Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Arrington's Great Kindle Idea, and Why Android Should Have Done It Too

This morning Mike Arrington wrote a great advice piece to Amazon on the Kindle.

The gist of Mike's argument is that Amazon should offer Kindle up as an operating system and reference design. This would allow third parties to create Kindle compatible devices in the same way that Dell, for example, makes PCs compatible with Windows. This would create an ecosystem around the product which would be incredibly powerful. And at the same time, Amazon would still be doing what it really wants to do, which is to sell books. By offering their own product which they should continue to sell, they get to work out all the kinks without any meddling third party companies telling it what to do. But by opening up the platform, they really get to have their control cake and to eat their large marketplace cake too.

Interestingly, this is really what Google should be doing with Android. Google is indeed licensing the Android OS to third party phone manufacturers, but by not creating and controling an initial reference design they are leaving important pieces of the design to third parties, in a field (mobile phones) where important design elements can be critical.

Anyway, getting back to Kindle, I have been a fan of the product concept but I do believe it will be very hard for Amazon to build up the kind of market that they really need and should have with such a device without getting some help. I hope they take Mike's advice.


  1. Generally-interesting-guy-I-follow, Hank Williams, talked about the Kindle a little bit in his post on Arrington's great Kindle idea. In it, Hank discusses the merits of creating a reference design based off of Amazon's Kindle for other companies to emulate and create a class of "readers." However, he mentions something about Android which I'd like to comment on.


  2. Hmmmm this actually sounds more like Amazon trying to create a closed market, like iPod/iTunes. They create a new and unnescessary type of proprietary format rather than reusing existing standards (xml?) just to ensure their DRM... And if recent posts and comments on your blog are anything to go by many others will agree that DRM is bad. You are forbidden from transfering files from one device to the other even if you own both devices and only one copy exists at any time. Errr hello, I paid for that eBook where are MY rights?

    Not only that it doesn't properly support PDF so all the other articles I get from, say, academic resources would still have to be printed out or mangled in some conversion tool.

    Finally the actual device itself is awful. It feels like its been designed by a 4 year old based on his 80s speak-n-spell. Its hard to hold and read at the same time, the buttons are overly sensitive, cramped, and often get pressed when you're holding it trying to read something.

    But mainly my concern is that they are following a failing business model and using DRM to cover over the cracks.

  3. "But mainly my concern is that they are following a failing business model and using DRM to cover over the cracks."

    umm... uhh... I think that Apple's iTunes business model might not be properly considered to be failing.

  4. What makes you say that? Sure they are the largest music seller (IIRC they outranked WalMart last year) but they've release no accounting information of substance and only constantly reassure all that the service is profitable...

    Also Apple have had several EU court cases brought against them specifically aimed at reducing the DRM on iTunes.

    Oh and as for the comment about opening up the software as an OS, it might seem like a good idea but it isn't.

    The problem is not with the software but the hardware and the services. What is there in the Kindle device that makes it especially unique? Nothing. It is a Portable Data Assistant with an eInk display and a cut down OS offering web browser and a few other apps.

    What this is far more akin to is Apple's iTunes, a service provider where you can download new material to your device on demand. Many other such services manage this without resorting to a dedicated device - hell you can use iTunes on your desktop. Therefore Amazon should be more concerned now with creating a shop for eBooks that have both browser-plugins and desktop apps to provide user interfaces. As devices such as Kindle are produced by other manufacturers additional plugins could be created to ensure those users have the ability to connect.

    Given that most phones, mp3 players, etc are slowly getting to the point where they operate on a linux-esque distro such tailored OSs (e.g. kindle's) would be obsolete or even a distractor to uptake.

    Oh, and what's this comment about Dell making PC compatible with windows? That's like saying that they make cars to be compatible with gas. Yes you can make a car run on milk but if people are buying cars to run on gas you'd get a bigger market share doing that. So why do dell make "windows compatible" computers? Could it be to do with the market share of Windows vs Linux?

  5. This is a really bad idea. The interesting part about Kindle is not the device, it's the service. In fact, the device itself is a total piece of crap.

    Amazon should license its book download service and DRM to consumer electronics OEM/ODMs ala Microsoft's Windows Media DRM. Heck, why not build an iPhone app that connects to Amazon. I've already got an iPhone, it was cheaper than the Kindle, and it's not a piece of crap.

  6. off subject, am getting spammed by your comment system, long list of links get sent to my email as a follow up on earlier posts ... switch to disqus?

    and your point about what the kindle could be is good.

  7. Gregory,

    This site is just the generic google blogger system. I didnt think it sent out follow ups to comments in the way that disqus does. I know it sends me comments as the blog owner, but I didnt think it sent them to anyone else. That is strange.

  8. I agree with your second commenter that Amazon appears to be looking towards an iTunes type closed model, but disagree that this is A Bad Thing.

    It seems to me that it is necessary for Amazon to proceed this way. DRM is vital to the existence of the system because it requires the permission of authors and publishers, and so far the iTunes model is the only successful DRM model. For some reasons why that is, and why "open" DRM competitors have failed, go back and have a read of Jobs' famous "DRM letter".

    Gotta admit, I normally turn the page when I start seeing someone recommending that a vendor should "create an open system", license all their IP and "create an ecosystem". It's become an MBA mantra ever since the success of Windows - but everyone conveniently forgets the larger number of failed attempts at that strategy, and companies that have taken that advice and killed their business. For some examples, Palm, Psion (Symbian), PlaysForSure...


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