How Amazon's Kindle reader might be improved

By Scott Kirsner
Globe Correspondent / February 9, 2009
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Upgrading Amazon's E-book reader. The most anticipated tech product of 2009 so far isn't from Apple - it's a new-and-improved version of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader, expected to be unveiled at in New York today. Joshua Martin, an analyst at Yankee Group, offered a wish list of features that might enhance Kindle 2.0.

1. Focus on reading. The iPod was successful because its first few iterations focused exclusively on music not by focusing on adding video or games. Amazon should follow suit and continue to improve the experience as a book reader.

2. Add instant reviews. One of the great benefits of Amazon is user reviews. If the new Kindle also features a keypad, as the original did Amazon should consider allowing users to write reviews on the Kindle and share them to the Amazon website . . .

3. Bundle electronic and paper versions. Some users still want the hard copy, and Amazon should find a way to combine offers of a Kindle copy and a paper copy of a book . .

4. Consider Rentals. One notion posted to a blog post I made a few months ago was the suggestion of renting books, like a library (but for a fee).

Mingling with the Davos crowd. "Where else in the world can you go to a small cocktail party and hang with [musician] Peter Gabriel, [actor] Jet Li, and [Facebook's] Mark Zuckerberg?" asks George Colony, chief executive of Forrester Research in Cambridge. No place other than the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Colony attended, and posted an acerbic report on his blog, Counter-Intuitive.

A panel of "economic geniuses" convened to give their view of the future. This was the same stellar group that last year said that we would have a mild recession, if one at all. Steve Roach (last year's only prescient pessimist) from Morgan Stanley said, "You cannot underestimate the dangers of the eco nomic moment." He said that 2009 would be the first year since World War II that worldwide GDP would have negative growth. There is a "multi-year adjustment coming." He said that we would have recovery later in 2009 with anemic, 2.5 percent growth in worldwide GDP in 2010, 2011, and very likely 2012. The economists believe that the big factor is consumer confidence. That will only bounce back if we get a way to sort out the asset mess and get pricing back, quick fiscal stimulus, and political action.

Some of the socialist-minded Europeans were in heat about how nationalization is the only way out of this mess. There was a hell of a lot hand-wringing about four conflicting topics: Too much nationalization, not enough nationalization, inflation, and deflation. Clearly, no one knows what . . . is going on.

Maria Bartiromo from CNBC had a staged economic debate. Lot of yelling and screaming for the cameras. The head of the NYSE, Duncan Neiderauer, was excellent - he said that we should use existing regulations and just extend them to formerly unregulated worlds like hedge funds and private equity - we don't need new regulation. Steve Schwarzman, private equity whipping boy, looked lost, was incoherent. Steve made the argument that capital limits should be lowered, adding more leverage to the system. I wonder what the weather's like on Steve's planet? He kind of reminded me of that squirrel in one of last year's Super Bowl commercials that screams in the middle of the road as a car speeds up on him. The banking types on the panel haven't grokked the situation yet - we've gone from a world controlled privately to a world controlled by public policy makers, and their defacto bosses - the voters. That's why you can't buy new jets, pay yourselves big bonuses, and remodel your office using antique Chinese parchment. Because you're now working for Mr. and Mrs. Jones from Topeka Kansas . . .

What's next for the Net. Investors and entrepreneurs gathered in Manhattan last week to read the tech tea leaves at the annual OnMedia NYC conference. Among them was Jeffrey Bussgang, a partner at Boston-based Flybridge Capital Partners, who served up a few memorable comments and data points.

*Mobile advertising: panelists laid out the case for why the iPhone was transformational for mobile advertising and that early trials suggest mobile advertising actually works. That said, they were realistic about the slow growth ahead as mobile works its way into the marketing mix, particularly as a component in cross-platform campaigns.

*Online advertising: Jeff Lanctot, chief strategy officer at Razorfish, predicted flat spending, lower CPMs, and argued that the "print dollars turning into digital pennies" simply was not working for publishers. Perhaps massive publisher consolidation will rebalance supply and demand, but unlikely.

*Smartphone: this panel was simply an hour-long raving love fest for the iPhone. Favorite iPhone apps mentioned ranged from the sublime (Amazon, Pandora) to the ridiculous ( iThrow). Eric Litman, CEO of Medialets, amusingly pointed out that there are 20 million Windows Mobile devices, but application discovery is such an awful experience that the download rates are a fraction of the iPhones.

*VC outlook: Jonathan Miller (Velocity, ex-CEO AOL), Woody Benson (Prism) and I did a panel on the VC outlook. We tried to provide a balanced view - I think we were all relatively balanced as short-term bears, but long-term bulls. As Woody pointed out, "You can't do what I do unless you're an optimist. Otherwise, you'd jump out the window!"

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