We’ve got our mitts on a Kindle, courtesy of the good people at Amazon (AMZN), so we’ll jot down some first impressions in a bit. Before we get to that, though, let’s explain what the Kindle isn’t:
• An iPod
• An iPhone
• A BlackBerry
• A PDA
• A smartphone, etc.
The Kindle, the Amazon’s pr reps repeated over and over, is a “single use device” — it’s designed to let you read books and other print products, and it’s designed to let you access them via a wireless connection. And after playing with it for all of a few minutes, we feel safe in proclaiming that the Kindle does a fine job at doing what it’s supposed to do. We think.
The thing is, though — the Kindle has the ability to do much more. It already has a built-in web-browser, an MP3 player, a full keyboard, and email capabilities. None of those capabilities are even close to state of the art. The web browser, for instance, works a little less well than those on early model Blackberries — it hates art, and will only let you look a limited view of the screen, etc. We haven’t tried the MP3 player yet, but the Amazon folks already told us not to get our hopes up — the player is supposed to be used for “background music” as I read, they warned me. It’s not going to replace my new nano anytime soon.
But while some of our blog colleagues are likely already complaining about what the Kindle doesn’t do, we view its limited feature set as a plus…
Why? For two reasons:
• Jeff Bezos and company have certainly left the door open for future upgrades. They could easily build out any one of the device’s half-hearted features down the line. MP3 players are easy enough to build, for instance: If Amazon wants to make the player more music-friendly (and it very well might, given that it’s now in the business of selling MP3s), it won’t be that hard.
• In the meantime, Amazon is avoiding the trap made by many consumer electronics companies, particularly Apple’s (AAPL) would-be rivals in the MP3- player industry: Overloading a machine with features at the expense of the one thing it’s supposed to do well. The Kindle’s web browser, for instance, will never rival the one on an iPhone, or even a BlackBerry, as long as the Kindle uses MIT’s e-Ink technology. It only supports black and white images, and doesn’t work with Flash or other image-rendering software. But the e-Ink is much easier on the eyes when you’re trying to read text for long stretches, and that’s what the Kindle is supposed to do. You want to watch dog-on-skateboard videos on YouTube, get an iPhone.