Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...

Cover via Amazon

Over at TechCrunch, MG Siegler’s 2 September post on Amazon’s new Kindle has generated quite a storm. All across the web, media, bloggers, pundits, analysts and the rest are pointing to MG’s post, getting terribly excited about a new tablet that might actually challenge the iPad; something that so many others have patently failed to do. I am a satisfied and long-time iPad user, but would be the first to admit that a little dominance-challenging is a good thing for all of us. It’s good for Apple, it’s good for developers, it’s good for the supply chain… and it’s good for the user. The cheap Android-powered tablet that MG claims to have seen and used sounds interesting, especially given its tight links to Amazon’s content, consumer relationship, and online services.

However, isn’t it just a different take on the iPad’s proven model?

It’s Android instead of iOS. It’s Amazon’s relationship with my credit card rather than iTunes‘. At least in the United States, it’s the Kindle store and Cloud Player and Amazon Instant Video in place of iBooks and iTunes. It’s 1984 instead of Google Voice. It’s also (probably) a 10-ish hour battery life, and a screen that makes all that poolside reading a no-no. It’s a choice, and therefore (probably) good. It should appeal to people who didn’t warm to the iPad, and it should offer a real choice to those in the market for a tablet. I look forward to being able to see one for real.

But I hope that Amazon don’t lose sight of the opportunity presented by the Kindle device that they already have.

As I mentioned at the start, I’ve had an iPad for some time, and it’s now an extremely useful part of my work-day routine. RSS feeds, Evernote, The Economist, Email, Spotify and Sonos, The Financial Times, and more. Lots of consumption, and a bit of light creation, almost every day.

I also have a Kindle, and use it almost daily as well. Both devices have access to the same purchased books, but (and no, I don’t know why) I tend to read fiction on the Kindle, and tend to read work-related stuff on the iPad. Despite being able to read all the same stuff, the Kindle has sufficient value to be worth the £111 it cost me. It’s easier to hold for long reading sessions. Its screen is easier on the eye. Its battery life is wonderful. It’s easier to hold as you board a plane, removing the need to faff and fiddle in bags during the hand luggage-stowing scrum. The e-ink screen works beside the pool, in those train seats where flashes of sunlight keep falling across screens, in the garden, and everywhere else I try to use it. On last month’s holiday to Crete, the iPad (and work) stayed at home. The Kindle came along.

The Kindle is a reasonably nice piece of hardware (although competing devices from Sony and others have, I feel, tended to be better designed and built). The hardware isn’t the best part of the Kindle, though. That accolade must surely be reserved for WhisperSync, and the incredibly straightforward way in which a Kindle device is able to access Amazon’s massive catalogue without fuss, without wires, without delay. Sony and others blew that. Their syncing was (is?) painful, slow, buggy beyond belief, tethered to a computer, and (at least the last time I tried it) linked to a pathetic catalogue of content.

So the Kindle experience offers a good-enough device, at a good-enough price, tied to a best-in-breed buying experience.

It encourages the owner to buy more stuff, which sounds like a good strategy.

This new Kindle that MG has seen links through to the same buying experience, and may even make it easier to keep on buying. But it appears to give up every single one of the other attributes that made the Kindle strong. It’s bigger, it’s more expensive, its battery is less good, and its screen will be as bad (and good) as the iPad’s. To increase the dominance of the Kindle experience — and of Amazon’s e-commerce juggernaut — I’d suggest that Amazon actually needs to do more with what it already has, rather than sacrificing so many strengths to the battle with Apple.

In the United States (it’s not available elsewhere), Amazon’s advertising-subsidised Kindle is already the company’s best seller. The reading experience isn’t interrupted by ads; owners simply see adverts on the screensaver, instead of pictures of dead authors. By agreeing to have these adverts shown on the device whenever it’s in their bag, on their bedside table, or otherwise being completely ignored, buyers shave $25 off the $139 list price.

Amazon should be bolder, and make that price differential greater.

Why not $99 instead of $139? The purchase of a Kindle isn’t a one-off transfer of a device from Amazon to the buyer, and a reciprocal transfer of money from the buyer to Amazon. It’s the beginning of a relationship. It’s the necessary step to take before buying your first Amazon ebook. It’s the initial purchase in an ongoing series of purchases, as the Kindle owner buys book after book after book. The $139 is a barrier, standing between Amazon and that One Click™-powered relationship with my credit card. Amazon should take a hit here, to begin the longer and more lucrative relationship.

Honestly, I’d be surprised if we don’t see the current Kindle offered for $99 before Christmas.

In fact, forget $99; Amazon should just give it away.

Like €99 and £99, $99 is an emotive price. $99 is an awful lot less than $100. To many people, $99 is almost an impulse buy. $100 is ‘expensive.’ Even better than $99, though, is “Free.” I don’t need to buy anything before I can buy and read a paper book. It’s conceivable that the ebook reader, too, should stop being a barrier to entry, and be given away for nothing. Amazon, of course, needs to recoup the cost of developing and manufacturing the Kindle, and it’s almost inconceivable that it’s managed to do this already. So a Kindle has tangible costs associated with it, and certainly doesn’t cost Amazon nothing. Giving up $99 (or, today, $139) of revenue on every single Kindle may be a bit much for Amazon to swallow, even with the intangible promise of that nebulous ongoing buying relationship. So why not make the promise tangible, and the relationship less nebulous? Take a leaf from the mail order book clubs of yesteryear (do they still exist?), which tied members into a minimum number of purchases each year. “Give away” a Kindle in exchange for a minimum number of book purchases (or a minimum spend with Amazon?) each year. The margins on the purchased books wouldn’t even need — directly — to be enough to cover the ‘lost’ $139. The recipient of the free Kindle would have their relationship to Amazon strengthened in all sorts of ways, making them more loyal, more evangelical, more likely to at least give Amazon a look whenever they were buying anything that the e-tailer might stock.

Will Amazon do it? Could Amazon do it?

So… Amazon’s new Android tablet sounds interesting, but I won’t be rushing out to buy one. It doesn’t do anything that I haven’t already got covered by my iPad and my Kindle. Lots of people will buy them, and lots of developers will develop for them. That’s all good, but I really do hope that Amazon sees their new tablet as a further tool in their toolchest, rather than a replacement for their current offering.

There are plenty of people who still want a convenient and affordable way to buy and read electronic books inside and out, and there is plenty of scope for Amazon to satisfy that demand through creative pricing of the device that they already sell.

And finally…

It’s been far too long since my last post here. I could blame school holidays (which finish this week, returning the house to me and my music, at least during the day). I could blame the pressure of paid work for clients which stays locked behind closed doors (which eases this month, as three different small-but-protracted projects wrap up). Or, all-encompassingly, I should blame there always being something else to do (including the very important doing nothing at all). I’ll try to do better.

Anyway, for those who (for whatever reason) want a little more me to read, there are always my regular slots on GigaOM Pro and For GigaOM Pro, anyone can read my daily “Today in Infrastructure” thought, or subscribe to the RSS feed of short comments on Infrastructure/Cloud Computing links from around the web. GigaOM Pro subscribers also get a Weekly Update on something timely and topical. For, there’s a monthly podcast and a monthly column on something Semantic Web-related.

Or you could be one of those clients who pay to have stuff written that only you get to read.