Digging for Fire
The tech world is one of the few areas left that still gives visionaries enough room to work, so when we see a sea change coming, we try to call it as early as we can. Amazon’s Kindle is as close as we’re likely to come for this year, so when the fine folks at NotCot got their hands on one, we figured we’d give it a look.
If there’s any industry due for a well-timed revolution, it’s publishing. They’ve been fighting diminishing returns for decades now, even as more people are reading than at any point in human history. The problem? They’re doing it on computers, not books.
Which makes the Kindle seem like a pretty good idea…
Amazon’s goal is pretty clear: do for reading what the iPod did for music. Like the iPod, it comes with a national content network, Whispernet, that’s pricing at a loss to stoke demand for the gadget. On top of that, they’ve got an ergonomic object, an Ive-ian design, and packaging that lets the usual cardboard Amazon box open up into something genuinely exciting. Given that a lot of the impact of the iPod came from its impeccable packaging, we’d say, so far so good.
The most exciting feature might be the Kindle’s universal Wikipedia access, but they draw a strict line between Whispernet and the internet at large. It’s a crucial point: one more Palm Pilot in the world isn’t going to impress anyone, and nobody wants to read Tolstoy on a Blackberry.
Still, if the Kindle is ever going to supplant the old, musty kind of reading, it’s going to be because of Whispernet, not because of a well-tooled design. Unlike Jobs & co., the Kindle has a chance to fundamentally change the nature of the medium: non-fiction books can link to source data, indexes can be integrated into texts, and charts can pop up at the press of a button. For fiction, prose can be integrated into film, art and programming in ways we’ve only begun to touch on.
The question is whether Amazon will loosen the strings enough to let it happen.
- — Russell Brandom