Why Amazon's Kindle Is A hit. It's an iPod

Peter Mortensen at Jump hits it right on the head when he says that Kindle’s success is due to an ecosystem similar to Apple’ iPod/iTunes ecosystem, not product design. He argues that the WhisperNet 3G system that pulls books, newspapers and other “paper-based platforms” down off the net into the Kindle without need of a computer is the killer app. Yah, he’s probably right. The Sony e-reader needs to be plugged into a PC to work.

Here are Peter’s insightful remarks: “I’m not so sure about this. The Kindle’s a massive hit, there’s no question of that. And I think that its funky futuristic design lets people know without touching it that this is an entirely new device that will require an entirely new set of expectations for its use. It’s a flying success on that front.

But in terms of basic usability, it’s an absolute bear. The page-turn buttons are awkwardly located, and the display can be very slow to update when you flip a page or browse Amazon over the wireless connection. For pure reading experience, the Sony eReader is a better design.

So why is the Kindle absolutely destroying Sony’s offering in the marketplace? It’s what you can’t see — the “WhisperNet” 3G data connection that pulls down books, newspapers, and magazines seamlessly over the air without the use of a computer. The people running the Kindle project for Amazon recognized, correctly, that the problem with all previous eReaders was not the physical device or even the screen quality. It was the process for loading them with content. They all stunk, and they didn’t have a good back-end.

The Kindle has done for books what iTunes did for MP3 players. In fact, it’s done even better than iTunes, as it’s totally self-contained. WhisperNet has finally made it elegant, intuitive, and obvious where you would find an electronic book, how you would load it on your machine, and how to acquire new content on the road.

Kindle is a break-out success right now. But I would argue this is at least in part in spite of its physical usability issues — not because of its industrial design. With Kindle, the real innovation is invisible — and that’s why Walt Mossberg didn’t see its potential.’

Thanks Peter, this is important stuff. It’s the ecosystem, the platform, folks.

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