Like many avid readers>, I greeted the debut of the Amazon (AMZN)
Earlier this summer, I was traveling, about to board a long flight, and unexpectedly finished the book I thought would last the trip. At the mercy of what was available in the airport bookstore, I vowed never to be caught again with no book to read. I used my laptop to order the Kindle.
In the intervening months, the Kindle has become my indispensable companion. It s lightweight, easy to carry, easy to hold while reading, and most important, it provides a world of reading at my fingertips. Sitting on the porch one hot afternoon, I decided that what I really wanted was an English murder mystery, and with a few touches and just under $4, I had Dorothy Sayers s first novel in my hands. All of my bookshelves are full. Now storage is no longer an issue.
I ve found myself reading and buying more books. In this sense, publishers and authors can breathe easier, although who knows what the long-term financial implications will be. As a writer, I see no point in resisting or worrying.
The e-book has arrived, and if a skeptic like myself can be won over, I suspect legions of readers will follow.
So why am I so eager to see what Apple (AAPL)
As much as I have come to depend on the Kindle, using it is also a maddening experience. For something that bills itself as a reading device, it s shockingly difficult to read. The background or page color, far from the creamy white of most paper books, is a murky gray. The type seems just a few shades darker. There s a glare on the surface, which constantly forces me to maneuver the device to avoid reflections. Reading in direct sunlight is nearly impossible; lamplight is too dim.
Photographs are poorly reproduced, and there s no color. Shopping in the Kindle store while using the Kindle device is unappealing unless you know exactly what you want. For browsing I much prefer using my laptop with its larger screen and color. And the selection for the Kindle is still severely limited. I was dismayed to discover that of my eight books, only one is available on the Kindle. In other words, the Kindle is hardly the killer app I d been expecting.
This leaves plenty of room for competition. There are a growing number of competing devices either already on the market or soon to be launched: the Sony (SNE)
No one yet knows exactly what Apple has in mind, but the company starts with an inherent advantage: the fantastic screen and display on its iPhone. I know people who are already reading books on their iPhones and some of them also own Kindles. Despite the tiny text, they prefer the iPhone for its clarity, lighting and color. There are also rumors that this device will be far more than a reader, possibly able to run the 85,000-and-counting applications that have already been developed for the iPhone. Nor has Apple said anything about timing. September came and went without a much-anticipated announcement.
Still, the implications already seem evident. Given the manifest weaknesses of the Kindle, this new device has the potential to dominate the category even more than the iPhone does cellphones. While I wouldn t buy either Apple or Amazon stock on the basis of one product, this would be a boost for Apple, a disappointment for Amazon.
I own shares in both companies and like them both. But Amazon isn t really a hardware company, and the weaknesses of the Kindle show it. If Apple comes up with the product many are hoping for, Amazon should focus on selling the books, and let Apple sell the devices. If not, an iBookstore could become the iTunes of reading. And that would be a blow to Amazon.