You’ve heard the old joke right? When mankind first went into space, the only computers available were used to control the spacecraft. And so, humans needed, you know, pen-and-paper. Unfortunately, pens rely on the downward flow on ink, which in turn relies on gravity, which isn’t a given in space. And so the Americans apparently spent millions on research to develop a pen that would work in space. The Russians, who spent their millions on the spacecraft, used pencils.
The story isn’t true (more here). Regardless, the reason it sticks around in anyone’s head is it matches a lot of real life situations. Simple solutions don’t always get implemented first. Which brings me to the topic on my mind today, Amazon’s Kindle. Not the device, but the ecosystem.
Amazon is basically a retailer. While they’ve probably made a lot of money selling Kindle devices, their real interest is in selling books to people through their store, and redefining the publishing market. The proof’s in the pudding – they now have apps to read Kindle content via PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, BlackBerries, with “more reading apps on the way”. And you can buy Kindle books and read them on these devices without ever buying a Kindle. Clearly, the Kindle device itself isn’t central to this ecosystem.
I have to applaud the effort. Especially when they have a device as brilliant as the Kindle, opening up the ecosystem to include more devices is a commendable vision and a fascinating idea. It’s the first time a user can have an entire library of books available at the press of a button or the touch of a screen on so many devices. But, to truly transform that vision into reality, they’d need an Android app, a Palm app, a symbian app, a Chrome OS app, a Linux app… the list goes on. Wouldn’t it just be simple to — make a web app that’s accessible for any net-enabled device?
That will go farther, I’d argue, than any other reading-app effort in keeping users with the Kindle platform. Of the phones, you only have so much market penetration; and people just don’t have their computers with them all the time. While it’s probably too much to hope that Amazon or any other retailer will ever convince publishers to remove DRM completely from books, having a web app truly means your Kindle library is as open as possible. Go for it, Amazon.