Kindle DX: What Works and What Amazon Still Needs To Do

I was an early believer in Kindle, but I thought it would evolve more quickly than this. Kindle DX is a step forward—more than the Kindle 2—but there's still work to be done.

The larger screen isn't just cosmetic. It helps Amazon add functionality without having to justify the screen's inherent slowness. Today, we heard this a lot: "No panning, no zooming, no scrolling." The E-Ink screen isn't fast enough to support those actions smoothly, but now, at 9.7", it doesn't necessarily need to.

Kindle DX: What Works and What Amazon Still Needs To Do

This opens the door for the long overdue PDF support, which is now native—teachers and colleagues can distribute reports the way they best know how, and it will look good on an easy-to read screen. Not only that, but they can distribute ridiculously unoptimized PDFs, because the Kindle now has 3.3GB of storage (though no more SD slot). Amazon's Jeff Bezos says you can store 1,500 books, but the way I see it, medical professionals and engineers will store a few hundred PDFs. The $489 price is easy to justify in certain specialized fields. (It's also going to allow easier access to pirated books, which may not be good for the book-publishing industry, but is certainly good for Kindle sales.)

Kindle DX: What Works and What Amazon Still Needs To Do

The relationship with newspaper publishers is shaky at best. I can't see how an industry that's hemorrhaging money can subsidize a newfangled tech product in order to lure people (who exactly?) back to subscribing for something they are forced to publish for free online anyway. The early alliance is even more tenuous when you realize that special pricing is only offered to would-be subscribers outside of the reach of home delivery. (At least, it is for now.)

And as for maintaining the look and feel of an ink-stained broadsheet—or even a tabloid—a 9.7" screen doesn't do much to get closer to that than the current 6" screen.

The rest of Bezos' big bullet points—fast 3G network, 275,000 books and counting, $10 or less for bestsellers, no monthy fees—were all there more or less in the beginning, and are things that in no way distinguish the Kindle DX from the Kindle that came out in 2007.

So what does Amazon still need to work on?

An Alliance with Text Book Publishers UPDATED Forget NYT Bestsellers. The real way to move Kindles is to sell them to every college kid with the software equivalent of 200 backbreaking pounds of textbook. Bezos teased this in his speech, even named names but he didn't do it with enough conviction to convince me a deal was in the works anywhere close to being hammered out. Believe me, when the Prentice Halls and Houghton Mifflins of the world come around to offering reasonably priced Kindle editions of their high school and university top sellers, you're gonna hear about it.

iPhone App Updates The iPhone Kindle app was a good start, but we haven't heard much about it since the beginning. It lacked the ability to shop, it had no search or dictionary. Many people still feel that the ebook trend will only take off when the smartphones (all of 'em)—plus netbooks and tablets—get with the Amazon book retail juggernaut and make sweet sweet DRM-infected love. Only then will demand for specialized easy-on-the-eyes devices like Kindle be super obvious to Ma and Pa.

Keep Improving the Screen, and Investigate LCD The New York Times started printing its front page in color in like 1997 or 1998, if I'm not mistaken. That's over a decade of color for even the stodgiest of print pubs. (USA Today launched with color a decade before.) Pushing the E-Ink stuff is fine, but if you're going to charge uberdollars, let's see some color E-Ink. Not like they have larger customers than Amazon lined up. And while we're on the subject, how about checking in with Mary Lou Jepsen and the ultralowpowered, super awesome LCD screens she says she's working on? Blam wants touchscreens and backlighting, but that can backfire. I'd settle for something that's fast enough to allow for true "leafing" through a book.

Upgrade Old Kindles, Or Make New Ones Upgradeable Simply put, don't screw your loyal constituents. That's something Steve Jobs is known to do from time to time, but even Apple knows that you have to give a little something something to the people who paid top dollar for last year's product. PDF support would be a nice one, if only for that whole "No panning, no zooming, no scrolling" limitation. Seems the feature in the new device is a flaw in the old.

Kindle DX: What Works and What Amazon Still Needs To Do

At the end, I have to applaud Amazon's continued investment and exploration of ebook readers, and if I sound impatient, it's only because I have the compressed hindsight of other product evolutions (MP3 players, movie discs, etc.) to compare this with. Two years isn't a long time to revolutionize an entire industry, and this will take much longer than that, but we want to make sure that progress is being made, and that Bezos isn't squandering Amazon's natural advantage in this field. [Kindle DX on Gizmodo]