I don't care if print is dead, or if it's just resting a while. What I do care about is getting the best, most versatile access to information when and where I need it. And for this, I've come to depend on my Amazon Kindle. While the rest of the tech world is busy kvetching over the forthcoming second-gen Kindle's design aesthetics and its admittedly hefty $359 price tag, I'm wondering only one thing: Will it make me want to upgrade?
I've been carrying a Kindle for a little over a year now. I've purchased a few dozen books for it, some of which I already owned in print. For me, it's been the ultimate traveling companion.
To a serious road warrior, it's not easy making a good case for adding yet another device to the gig bag. Between the bulk of a business laptop and the clutter of cables and power bricks, there's generally not a lot of room left for niceties. Yet as someone who works constantly between multiple locations, spends a week at a time on the road, and kills hours a day in transit, I've come to consider my Kindle an indispensible business tool.
Forget the look and feel of paper. Never mind design aesthetics. My first-gen Kindle has all the visual charm of a Star Wars Imperial Cruiser. It's blocky and clunky, but I love it for its sheer utility. Apart from the plastic Coleman wrist watch that I bought for $9 at Target a decade ago and still wear to this day in spite of several much pricier watches I've received as gifts in the intervening years, no single other device has ever proven itself as downright functional to me as my Kindle. I've never been able to say anything like that about any iPod, cell phone, or laptop.
No matter where I go, I always have access to the books I need most for my work and pleasure. Between the Kindle's built-in memory and the 2GB SD card that's hidden under the battery compartment, I'll probably never run out of book storage for the life of this device. That's a lot more than I can say for the multitude of overflowing bookshelves that are scattered around my home.
When I need a technical manual, I either have it on my Kindle or I can get it there in minutes via the device's EVDO wireless connection. If want to unwind on a flight and don't feel like pulling out my laptop, I can choose from among several new books I've got loaded. And if I want to grab a new title by some author I just heard on the radio, I can download it within the minute.
Lest this little missive turn out to be nothing more than an ode to my beloved eBook reader, I should point out that there are a few problems with the device. For one, its wireless connection only works in the United States. That means I lose the ability to grab new Kindle books when I'm traveling internationally. For another, it's a little too easy to download new titles on a whim, usually for less than ten bucks each. So my lifelong vice of buying new books faster than I can read them has only gotten worse. But at least now my newly acquired books don't accumulate in stacks along the hallway due to lack of shelving space to store them.
As I write this, scant details have surfaced about the Kindle 2's features, so I have no way of knowing whether I'd feel compelled to upgrade. I'm hoping I won’t, of course, because these things are pricey. And to be honest, I'm not even sure what it would take to make me jump to the new model. A built-in light for reading in dim locales would be compelling, but it hardly seems likely. I certainly wouldn't mind the new, thinner design, but it's not enough to make me abandon my existing model. The truth is that the old Kindle is so good at what it does, that it would take a serious technological breakthrough to make me leap to something else. (My colleague, however, has a wish list ready).
Ultimately, even if the new Kindle isn't a major advancement from the first model, it's still poised to be the best eBook reader ever made. After all, its only serious competition is its own predecessor. And while that--in my opinion--is some pretty serious competition, the launch of a new standard bearer in eBooks can only be good news for any road warrior who loves to read.