Back To Kindle-Garten
"But, I am a critic," I try to explain... again.
"Yeah, but you don't need to find problems with everything." She is taking exception with my nit-picking the new version of Amazon's Kindle. "I think it is pretty cool... if you like to read."
Which she doesn't. My girl is decidedly post-literate, except when it involves Stephanie Meyer or manga or 140-character text messages. And the new Kindle has no SMS, no manga and no Stephanie Meyer unless and until Amazon lets me access on my Kindle a book I already bought from them eons ago in hard copy. That isn't going to happen anytime soon, so she hands the "kinda cool" device back.
And I admit that after a couple of days with the Kindle 2, I am still critical of the device, but less so than I once was. I kind of miss the steam punk stylings of the square keys, terribly designed paging buttons and laughable screen navigation slider. This version is noticeably more usable. It is lighter -- at 10.2 ounces -- and thinner than my iPhone. The paging buttons are now smaller and less prone to accidental activations. The keypad has rounded keys that are easier on the thumbs. And the screen scroller is now a top hat design that moves a highlighter vertically and laterally on the screen. All good. All moving the e-book closer to a truly viable generation of devices.
Otherwise, frankly, the Kindle remains an attractive niche device for (as my daughter would put it) book dweebs. Actually, I am a book dweeb myself, but the functional range of this device is too limited for my tastes. The storage (1,500 book capacity claimed), battery life, 3G wireless are all very impressive, but the electronic ink technology just is not there yet. The screen is too small and still slow.
They have upped the grayscale rendering so images are discernible now, but visuals still are far from pleasant. The supposedly paper-like contrast ratio continues to be muddy to my eyes, and isn't conducive to giving line art like cartoons or manga the pop they need. For people who just want text, and lots of it, the Kindle makes the experience very portable and potable. Outside of that niche, I think visually oriented book dweebs like me still wait for a richer, more versatile canvas.
Still, the Kindle 2 is a valuable glimpse into the future of mobility, a phrase we will hear more about this year. We are lurching towards that day when a range of devices will pull data from the cloud into the formats we prefer. My guess is that 3G and 4G networks will power much of this wirelessness, but increasingly it seems to me a mistake to think that mobile phone devices will be the only receivers involved. The Kindle speaks to one of many viable niches of wireless media receptors that will run parallel with the phone. There will be in-car entertainment, GPS systems, portable game consoles, and book or magazine readers, and they all will be platforms for a range of content and marketing. In fact, in my next column I plan to look at the new Nintendo DSi handheld, which adds a layer of mobile Web and another app store to the market.
For marketers and content providers, the profusion of mobile devices will require tinkering with formatting and distribution. Interestingly, the Kindle 2 has a new and somewhat improved Web browser now, and guess what the default bookmarks at the home page link to? The CNN, ESPN, MSN Money, and Fandango links all point to the mobile Web versions of the brands. This is a good strategy on Amazon's part, since the Web experience on this device is abysmal -- slow, visually disgusting, awkwardly rendered. Even the mobile Web looks awful. Imagine dial-up speed coupled with Hercules monochrome graphics (anyone else remember those video cards?) circa 1987, and you have the Kindle-ized Web. Amazon acolytes may praise the new browser version, but this is the one part of the device that makes one long for the Kindle 4.
But the point is, the device is leveraging the existing formatting of the mobile Web to get basic Internet functionality onto a non-phone platform, and that is significant and far-sighted. I am not suggesting that marketers spend too much time assessing the Web browser market on the Kindle. I can't imagine too many people using that functionality as it stands. But it is worth noting how the mobile Web morphs across many of these devices. The house ads on CNN's mobile site, for instance, are silly looking on the Kindle browser because they don't scale. The text wraps to the width of the device, but the ad doesn't. Meanwhile, the mobile version of AllRecipes actually formats nicely on this screen. I can see someone using the Kindle browser in the kitchen.
On the other hand, isn't there an opportunity here for marketers into a certain Kindle segment (Oprah devotees? Bookaholics? Travelers?) for a Kindle-specific portal or pages that actually target the Kindle user in the same way a branded app might do a service to iPhone users? In a fragmented mediaverse, more thought needs to be put into targeting both content and marketing by device. As a new Kindle user who hates the browser, I wouldn't mind if a news publisher crafted an information portal for the Kindle that aggregated content in a way that worked better here.
Target the device and the need that device already serves or itself creates.
"Yeah, that's pretty ugly," even my daughter agrees as she spies a Web page on the Kindle browser. "Don't they have color? Can you click on the video?"
"Can't help you there. So I'm not being too critical, right? Because when the Kindle and Amazon nuts read my column, I will get hate mail."
"Well, you are too critical, usually."
"Except when I verbally eviscerate your ex-boyfriends."
"Yeah, that is cool. What does eviscerate mean again? Can I read your hate mail?"