TECH COLUMN | Mejia: Kindle inherently less useful than iPod

Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader has much in common with Apple’s iPod: a sleek, white design, a huge content library and a compact form. But while the iPod has become the behemoth of portable music players — to the point where some people call any digital music player an iPod — the Kindle doesn’t seem poised for the same kind of success.

Sure, the Kindle has great hardware and a stellar array of books, with over 250,000 available on Amazon’s store alone. The e-ink display reads just like a printed book, instead of causing the eye strain that results from staring at a computer screen for hours. Not to mention that it has a built-in (and free) wireless connection that allows users to purchase new books, newspapers or magazines anywhere.

But the market for the Kindle (or any e-book reader, for that matter) just isn’t there. Whereas it’s uncommon to hear someone say they don’t listen to music, many people don’t read books regularly enough to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a device that lets them read more. And although a copy of an e-book costs less than a printed book, one would still need to purchase about 30 e-books to recoup the purchase price of the device.

The iPod’s claim — 10,000 songs in your pocket — also just make more sense than the Kindle’s. Even before the iPod revolutionized listening to music, who really read more than one book at a time? Moreover, most only read at home, so the space savings the Kindle offers aren’t particularly beneficial. An iPod can be used almost anywhere, on long plane rides, while exercising or sitting at your own desk, but e-book readers don’t seem useful in many of these situations.

All this said, some e-book reader models, which allow users access to newspapers, magazines and blogs in addition to just books, may be a more useful alternative to the standalone book reader. Given the uncertain future of print media right now, an e-book technology could provide a solution to the problem. Instead of focusing on books alone, publishers could use e-book readers to revitalize interest in print media and to reduce its associated distribution costs. By giving away or renting out hardware along with a subscription, much like cable providers do with cable boxes, publishers could cut printing and shipping costs and consumers could receive faster delivery. Advertisers would benefit as well, as ads could accompany e-book media in a way similar to Google’s AdSense program, dynamically changing based on content.

A quick survey of at the current tech landscape reveals that e-book readers such as the Kindle don’t provide enough incentive for users to switch from traditional books as they switched to mp3s from CDs. The Kindle and other products are technologically innovative, but simply haven’t captured the public’s imagination in the way the iPod has.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    "Mejia: Kindle inherently less useful than iPod"

    What, in the same way that a salami sandwich is inherently less useful than a bicycle?

    These devices do not compete with each other in any way. Making inferences about the success or otherwise of one based on the dominance of the other is meaningless.

  • ST

    I love, love my kindle. I've bought about 60 books since I got it about a month ago. I carry it in my purse, and read whenever I have downtime. I never worry about running out of something to read. I use it to post twitter messages. I love that I'm not filling up my overflowing bookshelves with books unnecessarily (i.e., there are certain books that I like in paper form - those with pictures or that I can't get on kindle). I will be taking it with me on vacation rather than toting around about 10 or so paperbacks. I can read one-handed with a kindle - its much easier than turning the pages of a book. I can also read while on an elliptical trainer.

    Oh, yeah. I also have an ipod. I use it mostly in the car. Which is more useful depends on what you do. Given a choice, I read -- sometimes with music in the background.

  • Chinchang

    Yale lost one of the most talented scientists just because of the pig Raymond Clark III.