that is “ok”. Maybe I’ll like the unit and the bigger size, maybe I won’t. Amazon does have a good return policy after all. Plus I’ve got a friend or two who would probably be willing to let me lend them my K2.