Steve Jobs meets the Kindle

Publicly, Apple's CEO hasn't been too kind to Amazon.com's e-book reader. Imagine what he told Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on the eve of the original Kindle's 2007 launch.

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos readies to take center stage Monday morning to release what will most likely be the next version of his company's much-hyped digital reading device, I recently obtained some very interesting--and exclusive--information concerning a very hush-hush meeting between Steve Jobs and Bezos that took place on the eve of the launch of the original Kindle back in November of 2007.

My Deep Throat simply goes by the handle "The Dude," and it's unclear whether he's a disgruntled employee of Apple, Amazon, or the hotel where the meeting allegedly took place--or whether he's employed at all. But he says, "It's time this meeting came to light, man." When I asked him why he chose this column as the venue for these revelations, he said, "I like your style. And I hear you bowl on the Wii. We should roll sometime."

Anyway, here's the account of the meeting. There was a tape involved, though it was hard to decipher in patches due to the fact that it was well worn and may have been previously used in The Dude's answering machine.

Sunday, November 18, 2007--8:30 am

The meeting was supposed to take place at 8 a.m. at Hyatt Regency near the San Francisco airport, the same place where the two had come four years earlier to get a sneak peek at "Ginger," which we now know as the Segway.

The boardroom inside the Hyatt near the San Francisco airport. Hyatt
Bezos, who was on his way to New York, flew down from Seattle for the quick tete a tete. Jobs was late. Apparently, he's always late. Bezos knew that, so he came late, too.

When he came into the heavily guarded boardroom where the meeting was to take place, Jobs was wearing his signature sneakers, jeans and black mock turtleneck. The jeans had a hole in the front where a white pocket was sticking out. Bezos would later recount that for a second he thought they might have been the same jeans Jobs had worn at their meeting for the Segway in 2003. But they did look clean and washed. Bezos was dressed more formally, in a pressed shirt, but he wasn't wearing a tie.

The two billionaires sat down.

Jobs: Where is it?

Bezos: No, "Hi, Jeff, how's it going?"

Jobs: Hi, Jeff. How's it going? Now, where is it?

[Bezos pulled the Kindle out of a padded briefcase. He held down the Alt and home buttons to take it out of its screen-saver mode and handed it to Jobs. The Apple CEO held it in his hand, staring at it.]

Jobs: Three years, huh?

Bezos: Yeah. What do you think?

Jobs: I think it sucks.

Bezos (smiling): Why?

Jobs: It just does.

Bezos: I had a feeling you'd say that. Can you get more specific?

Jobs: Its shape is not innovative, it's not elegant, it doesn't feel anthropomorphic. And what's with this big button here? I just turned a page and didn't mean to. What's this book?

Bezos: A little Ayn Rand.

Jobs: Jesus. How many times can I say it? There are design firms out there that could come up with things we've never thought of--things that would make you crap in your pants. And this is what you come up with after three years.

Bezos: I think it looks pretty good.

Jobs: You wanted my honest assessment. Well, that's it. It'll never work.

Bezos: Why?

Jobs: I already told you. People don't read anymore. It doesn't matter how good or bad the product is. Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed.

Bezos: You have 5 percent of the PC market. I'm looking at the 5 percent of people who read a lot. How's that any different?

[Silence]

Jobs: What percentage of that wants to read on a clunky looking reader that costs $400?

Bezos: Not everything has to be supersexy looking to sell.

Jobs: Maybe not on your planet. On mine, it does.

Bezos: We're going to plaster this thing on our homepage day-in-day-out. It'll sell. Anything we put on our homepage sells.

Jobs: I'll give you that. But your soul, Jeff? Isn't that going a little too far? How 'bout a nice 15 percent discount on the Nano or some Macbooks. We'll make some real dough.

[Jobs continued playing with the device.]

Bezos: What do you think of the screen?

Jobs: (Tapping the screen with his finger numerous times). Nothing's happening.

Bezos: That's because it's not a touch screen.

Jobs: Well, it sucks then. And the interface sucks. Why is there a keyboard? It adds an extra 20 percent to the dimensions.

Bezos: To take notes, type in URLs to surf the Web. I told you, there's a built-in wireless connection. Sprint EVDO.

Jobs (laughing): Surf the Web? On an Etch-a-Sketch?

Bezos: It works.

[Jobs whipped out his iPhone.]

Jobs: This works, too. And it fits in my pocket. And it's in color.

Bezos: The Web is a value-added feature.

Jobs: No features are value added. They're either features or they're not.

Bezos: If we didn't have it, people would criticize us for not having it.

[Jobs mulled over the comment.]

Jobs: How 'bout Europe? Asia?

Bezos: U.S. first. We see how it does.

Jobs: How's someone going to take this country to country? You're going to get roaming charges. How's that going to work? Different Kindle for every country? Where's the scalability?

Bezos: Maybe we go Bluetooth and no wireless abroad. You connect your mobile to the device via Bluetooth.

Jobs: If people don't read books, why are they going to read ebooks?

Bezos: There newspapers on magazines on there, too--and blogs. Imagine the commuter going to work--"

[Jobs turned the screen of his iPhone toward Bezos.]

Jobs: Again, right here. And the content's free.

Bezos: Bigger screen. No backlight. Better reading experience.

Jobs: You got any widgets?

Bezos (ignoring him): It'll have its own store. With thousands of books. And anybody will be able to create an ebook and upload it to the store. We're going to take up to a 65 percent cut on the content.

Jobs: Will authors stand for that?

Bezos: What choice will they have? It's better than what they get now from traditional publishers.

[Jobs turned the device over and looked at the back of it.]

Jobs: Battery?

Bezos: Removable.

Jobs: Dumb.

[He was taking a closer look at the protective case when the Kindle suddenly dislodged itself and fell on to the table with a loud thud.]

Jobs: Oops.

Bezos (sheepishly): We're working on that.

Jobs: I'm standing on the street and I drop the iPhone it's got a decent shot at not breaking. I take that bet. What happens when a customer calls and says her $400 device slipped out the crappy 50-cent case and went boom. What do you do then?

Bezos: We offer to ship her another at a discounted rate--basically, at cost.

Jobs: You old softy.

Bezos: We aim to please.

Jobs: Best customer support in the world won't make this thing fly.

Bezos: You were the one who said people wouldn't watch video on a tiny little iPod screen--and then you brought out an iPod with video capabilities.

Jobs: That was a smokescreen.

Bezos: How do I know this isn't one, too?

Jobs: You don't.

Bezos: You could do one for us. You do the hardware, we do the store. Sony's toast.

Jobs: Their thing looks better than yours. But it sucks, too.

Bezos: Think about it. "The Apple Reader powered by Amazon."

Jobs: How 'bout "The Apple Reader powered by Apple?"

Bezos: People don't read books.

Jobs: Until I make it cool to read 'em.

Bezos: I'll sell more Kindles than Apple TVs.

Jobs: High bar, Jeff. How many do you think you'll sell?

Bezos: We're trying to being conservative.

Jobs: Let me give you some advice. Don't tell people how many you've sold.

Bezos: Why?

Jobs: Mystery's good. Scarcity, too. It's not a bad thing to be out of stock. Put a rope up. Don't let people in the door. They want to get in.

Bezos: Anything else?

Jobs: You seed it to reviewers?

Bezos: Not yet. Everything goes out tomorrow to everyone at once.

Jobs: Shame. Always better to give it first to a few light heavyweights, if you know what I mean.

Bezos: It'll be all right. Had to get it out. The next one will be better.

Jobs: We'll see.

Bezos: We'll see.

Jobs: I give you what you want? Are we done here?

Bezos: Yeah. Sorry, I needed that. No one can tell me I can't do something like you can.

Jobs: Feels good, right?

Bezos: Thanks, man.

Jobs: It won't work.

Bezos: I know.

Jobs: Safe flight.

While Steve Jobs has been critical of the Kindle's chances, for anybody who doesn't realize already, this is a completely fictional conversation. That said, feel free to comment on whether you agree with these theoretical opinions of the device and whether the Kindle 2 might appeal more to him--or not.

 

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