A tech research firm CEO recently tweeted: “After six months with my Kindle I can now report that the damn thing is indispensible. This Amazon toast was perfectly
cooked.” I wish I had the version he seems to have. In mine, which seems to be the standard model, the screen isn’t bright enough, the lack of a touch screen makes it quite unbooklike, you can’t download any Saul Bellow, and don’t get me started on the digital rights restrictions it locks you into. For personal use, the latest version of the Kindle is decidedly undercooked, useful mostly when you’re traveling and want a lighter load. As Nicholson Baker noted in The New Yorker, reading Kindle books on an iPhone is a much more pleasant experience. There are, though, plenty of business purposes for the Kindle and similar competing devices, ranging from easy access to documentation of complex items (you try walking around the Boeing factory with a 30-pound aircraft manual) to relatively lightweight distribution of PDFs (as long as they’re mostly text).
But what about the Kindle as management tool? New devices, be they PCs in the 1980s or BlackBerrys right about now, rise to prominence in business when they are effective ways for managers to communicate and get work done. It’s no accident that business purchases of iPhones took off after Apple made it easier to connect to Exchange-based office systems. Anyone who has paid attention to the book business in recent years knows that a $300 device devoted solely to books is unlikely to be a blockbuster. You can read Kindle books on an iPhone, but it’s surely not the main reason anyone buys one. It’s unclear where Amazon wants to go next with the Kindle. A $500 large-screen version seems focused on reaching academic and periodical-reading markets, although I suspect that getting people already abandoning newspapers to buy a $500 device to read them will not reverse that slide.
What is clear is that the device won’t be a success among managers in its current incarnation. The device is great at selling books (it’s from Amazon; what did you expect?) but it’s not very good for reading or communication. Consider the web browser. There is one built into the Kindle, but it’s hidden in an “experimental” menu and it’s not very good. There’s no incentive now for Amazon to improve it, since the primary purpose of the device’s free connectivity is to download books and Amazon eats the bandwidth cost. Fixing the web browser will require software improvements (more self-evident controls), hardware improvements (touch screen, at the very least), and a business-model improvement: a subscription model. By making the software and hardware improvements, Amazon can make the Kindle more useful to managers. And by making the Kindle a subsidized device with a regular, reliable income stream, like a phone, Amazon can sell the Kindle to businesses in ways businesses understand. Without business buy-in, a decade from now we’ll be talking about the Kindle the way we now consider the Apple Newton.
Do you have a Kindle? Are you getting some management use out of it? Let us know what you’re doing in the comments.