We’re coming up fast on the 2nd anniversary of the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader. Yet despite the many improvements and price cuts in KindleWorld, we’re still subject to the same weird, off-base complaints we first heard back before anyone even had even gotten their hands on one. Recently, my favorite Mac guru, John Gruber, and my favorite, favorite curator of interesting web matter, Jason Kottke, offered their own takes of the same-old, same-old. The usual quality of these fellows’ writing makes their anti-ereader rants all the more puzzling. Gruber’s most recent post was very short, though it’s hardly his first¹. Here’s Kottke at greater length:
But all these e-readers — the Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, et al — are all focused on the wrong single use: books. (And in the case of at least the Nook and Kindle, the focus is on buying books from B&N and Amazon. The Kindle is more like a 7-Eleven than a book.) The correct single use is reading. Your device should make it equally easy to read books, magazine articles, newspapers, web sites, RSS feeds, PDFs, etc. And keep in mind, all of these things have images that are integral to the reading experience. We want to read; help us do it.
His final point – no good rendering of images – is at least a fair criticism given the lack of color e-ink screens. But the rest is more than a bit off. Mind you, we don’t even really know what the user experience will be like on the Nook or Sony Daily Edition.
Even if you grant Kottke his weird premise that book reading shouldn’t be the primary focus of ereaders², he’s still missing the target, particularly for the Kindle. It’s incredibly easy and pleasing to read magazine articles, blogs, miscellaneous web postings, RSS feeds and PDFs on my Kindle DX. I subscribe to The New Yorker and love how it gets delivered Sunday nights with all the stories and tidbits and even the CARTOONS. I regularly use the included browser and FREE mobile 3G access to read RSS feeds on the mobile version of Google Reader. There’s also the much-loved Kindlefeeder service, though I don’t use it personally.
And have I somehow not raved enough about how incredibly useful Instapaper‘s “Send to Kindle” feature is? Well, some but clearly not enough. Super short version: Find a long article or posting on the web you want to read later on your Kindle. Hit your “Read later” bookmarklet. Turn on your Kindle. That’s it. Brilliant. B-R-I-L-L-I-A-N-T. And p.s. Instapaper (and Tumblr) developer Marco Arment, in his own post shooting down Kottke, mentions that he’s about to unveil a “much better version” real soon now.
So I guess the question is why are they so off? Sure, there’s been a lot of hype around the new Nook and Sony’s revamped ereader line-up and hype naturally draws a backlash. But I think the deeper answer is the rumored, imminent Apple tablet which some people think will slay Kindle and Nook and all their single-focused brethren. It seems like some usually bright commentators have been fixating on how great the tablet will be that they have already decided that it’s is a “Kindle Killer.” And since the tablet is still vaporware, with exact pricing and features unknown, that precognition is seeping out into general dissing of the current crop of ereaders. Too bad, because taken on their own terms, ereaders are a great product. And they’re best suited for avid readers who buy a lot of books and sometimes read on the go. That’s likely not as many people as own iPods or cell phones, but its multiple tens of millions of people.
¹Gruber’s been wrong about the Kindle since Day One: “After chewing it over all day, I’ve concluded that Amazon’s Kindle is going to flop.” He also pointedly disagreed with my more optimistic view that day.
²I’m not a big fan of the “what about my needs” school of product criticism.