Why Amazon Will Save the World

Wow, no caffeine-induced euphoria in that hyped message, is

As a matter of fact, I’ve been living with an Amazon Kindle
now for the past few months and the romance just continues to bloom. There are
so many things here to like, and so many messages for those of us who are
entrusted to deliver technology to professionals to help them get their jobs
done better in less time and with less pain.


First: The medium, known as an “electrophoretic” screen, is
provided by a company called E Ink. It was spun out of MIT, and drew its
inspiration from groundbreaking technology created by HP Labs and driven by the
Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University
. Unlike an LCD, it uses a tiny amount of power, only to “clean” and “paint” the image, which then
remains visible without any additional power. It needs no backlighting, so the
power use extends into days and weeks instead of minutes and hours. It’s much
easier on the eyes, too. It’s only available in black and white, but for
readers that’s all you need.


Second: This is, at least for right now, the “iPod of
books.” Just as Apple was able to broker a standard among competing download
technologies, providing an intuitive, user-driven search site, and simple
pricing, so has Amazon applied similar principles. The Kindle site respects the
interests of the reader, and prices are typically a flat USD $9.99 per title. It
will store up to 250 books, enough for even the longest trip to Asia. Like
iTunes, the Kindle does not compete against content providers (in this case,
book publishers). An added benefit is the availability of dozens of newspapers
and magazines, which could provide a shot in the arm to an ailing industry.

Third: The pricing model bundles the cost of the cell
connection. The Kindle accesses its website via the CDMA network, but you don’t
have to sign up for a monthly calling plan with a cell carrier. The fee is
built into the $9.99 price of the book, encouraging more time on the website.
Too bad it’s not GSM, so I could use it outside the US.

Fourth: Unlike iTunes’ App Store, Amazon has (so far), taken
a rather laissez-faire attitude towards the hacker community, encouraging a
potentially valuable secondary market for add-ins and enhancements. It’s too
early to see what happens, but the hack sites are busy.

Finally, this is a great use of the philosophy championed in
the Open Source community – that giving a user a lean product with a few
features that really works well is, for many, good enough. There’s no
“technology overhead” on this device.

Getting Oprah’s endorsement didn’t hurt sales, either (glad
I already had mine; I could have sold it at a premium on eBay before

It remains to be seen who the winning provider will be –
there are competing and great technologies from iTunes for its iPhone, Sony and
its Reader, a Dutch company with its iRex, and a new company, Plastic Logic,
which will soon launch a larger format device. And, of course, Amazon just
launched a new Kindle, and Google will make 1.5m free e-books available in a
format viewable on smart phones. So, the real winner here is you, the user.
That’s the beauty of competition.

For me, the takeaways are: keep it simple, eliminate
technology overhead, respect the user and the way they work, provide a
highly-purposed UI, and encourage a community of content providers. Will some
of this go into future SolidWorks technology? Is some of it already there?