Kindling Mobility

I am increasingly coming round to the notion that my black matte MacBook, as sexy and sleek as it is, may well be my last “conventional” laptop.

Not that I subscribe to the (so drearily fan boyish) assertions that devices such as the Asus Eee PC will revolutionize the marketplace by bringing forth some kind of disposable PC utopia, but rather that I find myself, time and again, turning to simpler, lighter and more portable approaches for my computing needs.

This is not new – I have been a stalwart supporter of Network Computing for years now, and have always yearned for computers that switch on instantly, run on batteries for decent amounts of time (instead of the embarrassing hour and a half of real use most laptops seem to be designed for for these days), and have the least amount of junk installed locally.

But I have been taking things to an extreme of late. For instance, I have found myself often typing away entire drafts1 on my BlackBerry Pearl, conclusively proving not only that the thing is an engineering marvel but also that it is pretty damn good enough to type in fairly complex pieces of text over long periods of time (although, it must be said, it would not ordinarily be the first thing I’d reach for when inspiration strikes).

And I have been eyeing the trend towards web-based suites with a mix of bewilderment and alarm, respectively concerning the amount of hoops JavaScript developers jump through to try to deliver a poorer copy of a desktop experience and the number of times people stop short of reinventing the X protocol.

I have also been keeping track (rather bemusedly and not without a few chuckles) of the brouhaha surrounding the Kindle, which strikes me as profoundly ironic in several ways.

First off, because it is undoubtedly the least visually appealing piece of gadgetry that 2007 has coughed up (unless there is another Zune in the works), and easily the third most hyped after the iPhone and iPod Touch.

But (and here’s the clincher), I am keeping track of it because I happen to think that the Kindle is a brilliant device, no matter how many people keep finding fault with it. And the reasons I think thus have pretty much nothing to do with the hardware itself, the file formats it supports, or any of the issues people seem to have with it.

Allow me to explain, in a somewhat roundabout way: Basically, what all the pundits braying their affronted little hearts out about the thing have gotten completely and utterly wrong is comparing the Kindle to the iPhone.

It is a stupid comparison in every regard, and I can only assume they are doing so because they are letting populism, the yearn for a better search ranking and sheer laziness get in the way of their brains, since it is, after all, so much easier to compare the Kindle to a device that is already a media darling and obviously designed by professionals to boot.

They are also, incidentally, assuming their readership does not understand they are comparing apples with oranges, but I gather that is the current standard of online punditry.

But I digress: What they really should be comparing it with is the Blackberry.

Because the brilliance of the Kindle, as far as I’m concerned, is that it works as a managed service – which is, in fact, what BlackBerry e-mail and browsing are (regardless of operator, your terminal is constantly talking to RIM servers to get e-mail, and goes through them to browse the Net except in very specific configurations).

The Kindle is not just the device you (if you’re lucky, affluent and a US resident with very high tolerance for bad aesthetics) hold in your hand. It is the experience of having a device that is part of an always-on wireless cloud, with a certain bookstore within easy reach. And, as part of that experience, you also have access to the Internet in some form.

Which is, if you think of it, not at all unlike what a BlackBerry does, except that its user experience is so finely honed that most people never need to contemplate what it actually does (or works like) besides e-mail.

This is not to say that a BlackBerry works as an e-book reader (even if there are people out there using it that way, that’s not what I’m driving at). But the Kindle, like it, can deliver a steady trickle of information anywhere you are (in the US, at least), and you don’t have to think about the details, about how much it costs (within reasonable thresholds, of course), or how it all works. It’s just all there, on the device.

My only real regret at this point is that the Kindle uses EV-DO instead of a more universal mobile data standard (i.e., something that would make it feasible to use the device in the 99% of the world that isn’t the US). After all, I routinely download large (~1MB) files to my BlackBerry over GPRS in a few minutes, and trickle transfers of entire books could be done while I was reading the first dozen pages or so.

And yes, given that mobile data is cheap these days (regardless of what people think), I would likely buy a Kindle if it worked in Europe.

As it is, I will wait until both Amazon and the pundits come to their senses. With luck, within that timeframe (which may, of course, border on the infinite), something better will come along.

Who knows, it might even be a Blackberry.

1 Like this one, which was typed on my BlackBerry almost in its entirety and then tweaked in TextMate