The Amazon Kindle could dramatically improve US education

Today, Amazon announced the widely anticipated Kindle 2 with a ship date of February 24th. I immediately ordered one. 

I bought my first Kindle in Dec 2007 and absolutely love it. As a frequent business traveller, I just bring my Kindle instead of packing half a dozen books with me. Usually I’ll buy a book or two just as I’m boarding a plane, so I can read for hours. I save a ton of money buying books on the Kindle compared to hard or paper-backed versions. I still have about 2,000 books in my personal library, and I adore books–everything about how they feel, how I can mark them up, write notes in the back pages, etc.–I even love the smell of old books. But even though I love books I always first check to see if the book is available for Kindle, because the advantages of having books on my Kindle outweigh for me the advantages of having a physical book.

Last year I travelled in Europe, and during the trip my Kindle screen got fried. It turned completely black. The device was useless. I learned then how much I don’t like travelling without a Kindle. The first thing I did after returning home was call Amazon to see if I could get a replacement.

In less than a minute I was speaking with an Amazon customer service representative. I explained the problem with the screen and he said he’d send a replacement device immediately. In fact, he overnighted it. And now, here’s the kicker. As soon as I got it and registered it, all of the books I had previously purchased for my Kindle were downloaded through Amazon’s Whispernet. I lost all my notes and comments and bookmarks from all the books I had read on my Kindle, but I soon discovered that that was my own fault. There is a setting that allows Amazon to store all of your Kindle notes, comments, and bookmarks in the cloud, so that if you ever lose your Kindle or if it breaks, all of your personalized content can be re-downloaded.

Needless to say, all my personalizations are now stored in the cloud. So when I get my Kindle 2, and my library is downloaded, all of my personalizations will come with it. I’m sure in some future version, Amazon will make it possible for me to easily share (on my blog or favorite social network) passages from books, as well as my comments about them. I also anticipate that sooner or later Amazon will be able to create some social apps that utilize the aggregate bookmarks and highlights of all the Kindle readers, so they could, for example, publish the most popular quotes from any book–a virtual Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 

I really do look forward to future versions of Kindle that turn book reading into a very social experience; but I truly hope that Bezos never turns this device into a multi-purpose computing device that supports games and other applications. I think that would ruin the potential of this device.

I think that reading the right books is the best way to get a great education. To salvage the failing US education system we should do whatever it takes to get millions of kids reading great books once again. I think the best way to do that would be for states to purchase Kindles for every student (I’d say 7th-12th grade) in their education system, and to provide great age appropriate books for these students every year. Perhaps states should also carve out at least 30-60 minutes of reading time every day, in the classroom, for students to use their Kindles. Teachers could then lead stimulating discussions about what the students had read. (You’ll notice that in my political philosophy, I believe that state and local governments, and parents, are responsible for educating children. The US Federal Government has no constitutional authority or role in education–even thought it has been usurping such authority steadily over the past few decades. I just don’t like it at all.)

My home state is Utah. I think Utah pays about $65-70,000 for a K-12 education for each student. The cost of a Kindle with hundreds of the best books ever written in a variety of fields (with a decent percentage of them being in the public domain, and therefore free, or nearly free) would be miniscule compared to this. And yet I think it could make a difference for a lifetime for the students, who could then carry with them every great book and every textbook they had studied from, including their notes and highlights, into the workplace and beyond.

I remember when Duke University required all incoming freshman to own an iPod, so that they could listen to great books and lecture notes, etc. The problem with devices that are multi-purpose, is that the students may use them for everything but education. I bet the majority of Duke students used them for their music more than for anything else.

If the Kindle ever becomes a multi-purpose portable computing device, with downloadable games and other applications, it would in my mind destroy its potential to become the educational device of the future, which encourages and invites millions of students to read the great books–because it would be so easy for students to be distracted by everything else it offered.

I want to thank Jeff Bezos for making the Kindle a brilliant, single-purpose device to enable and encourage more reading, and I hope that he will be able to continue to produce future versions that still center on reading, even if enabling more social sharing around the reading experience. But please don’t be tempted to make this a device for music, games, or fun. We already have plenty of those.

My Amazon Kindle is almost here

Received from Amazon today:

“We now have estimated delivery dates for the Kindle order you placed on 12/17/07. We are now estimating that your Kindle will arrive between January 25 and February 1, 2008. We’ll contact you again to let you know when your order is shipped.”

When the Freakonomics blog asked back in November if the Amazon Kindle would be the next “must-have” technology, the iPod of ebooks, about 95% of the comments were attacks on the device or the business model behind it. That surprised me a bit. I went ahead and ordered one anyway.

I’m very anxious to try it out. My two biggest reasons: the incredible ebook selection that Amazon will be able to provide, and the whispernet service that allows me to download content from anywhere, without paying for a connection.

When my Kindle gets here, I’ll let you know what kind of user experience I have with it, and then predict whether it will finally be the ebook reader that everyone has some day hoped would appear.

Some investors are bullish on Amazon, in large part because of the Amazon Web Services now have 290,000 developers signed up, up from 25,000 the previous quarter (FamilyLink.com is a big fan of Amazon Web Services) and also because the Kindle will be a “money spinner” in 2008.

When Amazon releases its quarterly earnings report on January 30th, there is a good chance we will learn something about how many Kindles have been ordered so far, and whether this platform will become a major channel for publishers and consumers in the future.

$100 laptops, $2500 cars

In this morning’s post I mentioned low cost cars coming from India. Today Business Week reported that Ratan Tata’s new $2,500 car, called the Nano, is being met with “extreme enthusiasm” and is going to put India on the map in the auto world. CrunchGear indicates that Tata plans to introduce the Nano to other low income areas like Africa and South America in the next four years.

Maybe they should bundle the $100 laptop from OLPC foundation with the vehicle, so the kids can have something to do in the back seat? (I know it’s more like $199 in quantities of 10,000 right now, but I’m sure prices will drop over time.)

Imagine how fun it would be for kids to play multi-users games over the XO mesh network in the back seat of the Nano while racing down India’s highways. Someone could build some great software for that.

Seriously, could Tata be the Henry Ford of the 21st Century? Will the Nano, the world’s least expensive car, sell more units than any other car in this century. India is poised to become the world’s most populous nation after all.

“The Model T was a great commercial success, and by the time Henry made his 10 millionth car, 9 out of 10 of all cars in the entire world were Fords. In fact, it was so successful that Ford did not purchase any advertising between 1917 and 1923; in total, more than 15 million Model Ts were manufactured, more than any other model of automobile for almost a century.” (Wikipedia)

The model T Ford cost $850 in 1909 and prices dropped over time as the assembly line lower manufacturing costs. (According to Wikipedia, “The assembly line was introduced to Ford by William C. Klann upon his return from visiting a slaughterhouse at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards and viewing what was referred to the “disassembly line” where animals were butchered as they moved along a conveyor. The efficiency of one person removing the same piece over and over caught his attention.”)

By 1915, Model T Ford’s cost only $440, and Ford was paying his workers $5.00 per day. He hoped that any of his factory workers could afford a car. “In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months’ pay.” (Wikipedia)

Ford sold 15 million Model Ts from 1907 to 1927. The U.S. Population reached 123 million by 1930, so Ford sold to about 8% of the U.S. population. (I don’t know how many were sold outside of the U.S.)

India’s population will hit 1.3 billion by 2020. And the Nano costs less than the Model T did by the 1920s, adjusted for inflation. Wikipedia says: “By the 1920s, the price had fallen to $300 (about $3,400 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars) because of increasing efficiencies of assembly line technique and volume.”

If Tata can sell to 8% of the Indian population over the next 20 years, it would sell about 104 million units. Those numbers are staggering.

According to the Guardian, the Indian middle class will grow from 50 million now to 583 million by 2025, so anything is possible. But Tata projects selling up to a million Nanos per year. The initial manufacturing capacity is only 250,000 units per year from a factory near Calcutta.

After low cost laptops and cars, what industry do you think will be revolutionized next by a legitimate low-cost manufacturer that is building products for the poor in developing nations?

Don’t overlook free products and services online

Blake Snow has a nice post about 20 free products and services that he uses online. He lists several that I have not used before. I’ll need to try them out so I can add them to my recommendations for entrepreneurs list, and make sure they get added to StrategyTree.com, my wiki for entrepreneurs.

I’ve recently mentioned Google Spreadsheets, which I love. And for years I’ve been recommending Vistaprint.com for free business cards (pay for shipping only). There are so many great free things online for startup companies, it’s amazing.

The Future of Cell Phones: Point, Click, Learn

Here’s a great NY Times article about how Japanese cell phone users are able to point their specialized phones at buildings and monuments and get information about the location. More than 700,000 locations have information or advertisements associated with them already. or A San Francisco-based company called GeoVector is involved. This is exactly the kind of advance I have been hoping for, so that worldhistory.com, with its growing database of geocoded data, can find a way to deliver it to cell phone users. I’m looking forward to more advances in the U.S., but according to one of GeoVector’s founders, Peter Ellenby, they may be slow in coming here. (Release 1.0 interviewed him late last year.)

While I’m at it, I ought to mention two other interesting location-based services. One is Plazes.com, a German web 2.0 startup with funding, 5 employees, some traffic growth and an API. The other is Socialight, run by New York-based Kamida. It allows people to create StickyShadows, or geotagged notes, which can be viewed by others when they visit the same location later.

My favorite book about society and mobile phones is Smart Mobs. Can anyone recommend any other books about where mobile phones and location based services are heading?

Rural Broadband Penetration Too Low

A friend forwarded to me a good article from the Rural Policy Research Institute on the need for broadband availability in rural communities and the frustrating lack of private sector initiative to provide it.

I am spoiled by the fiber-to-the-home initiative where I live in Provo as many Utahns are with UTOPIA. Our state and communities will benefit enormously by low cost broadband access. As I met with rural economic development leaders and entrepreneurs, access to broadband is a big issue for rural communities.

As Jefferson couldn’t “live without books”, I can’t live without books or broadband. In fact, in 1995 when I first discovered that the internet would be my most important tool for business success, I bought a satellite dish (a DirecPC dish) from CompUSA and have had high speed internet ever since. This was way before DSL or Cable was available in Provo. DirecPC is now part of HughesNet, the largest satellite internet access provider.

So my advice to rural communities is to try to get your county and city planners to realize that the economic benefits of rural broadband are significant, and that investing in this can do a lot for economic growth. Have them study public and public/private initiatives. But at the same time, take personal initiative to make sure you can get broadband somehow or other to your workplace if not to your home.

Speaking of high speed internet, I’m just switching from my T-Mobile wireless card (I think it gives me about 150kbit access) to a Verizon 1MBit network, so that my laptop access can be several times faster. I had the T-Mobile Merlin card, which was really slow, then upgraded to the EDGE network, which is better, but I understand Verizon is now the fastest network.

RIM extending BlackBerry server functionality

RIM adds instant messaging to BlackBerry server

Corporate apps devleoped under Blackberry MDS Studio are being made available to Blackberry users. Instant messaging has also been enabled.

This is a great platform. Through T-mobile, we just bought 8 Blackberry 7290 phones for $99.95 each. The data service (unlimited text messages, email and web browsing) is like $19.95 per month and the phone plans are decent.

I’m guessing the threatened shut-down forced RIM to get aggressive on pricing, and also the 7290 model is probably going to be replaced soon by a much better model.

But why in the world wouldn’t every company buy $99.95 blackberries for any employee that is on the go and needs email anywhere. This is a great deal!

Apple finally does a subscription model

I think this portends things to come in the music space. An all-you-can eat subscription is SO compelling. Yes, people want to “own” their music right now. But that will change. If you can “rent” all the music in the world for $9.95 per month, tens of millions of people will do it.

We won’t even think about “owning” vs “renting” in the future.

Steve Jobs always attacks the subscription model. But he also said no one would watch video on a 3″ screen. It’s all part of his strategy to mislead the competition.

InformationWeek | iTunes | Apple iTunes To Sell Monthly TV Show Subscription | March 10, 2006