Technology: July 2010 Archives

Disposable ebooks

29 July 2010

kindle-holiday.jpgAgainst the shiny, glowing iPad, the latest iteration of the Amazon Kindle is not much to look at. But the price, look at the price. $140 for the basic model. The device is now within spitting distance of where it needs to become a near-disposable piece of electronics hardware, much like a digital watch or a pocket calculator.

Criticisms of the Kindle tend to revolve around the idea that it’s no iPad. But Amazon doesn’t need it to be an iPad. The Kindle app runs happily enough on iOS, so why compete head-on. The Kindle is all about increasing the number of people who can buy ebooks from Amazon’s store. At $140 or so, the Kindle is still a bit on the high side.

But the Kindle is now only a couple of years away from the price point where people can view it as an impulse purchase. Almost five years ago, I reckoned $50 was the point ebook readers need to reach for them to displace conventional books – at least those that people don’t really want to show off on shelves. But anything south of $100 is getting close to good enough.

It’s at that point you can stick them in airport shops. You can offer three preloaded bonkbusters and expect holidaymakers to pick one up, knowing that it will last all holiday and be a lot lighter than packing a bunch of thick paperbacks.

Once below a shop price of $100, the opportunities grow for personalising Kindles or lookalikes – for that kind of price, the bill of materials is so low and the volume economics large enough for manufacturers to consider doing special, branded editions. And Amazon can consider licensing the design to other manufacturers to do designer versions that will sell for more than the base device but which don’t carry much extra manufacturing cost.

I honestly can’t see publishers getting into that, other than an operation such as Penguin, which can use its old orange and white styling to good effect on the case of a Kindlealike. But, as with netbooks, it’s not a big leap of imagination to see some design houses deciding to take the core unit and wrap their own styled case around it.

Two ex-Nokia executives have given their verdict on what ails the Finnish phone maker in its failure to make any headway not only in the US market but against the onslaught from Apple and the clones the iPhone has spawned.

Juhani Risku’s analysis has only been published in full in Finnish so far but The Register’s Andrew Orlowski has boiled down three hours of interviews on the contents of Uusi Nokia to get a flavour of what’s wrong in Helsinki. Risku’s analysis concentrates firmly on the problems within - and you get a strong sense that if you changed the names, you’d get a good insight of the sorry mess that Microsoft and other companies have worked themselves into. The stories are not all that different from those you find published by Mini-Microsoft.

Tomi Ahonen’s analysis is probably easier on you if you work at Nokia. Because, basically, it’s all Apple’s fault. And Apple’s band of tame analysts who have turned the financial community against poor old Nokia.

However, anyone who describes the N93 as a ‘superphone’ has to be a bit deluded. I used to use one. It was a perfectly good phone. But, frankly, saddled with Symbian with S60 layered on top, it was a usability nightmare. Yes, you could surf the web with it, send emails and download applications. But it was all so much trouble. The iPhone environment may be more restrictive and lack the proper multitasking of Symbian - but that didn’t matter when I found the iPhone to have simply better utility.

What Ahonen does do well is at least point out that while Nokia may have lost its image as a top phone maker, it’s still making a shedload of them and should outsell Apple by a large margin for some time to come even if it doesn’t get its house in order. But, like Microsoft, the indicators are currently pointing down. Turning that juggernaught around is going to be just as difficult. Maybe it’s time for the recipe that Sony used for the Playstation - create an internal startup to think the unthinkable. Or at least do that until the corporate bureaucracy does its best to kill it off.