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.


  1. I am afraid that you might be right that this is a bad idea. But I am hopeful that tools for reading will come out of this. I love my kindle, but it is lousy for organization. No tags, no folder, no lists, etc. If an app store provides better tools for using my kindle then it is a great move by Amazon.

    And if what it primarily produces is stupid little games, then I don't have to use them.

  2. I'm with Adam. For years I have wanted a Kindle that will allow me to export and print my highlighted article. And tags too. With tags, the Kindle becomes a reading tool that can't be matched by a book. Right now the only advantage of the Kindle over books is that it saves my arms from having to carry so much. But I mostly don't use the Kindle because I like to underline and take notes in the margins. And then at the end of each chapter I write provocative questions to myself and I note where in the chapter I'll find the answers.

    If these things were to happen I'd be 70% of the way home, but I still wouldn't be able to take notes on my highlights because the Kindle keyboard is useless for actual note taking. Kindle could improve their keyboard, but I don't see the matching Apple.

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