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November 20, 2007

Kindle – Free Internet Browsing for Just $400

Both this blog, Fractals of Change, and my novel hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble are available for Kindle, Amazon’s new e-book reader. These two reasons are enough for me to buy one even at the $400 (in 2010, $139) pre-Christmas price; but there’s a third reason that might convince even non-authors: free Internet browsing.

Update: I should’ve been clear. You have to pay to subscribe to FOC ($.99/month) or to buy hackoff.com ($4.76) on Kindle in Kindle format although both are free on the web and even through the Kindle browser (see below). Fred Wilson hates this but it doesn’t bother me because the connectivity is free (once you buy the device). Usually you pay connect to the Internet and get the content free. This is another choice for readers.

In a New York Times article this morning, Saul Hansell quotes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos: “If you go back in time, the landscape is littered with the bodies of dead e-book readers.” Presumably Jeff means the devices and not the people who used them.

Obviously, Amazon means to succeed with this device despite the fact that other e-book devices have hardly taken the world by storm. It is different in at least one important way from its predecessors: it comes with a free wireless Internet connection via Sprint EVDO service (which Amazon calls Whispernet). Clearly, this connectivity is meant to make the device easy to use and written material easy to purchase. For comparison, an unlimited EVDO plan from Sprint costs $60/month but you don’t have to have an account with Sprint to use EVDO.

You can do more than just buy e-books or order from Amazon over this connection. Kindle includes a web browser. Unlimited use of this browser over Whispernet is free. Note: This isn’t absolutely clear from the Kindle documentation so I called Kindle support. “Yes,” the CSR said, “free,” and “yes, unlimited.”

From an author’s point of view, the inclusion of a browser is a breakthrough. My blog as well as the online editions of hackoff.com and The Interpreter’s Tale all include links which I think added to the stories but get lost in the paper editions. People already read blogs online, both because of timeliness and links. I’ll start reading books online when they are richer than paper books – that means links that work!

This isn’t full Internet access. There is limited e-mail available through which you can receive attachments which Amazon converts to Kindle format at $.10 for each conversion (or free if you email them to your non-Kindle email account). Other people you authorize (remember, you’re paying for the conversion) can also send you attachments. But this isn’t a Blackberry; you can’t do your regular email through it you can only do email in the browser.

Other than downloading Kindle-compatible content and products from Audible.com, it doesn’t appear that you can do any other kinds of file transfer over the Internet connection. You can use the included USB cable, however, to transfer photos and music from your PC directly.

Even the browser isn’t fully featured. According to the User’s Guide: “Your Kindle comes with an Experimental application called Basic Web which is a Web browser that is optimized to read text-centric Web sites. It supports JavaScript, SSL and cookies but does not support media plug-ins (Flash, Shockwave, etc.) or Java applets.” That means no YouTube on your Kindle. Note: TechCrunch says that Kindle DOESN’T support JavaScript. I’m assuming they mean Java since web access these days is almost useless without JavaScript but don’t have a device so can’t be sure.

Depending on Sprint EVDO has its plusses and minuses: there is no searching for a hotspot as there would have been with WiFi and no worry about signing on to a WiFi service. On the other hand, Sprint EVDO isn’t everywhere in the US and is hardly anywhere outside the US. Amazon marketing says: “With Whispernet, you can be anywhere, think of a book, and get it in one minute. Similarly, your content automatically comes to you, wherever you are. Newspaper subscriptions are delivered wirelessly each morning. Most magazines arrive before they hit newsstands.” I buy the one minute; but “anywhere” is quite a stretch.

My bet, WiFi will be added soon. If people are going to use the live links, it won’t be satisfying to download where you have EVDO connectivity and then read offline. But WiFi is becoming pervasive in homes and hotels and’ll soon be in planes (I hope).

Maybe Kindle is the wave of the future for free web access. See this post.


update 2010: Kindle – Does It Provide Free International Internet Access?


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