Priced starting at $139, does Amazon's new Kindle have what it takes to go "mass market"?
Amazon's chief executive Jeff Bezos thinks it does:
"We developed this device for serious readers. At these price points, it may be much broader than that," said Mr. Bezos in an interview. "People will buy them for their kids. People won't share Kindles any more."
This statement is interesting. On the sales page Amazon say that "Kindle is our #1 bestselling item for two years running. It’s also the most-wished-for, most-gifted, and has the most 5-star reviews of any product on Amazon" but it seems that despite all that popularity, so far it's been the tool of choice for "serious readers" and that mass market appeal has thus far eluded it.
In theory I like the Kindle, but in practice I see it as always being too little, too late. It does one thing, and does it well, but in an ecosystem where there are other devices that do the same thing, and devices that do a lot more. You might argue that devices such as games consoles suffer from the same problem. And you'd be right, except that in order to play a game you first need some sort of platform (whereas you can just go out and buy the dead-tree format of a book and save yourself the cost of the hardware), and that some games are exclusive to certain platforms (think Gears of War). It's hard to see what separates Kindle from, say, Barnes and Noble's Nook, except for price.
Also, in order to be able to be aggressive on price, Amazon is resistant to adding functionality and features to the Kindle. Bezos justifies this as follows:
"For the vast majority of books, adding video and animation is not going to be helpful. It is distracting rather than enhancing. You are not going to improve Hemingway by adding video snippets," he said.
That may be the case, but when you have publishers starting to take advantage of the color and video capability offered by the iPad, this sort of leaves Kindle in a vulnerable position.
Then there's timing. How many potential Kindle customers has Apple managed to absorb with the iPad? My guess - a lot.
Then there's the issue of whether Amazon can make them fast enough to keep up with demand. That could e critical as we approach the holiday season.
So, who's interested?