Kindle could light the way to a wireless future

You might have heard about a new wireless device released by Amazon Inc. last month with the rather odd name of “Kindle.” It’s an electronic book reader that will most likely never live up to the potential Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it has, but it just might be a sign of things to come in the wireless device market.

The revolutionary thing about Kindle is not so much the product itself, but more the relative lack of hassle involved in getting it up and running. When users download a book they do not have to pay for a wireless connection. It’s provided by Amazon, which is paying Sprint for the bandwidth in the U.S.

Amazon has removed one of the biggest hurdles to mass acceptance of its device. It’s a lesson that other wireless device sellers should learn from…and many in the analyst community believe they will.

Derek Kerton of The Kerton Group in San Jose, for example, was quoted on Computerworld Online as saying that Kindle was “the tip of the iceberg” and we’ll see “a lot of non-phone, non-laptop devices connected to the networks.” This could include a watch that connects to get weather reports, or a GPS device that links to the Web to obtain traffic reports, the analyst said.

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There are many nice features in the Kindle that are unthinkable in the world of the printed page. For instance, users can download some 200 books to the device and be able to access these personal digital libraries wherever they go. They can also download newspapers, magazines and a dictionary to the device should they wish.

There are some negatives, however, that should limit the device’s potential and also offer other wireless device makers another set of lessons.

The price is exorbitant for most casual users — US$399. That should serve to limit the buying pool to hardcore aficionados of electronic books and the gadget-curious with money to burn. In other words, not a big one. Bring it down to double-digits and they might have a prayer.

The design is also not impressive, resembling a courier’s electronic billing device or a Star Wars spaceship toy from the 70s. In the face of such cool tools as the iPod and Razr phones, the Kindle looks somewhat archaic right off the bat. And there is the inherent skepticism about an electronic device trying to do something that an old-world counterpart has been doing fine for a very long time.

Regardless of whether it succeeds or not, however, the Kindle could be pointing the way towards the future of mobility, both in the consumer space and in the enterprise. The need to reduce network complexity is crucial for allowing these devices to flourish both at the mall and in the warehouse. Design will matter less to potential business users, but weight and ease of use will help to separate some products from others.

Whichever devices do succeed in mimicking the Kindle’s lack of complexity, here’s hoping they can do something Amazon’s new gadget can’t: work in Canada. The Kindle is not available here yet and, when speaking with an spokesperson about when it will be, no definitive answer was given.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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