So Amazon.com has released the Kindle 2, to mostly positive reviews. But I think Amazon missed several opportunities to make the Kindle 2 a must-have device for people who work with text content. I outlined these opportunities back in November 2007 in this blog post. Let’s check them off:
- Native PDF support: No. By “native support” I mean that if I have a document that I want to put on my Kindle and view, I ought to be able to do so easily and free of charge, and it ought to look on my Kindle as it would if I had printed it. But this is not the case for the Kindle 2. To get a PDF or other kind of document onto your Kindle, you have to email it as an attachment and have Amazon do it — for a price of $0.10 per document. And even then, according to Amazon’s specs, you may get a PDF whose formatting is completely out of whack if the PDF is “complex”, which for mathematical documents it probably is. (Although I would like to hear from Kindle 2 owners who successfully get a typical mathematics article to display on their devices, properly formatted.) I can understand that PDF’s are difficult to work with display-wise and perhaps Adobe is the right group to complain to about this. But my main objection is the cost involved. I shouldn’t have to pay any amount, no matter how small, to take a document that I created or possess and put it onto a device that I own.
- Touch screen and/or handwriting recognition: No. I just can’t figure out why they can’t put a touch screen on this thing. Does it screw up the display resolution? It can’t be because touch screens are expensive; as I pointed out in the earlier article, Palm Pilots had touch screens back in the late 90′s and it didn’t jack their prices up inaccessibly.
- Improvements to UI and buttons: It looks like yes. It certainly doesn’t look cheap, as the Kindle 1 did. So sexiness is one thing Amazon did right here.
- Free access to any RSS feed: No. You still can only subscribe to the RSS feeds that Amazon provides (although there are a lot more of these now than there used to be), and it still costs money. Slashdot, for example, is $2 per month. That’s not much, but why should I have to be paying for this when I can get RSS feeds for free on a computer or an iPhone? And if I want to subscribe to 100 RSS feeds, as I do, then am I going to be ponying up $100/month for these? That’s too much.
- WiFi as a paid option: No. Here’s another one I don’t get. I can appreciate the flexibility of 3G connectivity (especially after owning an iPod touch for a few months and striking out on wifi coverage in various places). But why not make a “Kindle Deluxe” for $100 more that includes WiFi connectivity in addition to 3G? People would buy this. Why not make it?
- Price drop: Forget about it. The Kindle 2 retails for $359. That’s about the price I paid for my iPod touch. Even if you agree that $359 is a fair price for the Kindle 2 — and this is a highly debatable point — the fact is that this is only the beginning of the expense of owning and using it. You have to pay to have your own documents put on it; you have to pay to access RSS feeds and then only the ones Amazon provides; and of course there’s the cost of the books themselves. Kindle books are, to be sure, significantly discounted over their print versions. But how many books would I need to purchase in order to recoup the loss of purchasing the Kindle in the first place, paying to transport my own documents, and paying to access my RSS feeds? I could do the math, but it’s probably more than I’d want to pay.
Devices like the Kindle really show a lot of promise, especially in education. It’s exciting to think that something like the Kindle could be used to provide students with cheaper textbooks which they could carry, annotate, and share with others. And I like the idea of being able to carry around PDF’s of articles and books, sharing and annotating as well. So it’s disappointing that Amazon gets us this close to having a killer text content managing device, but stops right at the doorway.
Still, if Amazon or someone wanted to send me one of these as a gift, I’d take it.