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Here’s the thing about the Kindle: it works. When you read a book on it, the hardware and software disappear. The content itself becomes the only thing. This is a product doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, and doing it without a fuss, without begging for my attention.
Reading these lines about Kindle's virtues made me mull over the number of hours I spent using this device, while at the same time, how underappreciated it still goes when we think about "cutting-edge" technology or good product design in general.
Faced with a thought experiment in which you rank the devices you get to keep in an "I can't live without them" basis, aside from the Mac (which is undoubted "my one and only"), the Kindle e-reader would arguably be the runner up in this list. Definitely ranking higher than the smartphone, and in a close call with the headphones.
Thus it is "not fair" that I never comment around this product and how remarkable it is from a product design perspective. Yet again, reading these lines from Jonathan Courtney left me with no excuse other than to jot down some thoughts around the Kindle — and in short, this is what this article is about.
The Kindle is an example of a product that thrives on technological and budgetary constraints. This forces its designers to keep their priorities straight and their focus sharp.
Within the realm of Product Management, the Kindle represents one of the pinnacles of clear, well-executed product priorities. Despite already being a mature product, focus and the courage to say "no" still, remains at its core. Over the long run, few products thrive under the premise of being great at just "one thing". Most succumb to the glorified promises coming from capturing adjacent verticals or moving up-market. Often creating feature-bloated, unusable products that end up doing everything, but speaking to nobody.
Trade-offs and compromises are at the heart of every product design process. Some companies are very good at focusing on the core experience of a product (see Amazon, Apple). These are the companies that understand that a product doesn’t need to do everything, please everyone, all in one go. They add features and improve the product iteratively: after the core experience of the product has been established.
For the sake of the argument, let's shift the discussion to an oversimplified (and opinionated) trade-off between the reading experience of the Kindle e-readers versus the good old paper books.
Paper books present three major flaws:
Note these arguments come from a self-declared Kindle proponent. That being said though, one can't cover up the fact that a paper books constitute a unique experience in themselves.
Although all three arguments presented above point to a rather suboptimal experience, it is hard to argue against the emotion a paper book can evoke to its reader. The smell, the contact with the paper, the turning of the pages, annotating them, even the sensation of walking into a second-hand library and picking up a random book. It is purely irrational, because its own flaws turn it into a delightful experience.
Yet finally, let's leave our romantic views on paper books aside, so I can drop my Kindle cold, obliterating facts.
Starting with the ones pointing directly to the three flaws stated above, and ruling over any irrational experience a paper book could inspire:
Aside from those, we can also enter a more ambiguous discussion where I'd argue the Kindle e-reader magnifies its dominance even more:
Wow... that was almost a love letter to the Kindle. Now I feel like I should drop an affiliate link or something 😂. Unfortunately, I don't have one 😓. Yet I hope it has, at least, convinced some Kindle skeptics to give it a try.