Analyzing Kindle vs iPad arguments, why non-readers attack Kindle

We have the Kindle 3 at $189 and the iPad WiFi at $499. They also happen to be vastly different devices. For all practical purposes there is zero reason to ever do a Kindle vs iPad comparison.

Why then are people always bringing up Kindle vs iPad comparisons?

This post is going to look at a few reasons and then dive deeper and look at things like fundamental human needs/instincts and why a successful product like the Kindle faces so much irrational opposition.

Kindle vs iPad – Somewhat valid reasons to make the comparison

There are a few reasons that somewhat justify a Kindle vs iPad comparison –

  1. Before iPad was released (when Apple didn’t know it would do well) it needed to identify booming markets that weren’t yet stable/decided and target those. That meant Apple went after netbooks, eReaders, and other similar markets. Apple quite actively promoted the notion that it was a great eReader and set up Kindle vs iPad.
  2. For some people money is not an issue – Hence, the comparison of a $499 device with a $189 device. For other people value for money becomes the deciding factor and they want to look at how many different things a device can do and whether the price is justified by this multi-purposeness. 
  3. A lot of people who aren’t avid readers want to compare Kindle as a general device. While this is a wrong assumption, once the assumption is made the Kindle vs iPad comparison becomes inevitable.
  4. A subset of people are immune to the downsides of LCDs. For them the big advantage of the Kindle (eInk) is lost and they feel compelled to ally behind LCD devices.
  5. The two devices are both doing very well and it makes for a good story to pit them against each other.

Perhaps the biggest reason Kindle vs iPad isn’t a totally ridiculous comparison is that each represents a channel to readers/customers and you can always compare competing channels.

Kindle vs iPad – the need to argue and attack winning products and ideas

From this point on we’re going to look at really abstract things. 

Let’s start with a list of reasons people are attacking Kindle or playing up Kindle vs iPad –

  1. Success of the Kindle motivates some people to attack it.  
  2. Kindle’s portrayal as a great reading device makes some people want to argue it – even if they have never used it. We’ll later talk more about this inherent need some people have to argue against a winner.  
  3. People who ally themselves with a product and its marketing pitch feel they must fight for it. If a device claims to be perfect at everything then its adherents will fight every single other device they can find.
  4. A subset of people dislike reading. For them attacking the Kindle is about proving that their tastes are valid ones. 
  5. Some people fear the Kindle will end up dominating all of books and publishing. They feel the iPad can balance it out. Publishers certainly feel this way and they’ve already used iPad to establish the Agency Model.

We could go on endlessly.

There are two common underlying threads here –

  • Some people seem predisposed to oppose and attack any idea or product that does well. 
  • Some people feel a strong need to believe that their stance and their tastes are ‘good’ and ‘right’ and ‘accurate’ and that they must fight anyone with differing tastes.

If this seems extreme let’s consider what’s happening around us.

No matter what you believe in, someone wants to argue against your beliefs

Here are a few random examples of things people argue about endlessly –

  1. Politics. There are always arguments about politics.
  2. Religion. Different gods, the belief that there is no god, and so many other strong beliefs.
  3. Global Warming – At this point everyone’s argued about this so much they don’t even know where they stand any more.
  4. Pretty much anything on the Internet. Go to a forum and write about how the sky is blue and some wise guy is going to write about refraction and perceptions and claim the sky is purple velvet.
  5. Pretty much anything in a group. Sit down with a group of friends, bring up a few contentious topics, and before long there’ll be something people are arguing passionately about.

The first two and the last two bring up a few interesting questions – Could it be about politics? Could arguing be a religious thing? Are people arguing only because it involves other people? Are people arguing only to influence others?

Is Kindle vs iPad about people trying to influence readers to not read?

Here’s a list of arguments against the Kindle with the implicit message listed alongside in italics –

  1. It doesn’t do anything other than read. Reading isn’t worth a dedicated device.  
  2. $189 is too much for an eReader. Reading isn’t worth $189.  
  3. eInk isn’t better than LCDs. For my particular reading requirements.  
  4. iPad does so much more. iPad doesn’t waste itself on reading.  
  5. Kindle doesn’t have a color screen or touch. I think reading is incomplete without color and touch.  
  6. Just pay $300 more and get so much more. Reading isn’t worth $189 but non-reading pursuits are worth $499.
  7. Kindle has no future. As tablets get better Kindle will die out. Reading has no future.  

It isn’t just every day people arguing this. Steve Jobs and other CEOs have said that people don’t read any more.

As readers we have to accept that a lot of people are insecure about our love of and capacity for reading.

If you are stuck in 2 minute entertainment mode or you need people to be stuck in that mode to sell your products then reading is a HUGE threat to you.

Take ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Take this particular passage –

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you take it to heart it kills a lot of notions instantly – celebrity culture, the concept of popularity, peer pressure, social programming, worrying about how many ‘friends’ you have on Facebook.

Most of the products sold these days use illusions like popularity and social pressure to work – The notion that we need something extrinsic to be happy, the suggestion that we should look at celebrities as a guide for what to buy, the belief that we should do things because lots of other people are doing them.

Almost everything around us works on advertising and advertising is doing nothing more than using our ignorance and human failings against us. One of the best defences against influence and advertising is reading books so it shouldn’t be a surprise that dedicated book readers are under attack. 

Why would people want to argue against the Kindle?

If people don’t care about reading and think the iPad is better they could stay happy by completely ignoring the Kindle.

However, that isn’t what they are doing. They feel compelled to talk about how much better Device X is for reading or how bad the Kindle is or how useless it is.

They are arguing against the Kindle because they want to influence us and change us.

Humans have probably always argued to gain an advantage

Let’s say we go back a few hundred thousand years and you are in a tribe and you’re a hunter. There are hunters, gatherers, craftsmen, and people in other basic occupations.

Who gets the most prominence? 

Perhaps the most skilled. Perhaps the one who brings the most food. Perhaps … Actually, there’s an easy answer.

The one who can influence others, through words or power, is the one who gets the most prominence. Even if you look within a particular occupation being able to argue and influence others becomes disproportionately important.

Arguing your point becomes far more crucial in the modern world

There are a few reasons arguing becomes far more crucial now –

  1. You can’t exactly have a clubbing contest to decide who gets the lion’s share.
  2. Our occupations have become more and more difficult to measure and evaluate. We are usually paid based on how well we can convince others that our work provides a lot of value.
  3. We are all civilized now so we need to ‘talk’ and ‘agree’.
  4. It’s become super important to be politically correct and ‘good’.
  5. We ourselves want to be on the right side.

It’s an endless list. We aren’t just convincing others – we’re also convincing ourselves. Which makes the need for strong, convincing arugments even more acute.

How this ties to Kindle vs iPad.

Kindle vs iPad is about reading vs not reading

That’s what it comes down to. People who dislike how the Kindle is revitalizing reading and increasing its importance have no option but to argue against the Kindle.

They can’t exactly come out and say –

It bothers me that someone reads so much that they buy a Kindle and I worry about how they’re becoming smarter while my brain is getting trained to be Pavlov’s Dog.

I worry that while all I’m learning is how to Gym, Tan, and Laundry like The Situation they are conversing with Shakespeare and Emerson and Kafka.

Most of all I worry that my worth is going down while theirs is going up.

We all know that knowledge is power and we all recognize at some level that you aren’t going to get knowledge from Farmville or Angry Birds. However, we perhaps don’t have the aptitude or inclination to focus on books.

So it worries us. That people are reading and becoming smarter while we are watching TV and playing Fruit Ninja and becoming dumber.

The only option left is to argue and pretend that reading doesn’t deserve a dedicated device.

Why not give up that Kindle which is making you smart and erudite and free of advertising?

Why not embrace the iPad where you can watch TV and YouTube like we do and waste your time like we do?

The great Levellers of our generation, the new opium for the masses, are all there on multi-purpose devices – TV, games, YouTube. 

With the Kindle you don’t get any of that.

At some level people realize this and it bothers them endlessly that while they sink deeper and deeper into the sort of life that Rudyard Kipling wouldn’t wish on Shere Khan others are headed in the exact opposite direction. 

It would be great if someone did an experiment where they took two groups of 1,000 kids and put them into separate life experiences –

  1. Group 1 played sports while Group 2 sat on the couch and watched sports.
  2. Group 1 went out and played with their friends while Group 2 farmed on Farmville and made ‘friends’ on Facebook.
  3. Group 1 read books and had Kindles while Group 2 watched YouTube on their iPads.
  4. Group 1 had real life experiences and joined Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and did activities and went to the park while Group 2 played video games.
  5. Group 1 watched no TV while Group 2 watched lots and lots of it.

What would the difference be? What would these kids grow up to be?

Time for Kipling again.

 If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run?

We’re just filling our days with hours and hours of sitting still on couches. Our temples are TVs and video game consoles and YouTube and Facebook and, like Neil Gaiman talks about in American Gods, we are praying to our new gods and giving them more and more power.

In this environment it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are tempted by the illusion that reading is better on a device that is focused on movies and TV and games than on a device that specializes for reading.

Kindle vs iPad comparisons are a joke. If you want to read, get a Kindle 3 or a Nook or a Sony Reader. If you want an undiluted supply of the new opium for the masses, get an iPad.

Breaking down the new FaceTime ads – marketing value Vs feature value

Apple Insider has a post showing 4 new FaceTime ads – Do take a look. They are directed by Sam Mendes who directed American Beauty.

TechCrunch has a post which talks about how it seems as if Apple has hired Don Draper – Do give it a read. Here’s a key snippet –

Draper fires back,

Technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash. If they have a sentimental bond with the product.

In the iPhone 4 FaceTime commercial, that’s exactly what Apple is playing up. As we’re all well aware, video chat, even on phones, is nothing new.

The FaceTime feature and the way it’s being advertised gives us a great chance to analyze and break-down Apple. These 4 ads are a really great way to understand everything that’s great and everything that’s not so great about Apple.

Marketing-created Perceived Value vs Actual Feature Value – Apple has both

We could break down a product’s perceived value to users into two components –

  1. The actual value of the product to users.
  2. How the value of the product is portrayed to users. 

Apple is very good at both. It helps better understand this if you consider Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Ethos, Pathos, and Logos –

  1. Ethos is your character – what people think of you.  
  2. Pathos is the emotional state of your audience – what they’re feeling.  
  3. Logos is the actual message – how strong and impactful it is.

With the FaceTime ads Apple is conveying a pretty strong message i.e. you get to share and experience some pretty strong moments via FaceTime. They make it a point to create moments that will have a very strong emotional impact on you and they link those moments to an Apple product. The ads reveal just how well Apple understands human nature.

It’s all about emotion and linking good, strong emotions with Apple.

They’re taking the single most important experiences of our lives and linking buying an iPhone 4 with being able to experience them better. Watching the 4 ads back to back breaks the effect to an extent because you realize exactly what Apple is doing. It also makes you wonder why people would not share those experiences in person – especially the birth of their grandchild and news of a pregnancy. 

Apple’s marketing works both ways

I’m obviously biased against Apple. As would be almost anyone who doesn’t like marketers and manipulation.

Let’s consider a few broad groups of reactions –

  1. People who get turned off by all the over the top marketing and therefore discount Apple products – Consider them worse than they really are (this group includes me). 
  2. People who love Apple and love the advertising and assume Apple products are better than they are.  
  3. People who fall for the marketing and assume Apple products are better than they actually are. 
  4. People unaffected either way by the advertising.
  5. People who try out one or two Apple products and then realize that Apple isn’t as good as it pretends.

If you fall under the category of person who thinks Apple products are magical and they couldn’t be better unless Apple themselves created something new then perhaps the advertising is working a little too well.

No matter how you feel about Apple you have to admit they are marketing geniuses and masters at understanding and influencing people.

Take the FaceTime ads.

FaceTime Ads are masterpieces in marketing and influence

Here are some things are left out – it only works on WiFi, both people have to have iPhones, that there are lots of products that can already do this. Skype has hundreds of millions of users using Video Chat and Apple are still going to claim to revolutionize things with FaceTime. It’s absurd.

Here are the things being conveyed at the subconscious level – you need FaceTime to better experience the most important experiences of your life, you need Apple’s iPhone 4, iPhone 4 is linked to the best experiences in your life.

The fact that it’s better to experience these important experiences in person and not over the phone is entirely left out. The fact that most people don’t need voice calling most of the time is completely left out.

Is Apple justified in all the claims it makes?

No, obviously not. The iPad TV ad states that you can experience every website in the world even though Flash isn’t supported. It talks about 200,000 apps even though there are only 7,000 or so iPad apps and the rest are iPhone Apps that have to be blown up and don’t scale well.

So it’s obviously marketing half-truth. It creates a strange situation –

  1. If you love Apple you give them the benefit of the doubt.
  2. If you dislike Apple you point it out as obvious misdirection.
  3. If you are unaware you tend to believe it.  

With FaceTime Apple are going to pretend that this is the first time video calling has been done even though lots of phones and Skype have been around for ages. If people point this out Apple will claim it’s the first time it’s been done right.

You have to stand back and look at the elements –

  1. Doing an important feature. There’s no doubt the feature is important.
  2. Doing it well. Again, it seems the feature has been done well.
  3. Selling it extraordinarily well. This is where Apple really shines – No company could come even close with its advertising.

Apple is doing all three things. However, let’s be honest here – It’s the marketing that’s the magical part.

Apple is 40% quality product and 60% marketing genius

In my opinion Apple are better at marketing than they are at making great products.

Are their products great? Perhaps.  

Are Apple great at making people believe their products are great? Absolutely. 

Human nature has a fail-safe where we never want to admit that we’ve fallen for trickery. In fact, we do everything to convince ourselves that we made the right decision. This is probably why Apple creates such fanatical users.

There’s no doubt the iPhone is a very good phone. However, Apple’s marketing and people who’ve bought into the hype want us to believe it’s a revolution and it’s changing humanity. Well, it’s just a phone and it doesn’t have particularly good reception.

The marketing genius – Steve Job’s ability to see people’s nature and play on that – is the core of Apple.

Can we detach and look at things without emotion?

You either think Apple makes the best products in the world or you feel that Apple sells and markets products better than anyone else.

In either case the emotions get in the way of seeing things correctly – If you dislike Apple then how could you ever know if their products are magnificent. You couldn’t – unless you detached yourself from their use of over the top advertising that seems tailored to work on gullible people.

If you are madly in love with Apple it’s the same problem – You wouldn’t really know whether their products are magical or not unless you stepped back from your emotions.

Taking on Apple is only possible if you use the emotional level or use Reality

Most of Apple’s competitors are competing on the logical level. Whether its Droid Ads or Kindle Ads they are ads that either ignore emotions completely or barely scratch the surface.

Apple however digs in deep – iPod ads with cool dancing, the ‘I’m a PC’ ads that associate Apple Macs with being cool, the new FaceTime ads that tug at the heart-strings. Apple are playing at the real level at which we function – emotions and irrational subconscious desires.

They are also getting better and better at it – iPhone 4 ads are much more impactful than any previous Apple ads.  

It’s a rather unfair fight.

Apple’s competitors need to start operating on one of two levels –

  1. A super emotional level. The same level as Apple except with added punch. An Android ad that shows a person talking on his Android phone and getting home to have one of these ‘special moment’ conversations in real life instead of on the phone.
  2. Via Reality. An ad that shows the user can’t find WiFi or loses it at an important moment. Then switches to Skype on the PC or an Android phone that works over 3G (don’t know if the latter’s possible).

Amazon are being too passive in their advertising. It’s time to show a really despicable annoying person with an iPad on the beach sitting down to read and realizing it’s not readable and then having all the people he/she bothered laughing at him and pulling out Kindles. Enough of the singing, dancing Mary Poppins nonsense.

You can’t just let a company weave illusions around your potential customers and get away with it. Everyone who’s used both a Kindle and an iPad and isn’t LCD compatible knows which one is a much better reader – It makes no sense to let the iPad keep fooling readers into thinking it’s a better eReader.

Various Examples of Conventional Thinking as Manipulation

Ran into this excellent post at Men’s Health called The Men Who Live Forever and had to write about it.

It’s about a tribe of Indians in Mexico that have amazingly good health. The write-up is littered with examples of things that are supposed to be good for us not being good for us and things that shouldn’t be possible working –

  1. It turns out that the more cushioning a shoe has the worse it might be.  
  2. The Tarahumara tribe’s men have almost zero diabetes, vascular disease, etc. even though they drink and eat carbs regularly.
  3. The Tarahumara runner who won the 1993 Leadville ultramarathon was 55 years old.

Do read the article – there’s a lot more in there. There are other examples of people having great health from going back to basics – such as Taleb and walking (PDF).

Let’s assume this is mostly true – You can’t argue against a 55 year old man winning an ultramarathon.

Has Conventional thinking been so distorted by advertising and influence that it’s actually bad for us?

Conventional Thinking might not be good for us

First, let’s look around us and see if we can establish a pattern of conventional thinking serving others and not us.

What are High School and College preparing us for?

It starts with high school and college –

  1. Why would we encourage a system where 70% or more of students get labeled as mediocre or worse?  
  2. Although there are super effective mathematics systems like the Trachtenberg System and Vedic Mathematics (and even apps like  Mathemagics) high schools continue to teach via methods that just aren’t that effective.
  3. College Education leaves most people with debt. If it’s supposed to help students why do they have to spend 5-10 years in debt?

High School and College seem to be a way to ensure that we waste the years when kids and young people have the most energy and potential.

Why do we have to work 30 years at jobs we hate so at 55 we can retire and do whatever we want?

Things get worse at work –

  1. The first thing people are supposed to do after school is buy a house and add on more debt.
  2. The second thing they’re supposed to do is get a job that they don’t really like because it pays the bills.
  3. Systems like Getting Things Done minimize the amount of tasks you have and make you more effective. Yet most jobs take pleasure in overwhelming us with multiple tasks and priorities.  

There are a few rather strange notions that are prevalent – 

your job will probably be something you hate 

your 2 weeks of vacation will be the highlight of your life 

worst of all – you’ll have to spend 30 years working so you can retire and enjoy life when you’re 55-60

Is the Financial System trying to help us or just steal from us?

The conventional financial wisdom is especially bad and almost seems designed to force us to keep working forever –  

  1. You’re supposed to invest your savings in the stock market where you compete against professionals and professional cheats who rig the system in their favor. 
  2. The whole crisis is a great example – Bankers got billions in bonuses every single year while we took responsibility for their losses.  
  3. Banks were encouraging people to take on mortgages they could not afford – these are the same people who’re supposed to be our financial advisors and well wishers.
  4. Credit cards have run riot and add more debt.
  5. Perhaps worst of all social security isn’t secure any more.

The whole point of the financial industry (credit cards, banks, investment markets) seems to be the exact opposite of what it’s supposed to be.

They’re just trying to get us to part with our hard earned money – reduce how much we enjoy life, further delay when we can retire.

The whole Medical System looks set to turn into a wreck

Health is such a fundamental thing and it’s on it’s way to being totally broken –

  1. A ridiculous percentage of people (supposedly over 50%) are on prescription medicine.
  2. A lot of people don’t have health insurance.
  3. Healthcare is really, really expensive.
  4. From our shoes to our restaurants – everything seems primed to weaken our health. 
  5. Medicare is falling apart – even with all the power it can’t get good deals on drugs.  

This could be an endless list.

Conventional Thinking is definitely not good for us

It really does seem that all the things we’re supposed to do and are supposed to be good for us aren’t.

  1. School and college isn’t tapping students’ potential. 
  2. What’s the point of evolution if 75% of people have to do work they hate?
  3. The financial industry is treating us like ATMs.

In fact we can put together a different hypothesis – one that makes more sense than any self-serving justification any company can make.

Conventional Thinking is Manipulating Us

How could it be possible that the best collective pieces of wisdom in our culture are manipulative and bad for us?  

Influence and advertising have run rampant

At any given time there’s a race going on between different elements –

  1. The common person’s knowledge and understanding. 
  2. Ethical companies’ thinking and profits.
  3. Unethical companies’ thinking and profits. 

The Internet is the first mass medium that let anyone publish information. It meant people finally got a chance to be as smart as companies. A chance more and more people are taking advantage of.

Before that –

  1. Companies could take advantage of people’s ignorance.  
  2. Unethical companies tended to profit more and beat out ethical companies.
  3. The absolute best are companies that have fooled themselves and/or customers into thinking they’re ethical.

The more unethical and delusional the company the better it got at influencing people.

It’s easy to fool yourself for your self-interest

Am reminded of an interview with a commodities trader where he made an argument of this sort –

I help stabilize grain prices and without me there would be huge market instabilities and crashes and Armageddon.

Sounds reasonable until you find out that he was a major speculator who had caused a few crashes and spikes that nearly killed the industry.

That’s what a lot of companies are doing.

Take Pepsi and Coke – they have to know they’re negatively affecting hundreds of millions of people. How do you wake up in the morning knowing that your sugared water is killing people’s health? 

You rationalize – It’s free choice. We’re giving people free choice. The money makes it easy to delude yourself that it’s good for people.

The hard option would be to sell something that’s profitable and good for people i.e. bottled water. It’s not totally pure – but it’s much better than selling people sugared water.

As the Internet makes people smart a LOT of Conventional Thinking will fall by the wayside

There was a huge information asymmetry that was letting companies pull off a magic trick –

  1. Take things that are bad for customers and good for companies. 
  2. Make people do those things.
  3. Make people believe those things are good for them.

A select few companies even pulled off the absolutely marvellous trick of actually believing that they were doing the right thing for their customers.

However, as the Internet spreads actual knowledge we begin to see some tectonic changes –

  1. Most businesses that were based on exploiting customers’ ignorance are weakening.  
  2. Customers are getting very smart – reviews, price comparison, store ratings and other intelligence is leading to good decisions.
  3. People are ignoring advertising unless they confuse it with content.
  4. Banner ads have almost died in effectiveness. Except for people who are new to the Internet.
  5. Companies that ally with customers are doing better and better.  

The only negative companies that will survive are the absolutely brilliant

If you’re a company that exploits people –

  1. There are domain experts that might figure it out. Even customers might.  
  2. Once one person knows they can share it with everyone.  
  3. Suddenly your reputation is tainted forever.
  4. It’s virtually impossible to fool everyone all the time.

It takes a ridiculous amount of work (or self-delusion) to exploit people and still survive. 

The race between customers, good companies and evil companies goes on

It’s a never-ending cycle –

  1. Customers are trying to get the best deal and find out what’s best for them.
  2. Good companies are constantly trying to create win-win situations.
  3. Evil companies are constantly trying to fool people and develop newer and newer ways to manipulate and influence.

What the Internet does is it lets one really smart user reach out to millions of people and show them what companies are good and what are evil. We’ve seen it with sites in the UK like Money Saving Expert and in the US with Mike Arrington calling out Facebook for Scamville.

As long as the Internet is not dominated by one company no company can take us back to days of being trapped in Conventional thinking that benefited people other than ourselves.

The Moral is to Run Away from Advertising and Companies that claim to sacrifice themselves for us

Every time there’s advertising that is not a short-cut to what people already want we are seeing the vestiges of a business model based on exploiting customers.

The more vocal a company is about helping us without helping themselves the more likely they have an ulterior motive.