Why Amazon's Kindle is revolutionary

Surprising facts about Amazon's new Kindle e-book reader

Last April, I wrote a column titled, "Why e-books are bound to fail." My reasons: cost, the availability of better alternatives and, most importantly, book lovers love paper books.

I was wrong.

This week, I set out to deflate the hype about Amazon's new Kindle e-book reader and to tell you why it will fail. But while researching this column, I became convinced of the opposite: Kindle is revolutionary and will succeed in the market. Some percentage of book lovers, including me, will buy one to replace their beloved paper books, magazines and newspapers.

I'm not going to reproduce basic facts about Kindle widely covered elsewhere. If you want the basics, read the Newsweek cover story by Steven Levy, Linda Rosencrance's excellent Computerworld report or check out Amazon's own Kindle marketing page.

Instead, I'll reveal some surprising facts about Amazon's Kindle. But first let me tell you why the Kindle is such a revolutionary device.

Why Kindle rules

I've dissed and dismissed e-books for years. But three factors I didn't anticipate reversed my long-standing attitude.

Fast, free broadly distributed wireless. Amazon has actually out-Appled Apple in ease-of-use. Like the iPhone, Kindle lets you buy media -- books and periodicals, in this case -- without your PC. Unlike the iPhone, you can do that without ever being billed for wireless access. The free, unlimited wireless is just there. And it's not Wi-Fi, but mobile broadband; it connects anywhere a Sprint cell phone can connect (taxi cabs, the beach -- you name it).

Special extras for hardcore book and magazine lovers. My biggest complaint about e-books has been that book lovers love the look and feel of real paper books. But book lovers love other things, too, and Kindle gives them a long list of compensatory goodies. Amazon's US$9.99-and-under book pricing means book fans can buy more books. They can look up words in a dictionary, Wikipedia or on the Web right from the device. They get instant gratification by buying books from anywhere; books take a minute to download.

The seller and service provider -- Amazon. The company is uniquely positioned to provide this product and this service. Obviously, Amazon already sells books. The company long ago figured out the complexities of online book distribution and most book buyers already trust Amazon. And I don't mean we are "willing to trust." We already have Amazon accounts, and Amazon already has our credit card numbers.

Surprising facts about Kindle

Beyond all this, it's important to realize that Amazon's Kindle isn't just an e-book reader. It's a surprising new kind of device. Here are some of those surprises.

What you knew: Kindle can access Amazon.com and the Web to search Wikipedia via it's free wireless connection.

What you didn't know: You can just surf the Web in general. Kindle comes with a Web browser called Basic Web, which supports cookies, JavaScript and SSL, but doesn't support plug-ins like Flash or Shockwave or Java applets. Basic Web lets you type in a URL, click on links and generally surf the Web like you would on a PC.

What you knew: You can download and read any of the 88,000 books from Amazon.com -- and the list is growing.

What you didn't know: You can download a much larger selection of free e-books using the Kindle's Web browser -- many in Kindle-friendly .MOBI and .PRC formats. Text-based books are available, too. And if you don't like how these look in text-format (which you won't), you can convert to .MOBI and .PRC formats on your PC using free or cheap tools available online.

What you knew: Kindle connects free to Sprint's EV-DO 3G network.

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