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In praise of Kindle

Getting the out-of-box experience right with consumer electronics is hard, which is why so many companies get it wrong. With the Kindle, Amazon has produced a customer experience that Apple would be proud of. In fact, it’s arguable that the integrated experience of Kindle is actually better than anything Apple has done.

Open the box, there’s the Kindle. On screen is a message, telling you how to plug it in to charge and how to turn it on. This message isn’t printed on a cheap sticker – it’s actually on the Kindle screen. One of the advantages of eInk is that you can put something on screen and it will stay there, without drawing power, until the screen is refreshed.

When you turn it on – and like Apple products, it has enough charge to do so straight away if you wish – it’s registered to your account. All your books are there, in the archive, ready to be downloaded. You don’t have to configure anything, because the 3G connectivity is set up.

And there’s a welcome message from Jeff Bezos, personalised with your name. Surprise, and delight.

Then there’s the design of the Kindle itself. With its third iteration, Kindle has crossed the chasm between portable device and just “device”. It’s like a wallet, or a set of keys: We don’t call them “portable wallets”, or “portable keys”, because the portability has reached such a stage that it’s intrinsic to what it is.

The same is true of Kindle. It’s slim and light enough to slip into a bag and forget, just as you would a wallet or a set of keys. It adds so little weight that you can effectively forget its there.

The design of it is beautiful, yet functional. The one jibe is the row of keys, which are small and a little clunky. Everything else feels and looks great.

Even the power charger goes above and beyond. Like the Apple iPhone chargers, it’s like a slightly over-sized plug. In fact, it’s so much like a plug that you probably would struggle to spot it on a four-way block – which is probably why they’ve printed a neat little Amazon logo on it.

The integration with Amazon is, as you’d expect, seamless. Buy a book, boom – it’s downloaded in seconds. The experience of managing the Kindle, subscriptions, and so on on Amazon’s site is clear and easy.

Of course, the price you pay for this integration is buying books from Amazon and nowhere else. You can’t loan the books to anyone else, and there no way (yet) for someone to gift you a book from your wish list. But given that the prices of the books is so low, most customers won’t care. These are, like the original paperbacks, throw-away books. If I can’t read them in 50 years time, will I really care that much?

If you’re considering getting an iPad primarily to read books from Amazon, consider getting a Kindle instead. The iPad can do lots of things that the Kindle can’t, and never will be able to do. It’s a crappy browser, it doesn’t do email, there’s no apps. But it’s also much, much cheaper and unless you’re reading in low light (where the Kindle’s e-ink screen fails) it’s generally a better reading experience.

Even if, like me, you’ve got an iPad already, I’d still consider getting a Kindle if you’re a voracious book reader. It can slip into a jacket pocket, and go with you when you don’t want to carry a bag. It’s ideal for those situations when you’ve got to take a laptop, and don’t want the extra weight of the iPad. And the syncing is completely silent, completely invisible, and totally in the background. You never have to worry about whether you’re started the app and synced your books, which isn’t true of any other Kindle platform.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a book to read.

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