The Kindle has been a misfit since the beginning, albeit a beguiling and ultimately paradigm-shifting one. Amazon’s entry into hardware always seemed a bit awkward and unlikely. After all, Amazon’s story has been about creating an electronic storefront more than anything else, and I’ve always felt that launching the Kindle was just a way to extend their electronic storefront in a forward-looking manner, even if it meant taking a loss on the cellular and hardware.
Now, with the build-up mounting to the seemingly inevitable Apple e-reading device, speculation abounds that two recent moves from Amazon — increasing author royalties from 30% to 70% for e-content and launching a software development kit (SDK) and app store for the Kindle — signal that Amazon is transitioning the Kindle in a manner that suggests that Amazaon is giving up on the Kindle and conceding the hardware battle to a company much better-suited for it, namely Apple.
By creating an SDK, Amazon is hoping developers create applications for the Kindle, making its transition to an Apple environment more robust, to Amazon’s benefit. And by increasing royalties, Amazon is solidifying loyalty and lock-in to its storefront.
It’s the business moves of Google and Barnes & Noble that have been cutting off Amazon’s options. By moving in a non-proprietary manner, Google and B&N have make ubiquity a strength, transforming Amazon’s proprietary approach into a weakness. And while ArsTechnica’s excellent analysis of this mentions that Apple may lock Amazon out, it’s unlikely. Amazon’s Kindle app is already on the iPhone and iTouch, so even if Apple contemplated it, such a move may already be too late.
Display technology has also advanced more quickly than anticipated, making e-ink readers much less interesting than they were initially. Apple’s much-rumored iSlate is supposed to be very thin, full-color, and touch-sensitive. With crisp, high-resolution text on a carefully calibrated user interface, it will probably make e-ink look frumpy and old-fashioned.
I haven’t been following this blow-by-blow, I have to admit. I recently left my Kindle behind as part of changing jobs, and am waiting for Apple’s announcement before making another foray into the e-reader market. It strikes my intuition that there’s a sea change about to take place, somehow, someway. This market is too hot for it to stay this stable for this long.
What’s interested me more is how this area has heated up so precipitously in the past year, going from a geeky backwater to an area of huge investment, major plays, and fevered speculation.
Who knew content could be so sexy?