postheadericon Tech Talk: Fire and Ice, Amazon follows Apple

This week there were two events that diehard geeks such as myself found fascinating: the first being the announcement of Amazon’s new book reader (the Kindle Fire) and Apple’s latest cool product announcement for the new iPhone 4S and iOS5.

But as Tim Cook, Apple’s replacement CEO for legendary Steve Jobs, started the event with stats on Apple as a company, it became clear that the announcement was not about new Apple hardware or software, but more about how Apple now sees itself as the leader of consumer gadgetry and media consumables – and Tim had the numbers to prove it.

In the first 5 minutes Tom Cook showed charts and graphs on Apple media sales in the multiple billions, and hardware sales in the hundreds of millions. One chart caught my eye: the number of iPods sold since inception in 2001 – over 300 million! Compare that with the “revolutionary” device of my youth, the Sony Walkman, which only sold 220,000 players in 30 years.

But CEO Cook was quick to point out that this achievement was not about numbers or devices, but about making music more enjoyable for the masses, and in fact, to bring about a renaissance in our time. And with everyone from joggers to grandmas sporting those signature white earbuds, it’s clear that the iPod is a visionary device that rekindled society’s love for recorded music and voice.

Another renaissance in the making, on par with mp3 listening, is e- reading. Tim Cook had plenty to say about that, as he demoed Newsstand, which is a new app and subscription service for magazines and newspapers – where the latest rags and mags are to be pumped down to your iDevice automatically on publication, over Wi-Fi or 3G, and to all of your devices simultaneously.

Now I found this latest innovation quite intuitive, as I already use Apple’s equivalent for books – iBook – everyday, and the last time I went to Pilgrim’s fine Pulchowk shop was to see if they sold wrapping paper for an iDevice that I was gifting to my wife.

It was a sad day for me, as I realized while walking into one of KTM’s finest “taberna librarii,” that this type of shop (established during the Roman Empire), is now about as dead as Latin itself. As I walked along Pilgrim’s wonderfully book-smelling aisles masked over by sweet incense and adorned overhead with tankas and fine artwork, I was no longer enticed as I once was to pick up and hold a coffee-table sized tome filled with fine photographs of Mt. Everest as I was as a younger man. No, all I was thinking was “Do they sell Kindles here?”

Bookstores seem like graveyards to me. The idea of owning bound paper and ink is no longer an urge, yet my shoulder still aches from the years of backpacking them around. I even still own a bookshelf, but it’s now filled with nick knacks that have over the years replaced first editions and signed copies by Steven King. While at Pilgrims, I really wanted to know if they sold Kindles, but out of part politeness and part embarrassment, I was afraid to ask.

For Amazon, the Kindle e-book reader is what the iPod is to iDevice that has boosted their sales and simultaneously rekindled the masses’ love for books in a way unrivaled by anything outside of the paperback. The chart that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos threw up during the recent Kindle Fire announcement showed a steady sale of paper books over the past decade (in the billions per year), but the skyrocketing line representing e-book sales destined for Kindle devices was much more impressive. This line shoots straight up and off the chart in just half the time. Clearly, the writing is on the boardroom walls: e-books are the immediate future of book retailing.

Amazon plans to capitalize on this trend by offering their new reader named “Fire” for under the cost to manufacture, just $199 USD for a dual-core, full-color 7” 1024 x 600 screen that weighs just over 400 grams. They are following in Apple’s cool and slick footsteps, providing a hot iDevice that will grab readers by the pocketbooks in order to consume everything from Shakespeare to the New York Times, and they’ve thrown in web browsing to boot.

Aristotle would turn in his grave if he could only see that his meager-in-comparison library of hundreds of books can now be easily displayed in full color and with motion, all on a chip the size of a quill tip.


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