Kindle, Reloaded

On Monday Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled version 2.0 of its popular e-reading device, Kindle, which the company will release to the public on February 24th. The price is $359.

As with most things Amazon, the reaction thus far has been mixed.  Some see Kindle 2 as a great leap forward for e-reading (mostly Bezos here), while others are nonplussed about its redesign and modest upgrades.

I haven’t had a chance to test drive the new Kindle myself.  Only a select few have been granted that privilege.  Still, as a Kindle 1.0 owner, I cannot help but be struck by several aspects of its younger sibling.

First, am I the only one who finds it odd that Amazon would release the next generation Kindle a scant 14 months or so after the release of G1?  I know the company is offering Kindle 1 owners priority dibs on Kindle 2.0s, but the short time between generations leaves something of a bad taste in my mouth.  As a Kindle 1 customer, I feel as though I’ve been treated as a means to an end — that is, of generating excitement over what now essentially amounts to a prototype.

Okay, enough with the kvetching.

Kindle 2’s redesign intrigues me.  Where Kindle 1 was modeled in size, dimension, and weight after a paperback book, Kindle 2 is about the thickness of a pencil.  It’s also much lighter as a result.  This was  a smart move, and not only because it makes Kindle 2 more portable.  It also makes it less “papercentric,” or less beholden to the idealized form of the bound printed volume.  This isn’t to say that Kindle 2 doesn’t still take many of its cues from the world of print, but at least its designers are beginning to show that they understand the specificity of the new medium.

I’m also intrigued by the legal implications of the K2’s text-to-speech feature.  The Author’s Guild is already making a stink about this new capability, claiming that it results in illegal, derivative works.  I’m not sure what to say about this beyond the obvious.  Lawsuits clearly lie ahead on the horizon, and unless they’re settled out of court, there will be a thorny matter for jurists to decide: can a machine, acting essentially on its own, produce a copyright-infringing derivative work?  Another way of asking the question would be: is it the unique provenance of human beings to infringe on another’s copyright?

The last feature I want to address is Whispersynch, which keeps all of your Kindle titles backed up on Amazon’s servers and allows you to synch them to as many Kindles as you own.  First things first: Kudos to Amazon for allowing content to migrate across devices.  (Now, if only they’d get rid of the DRM and allow readers to share content with one another….)  Here’s the potential downside of Whispernet, which is essentially the downside of cloud computing more generally. How much can we trust a private company to store our content?  Now, I’m reasonably confident in Amazon’s financial solvency right now, as evidenced by its recent profit despite the economic downturn.  But remember Gimbles?  Or B. Altman?  Or all those other department stores that used to rule the retail roost, but that no longer exist?  Nothing lasts forever, especially in such a competitive environment.  Consequently, I’d like to see Amazon explore additional — client-side — ways of backing up content when Kindle 3 comes around.

Probably in another year or so.


I’ve blogged at length about Kindle 1.0 on my other site, Differences & Repetitions. You can read the posts here, here, and here.

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2 comments

  1. Erik J says:

    I stumbled into this site and it intrigues me. (Thanks also for linking to your previous entries on the Kindle; I’m about to dig into that paper “Disowning Commodities” of yours that you posted there.) In the meantime, allow me to share a link, too. John Siracusa wrote a typically insightful piece he calls, “The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age.” The link: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2009/02/the-once-and-future-e-book.ars

  2. Ted Striphas says:

    Erik,

    So glad you found the site, and thanks v. much for the link. I will read the piece with interest. Let me know if you have any trouble finding my e-books essay. For whatever it’s worth, a significantly revised and extended version appears in The Late Age of Print (the book).

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