12 Ways for the Kindle to Compete with iPad

The Kindle is clunky!  As a paperback book replacement, the Kindle is superior to the iPad because of size and weight.  However, as a magazine, newspaper, television and computer replacement, it fails miserable by contrasting it with the iPad.

Robert L. Mitchell, over at Computerworld writes “Why iPads will beat e-readers,” and he makes some very good points.  Basically he asks why have two devices when one will do, especially one that does so much more.  For most people this will be very true, but not all, and the not-alls can still be millions of bookworms.  Not everyone is ready to spend $500 for a reading gadget, but some people are ready to spend $139, and millions more would get into the game if the Kindle was $49.95, one tenth the price of the iPad.  The real question is:  Is the Kindle good enough in the long run?  If you could buy an iPad for $139 how many people would even think of purchasing a Kindle?

My biggest gripe with my Kindle 3 is not the e-ink display but the user interface – the Kindle is clunky at best, compared to the uber-elegant iPad.  How can Amazon fix the Kindle so its users would no longer feel iPad envy?  Can the Kindle be marketed as a single task device in such a way that it doesn’t psychologically compete with the iPad at all?

The problem is the iPad can be a universal ebook reader and that’s why people see the iPad as competition to the Kindle.  Plus the iPad can host thousands of dazzling programs on a beautiful and elegant screen.

The iPad proves that a touch screen is the perfect user interface (UI) for tablet size devices!  The Kindle 3’s buttons and UI is a major leap forward over previous models, but it’s nowhere near the quantum leap of touch screen tablets.  My biggest gripe against the iPad is it’s way too heavy to be a book.  If you’re the kind of person that reads for less than an hour a few times a week, the iPad is fine.  But if you read hours a day, seven days a week then the iPad is clunky and chunky.  This leaves room for Amazon to compete.

Amazon can go in two major directions.  First, it can continue to be just a book replacement device or second, it can go into the tablet competition arena.  And since Kindle software is already on all the major tablets, it’s doubtful that Amazon needs to market its own general purpose device unless it wants to compete with the Color Nook, which is essentially a half-ass Android tablet, and B&N’s attempt to beat E-ink technology.  But at $250, it’s too expensive for most people wanting to get into the ebook reading.

Does Amazon really need to make money in hardware sales?  Does it really matter what platform Amazon’s customers read their books on?  Now that the ebook market has exploded, and readers are accepting the idea of buying ebooks, does Amazon even need to sell Kindles?  Does it even need to sell ebooks in the Kindle format exclusively?  Amazon’s real competition is not the iPad, but Apple.  Apple now sells music, movies, audio books, ebooks, television shows – much of the same content that Amazon is pushing, and a reason to want Android tablets to succeed.  And how does Amazon compete when Apple takes in a 30% profit margin on anything Amazon sells on Apple devices.

Amazon needs to beat Apple, not the iPad, and the best way for that to happen is if Android phones and tablets outsell iPhones and iPads.  Or if Amazon has a device that its loyal customers love more than an iPad.  For the Kindle device to succeed it must be the ultimate ebook reader – and it wouldn’t hurt if it was $49.95 or less.

Here are a number of ways the Kindle could be improved.

  1. E-ink technology limits what Amazon can do with the design of the Kindle.  If Amazon could meld touch screen technology with the e-ink display it could simplify the device by jettison most of the buttons, and vastly improving the user interface.
  2. Add support for EPUB standard – that way EPUB could become the web standard for free ebooks and that would actually help the Kindle.  It would also let Kindle users get library books from Overdrive and NetLibrary, also helping sales.
  3. Make a deal with B&N to support each other’s book formats, so Kindle users could buy from B&N, and Nook users could buy from Amazon.  Hey, the competition is with Apple.
  4. Work extremely hard on the ergonomics of the device so it’s easier to hold and read than any mass market paperback, trade paper or hardback book.
  5. Make the device indestructible so people feel its safe to take their Kindle anywhere something you won’t do with an expensive iPad or Android tablet.
  6. Make the price cheap enough so people will want one for every family member, nor feel kicked in the gut if they loose one.
  7. Work out a scheme for family and friends to share books.  If I owned two Kindles so my wife and I can read the same book, we’d have to have both devices on one account name just to keep us from having to buy two copies.  Being forced to share an account means we can’t have separate libraries.  And if we’re reading the same book at the same time the auto book marking feature would get messed up.
  8. Develop a home page that’s a metaphor for a personal library system.  A Kindle can hold thousands of books theoretically, but not practically.  Amazon needs to make an app like iTunes to manage all the content on the Kindle – but it needs to be far better than iTunes.
  9. Improve the way magazines and newspapers are presented and stored on the Kindle – and aim for cheaper subscription costs than what people have to pay on the iPad.
  10. Most books, especially fiction, do not have photos and illustrations, so it’s easier for E-ink to compete with LCD displays.  It might be better to concede multimedia to the tablet competition, and make the Kindle the absolute best text to brain interface that bookworms can buy.
  11. Make it a snap to transfer text from the Internet and the computer to and from the Kindle.   Getting text to and from the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch can be annoying because of all the security and restrictions Apple uses to protect the user.  It would be fantastic to have a plugin for my browsers that would scrape a web page and put the text content into my Kindle for reading later in the comfort of my recliner.  But just getting .txt, .pdf, and .doc files to and from the Kindle is still cumbersome, and it can’t handle .epub at all.  This would be supported by #8.
  12. Find a software solution to make the Kindle a lifetime library of reading – right now I feel compelled to delete books and docs from the Kindle to keep thing clean and easy, but if the UI was better my Kindle could be a portable library of lifetime reading.  One solution is to provide a lifetime library in the cloud for your loyal users.

I use my Kindle most for reading free stuff off the Internet.  There are short stories and essays on the Internet that are too long to read sitting at the desk so I like to put on the Kindle, plus there are thousand and thousands of free novels, especially classics.  I do buy Kindle books, especially when they are cheaper than buying printed books, but the prices for ebooks have shot up which makes them less appealing.  If I see a reprint of an old science fiction book for $7.99 or $9.99 I just say no.  If it’s $4.99 I think hard about it.  If it’s $2.99 I jump.  $4.99-$7.99 competes with buying used hardbacks for collecting and sharing.  I’d rather buy a used hardback and give it to a friend than buy a Kindle book at the same price.  Sorry Amazon, but sharing books is a factor. 

If the Kindle book is cheaper than a used hardback I think, cool, I’m building an electronic library.  But even that desire is limited because the current UI makes collecting books a chore because of clutter and harder navigation.  I seldom reread books, but sometimes I’d like them for reference, so it’s a toss-up for whether or not to keep them.  I’d love to have a system for building an electronic library of everything I’ve read.  If the Kindle offered such software I’d be more likely to buy Kindle books to keep in my lifetime library.

Right now when I power up my Kindle I see a long list of books, magazines and other documents waiting to be read.  If I want I can archive stuff to an even longer list.  That’s a mess.  What’s needed is a library system for e-readers, something that’s probably only possible with a touch screen UI.

Amazon needs to get some savvy librarians to work on this task.  I can picture the opening screen having the following buttons:

  • Read [it remembers where I left off]
  • Bookmarks/Search
  • Novels
  • Nonfiction
  • Magazines
  • Short Stories
  • Poems
  • Essays
  • Newspapers
  • Documents
  • Notes

What I want is a way to organize my digital book collection and help me find stuff.  And this points to a major flaw of the iPad as an ebook reader.  If you have books in Kindle, Stanza, iBooks, Nook, and other readers on the iPad, and you subscribe to magazines and newspapers, each in their own app, and you collect documents in all kinds of apps, finding stuff will be tricky because it’s all over the place.

I wish my Kindle had a detachable handle, like a church fan handle, but with a trigger to page forward.  Even though it’s much lighter than the iPad, it gets tiring to hold.

But the biggest trouble Amazon will have when competing with tablets is whether or not people start carrying tablets around with them like cell phones.  If everyone gets that addicted to their tablet, then people won’t want a Kindle.  Thus, if Amazon wants to stay in the ebook device business they will have to come out with a tablet that competes with the iPad, or join forces with Android tablet makers.  However, I don’t think people will carry tablets everywhere.  Smartphones will be it, so having a smartphone that can connect with a lifetime library in the cloud could be another big selling point.

I think the Kindle can compete if it becomes a super-book and doesn’t try to be anything else.  A tablet is really a computer without a keyboard, it’s a general purpose device, and as long as it’s heavier and more expensive than a single purpose ebook reader, ereaders have a chance to compete.

JWH – 3/26/11 (Mine and Susan’s 33rd anniversary)

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