Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kindle Owner Interview: Michael Puhala

The Kindle isn't even a month old yet and availability remains limited. In fact, Amazon still reports they're out of stock and that new orders won't arrive till after Christmas. So who owns a Kindle and what do they think of it? I plan to help answer that question by seeking out early adopters who have had some time to test drive their Kindle.

My first interviewee is Michael Puhala. Michael writes an excellent blog on interface design and has made several Kindle posts of his own (see this one on a comparison of the Kindle to the Sony Reader, this one on how to read PDF files on a Kindle, this initial review of his Kindle and this open letter to Jeff Bezos about the Kindle).

Here are Michael's answers to my Kindle questions:

JW: Given the $400 price point and first generation technology, how hard was the decision to make the commitment and buy your Kindle?

MP: This would have been a much easier decision had the price tag been at $300 rather than $400. It was a little hard to swallow at first, but the deciding factor was the wireless functionality and the size of Amazon's content library. Amazon would be wise to find a brick and mortar distribution channel as I bought this on blind faith without ever touching it or trying it out. Word of mouth is important but will slow the adoption. If they can figure out a way of self-registration (similar to the iPhone), then distributing the Kindle through Costco for $379.00 would bode well for Amazon (with the ability to demo).

JW: How many books do you typically read in a year? What genre do you tend to focus on?

MP: I probably read about 20 books a year, mostly non-fiction works on business or technology, however when I am on vacation, I will move over to fiction works (suspense, mystery). I also regularly read the Bible on the Kindle.

JW: What has been your impression of the Kindle so far?

MP: For the most part, favorable. I am more impressed with the service than I am with the device itself. I like the device but it does not really have the feel of a $400 high-tech innovation. Automatic delivery, instant access to content and reference materials (i.e. dictionary and Wikipedia) make me a satisfied customer.

JW: Have you been using your Kindle for anything other than book reading (e.g., magazine/newspaper subscriptions, blogs, etc.)?

MP: Yes. I have subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and to Time Magazine. I have chosen not subscribe to any blogs. For me, the killer feature of the Kindle is the automatic delivery of subscription based content. Browsing a newspaper or magazine on the Kindle has been terrific. I suspect that this will change, but not having to read through any advertising as I am reading is great. Also, not having to deal with paper is definitely a welcome change. No folding of the paper, or finding the continuation of an article on some other page that I have to hunt for is a good thing.

JW: How do you feel about the pricing levels Amazon is featuring since launch for e-books, magazines, etc.?

MP: I probably would not have bought the device if the e-books were the same or more money than their hard-copy versions. I like the $9.99 or less approach for books and I think it is a fair price. For magazines, I like the fact that I could buy a monthly subscription or spend a little more to buy an individual issue. As I mentioned before, since there is no advertising in the periodicals, it's more enjoyable to read through both newspapers and magazines.

JW: Do you have any recommendations for Amazon to consider when they look to finalize a feature set for Kindle 2.0?

MP: Yes -- I have several recommendations. My most adamant recommendation is that Amazon should get out of the electronics business and open up the Kindle store as a platform for other e-reader manufactures to connect to. Just like different cell phone manufactures can connect to the same service provider, I would love to see a choice in e-readers with the same wireless options as the Kindle and with the ability to connect directly to the Amazon store. However, if that does not happen, I would like for Amazon to improve the Kindle by making it a little thinner, offer some sort of metallic casing (or at least a hybrid of metal and plastic), and different colors. Functionally, it has the potential to be a wonderful email device if they can improve the performance of typing and screen refresh. Regarding the ergonomics, I would like to see the forward and back buttons not take as much real estate as they do presently. Even shrinking them down a half-inch in height would improve the device and the ability to hold it without accidentally moving forward or backwards would improve the usability substantially.