Make it better: Amazon Kindle 2

Molly Wood offers some constructive advice on how to make the Kindle 2 a truly killer device.

Amazon Kindle 2
David Carnoy/CNET

The Amazon Kindle 2 is a good device. No question about it. Almost everyone who has one seems to love it, and indeed, there's a lot to love. But no device is perfect, and that's what keeps us members of the tech media in business. So, I thought I'd start a semi-regular series in which I attempt to give friendly suggestions to companies about how to make their products that much better--how to take it to the next level, if you will. And I'm starting with the Kindle 2. These suggestions aren't all the same issues that our expert reviewers point out in "the bad" section of our official CNET review, but just assume those are in there, too. And yes, some of these ideas depend on widespread adoption of the Kindle or any e-book reader: but they'll also help it get to that widespread adoption in the first place. Win-win! Let's begin.

Make it better with sharing
The Kindle 2, or any electronic book reader, marks a dramatic change from the way we normally read books. Sure, the reading is solitary, but books are fundamentally social in nature. You share books. You recommend them, you loan them out, you pass them around, you mark pages for each other. The Kindle 2 takes all of that away: sure, someone can come along and look at everything you're currently reading (which has its own set of issues), but you can't lend anyone a book, you can't share a subscription, and you can't even tell someone you loved a passage on a certain page, since the Kindle doesn't use standard page sizes. OK, Amazon. What can we do here?

Learn from iTunes and allow authorizations. Let me authorize multiple Kindles on a single account so that I can share subscriptions and purchases between them. At minimum, allow two authorizations, which would cover several households; better yet, allow up to four or five. This lets me share a book with a friend, a spouse, a roommate, a parent. This is just a no-brainer. There's no reason to undo the tradition of sharing the Sunday newspaper by tying a subscription to a single device. Let's hurry up with that one, shall we?

Learn from the Microsoft Zune and allow one-time content sharing. Let me use the Whispernet to send another Kindle user an entire book that will expire after two or three days, as a sample. Or, heck, if you want to be stingy, just let me send a chapter. Similarly, let me send bookmarked sections, either Kindle-to-Kindle or via e-mail. I'd love to be able to select a block of text and choose, "e-mail this passage," so I can send particularly poignant text to a friend. This could be a great feature of the Kindle DX: allow limited sharing of helpful textbook passages, or let me play the age-old game of sending newspaper clippings to someone!

Make it more social
Books equal book groups. Sure, if you're in a book group now, there's a good chance you all buy the book individually. But Amazon has a great chance to encourage all-Kindle book groups (don't laugh: it'll happen) to register on its site, and even to roll out a book group-based social networking product that lets groups discuss, collaborate, review, suggest books, and send each other notes or highlights from their Kindles. And Amazon could consider selling specific books with a "book group" authorization package. Maybe you, the registered group, spends $50 on a single title that can be distributed to up to, say, 10 authorized member Kindles. Bonus for Amazon: you have a great chance to pitch these registered groups with books you know are becoming popular on the book group circuit.

Make it easier to switch
I'd like to see Amazon offer a "conversion" discount. If you've bought a book from Amazon within, say, three months of buying a Kindle, it would be awesome if you could buy the Kindle version of the book for a very small fee--maybe $2 or $3--just as a little incentive. Sure, you'd have to get publishers on board, but how hard would that be, considering that they're basically selling the same book twice? It would make it easier to consolidate that IRL library and start reducing clutter right away. Of course, from the opposite end, I would also like to see the option to buy the physical book and Kindle version as a discounted bundle. Certainly this should be an option if Amazon refuses to ever allow multiple Kindle authorizations: I'll need a physical book for lending!

Offer an Internet version
Amazon should consider a data plan for the Kindle that would include some subscription content--a small selection of the blog content they currently charge for individually. I totally understand that Amazon doesn't want to give me a browser and unfettered Internet access, since they're footing the bill for the data, but I would probably pay $10 a month for a version of the Kindle that included a full browser plus some delivered blog or newspaper content. The device is capable of so much: there's got to be a better way to unlock all that potential without nickle-and-dime payments for content that's free online. Offer customizable subscription packages: "news," "sports," "politics," or just a la carte options with radio buttons. Boom: incremental revenue for Amazon without the sense that you're charging me for free stuff.

Clearly my hope for the Kindle is that it can become more social, and more accessible to groups, families, and friends, rather than the individual. But feel free to add your own ideas: what does your perfect e-book reader do?

UPDATE: Thanks, commenters, for pointing out that you can indeed register up to six Kindles on a single account, and share subscriptions and purchases between them. That goes a long way toward solving the Sunday paper issue. However, the registered Kindles are all tied to one person's account and one person's credit card. I'd like a slightly broader household authorization that lets me share a book I've purchased earlier with a friend, a spouse, a roommate, a parent, and that allows for two-way (or more) sharing without relying on a single purchaser. Still, I'm glad to see that there's a partial solution to that request.

 

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