like out of science fiction

My first Kindle experience was with the 2009 "Kindle 2". It was like out of science fiction: a single thin sheet of digital paper which contained (practically) unlimited books, each of which was delivered wirelessly from an enormous catalog containing nearly everything ever published. Unlike my laptop and other devices, my Kindle 2 was designed for reading books and only reading books. This laser-narrow focus was key to the device's success. All the hardware and software design was made without the compromise of having to balance multiple use cases. And so, like my camera was a symbol for photography and my iPod a symbol for music, the Kindle became a deep psychological symbol for reading.

I guess the screen was slow to refresh and low resolution. But that didn't matter. It only needed to display text, and only needed to refresh when you 'turned' the page. And, unlike a laptop screen, the Kindle's screen actually became more readable in brighter light. Also the e-ink screen let the battery last literally for over a month, even with a lot of use.

The Kindle 2's Joystick

what makes a digital book different?

What else makes a digital book different than all other devices? The Kindle connected to the internet via cell phone towers with no contract or fees, so you could always get new books and sync your bookmarks, no matter where you were. There was a simple, awkward keyboard below, just useful enough to type in short phrases for searching the text, but mostly unobtrusive and tucked out of the way. And next to the keyboard was a little joystick to navigate menus. But the biggest, easiest, most reachable buttons were the big paddles on the side for going forward and backward one page, which were the buttons you were pushing 99% of the time.

It was a clean device with an elegant design, perfect suited for its task.

L to R: Kindle Paperwhite 2, Kindle 3, Kindle 2

later kindles

Unfortunately, I broke my Kindle 2, and replaced it with the then-current Kindle 3, and then, years later, seeking the backlit screen, with the Kindle Paperwhite 2. Both these devices sell themselves by advertising their screen's features: greater contrast, higher resolution, quicker refresh, smaller bezel.

But each has been more poorly designed than the last. The most critical feature, the page-turning buttons which dominated the original Kindle's form, were in each version made smaller and harder to push. Similarly, each version brought a less usable keyboard – first with smaller keys and a d-pad replacing the joystick, and then with removing them entirely in lieu of an awkward touch-screen.

But it wasn't just the hardware getting worse, also the software devolved in newer versions. Customization settings were removed. The touchscreen is clumsy and non-intuitive. Distracting and invasive social networking features were added. The little progress bar showing you your position relative to the chapter breaks and your bookmarks was taken away. The auto-brightness feature is defective and requires constant manual override.

And to top it off, each Kindle has been more expensive than the last. You can choose cheaper options, if you're OK with "special offers" – advertisements that pop up on the screen.

The Kindle 3's keyboard

losing sight of the objective

The original intention of the Kindle was to be better than a physical book. The original Kindle was. These new Kindles are not.

However, Amazon has certainly capitalized on their popular Kindle™®© brand name. Amazon used the brand to launch a full-on digital tablet, attempting to compete with the Apple iPad. It's not as good as an iPad, of course. Not as useful, not as nice to look at, not as well built. But hey it says "Kindle" on the side, remember when "Kindle" meant reading?

Meanwhile, after the Kindle devices blossomed in popularity, Amazon started sneaking out faux-Kindle apps for turning other devices into Kindle readers. They've created software for all platforms, so now anything can be a Kindle. Maybe not as good as the original e-ink Kindle, but maybe on a device that you're already carrying with you in your bag. Kindle transformed from the perfect e-reader device into a brand for Amazon's digital content store.

The Kindle Paperwhite 2's thin bezel oh wow must have so important

profound disappointment

I am profoundly disappointed by the death of the Kindle e-reader. Amazon clearly does not care to make awesome science fiction digital paper. Maybe they never did, and it was just a scam to get people sucked into their marketplace. But even if it was, the original two Kindles were objects of beauty, perfect devices that accomplished all they set out to do, and we should remember them for that.