I just read an interesting New York Times article on “social reading” (Yes, People Still Read, but Now It’s Social), and it got me thinking about the future of reading, and the e-reader battle that’s currently going on, particularly between the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. And then I upgraded my Kindle software to v2.5 this morning, and it made it clear to me why I think the Kindle is a far superior reader to the iPad.
No one will deny that the iPad’s iBooks app has a nicer user experience than the Kindle. It’s colorful and pretty, it has a nice bookshelf, you can turn the pages with your fingers, and, uh… Well, that’s where it stops. The two major issues with iBooks are:
- Since it’s a back lit display, it starts hurting your eyes when you read for too long.
- The battery life is, you know, not ideal…
Now consider the Kindle. Though not as pretty to look at, you can tell that Amazon decided to focus on the reading experience. You don’t have to plug it in all the time, and you can read it for hours without hurting your eyes. But it is v2.5’s forays into social reading that really starts to set the device apart. There are two features in particular that I think are brilliant:
- First, Amazon allows you to opt in to viewing popular highlights. This allows you to see when passages of a book you’re reading were highlighted by others who have read the same book. It’s like a virtual book club, but instead of trying to get 6 people to agree on a book to read, you can connect with 100’s of readers who are already reading the same book. This kind of connection really is where the Internet is at its most useful.
- Amazon also allows you to link your Twitter and Facebook accounts to your Kindle. This means that you can highlight a passage that you’re reading, and share it with your followers, like I did this morning:
That is powerful. It not only allows you to share what you’re reading and thinking about in real time, but it’s also great business for Amazon, since it provides a way for your followers to purchase the book right away. Of course, even the Kindle packaging tells you that this is an experience built around passionate readers:
The differences between the iPad and the Kindle have larger implication as well, particularly in the field of Product Management. Look, the iPad is gorgeous, it really is. But it is an experience designed to contain so many different uses, that it is not possible to focus on doing one particular thing (like reading a book) extremely well. The Kindle is singularly focused on readers, and that is why it beats the iPad hands down as an e-reader.
Dropbox did exactly the same thing to beat out their competitors — they focused on making file sharing as easy and convenient as possible. They didn’t have all the features, but they made sure the features they do have has a superior user experience. On that note, if you haven’t watched this 23-minute talk by Dropbox’s CEO where he discusses their business model, you really should. It is inspiring and well worth it.