I know, what a negative, curmudgeonly thought for a Friday afternoon. But I’m no ebooks hater. I just think Amazon’s Kindle 2 will struggle to make that treacherous leap across the Atlantic into our gadget-loving hands.
‘Hold on’, the Kindle-ites say, ‘Amazon’s first ebook reader sold more than the original iPod in its first year in the US, and it’s beavering away on an international version as we speak’.
True, those mysterious analysts reckon the first Kindle sold half a million last year, but Amazon won’t give official sales figures. If they were that great, it’d be mounting the nearest soapbox to shout about them.
Instead, it’s been in a bunker somewhere trying to negotiate the minefield of making the Kindle’s wireless functionality work in Europe.
In the US, it’s simple – Amazon delivers books, newspapers and blogs via EV-DO technology. It pays one network, Sprint, for the privilege, and that’s 300-odd million people covered.
But as Apple found when launching the iPhone, Europe requires sitting around the world’s biggest table with a lot more networks. And by the time they’ve all argued their case and polished off the canapés, the Kindle 2 will be a museum piece.
In fact, I think it already looks like a bit of a relic. Sure, e-Ink is amazing. I remember being mesmerized by it at CES 2007, and I’m excited about the prospect of having my commuting books, comics and newspapers on one, eye-friendly tablet (that’s not you, iPhone).
But the grayscale screen seen on the Kindle 2 is starting to look hopelessly prehistoric in the world of the colour, video-tastic extravaganza of Web 2.0. Sure, it’s designed for books not YouTube, but imagine a gadget that can provide the readability of real books and magazines with access to the full, colour version of the web – now that’s worth paying over £200 for.
And it’s not that far off – Fujitsu has already announced a colour ebook reader called the FLEPia (which uses a different technology from e-ink), and flexible e-ink screens are in the pipeline too. It won’t be long before Amazon et al have to follow suit.
Not that the Kindle doesn’t have other problems to resolve first – its new text-to-speech feature has come under fire from trade union The Authors Guild, who’ll be telling publishers and authors to ask Amazon to disable the function on the e-books it licenses.
It’s not that I think the Kindle 2 and its ilk are hopeless (the current generation of ebook readers do a perfectly decent, if hugely limited, job and have oodles of early adopter chic) but until all the wrangling over DRM and European phone networks is resolved, I’ll be doing what I did when the 'HD-DVD versus Blu-ray' war was raging – sitting on the sidelines with my nose in a nice, papery book.