Last night, Amazon unveiled the latest edition of the Kindle, which sports a better screen, slimmer profile, and — most important — a relatively affordable $139 pricetag for a Wifi only version (the 3G version still goes for $189). To mark the occasion, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos made an appearance on the Charlie Rose show, where he discussed the future of the E-book, and why there’s plenty of room for the Kindle in a world where tablet PCs like the iPad are on the rise. You can watch the full episode right here, and the show has graciously provided us with the clips and transcripts below.
The overarching theme of the conversation is that Bezos wants the Kindle to remain a device that’s dedicated to reading, especially long-form reading. Bezos explains that with the Kindle, Amazon isn’t looking to “create an experience” — they want the author to create the experience. This, he believes, makes the Kindle a differentiated device from the iPad and slew of tablets that will be hitting the market by the end of the year. Because unlike other devices, he says, the Kindle’s lack of glare and other design choices help it disappear from the reader’s mind as they get wrapped up in a new book:
“I would say something though like we’re trying to get out of the way. We’re not trying to create an experience. We want the author to create the experience. You know, if you’re going to read Nabokov or Hemmingway or we want us creating the experience for. That’s not our job. Our job is to provide the convenience. That you can get books in 60 seconds, that you can carry your whole library with you so that you don’t get hand strain, so the device doesn’t get hot in your hands, so that it doesn’t cause eye strain, so that the battery life lasts a month, so you never get battery anxiety..
Now people say why don’t you add a touch screen? Well, the reason we don’t want a touch screen is if we’re going down that decision path, we say, okay, a touch screen and the current technology for touch screens — it’s called capacitive touch — it’s a layer that goes on top of that display. It adds glare. The first thing that you do when you add a touch display is that you add a little extra layer of glass or plastic and a little bit of glare. So it’s very easy from an engineering point of view to add a touch screen but it’s not the right thing if you’re making no compromises and that’s our point of view on this. We want a device that’s for uncompromised reading and guess what? Our approach is working.”
Bezos claims that Amazon is excited about the iPad and other tablet computers, because they have robust web browsers and lead people to shop on Amazon.com more (Google’s Eric Schmidt has given similar responses when asked about Apple’s products). Bezos also gives some insight as to why Amazon is so secretive about how many Kindle devices it’s sold, explaining that it would help competitors:
I’ll tell you why we are. We are secretive about the number because we think it’s competitively useful. There are other people who, if they’re going to start planning their manufacturing lines and their supply chains, it’s a helpful data point for them to know how many of these we’re selling. When we just say millions, that’s not a good data point for them.
At one point in the interview, shown in the clip below, Rose asks Bezos to describe his reaction to the iPhone 4’s so-called Antennagate. Bezos initially attempts to swerve around the question, but Rose finally gets him to admit that he “found it a little surprising…. I think it could have been found in testing.” Bezos goes on to say that he doesn’t believe it will harm Apple in the long term.
So is Bezos just spouting spin, or is the Kindle really going to be able to hold its own against the iPad and other tablets? My hunch — and I know this will rub some technophiles the wrong way — is that Bezos is spot on. In my experience, reading on the Kindle beats the iPad hands down. This isn’t to say that reading on the iPad is unenjoyable (I do it on the bus all the time) but I find it harder to really get lost in a book for a few hours at a time when I’m using my iPad. I’ve previously written about the new types of interactive, hybrid media the iPad and its ilk are poised to deliver. But there’s still plenty of room for good, old-fashioned novels, which the Kindle excels at (though I still prefer the real thing).