Amazon.com have done the sensible thing and have gone hard into eBooks with their new Kindle reader. For US$400 you get the reader and free access to Sprint’s high speed broadband access which you can use to download books (usually at a cost of US$10.00), newspapers, blogs, wikipedia or receive some files by email. That all attracts some extra charges; so clearly Sprint have moved to a use-based charging system for this one.
That leads us to an immediate fact: amazon.com have shut out the rest of the world from this one. Even if you wanted to use it connected to a computer, they wont ship it to Australia. However, it does look like you can purchase one for a ‘friend’ in the US. But what that might mean for downloads is uncertain. Where is a FAQ when you need one? For instance, will international US travelers be able to use the “anywhere, anytime” wireless connectivity. If not, amazon’s claims on this are misleading.
Ignoring that whole question, the big question is: is this the iPod of books? I think it is close but suffers from a flaw the iPod did not — it fails to allow open reading. When it comes down to it, like the iPod, the initial users have a stock of information that they would like to load up. For the iPod is was CDs and MP3s. For an e-reader, it is pdf files. Amazon’s device does not appear able to handle them. For me that is a killer problem and I am not the only one. Gizmodo compares it with Sony’ Reader and amazon comes up short. I have a stock of pdf articles and files that would be great to have in a reader form but this one wont take it.
That said, Kindle does a few things right. It appears very easy to use, has lots of functionality (including notes and search), lots of battery life, lots of space (200 books all told) and keeps the books backed-up at amazon in case you ever lose the reader. That said, what if someone else in your family wants to read. Do they have to take your e-reader too? Again a FAQ would sort out whether books had transferability like Apple’s DRMed music files do.
The problem here is simple. To start buying books in this format, you want to be assured that they will be accessible in the future. Amazon have a good claim here — they already have the iTunes Music Store of books. But the unanswered questions make me nervous about such an investment. And the major answered question is: what might Apple and Google be hatching up? Until then, I’ll stick to my paper stock. At least they look nice and intellectual on my bookshelf.