Yesterday Amazon released an update to its Kindle ebook, adding PDF support and dramatically improving battery life. But does Amazon know where it's going with the Kindle, or is the technology already on borrowed time?
See, in theory the Kindle sounds like a great idea. First, it's got that cool vibe to it, almost to the point that you expect it to have an Apple logo on it. It also does what it says it does on the tin (that is, act as an ebook reader) very well. Also, it's got the clout of Amazon behind it, and that's got to count for something.
But to be honest I don't hold much hope for the Kindle (an Amazon Kindle at any rate) being around in the long term. In fact, given what we're seeing right now, I wouldn't bet on it being around in three years time.
Well, a lot of reasons really. Let's take a look at some of them.
- Price Two years ago when the Kindle was launched it retailed for $399. Without a doubt that was way overpriced. Now the "next-gen" Kindle 2 retails for $259 while the Kindle DX retails for an eye-watering $489. The Kindle 2 seems like a good deal but for a device that's the tech equivalent of a hammer (it hammers in nails real good, but it's no multi-purpose tool), and a hammer that requires constant cash input by the owner, it's a very expensive hammer.
- Stalled development Quick, over the past two years list all the major new features added to the Kindle via software updates. Ummm ... PDF support yesterdays ... ummmm ... Yeah, not much. Truth is, over the past two years, Amazon has allowed the platform to stagnate. Sure, it added the uber-priced Kindle DX to the lineup which offer auto-rotation, more storage and a larger screen, but the platform itself has remained the same, despite owners clammering for new features.
- Closed platform One of the biggest problems with Kindle is the closed nature of the platform. Basically everything about the device is controlled by Amazon. Given that Amazon isn't a hardware vendor, this is a pretty big problem. In two years Amazon has kept the Kindle as nothing more than an expensive ebook reader when it could be a lot more. What it should have done was to follow Apple's example and open up the platform, bring developers on-board and build an app store.
- Competition When Amazon entered the ebook reader market, it pretty much had the entire market to itself. Now that Barnes and Noble have the nook, and this is really what the Kindle should have been in the first place (WiFi, SD card slot, digital lending ...), Amazon's got serious competition.
- Kindle software We already have Kindle software available as an iPhone app and for the PC. This is a bad sign given the lack of development on the Kindle itself and shows that Amazon wants to take Kindle beyond the device.
- Mystery sales How many Kindles has Amazon sold? Amazon will tell you that it's the #1 bestseller, that it's also the #1 most gifted and most wished for item, but that's it. The rest we're left to guess, which is somewhat odd.
In theory, the Kindle is a great idea. OK, it was never going to be the next iPod, but Amazon seems to have really dropped the ball on this device and basically allowed its own device to become irrelevant.