When Amazon unveiled its wireless Kindle device Nov. 19, expectations were high. Could the company that tamed the Web get its hand around wireless?
Many of the initial media and analyst reviews of the device were less than favorable, pointing out things like an inability to flip through pages and buttons that obscured some viewing areas. But in two very significant ways, Kindle is falling victim to the focus-on-specifics-obscuring-big-picture-reality syndrome.
All of the legitimate weaknesses of Kindle distracts from the reality that this oversized PDA (it's about the size of a paperbook) is an order of magnitude better wireless device than anything out today, with its large screen, memory and interface advantages. The device is sold out nationally and there's a reason for that.
Think about some of the initial Apple iPhone reviews, with the emphasis on lack of support for Java and Flash and the slowness of its network. But those true failings were irrelevant to those who touted the screen's capabilities and clarity.
Maybe it's a wireless thing. People have been so excited about the potential of wireless and so utterly disappointed in the weak wireless products shipping today that there's pent-up demand for anything that even looks like it's close to the original promise. A man dying of thirst tends to not turn down a cold bottle of Evian because he wanted Aquafina.
The second criticism of Kindle has been those who dismiss electronic book readers. But it's not a fair attack of Kindle because it's been positioned as a reader, not a book reader. Set up to read blogs, sites, newspapers and other files, this not-quite-pocket-sized device has rather substantial potential.
Some have criticized Amazon for some non-standard development, but Dave Sikora, CEO of wireless firm Digby, argued that at today's level of wireless development, giving in to the pressure to build applications on popular open platforms is a mistake. Customization so that the files and images look the right way may not make it ultra-easy for document sharing, but it's the only way to deliver an acceptable experience, he said.
"Just about every positive experience you have on a PDA is running on a native app and that's just the way it is," Sikora said.
If wireless is going to get jump-started to the next level, it's going to take proprietary different approaches-like we've seen from both Apple and Amazon-to make it happen. I may rally for open platforms and interoperability-for years, I served as the managing editor/news for a pub called Open Systems Today-but there are times when compatibility doesn't make sense when it impedes progress. If this helps the wireless future, I think we can stomach a little proprietary from time to time.
Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesn't plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.
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