Services that would add value to Kindle ownership

The disappearance of kindle free book offers earlier today got me thinking about services the Kindle could benefit from.

Trying to go as broad as possible so there might be some crazy ideas included.

Kindle value-add services

Here are some services that would go well with the Kindle –

  1. Auto-buy option for free book offers in certain categories. So you might say – the minute there’s a free romance novel just buy it for me.
  2. Kindle to Kindle social network.
  3. Kindle to Kindle Book Lending Help Features – These could be built into the social network.
  4. Kindle Book Deals section in Kindle Store with the option to get updates to your Kindle for categories and criteria you choose.
  5. Alerts for when a book’s price drops. This should be baked into the Kindle Store and into the Kindle itself.  
  6. Reminder when battery is 50% and when it’s 25%.
  7. Option to either share collections across all Kindles or have separate Collections per Kindle.
  8. A PC tool optimized for shopping and doing various Kindle related things. It would have sections for Deals, Free Books, Public Domain Books, Organizing Collections, Organizing Photos, and so forth.
  9. Statistics on books that were finished most often (as opposed to bought most often).
  10. Gift suggestions based on the books you’ve bought and read. These would be added to your account – An automatic wishlist.
  11. Migrate and Clone functions. This could be via the PC tool or via the Settings Page. This would migrate all your books from one Kindle to another without you having to download them one by one. The Clone feature would be if you wanted your new Kindle to get a copy of everything that is in your old Kindle – documents, photos, everything.
  12. Kindle to kindle messaging. Perhaps even chat.
  13. Budget Alert – Set a monthly budget and get alerts when you hit 50%, 75%, and 100%. Option to switch off buying when you exceed your budget. Currently you can do this via kindle gift cards – Buy a $50 card and apply that to your account and then disable your credit card. However, it’s too complicated a process.
  14. Official Kindle Forum alerts sent straight to your Kindle – Pick discussion topics or keywords and get updates when discussions related to these start.
  15. User Sharable Edit Lists – Users could create an edit list that is a layer that goes over a Kindle book and corrects typos. Then you could share out your list of corrections so other users who buy the book can get an error free version.
  16. User Sharable Kindle Tips – If a user finds a very good tip she ought to have an easy way to share it with other Kindle owners.
  17. Group Discount Site – Groupon for books. If 2,000 Kindle owners are interested in buying the same book then they can contact the Author/Publisher and ask for a 25% discount for a group purchase. Publishers can offers various deals to users – deals that come into effect if a certain minimum number of users sign up for the deal.

Those are some Kindle services and features that would probably add a lot of value to the Kindle ownership experience. The interesting thing is that a lot of these are features that only Amazon can add. There isn’t really a way for developers to provide services to Kindle owners directly. It’s good as it’s more secure than letting anyone do anything and it’s bad as it makes it really difficult to build services.

Let’s look at a couple of features in-depth to understand the benefits and possible disadvantages.

Automatic Migrate and Clone Tool

Assume you’re a Kindle 2 owner who buys a Kindle 3.

Well, you have to start from scratch and have to download your books one by one. It’s quite simple to do it from the Manage My Kindle page if you have a small number of books. However, if you have hundreds or thousands of books it’s pretty time-consuming.

If Amazon added a Migrate feature or let someone make an app of that sort (it’s not currently possible as apps don’t have access to the user’s Archive) then all you would have to do is click ‘Migrate’ and all the books that are on your Kindle 2 would get automatically downloaded to your Kindle 3 with the same Folder structure and the same highlights and notes.

The downside is that there’s a lot of data involved and a high cost in terms of bandwidth. It’s understandable that Amazon doesn’t want to enable something that is a huge money sink. However, it could make the Migrate feature WiFi only or add a PC tool. That would take care of the bandwidth concerns.

The other downside is that this would make piracy easier. There’s probably no workaround for that.

Auto-Buy option for Free Kindle Books

What Amazon could do is let Kindle owners choose categories for which they want all free books that are offered. Any free books offered in those categories would automatically get purchased and downloaded to the user’s Kindle.

It could have an option to include public domain books and perhaps to even include books below a certain price point. Maybe it goes so far as to say –

  1. If any free book is offered in Historical Fiction. OR
  2. If any free public domain book is offered featuring the History of England. OR
  3. If any book by Dan or Don Brown hits below $4.

Then automatically buy it for my account and download it to my Kindle 2.

There are obviously a lot of downsides –

  1. Bandwidth costs. Here Amazon could limit it by either limiting the number of categories you can choose or by making it PC or WiFi download only.
  2. Kindle owners wouldn’t visit and Kindle Store as often. That’s a real downside and there’s no cure for that.
  3. If buying of non-free books is offered there’s scope for disaster. Perhaps we just leave out this functionality.
  4. If there are a limited number of copies available for a particular free book offer it would turn into a lottery. Perhaps users who search the Kindle store and the forums every day should have a natural advantage. On the other hand there’s little point in disappointing Kindle owners and perhaps ‘lottery’ type free book offers shouldn’t be allowed. Let publishers use free books for marketing but don’t let them use free books to buy sales rank.
  5. Less purchases of paid books. If Kindle owners started automatically getting each and every free kindle book offer they were interested in their paid purchases would probably go down. No workaround for this.

Amazon’s probably not going to add this feature because nearly all the downsides are important ones and are difficult to mitigate.

It’s unrealistic to expect Amazon to be able to get 100% or even 75% of the services and features listed at the start of this post. However, it’d be great if they could work in 25% or more of these features as these features would add a lot of value to the Kindle ownership experience.

Which is the next Kindle App we will get?

Noticed on the official Kindle forum that someone is asking for a Kindle for Windows Mobile App. Add in the various other requests and we have a few possibilities for what comes next –

  1. Kindle for Android. 
  2. Kindle for Symbian (Nokia Phones).
  3. Kindle for Palm Pre. 
  4. Kindle for Windows Mobile. Perhaps Kindle for Windows Phone Series 7 (how about a short, cute name Microsoft?).
  5. Kindle for Linux.
  6. Kindle for Chrome.
  7. Kindle for non-smart cellphones.
  8. Kindle for Tablets other than iPad (if they don’t use Android like Dell Streak does or don’t use WebOS like HP Hurricane will).

It’s worth exploring each of these in further detail.

The case for releasing additional Kindle Apps

Kindle for Android Pros and Cons

There are some obvious benefits of releasing Kindle for Android –

  1. Huge number of cellphone providers adopting Android.
  2. Lots of Tablet manufacturers adopting Android too.
  3. You can get in before Google Editions releases.
  4. There aren’t very many ebook apps serving Android users at the moment.
  5. It’s the anti-Apple OS and helping strengthen it makes Apple products a tiny bit less attractive.  

The downsides are obvious – you might create an enemy more powerful than Apple. 

Kindle for Symbian (Nokia Phones)

Symbian accounts for 46.9% of smartphone sales. That’s 78.5 million units a year. Kindle for Nokia would reach a lot of potential customers.

Nokia is huge in Europe and Asia and Amazon are one of the few global ebook retailers. It’s a natural fit. It would make the Kindle much more appealing to European readers. Perhaps most importantly it would provide a channel into markets that Amazon doesn’t yet have a good foothold in.

The downside is that Nokia is struggling a bit with its smartphone direction (well, at least it seems that way) and there are a lot of devices to test. The support aspect might be a nightmare.

Kindle for Windows Phone 7 Series (or for Windows Mobile)

There are still a lot of phones with Windows Mobile. Windows Phone 7 Series is supposed to be very good and there might be an uptick in adoption.

It would not be that much of a jump to go from Kindle for PC to Kindle for 7 Series.

The downside is that Microsoft has been losing mobile OS market share consistently.

Kindle for Palm Pre

Now that HP has bought Palm WebOS becomes a very important platform. You have –

  1. The upcoming HP Hurricane tablet that will use WebOS. 
  2. Palm Pre and other Palm smartphones using WebOS.

A lot of people who want a Tablet and are unhappy with Apple’s closed ecosystem are looking for an alternative and HP’s Hurricane (slated for Q3, 2010) might fill the gap. That would necessitate Amazon building a Kindle for WebOS.

The downside is that Palm sold to HP for a reason. They were doing really, really badly. HP’s Hurricane is very far away and while HP is a force to be reckoned with there’s no guarantee they’ll do well in Tablets or even cellphones.

Kindle for non-smart cellphones

As reading on cellphones in Japan explodes Amazon has got to be wondering if cellphones could be turned into reading devices in other countries.

The vast majority of cellphones are not smart and yet their owners are just as likely to read books as smartphone owners (even if there is a difference it’s probably not huge). There are a few good reasons for Amazon to explore non-smart cellphones –

  1. There are literally billions of non-smart cellphones. 
  2. Users carry them everywhere – reading on cellphones could fill in all the little breaks they get. 
  3. There’s very little competition.

The downside is that the carriers would want a big cut – something Amazon can’t really afford. Kindle for cellphones would have to find a way to bypass the carriers and that might be a non-solvable problem.

Kindle for Tablets other than iPad

A lot of these tablets are going to be covered by Kindle for Android, Kindle for PC, and Kindle for WebOS. It does leave some tablets.

It’s probable that Amazon will wait a year or so and see what Tablets (if any) succeed and then if needed create a custom Kindle App. Just as there is a custom Kindle for iPad although iPad uses iPhone OS we might see custom Kindle Apps for the Tablets that win out even if they use Android or WebOS.

Amazon has a lot of incentive to produce a good Kindle app for these Tablets. It’s best for Amazon if there is lots of competition in the Tablet market and no clear winner that could take over reading on Tablets.

Amazon are currently helping sell a non-trivial amount of iPads thanks to their excellent Kindle for iPad app. They probably want to start helping other Tablet companies too.

Kindle for Linux

Adding a Linux app would add to the Windows and Mac versions and cover the unholy trifecta of operating systems. It also takes care of the rather strange situation that Kindle uses Linux but there isn’t a Kindle for Linux app.

The downside is that there are so many flavors that support and testing would both be incredibly tough.

Kindle for Chrome

The upside is that you get another non-Apple OS that you strengthen and one that might end up in lots of mobile devices and lots of tablets and netbooks.

The downsides are that it’s in its infancy and there aren’t very many products coming out with Chrome.

What will be the next Kindle App to come out?

My money’s on Kindle for Android. There have been sightings of a Dell Streak flyer advertising Kindle on the Streak so it’s pretty much a given that Kindle for Android will arrive before or with the Dell Streak. That should be soon.

Close behind in probability is Kindle for Symbian (mostly Nokia phones). It has 46.9% of the smartphone market and has great reach in Europe – a market Amazon probably want to focus on after the US.  

After that you get three interesting choices – trying to address the almost unsolvable problem of non-smart cellphones, believing that Microsoft can win with Windows Phone 7 Series, or assuming HP will turn WebOS into a big success. The latter two would be good bets to make. Microsoft and HP are both underrated giants and there’s a good chance at least one will create a decent solution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we should expect to see Kindle for Android, Kindle for Symbian, and Kindle for WebOS this year. Amazon has been developing its platform and the Kindle service faster than the Kindle itself and don’t see that strategy changing much.

Big improvements to Kindle for PC, promise of more

Amazon is applying its kaizen philosophy to Kindle for PC – It added some pretty big improvements and is promising even more improvements.

Kindle for PC Improvements Now Available

There’s a new version of Kindle for PC out and the improvements are –

  1. Ability to create and edit notes and highlights. A huge addition and a much-needed one.
  2. Brightness Controls. An obvious and very useful feature. 
  3. Full Screen Reading. This is surprisingly good.
  4. Background Color Setting. This lets you choose between white on black (night mode), black on white, and sepia. 

The Notes and Highlights are a huge feature and the brightness control works very well. The Night Mode is great for night reading on the PC and the Sepia is preferable to black text on a white background (well, for lots of people, it is – your mileage may vary).

It’s interesting that Amazon is keeping features almost the same across Kindle for iPad, Kindle for PC, and Kindle for iPhone. It’s a good idea as you have a certain level of comfort and familiarity and that stays no matter what platform/device you use the Kindle service on.

More Kindle for PC improvements on the Horizon

In addition to adding features Amazon have also hinted at future features. There are some pretty cool features that might make it to Kindle for PC –

  1. Search – search a book or search across your Kindle library. 
  2. Two Page Reading Mode.  
  3. Zoom and rotate images. 
  4. Folders – though Amazon keeps referring to them as Collections.

Note that Amazon says it is ‘thinking about bringing’ these features so nothing’s guaranteed.

Folders would be an obvious good addition. Search is long overdue. The two page reading mode is interesting – Would people really want that?

Amazon probably keeps referring to Folders as collections because with Folders people expect lots of things like sub-folders and physically moving files/books around. Guessing the Collections feature is more of a ‘linking’ feature where each book can be linked to any number of collections.

Kindle for Mac also slated to get improvements

Kindle for Mac is slated to get some improvements including –

  1. Create Notes and Highlights. 
  2. Search.
  3. Zoom. 

Mac users will be happy to know they haven’t been forgotten. Wonder how Kindle for Mac and iBooks for Mac will stack up once the latter is released.

Why are Amazon improving Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac?

You’ve got to wonder how well these Apps are doing for Amazon to focus all this energy on them.

There are actually two facets to it –

  1. Kindle owners reading on their PCs and Macs when their Kindle is not on them. Improving the apps makes it better for Kindle owners and also makes a Kindle purchase more compelling.  
  2. Kindle for PC users who wouldn’t buy an eReader and are instead reading on their PCs.

Amazon thinks the above are good enough reasons to put consistent effort into Kindle for PC.

There have got to be a pretty significant number of Kindle for PC users – Otherwise it doesn’t make sense to devote resources.

As Kindle for PC gets better what happens to the appeal of the Kindle?

The funnel theory i.e. Kindle for PC is just meant to train people to buy a Kindle, starts falling apart as Kindle for PC gets more and more features.

The addition of lots of cool features makes it more and more likely that readers will find that Kindle for PC is good enough for their needs and that they don’t really need a Kindle. It suggests one of two things –

  1. Amazon really are serious about treating the Kindle books business and the Kindle device business as two separate, independent businesses. 
  2. Kindle for PC user are buying enough ebooks for Amazon to have to take them seriously.

My money’s mostly on the second option. Kindle for PC was a rather limited feature – cool but limited and it was likely to make readers get into the Kindle ecosystem and then jump to a Kindle.

Now, with the improvements, what happens is that even after people get into reading they find that Kindle for PC meets most of their needs. If they have an iPhone they can supplement Kindle for PC with Kindle for iPhone. There might soon be a Kindle for Android.

Amazon seem to have decided that the ebook business is more important than the Kindle device. It’s probably the right decision.