Kindle Part 2: A ‘Johnny-come-lately’ view
I have to admit, I held out on the Kindle for a very long time. Perhaps something of a surprise, as my current role is built in part on my voracious hunger for gadgets. ‘Why bother with a Kindle, a device built for one task,’ I thought, ‘When a bit extra buys you a tablet, that does hundreds of things?’
So what changed my mind? Trying to read on a tablet. Tablets are backlit, or at least they are right now. So reading long passages of text is somewhat akin to trying to read a novel written on a lightbulb.
The decision is rather like choosing between a saw and a Swiss-Army Knife. The latter may perform a multitude of tasks, but there are occasions when only the former will do. Chiefly sawing.
Amazon have been very, very savvy with the Kindle. Not just the device, but the whole Kindle infrastructure. Buy once, read anywhere – on the Kindle, itself, of course, but also on iPad, Android phone or tablet, even on your desktop machine. Your last page is bookmarked, so you can start on one platform, and pick it up seamlessly on another. Not only a great strategy for users, but allowed the Kindle ecosystem to thrive among the overcrowded mobile device space, which at first appeared to threaten the humble, uni-purpose Kindle.
The refreshing thing about the Kindle is its relative aversion to the built-in obsolescence endemic in today’s tech. Apple will continue rolling out newer versions of the iPad, They’ll ramp up the features, add cameras, nip and tuck the software and will try to persuade you that the one you just bought, then the veritable bleeding-edge of consumer tech, is now nought but a glorified Etch-A-Sketch. But the Kindle? Aside from some physical characteristics, I’d argue that the earlier models are as good as their successors in the key facet (really the only one that counts here) – readability. In fact the latest entry-level model, the Kindle 4, seems, on the face of it, to be bereft of features when held up to its ancestors. No headphone jack, and thus no text-to-speech, or mp3 playback. No keyboard. Half the storage space, and half the battery life. But, in reality, these aren’t especially problematic. The reduced 2GB storage still houses thousands of books (the data foot print of a Kindle ebook is microscopic). A full battery still lasts a month, whereas tablets tend to die after 8 hours. The new Kindle still has a eInk screen and can still be read in direct sunlight. Its primary purpose, a clear reading experience, is still fulfilled.
Yes, the Kindle ties you into one outlet’s catalogue, but only really in the same way Apple ties iPod users into their iTunes ecosystem. There are also very simple means of converting ePub and other format ebooks to the Kindle format.
Of course the downside of this is that I’ll have to somehow get rid of all those pieces of dead tree, taking up valuable space in my house… oh who am I kidding? The two can happily co-exist. Ideas are ideas. Paper and eBooks are simply vehicles for them. Although I’d never use my Kindle to prop up a wonky table leg.