Charles Petzold

The Kindle Paradox

January 4, 2008
Roscoe, N.Y.

Jeff Gomez, the Print is Dead author and blogger, has now declared that the Kindle is dead.

Mr. Gomez believes that for Kindle 2.0 to be successfully, Amazon must unlock some of the hidden features (such as a Minesweeper game) and add some more features. Otherwise, why pay $400 to read a book?

And therein lies the central paradox of ebook readers like the Kindle: The more features an ebook reader accumulates, the less suitable it is for actually reading books.

What are the prerequisites for reading a book? A good chair and light, of course (those are the technological requirements) but most important are time, a quiet mind, and minimal distractions. If you read a paragraph of the book and feel a need to look up something in IMDB — and believe me, I've been there — you might want to actually turn off the biggest assemblage of hyperlinked distractions you own.

The Kindle can already access Wikipedia. Why shouldn't it access the whole Internet? And why can't you get your email and read your RSS feeds? And shouldn't it play MP3's as well? These are not unreasonable features, and surely the Kindle seems emaciated without them. Yet each new feature is nothing more than another distraction that seductively lures you from the actual pages of the book.

Ebook readers like the Kindle can't survive in the market without features that end up subverting the original purpose of the device. Have you ever heard of a technological concept more doomed to failure?