Kindle and Zunebook: The End of Printing as We Knew It?


This week, Amazon launched its second Kindle. I doubt it's done yet, as it seems intent now on creating a line of the products. What is fascinating is that there seemed to be a lot of folks that thought this was a passing fad, like in the early years of any new technology, including the iPod. These folks can't imagine how anyone can give up the feel of paper. Similar arguments were used for movies, movies with sound, movies with color, TV, automobiles and airplanes ("if man were meant to fly, god would have given him wings").


It amazes me that for ever technology revolution, including PCs, by the way, incredibly influential people (generally in an older age group) want to believe that -- this time -- change won't happen. Folks, paper is dead. Granted, it will take awhile, but the initial introduction of the eBook began a process that will eventually wipe out most paper use and eliminate paper presses. It isn't a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when. Paper had a hell of a run, but it really seems like we are getting to the end, though it may take a decade or so to complete the process. We are just waiting for the entry of a major player like Microsoft or HP to spike this trend.


Kindle vs. iPod


It is interesting to compare the Kindle to the iPod. With the iPod, it was a combination of hardware and iTunes service that eclipsed the existing market for MP3 players. This was the first consumer product since the TV that really got the concept of a back-end service to make it work. It is amazing how few hardware products since then, even in the MP3 player space, even tried to replicate this success and how few were truly successful. In terms of units, the Kindle is tracking behind the initial iPod numbers, largely because it doesn't exist in retail yet, though that could flip once Amazon starts licensing it out.


Kindle Licensing-iPod Reverse


One of the things that a lot of people writing on the Kindle don't get is that, unlike the iPod, it isn't supposed to be Amazon only. While Apple is a hardware company and uses iTunes as a low-margin service to sell iPods, Amazon is a book seller and its intent is to license out the Kindle to others but own the back end so it sells more books. This isn't to say that one way is better than the other, only that Amazon is focusing on what it does best, just like Apple did nearly a decade earlier. That's smart, but it also opens the door to a vastly more rapid ramp-up of eBooks once additional vendors jump on the platform. This is why Amazon created and gives away the Kindle reader for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It isn't about the readers, it is about owning the market for books. For everyone who has a Kindle, there is someone who will increasingly only buy from Amazon.


The Kindle as a General Paper Reader


Something else few folks seem to write about is how easy it is to send documents to the Kindle. Every Kindle (including the first generation, once patched) comes with an e-mail address now. If you mail a variety of document formats, including Word and Acrobat, to the Kindle, they show up as a "book" in the Kindle index that you can read. I've actually stopped printing many of the things I used to print as a result. I now take them with me on the Kindle. Itineraries, for instance, work very well, though I haven't yet tried boarding passes. (I'm guessing that is something for when I have a few extra hours to spend at the airport, since inspectors aren't known for their flexibility or creativity.)




Jason Perlow over at ZDNet came up with the idea of a Zunebook, a currently fictional product that Microsoft or someone else could create. This represents the risk for Amazon in that color ePaper can be done, a Wi-Fi or WiMax connection could reduce dramatically the related cost of the device (and improve performance), and if you built in more robust editing (like that which has existed in Microsoft PDAs since the 90's), you could truly make an assault on paper. In other words, until Amazon can saturate the market, there is a huge opportunity for a major player like HP, Microsoft, or even Apple to enter and "iPhone" the market, taking the momentum away from Amazon. In fact, if Microsoft were to do this, it would do incredible things for the brand and image because many think the firm incapable of making a serious run at a market like this.


Wrapping Up: Sizes and Futures


With this release of the larger-format Kindle, the possibility of color, and other major vendors and book sellers entering the market (like Barnes & Noble), we are witnessing a major change, one that could make what happened with the iPod, in hindsight, look trivial. That is because much of the world's knowledge is still in books and needs to be read, placing this eBook technology at the forefront of what could be a massive change. This larger-format Kindle should do well with textbooks and, by so doing, train a new generation of users to never need paper again.