Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Kindle-killing vaporware

When I was at MIT, our journalism advisor was Ed Diamond, who was (briefly) named editor of Newsweek. I didn’t have much interaction with him, but there was a story that stuck with me for a long time. Quoting from 16 months ago:

As I recall the story, he asked students to devise an information carrying device that could convey 10,000 (100,000) words with color pictures, be used in a variety of locations including under a tree, on a plane or in a bathtub, and mass produced and sold for only a dollar or two. His prediction has held up 30 years, and it could be another 10-20 years before e-book readers really become a practical replacement (except for the bathtub).
Clearly I was unduly pessimistic. With its magazine subscriptions, the Kindle has the content, although the current product is too heavy. Still, I should have extrapolated the trends to see what miniaturization will bring us in the next five years.

Monday at the Demo conference in San Diego, startup Plastic Logic demonstrated a product that is much closer to Diamond’s ideal. As the local paper reported:
The device, which has not been given a name, has roughly the same cover dimensions, thickness and weight of a typical issue of Newsweek. And like the magazine, it can store hundreds of pages of content.
In addition, the device is flexible — it can be bent (or dropped) like a magazine.

Not surprisingly, some are calling it a Kindle killer (or merely “thinner, less ugly” as Wierd put it).

It can be used on an airplane if not a bathtub. The marginal cost will be comparable to a magazine, even if the reader is hundreds of dollars. I’d be curious to ask Ed his thoughts about the new technology, but alas he’s been gone for 11 years.

Still, it has no distribution and no content. As with any vaporware product, the world will change between now and when it ships. It’s a cool technology, but a long way from being a product.

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