Starting a fire, or just smoldering?

Last month Amazon released the Kindle eBook reader to somewhat mixed reviews. It seems that people like the idea of Kindle and are generally happy with the functionality, but the $400 price tag seems a bit high especially when coupled with the monthly subscription rates for news and blogs. While eBook technology has been around for awhile, eBook readers really haven’t made an impact in the market. Most people still want to pick up a real book and read it the way we humans have read for centuries.

The book lover in me is most certainly intrigued by Kindle, but the consumer in me doesn’t want to pay the price. I rarely buy hardback books, so $10 per eBook doesn’t compare with paperbacks, especially used paperbacks. I’m a sci-fi fanatic and old Asimov or Clarke is pretty easy to find for a couple of bucks. Time will tell if Kindle makes an impact in the eBook market, but it will take a new pricing scheme to get me to buy one. Price hasn’t deterred others; as of today the Kindle was sold out at Amazon.

A New Mobile Learning Device?

But what impact will Kindle have on learning? Is this a viable platform for mobile learning? Can it compete with the iPhone in the mobile learning space?

Kindle may actually be a better mobile learning device, at least for reference materials. For starters, it’s designed for reading text. I’m thinking of all those sales people having instant access to volumes of documentation and product specifications. Think about medical sales people who visit doctor’s offices many times a day. They can have all the information they need in an easy to read format on a device they can easily carry around. Many companies still have volumes of data locked in Framemaker, Word, and other print oriented tools. Kindle would be an ideal platform for distributing (formerly) print based materials.

Although I’m an eLearning developer and love Flash, I still do most of my learning by reading. I read a lot, mostly for work. I look up a lot of information online and read it, and refer back to it on a regular basis. A lot of informal learning happens through reading. I have an iPod Touch and have tried reading web sites using Safari, but it’s not a great experience. I assume the iPhone experience would be similar because the Touch uses the same browser and touch screen technology. I would much rather read from my computer or a book than from an iPod. If the Kindle has even a 10% improvement in readability, that’s a huge plus for me.

Additionally, Kindle has a bookmarking feature. Do you know how many yellow stickies I have in some books? Here are some other features that give Kindle an edge:

  • Claim to be able to read easily indoors and in bright sunlight, just like a real book
  • UI looks easy and intuitive – designed to be used while being held, looks like you could use either hand or hold it with one hand, although the scroll wheel is on the right, not ideal if you’re left handed (about 7-10% of people are left handed)
  • Built in dictionary
  • It has a web browser (although it is “experimental”)
  • Access to Wikipedia
  • Incredible battery life

Summary

Kindle has potential for mobile learning, especially for documentation, but the price is a barrier. If the price were even $100 less, I might buy one just to experiment, but there are many other things I’d rather spend $400 on.

If you have a Kindle, or have used one, please share your experience. I’m curious to hear about some real-world experiences, especially regarding readability.

If you want to read more, Boing Boing has a good review and more detailed discussion of specific features.

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