Amazon’s decision to open the Kindle platform for app development is not smart. It seems obvious that Amazon is anticipating the arrival of the Great Apple Tablet and is trying to forestall its dominance by turning the Kindle into a multiple-use device. In other words, Amazon is granting Steve Jobs’s argument that “general-purpose devices will win the day because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device” and trying, belatedly, to turn the Kindle into a kind of tablet.
This will never work. The Kindle, with its black-on-gray screen and slow processor, is engineered to be “dedicated device” — dedicated to reading — and simply doesn’t have the hardware to be anything else. (As anyone knows who has tried to use the Kindle’s primitive browser.) And it’s the fact that the Kindle just does this one thing that attracts me, and many other people, to it. I like not being able to to anything but read on it. I don’t want other features competing for my attention. And the more assiduously the Kindle tries to bolt on extraneous and (necessarily) poorly-implemented features, the more obvious will be its inferiority to Apple’s tablet.
Kit Eaton has argued that 2010 will be the year of the e-reader, but the only year of the e-reader
, because e-readers will necessarily be supplanted by the Apple tablet and other general-purpose devices. This may be true in the sense that over time general-purpose devices will outsell e-readers, but e-readers can still be successful products that make a lot of money for their manufacturers — if
those manufacturers don’t try to ape the tablets, but instead focus on creating the best possible environment for reading.
January 23, 2010