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Is the Kindle Ugly?

Sunday, November 18th, 2007
nw kindle cover

I did this week’s Newsweek’s cover story on The Future of Reading, using Amazon’s Kindle e-reading device as a peg to discuss some profound changes that will take place in reading over the next few decades.

If you go to Newsweek’s site linked to above, you’ll see plenty about it. But checking out some online comments about the device, I thought I’d make a point here. Because Amazon had to file for FCC approval, some details of the book, along with a picture, wound up on Engadget. Because the picture was taken at an angle that make the device look like it was dominated by the keyboard — and the picture generally is not flattering —some people are calling it ugly. In person, the Kindle is, in my opinion, pretty attractive. And since I’ve had the thing for a few weeks, I’ve had the experience of showing it to people who haven’t seen it at all. I watch carefully to see their first, gut reaction. In just about every case it is a positive, visceral response to the product design.

This reminds me of what happened to the new iPod nano, where a picture also leaked out that was accurate, but unflattering. When I actually saw the new nano, it was interesting that it was (a) yes, the one I saw in the leaked picture, which looked ugly and (b) anything but ugly — a classic Apple techno-lust product.

Lesson: wait to you see actually see the thing (or at least some pictures make by real product photographers) before you judge it as beastly.


  • Thanks, Steven. At last a 1st hand and common sense answer to the fugly question. About to read your article and looking forward to it. Paul

  • Good article (Newsweek). Amazon’s move is a smart one and you paint a compelling vision of the future of publishing. For the Kindle to become the iPod of books, however, the hardware will have to look and feel cool too. I have been following eink’s progress since before the company was formed and I am convinced that the ebook’s time is here. I do hope the Kindle is a thousand times better looking than the leaked photo or someone else will come along and steal Bezos’ lunch. I wish the venture luck.

    One thing for a future article. Is the Kindle a Trojan Horse destined to take over the publishing industry? One has to ask what a book publisher will be for in a post-paper era. The important job of filtering the good from the bad is classic web 2.0 stuff and a successful Amazon will surely become more powerful than the publishers that currently feed it.

  • Points taken, Steven. But how are *holding* it? With the Sony Reader, there is plenty of space to hold it like a book (and that’s why the page turning button is in the lower left corner; you hold a book with one thumb that way). I don’t see the same free space on the face — or even the sides — of amazon’s device.

  • *fugly* is the term I’ve seen bandied about, and I think is more fitting 🙂

  • I wouldn’t call it ugly until I see it, but what concerns me is the keyboard. Described a s thumb board, I am concerned that it operation would be uncomfortable, because about 80% of the unsupported reader will exert quite a bit of torque to the hands,

    Thus it would seem you would be constantly shifting a doubly firm grip from one hand to the other as the typing hand needs some freedom for keying and therefor loses it ability to counter this torque.

  • Is it possible to install books using the usb cable? I’m dying for a Kindle, but there are no Whispernet in my country 🙁

  • While “the iPod of …” has become a cliché to describe any product with a semblance of distilled design sensibilities emanating from Cupertino, there is one fundamental strategic reason why Kindle won’t be like the iPod: content. The iPod had it, Kindle doesn’t. Read why here:

    “Why is the new Kindle eBook reader from Amazon and not Apple?”

  • The world does *not* need yet another gadget with a teeny weeny keyboard. Treos, Blackberrys, and various and sundry cell phones have them; another one is not going to make an impact simply because it’s from Amazon and you can read books on it.

    Ditch the keyboard, add a touchscreen, and you may have something (if you can overcome the e-ink page-turn delay, which–unlike Steve– I find fantastically annoying, not “revolutionary”). In the meantime, at a price of 4 c-notes, it just ain’t gonna sell. The RocketBook didn’t (and it was better designed!), the Sony Reader hasn’t, Panasonic’s product hasn’t even been released in the U.S.

    I think this is Newsweek’s version of Wired’s “Here Come the Zippies!”

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