Jeff Bezos announced the Amazon Kindle this morning - the latest release in the long attempted and never perfected field of e-book technology. The Kindle is a device you carry like an ipod, no thicker than a pencil, that lets you download and read books and newspapers without carrying them all around.
The Kindle has a great business model. Once a customer purchases a book, they can download it forever for free, meaning that they can delete it to save space and buy without fear of losing their books if their kindle breaks. The device uses both wireless EVDO (cell phone) networks as well as traditional wifi, meaning connecting is easy. Users can purchase subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and get new issues instantly. I really like how accessible their making e-books and how easy the business model is on users.
As a business model, Kindle is really great and on par with iTunes - maybe even better - but the good news stops there. As a piece of hardware, it's a near total disaster. The UI isn't the worst I've ever seen, but, well, it's about as far from an iPod as you can get. The screen is black and white and grey. About a third of the real estate is wasted on buttons, and about half of that is for a keyboard. Yes, a keyboard. Because sometimes, when I'm reading a book, I like to type an email. Or something.
What the Kindle really needs to last is a total ui over-haul - a little iPhonization. The user experience has been totally neglected on Kindle; it looks like a bad, over grown palm Trio, which is the last thing I'd want to read a 400 page book on.
Books are a visual experience with very little interaction, and the hardware needs to reflect that - the entire device should be a color touch screen. If I need a keyboard, one should appear semi-transparent over my book. I should be able to shop for books on the device, dragging them from some amazon book store to a local hard drive my moving my fingers around. And the "next" and "previous" page functions are a perfect place to implement some of the touch-gesture technology we've been experimenting with: drag your finger in one direction and it goes to the next page, the opposite and it's the previous. This could change based on your region to avoid the prejudicial left-to-right metaphor it's currently shackled with.
I need to WANT to use this thing in order to buy it, and right now I just don't. The iPhone has ruined me and I won't settle for a device that doesn't provide just as good a user experience.
As it stands, unless Amazon plans to release an updated version 2 of this hardware ASAP, I think we can get ready to relegate the Kindle to the land of forgotten technology, along with Laser Disc and Betamax. Sorry Kindle - you're the best e-book reader to date, but you're still just not good enough to replace printed paper.