Is Kindle The Next RIM?

02 Apr 2012

Like many people, I love my Kindle. It's easily the best luxury item I've bought in a long time. It's a bundle of convenience and joy. It's light and small, the battery lasts forever, the screen is perfect for the purpose, it's affordable and buying books is easy.

Despite all of this, every time I start it up and every time I think about what books mean beyond just reading, I'm convinced Amazon is wasting a great opportunity. To me, Kindle represents the same story we've seen from GM, Microsoft and RIM (to name a few): the death of innovation. As a developer, this is particularly hard for me to accept given how Amazon is, in my opinion, the most innovative internet company. AWS makes all of the other tech giants, as well as a number of startups, look slow and inept.

As great as the Kindle hardware is, the Kindle software is a disaster. It feels like an early version of DOS. No doubt a big part of that is to help with battery life. But there's so much that can be done with respect to reading outside of the device but within the Kindle/Amazon ecosystem, I just don't know what Amazon is thinking.

I want to manage my collections online and have them synced to my Kindle. It'd be such a better experience than the horribly limited UI. It would let you ship the lightest and cheapest Kindle by removing the need for a keyboard AND touchscreen. Once people have their collections online, the social and commercial possibilities start to expand. You can make better recommendation and easier discovery. You can help connect readers to each other and the books that they love. Essentially, you can build something that goes beyond a piece of hardware.

It looks like that's what Readmill is trying to do (at least to some degree). However, it's largely limited to their own iPad app. In the scale of book readers, I assume that's a pretty small group.

This brings up my other frustration with the Kindle, the state of its development kit (KDK). The thing's been in private beta for around 2 years. Like a lot of people, I applied as soon as it was announced, and haven't gotten in yet. But I don't really care because if you read the KDK documentation, you'll see that Amazon's interest is in letting developers build apps for the Kindle as-is if was some generic portable device (like games). There is no getAllBooks or createCollection methods. It's like building an outlook plugin without access to mail items.

When shoutcasting took off, it opened up a whole new world of music to me. I keep hoping the Kindle will do that for books. But it doesn't even come close. Worse, it doesn't let anyone else try to solve the problem either.

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