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November 22, 2007

Kindle – Shape of the Web to Come?

Forget the argument about whether or not you want to read books on a device instead of on comfortable paper. Forget whether you want to pay a subscription price for blogs like Fractals of Change that you can also read free in a variety of different ways. The Kindle points to a possible future for the WorldWideWeb in a way that has nothing to do with books.

Kindle comes with free browsing! Free! You pay once to buy the device and then you browse free anywhere that Sprint EVDO reaches, apparently for as long as you have the Kindle. Remember all that stuff I blogged about buy vs. rent? Here’s a chance to BUY your roaming Internet access for a onetime fee.

After the mandatory questions about e-books and e-book readers that we’ve agreed to ignore in today’s post, David Pogue gives some attention to the importance of free browsing albeit buried well down in his piece in The New York Times:

 

“But the part that will really rock your world is the Kindle’s free wireless cellular broadband service.

“Now, if you just splurted your coffee, you’re forgiven; “free” and “wireless broadband” have rarely been used in the same sentence before. The Kindle goes online using Sprint’s 3G cellular data network — the same service that costs $60 a month for corporate laptop luggers. The Kindle’s price tag stings less when you realize that Amazon is going to pay your entire wireless tab.

“So the Kindle can get online almost anywhere — not just in little coffee-shop hot spots, but in cabs, in lines, in doctor’s offices.

“There’s even a crude Web browser. It’s fine for text and graphics, lousy for Web layouts and useless for streaming audio or video. But with some effort, you can use it to get news, rebook a flight, monitor blogs and even check Web e-mail (like Gmail).”

 

In a previous post I glibly said the Kindle couldn’t be used for email. That’s because I use Outlook, which doesn’t run on Kindle, as a client and forgot how many people use a web interface to read their mail. Duh!

Now, as David says, this is hardly the be all and end all in browsing. It’s not good for porn videos and doesn’t even do color. The browser is “clunky” and should at least work sideways, which it doesn’t, for good web viewing. But the browsing is free!

Will this model spread? That’s the important question. There’s actually a good chance that it will.

Don’t know what the deal is between Amazon and Sprint which supplies the underlying network. Sprint has had a disappointing experience recruiting and keeping customers lately so probably had network assets to spare. But, once a network is built, extra bits don’t cost anything substantial until you have to buy more network.

If a part of the sales price of each device provides capital for network expansion, that’s a scalable model. (Don’t worry about depreciation; the device’ll get obsolete at least as fast as the network assets and have to be replaced so more capital’ll come in). If Amazon pays Sprint on a per use basis instead of a per device basis, that pays the debt on network expansion; the model works either way (or both).

And what about Amazon? Well, they sell the device and presumably make money on that; they’re sold out at the moment. But they also “sponsor” the access. They chose the bookmarks for the browser. The device comes linked to the Amazon account you bought it through. With this device, it is even easier to buy real books from Amazon. In fact, you can download the first chapter free and then decide whether you want the paper or electronic edition. They’ll have a recurring revenue stream as well as the initial sale – and can help pay for the cost of network operation of that’s part of the deal.

Kindlle may well be the crude leading edge for “free” sponsored web access. If so, there are profound implications for web development (hint: develop apps that run in a browser), the Internet access business, and even Net Neutrality. There may even be a tie in with Amazon’s hosting business for such apps. Hmmm…

My prediction: we’ll see “free” sponsored access on car GPSes before another year has passed: the opportunity for roadside advertising is huge and the screen is already paid for.

Full disclosure: 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. You can pay to download them from Amazon OR you can use the browser to read them free online. Choice is good.

 

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

 

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