It’s an old joke, but I still enjoy it every time I look at one of the free bookmarks given to me by Book City, a small Canadian retail chain with handful of stores in Toronto. A short essay on the bookmark announces the arrival of a new invention which can easily store all kind of information, can keep it secure, will last for years without going obsolete and is affordably priced. The invention, of course, is a book. Whoever came up with Amazon’s Kindle device will have to ensure it doesn’t become an even more hilarious punchline.
Although Jeff Bezos did not seem to mention it at the launch Monday, the Kindle is obviously Amazon’s attempt to take the model Apple applied to the music industry and test it out in the even more traditional world of publishing. There’s no other reason why you would create a non-PC device that looks so much like a tablet PC and pair it with a proprietary source of content delivery for that particular device. The main difference is that Amazon is already a highly visible, trusted provider of products in this area. That gives it an edge other e-book wannabes (Adobe, etc.) have always lacked. In the same way that Yahoo! provides a gateway to all kind of content but tries as hard as possible to keep you within Yahoo, Kindle would be a gateway to a lot of other Amazon material, like videos and periodicals.
The Kindle is not really an enterprise device, but there is no doubt it will have an impact on IT managers if it becomes successful. If a hardware platform can offer a great user experience for reading book-length materials, it could well become the means by which senior executives prefer to read sales spreadsheets, view marketing materials or pore through BI reports. This would, of course, require Amazon to think a lot more broadly about the kind of partnerships it would form around the Kindle. In Apple’s case, the iPod still hasn’t turned into anything more than a music player; it took the iPhone for the company to deliver a device with real potential for business use.
Even if the use is restricted to that of a consumer entertainment product, it could pose the same sort of security threat that the iPod did in some companies, where fears of using it to illegally download information (or ‘podslurping’) lead to outright bans. For once, IT managers might want to pay attention to something like the Kindle as it launches and conduct an assessment of where it might (or whether it should) fit into the rest of their environment.
Kindle might prove more interesting if it does not, in fact, end up connected to the network. The IT industry tends to prize the multi-purpose device that offers maximum integration with other devices and offline or online services. The idea of a machine that doesn’t constantly interrupt you with ads, e-mail messages and other alerts has an appeal that many users would appreciate. Of course, they could get the same thing by reading a book.