“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
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Blog // Sounds
January 17, 2008

Steve Jobs Doesn’t Often Get It Wrong, But…

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don‚Äôt read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don‚Äôt read anymore.” That’s Steve Jobs commenting on Amazon’s Kindle […]

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don‚Äôt read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don‚Äôt read anymore.”

That’s Steve Jobs commenting on Amazon’s Kindle book reader. It has to be said that part of Steve’s genius comes in being able to see the faults in a competitor’s product. The Kindle is flawed, something I’ll return to later. The other part of that genius is seeing where a trend is going and responding early. That’s part of what has made Apple’s notebook computers so successful (dropping old tech like floppy drives and SCSI and moving to new standards), it’s behind the success of iPod, iPhone and iMac and the potential for Apple TV and the MacBookAir.

But, people still read. OK, many (in one country) do not and that figure might well grow. The internet may well be driving folks away from hunting for information towards grazing on it. But many is not all. Here Steve is making a populist fallacy, looking at the trend from the bottom up. Unlike the technology trends, which are driven by the most informed, most savvy opinion leaders, he’s looking at reading by considering the least informed. Bad move.

People read or else book sales would have totally stagnated (they haven’t) and books would fail to register in the cultural sections of newspapers (they haven’t). If anything, we are living through a renaissance in popular non-fiction. Despite taking big hits, newspapers have been unwilling to lay down and die as many prognosticated.

A book is different to a computer – OK that’s obvious. But, the act of reading a book is different from the act of reading from a computer. It’s something physical and dare I say it, spiritual. Recently I had the chance to test out a Kindle-like reader at Wan Chai computer market. It’s a nice machine, but I couldn’t imagine reading with it for an hour or two. It’s much less efficient, much more awkward and simply not comforting.

The Kindle is flawed not because people don’t read, but because it gives an unsatisfactory reading experience. You’d think a guy who knows so much about design and interfaces, like Steve Jobs, would have been more focussed on that issue.

[tags] Kindle, Design [/tags]

Responses
Toni 12 years ago

Reading is an area that computer pundits seem to have missed – the sole advantage to a digital ‘book’ is the ability to transport many books in a convenient package. I appreciate that ‘audio books’ in that format would also be advantageous to those without usable vision, but that’s more or less it.

Now an electronic book that handled like a printed book (VERY high resolution flexible LCD panels built into a ‘book’ format might be a viable option.

The first part of the quote bothers me substantially too. It says that Steve Jobs believes America is the world, and someone like that really should know better.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

I agree that there is a big tendency to conflate tasks which require reading with reading tasks.

Electronic music display units are a prime example. Sure it might be nice to carry a full fake book in a unit that is a little thinner than a fake book. But, what about battery failure? What about flicking from one page to another?

I suspect the quote might make Jobs look worse than needs be in regards to the US=The World. He was quoting a US statistic as normative, which is clearly jejune. However, the MacBookAir is a pretty clear example that he understands markets outside the US.

Toni 12 years ago

I’ve just found a Kindle user:

http://www.fatcyclist.com/2008/01/14/two-months/

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Toni – thought provoking example, thanks.

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