Yesterday I tried to make an argument in favor of spending $400 on XO laptop and not on Kindel. Of course it was a little bit like comparing apples to oranges, but the resemblance in price and the difference of underlying philosophies are so triking, that I thought such a comparison was timely. Today, however, I would like to use this example to think about innovation and synergy in the industry.
As I wrote yesterday, I find it difficult to grasp the “revolutionary” part of Jeff Bezos’ creation. I think we can break it down to two main aspects – technical solutions and processes. In terms of technical solutions, there is not much new in Kindle. It is using the same eInk technology utilized by Sony Reader and other competitors, introduces a few debatable user interface solutions, and forces rather annoying, but working, requirement to convert everything to the Amazon format. Actually, as the largest online book retailer, Amazon is in position where it can impose a certain format, particularly when it also introduces new models for independent book publishing.
This in fact leads us to the second aspect, which is the process. The process is probably the greatest innovation of Kindle, or paraphrasing Bezos “Kindle is not a product, it’s a service”. However it is not a process aimed at improving the reading experience, but a process aimed at improving the experience of buying books. Here, Kindle is definitely doing a great job and introduces a platform, sole use of which is efficient and convenient purchase of electronic books. Together with other people on Amazon’s discussion pages, i am skeptical how much an emphasis on impulsive purchase can be the key in “Kindle revolution”. However in any case the change is focusing on the consumption part of book experience, and not on the reading process (not to mention the creativity aspects that are limited through draconian implementation of DRM).
This brings me back to the question of innovation and OX. Unlike Kindle, and with all the well-deserved criticism, OX represents a product that is innovative both in its concept and in its technological solutions. As a concept, XO is an open platform suited for users’ innovation and sharing. The conscious decision of Negroponte and his team to use open source software has not only cost repercussions, but also less tangible and more long-term oriented impacts on the culture that will evolve among users of OX open systems. Some bloggers suggested that Kindle’s main audience are the youth and the problem of declining readership among them. However, the question is if Kindle is the right device for that educational goal. I keep on referring to Larry Lessing’s talk at TED about DRM, copyright, and locking out of creativity, as well as . It seems to me that XO is a better tool in this sense, not to mention that it is by default more accessible (in terms of price) and more usable holistically speaking (especially about education).
From the point of view of technological innovation, XO is taking a lead here again. Starting from the ability to pack all this functionality in $200, to specific solutions such as the display that can be viewed at direct sunlight, to a particularly strong build that allows the laptop to remain safe even when dropped. Today we can already see attempts to use the XO innovative solution for development of new devices for commercial use in the rich countries, which, in turn, keeps me (and also others) wondering why Amazon insisted on re-inventing the wheel, doing a rather poor job with it, instead of synergizing with others and building meaningful technology technology that can bring change? Continuing my criticism of OLPC a couple of months ago, Kindle seems like really missed opportunity to build a meaningful technology suitable for many, if not to say for all. They could do things differently, but for some reason kept on thinking inside the box.
I think the last point is related to issues of perceptions of technology by Bezos and his crew. Probably even not the technology per se, but the perceived users and, more broadly, Bozes’ personal vision of the future (but these points are for a separate post).
At this point, i would like to repeat the mantra that keeps on returning on this blog for a couple of days already – if you are to spend $400 on a gadget in the next month and half, consider participating in OLPC’s “give 1, get 1” program. This way you can get a cool gadget and also contribute another one to a kid in a developing country. And i am not the only one thinking so anymore.