Current Obsession With Kindle Sales Data Misses The Big Picture (For Amazon)

Discussions regarding the success (or lack thereof) of Amazon's Kindle on blog and news sites has reached a fever pitch over the last couple of days. Most of the discussion feeds off an estimate from CitiGroup analyst M
Discussions regarding the success (or lack thereof) of Amazon's Kindle on blog and news sites has reached a fever pitch over the last couple of days. Most of the discussion feeds off an estimate from CitiGroup analyst Mark Mahaney that Amazon would sell 378,000 units this year, reaching 4.4 million (a $1B business) by 2010. The predictions are revisions of Mahaney's estimates from earlier this year; revisions that TechCrunch's Mike Arrington may have provoked. Most of the discussion, bordering controversy, missed the big picture, if you ask me.The discussion misses the same big picture that was missed when the Kindle e-book reader first shipped.

As many of the first reviews noted, the Kindle has its imperfections. I have a Kindle with me at most times. The same goes for my wife. I purchased one for her because I didn't want her using the one I have. More on why she'd want to do that in a second.

When you first start using a Kindle, the probability that you'll inadvertently flip e-book pages before you're ready to is about 100%. Some of the buttons aren't ideally located. The design may not be perfect and it mars the out-of-the-box experience. But Kindle users will get used to the imperfection in a few hours and eventually, they almost never have the problem again. It's just a matter of how you grip the device.

I'm looking forward to the back-lit version of the Kindle, should one ever come out. It might be a while. I agree with Amazon's decision not to back light the Kindle. There isn't much Amazon can do about battery technology and for the time being, I'd rather have the Kindle's incredible battery life (especially when it's wireless radio is kept off) than a back-lit display. Books aren't back-lit, either. For a few dollars, you can buy a book-reading light that can clip onto the leather-bound cover that comes with the Kindle (some don't fit). The next Kindle should have a means for connecting an Amazon-sold (separately) battery-operated reading light accessory designed specifically for the Kindle. Meanwhile, my wife and I get by without a problem.

My biggest complaint (and perhaps one where Amazon is short-changing itself, too) is that if a particular book isn't available from Amazon for consumption with a Kindle, I can't easily search for it with the Kindle, buy it anyway, and have Amazon ship it to me. Through its wide-area wireless connection (branded "WhisperNet") that relies on Sprint's EVDO-based network, the Kindle connects to the same Amazon account that you'd connect to if you were using the Web through a PC (the one with your mailing address, etc.). So, just because you can't read a book with a Kindle doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to buy it. In fact, Amazon "works" in the other direction. You can visit your Amazon account through any Web browser, buy a book, and have it delivered wirelessly to your Kindle.

On the downside, wireless delivery to a Kindle is the only choice when buying a book from Amazon's Kindle Store via a PC's Web browser. Much the same way Apple uses the PC as the conduit through which music is delivered to an iPod, Amazon should offer a similar option for loading Kindles with books bought from the Kindle store. Why? As said earlier, Amazon's WhisperNet network relies on Sprint's EVDO technology which, as a variant of CDMA, doesn't work in Europe where GSM-flavored networks prevail. If using the PC to route content from my PC to my Kindle were an option, then I could buy and load books into my Kindle while in Europe so long as I can find connectivity for my PC.

The Europe problem isn't just about buying books. It's also about taking wireless delivery of other paid content like the newspapers and blogs you can subscribe to with a Kindle. So, that's another feature that I'd like to see in the next Kindle. The Good Far Outweighs The Bad Between my wife and me, I'm actually less qualified to review the Kindle than my wife is, even though I'm the one with the tech reviewer's background. My wife has a nearly insatiable appetite for books and like many major-league book readers, she often has three or four books going at any one time. To her, the Kindle is revolutionary because of how it has lightened her load. Instead of carrying four books (or more when we travel) in her bag, she brings the Kindle, which weighs less and takes up less room than any one book she'd normally bring with her.

However, this space and weight-saving feature isn't unique to the Kindle. You can have the same benefits with Sony's e-Book reader. What you can't have, however, with Sony's e-Book reader is the way the Kindle is a client-side device that can wirelessly connect to and acquire its content from a source (in the Kindle's case,

There are a lot of other upsides to the Kindle that my wife raves about. But I'm not going to bother because, as I said earlier, focusing on the Kindle to judge its design or to quantify its success completely misses the bigger picture with respect to Amazon and how the Kindle is more of a signal of things to come.

By 2010, Amazon may well have sold 4.4 million Kindles. But here's my prediction. By 2015, the Kindle (who knows what version by then) will be just one of many client-side arrows in Amazon's quiver. In other words, the Kindle won't be the only specialized device that can connect to Amazon's wireless commerce infrastructure. When CitiGroup's Mahaney labeled the Kindle "the iPod of books," he may have been way closer to the future than most people realized.

The big picture with the Kindle is not the Kindle itself. That's small potatoes. The big picture behind the Kindle involves three facets:

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