Monday, 11 May 2009

Kindle DX - book or laptop? - deep or shallow?

Auckland Writers Festival
The Auckland Writers Festival is heading towards opening time on Thursday, through to Sunday. I am so looking forward to it.

Kindle DX
Even though I always have at least a couple of books on the go [curretly, Hermione Lee, biography of Virginia Woolf], being able to soak in the world of paper and the printed book is a bit of a luxury for me.

It's against this background that I'm still musing on last week's announcement from Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, of a larger version of the company's successful Kindle eBook reader.

The new device, the Kindle DX, is reported to have a 9.7" display that is about two and a half times larger than that of the Kindle 2. It has a 3.5 Gig memory vault, and comes with a built-in PDF reader, and a feature that can switch between reading in portrait and landscape modes. It also has a 3G mobile phone connection.

It will cost US $489 when it becomes available in the antipodean winter /northern summer. So I guess, depending on exchange rates, that's anything from NZ$800 to $1000

Despite a strong, curiosity, I've never had the chance to use a Kindle [handy hint there for some alert and industrious PR company?] However, I do like the idea - i.e. a soft and tactile e-book reader with digital ink resolution which is easy on the eye.

And as the video above shows, it does seem to hit the right spot in terms of usability, portability and the all important style factor.

How networked is it?
However, I'm also a little wary of devices that build walled gardens which seem to diminish the potential of the connected world, while simultaneously appearing to enhance it.

By that I mean, currently any old browser on any ordinary old laptop opens up a whole new world of connected sources courtesy of the hyperlink - and so with a click of a mouse I head from one source to the other, and onwards into a myriad of new and interesting knowledge pathways. Or do I ?

Reading deeply
Maybe it's time I took a step back and remembered that lovely article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic Monthly, Is Google Making Us Stupid, and the subsequent debate it engendered?

The central thesis is that the online world, despite its many advantages is now affecting our cognition in general, and our ability to 'read deeply' in particular - i.e. the ability to talke one piece of writing, be in the presence of the argument - thinking it through without distraction, and then at the end of it, being able to take the next step only after having digested and thought through what we have just read.

Book versus laptop
Despite my known enthusiasm for the web, I have to say I am drawn to this argument. Being still - reading deeply - thinking quietly - are all characteristics of a book, not a laptop - and there's the truth of it.

If you accept this, then the question becomes is the Kindle a device to help us read deeply, or again, are we trapped inside another hot business cycle in which the object, and the content are just another mechanism to bring the reader to an advertiser?

More prosaically, will the Kindle become the white knight which beats back the tide of change that threatens to overwhelm the newspaper and publishing industry by offering content online within a gated universe in which they can control both price, access and distribution?
Or are we looking at brand new business models all together?

The New business model?
PC World , has an interesting take on this. For them the current business case is still half cooked. Even with the subscription newspapers, and just to hand text books, they doubt how the Kindle DX can become a mass market device. Especially if it expects the student and/or their parents to spend another US$500 after they have bought the obligatory lap-top?

I'm not so sure. I think this doorway to both online newspapers and academic/ college based content might just fly. As will the idea of a US$10 book directly from Amazon, whether fiction or non-fiction.

3G Mobile tie-in - on deck - services
And given that the device is now tied to a 3G mobile network for download, you can also see how this customised content play could tie up with a local mobile offer to create a very neat on deck added value product from local mobile phone companies in the likes of our own Telecom or Vodafone, or the just launched 2degrees

Take another step - walk into the campus library?
But think on - much has been made of Kindle DX's capacity to offer students e-text books? And fair play to that. However, students also have a huge need for access to j0urnal based articles which in turn are tied up in the likes of the big academic subscription based content silos like JSTOR, et al

Kindle DX - the University in your tote bag?
Imagine an Auckland based content proposition in which the 50,000 students at Auckland University and AUT were offered their course work, plus their current digital library membership though a Kindle DX - plus a discrete set of newspaper subscriptions - plus a student mobile phone offer from the likes of Vodafone, Telecom , or here in New Zealand the new 2degrees entrant? Imagine that scaled across the whole tertiary sector in New Zealand.

Then you might have a real deal breaker in terms of an added value mobile phone offer.

In short, there is more than one way to read deeply around a Kindle DX?


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