Kindle’s Chosen Specialization Against the Generalist Smartphone

The Kindle Paperwhite has no business releasing new hardware in 2015.

It’s a stubbornly single-purpose device, one of the remaining few pieces of consumer electronics that hasn’t been completely consumed by the smartphone/tablet wave. I impulsively bought the 3rd generation Kindle, with its slightly higher resolution screen1, to replace my 1st generation Kindle without regret. The e-reader is cheap, durable, and users like myself have an almost irrational love for the device.

The Kindle may be a guide to how to extend hardware beyond the smartphone. Smartphones and tablets are such a powerful platform because they feature general utility – continually expanded upon via sensors and radios – coupled with an ease in building and distributing software. Any other devices that try to meet phones on their own terms will fail; they have too much catch up to do, whether it’s software maturity or user base or hardware logistics (or all of the above).

There is room though for specialized hardware + software combinations that emphasize benefits that generalist phones cannot realize. Battery life is one Achilles’ heel, one that the Kindle and the Pebble Watch have leveraged as a powerful advantage. Another may be control scheme; touch interfaces are still not as precise as dedicated buttons, and it may help explain why home consoles are still selling a bunch when all signs anoint mobile gaming as the future. Price with durability could be another pain point, though cheap Android devices are addressing the cost aspect. If virtual reality takes off, then mobile devices will have trouble keeping up with the hardware requirements, at least in the short term.

Then again, dedicated GPS and cameras and MP3 players thought they were safe from the hungry smartphone. Given enough energy and money, smartphone software and hardware can outpace any dedicated device, if the function is important enough. The Kindle may be safe, simply due to the global decline in reading.

  1. I am a sucker for higher-dpi-anything, though, particularly when comes to fonts and type.

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