Reading in the Age of Amazon

December 27, 2014

Speaking of Amazon, The Verge’s piece on its hardware design lab is a good look into one of the least seen aspects of the company. It also has a nice history lesson of the Kindle:

It’s been a decade since “Fiona” was first imagined, the codename Amazon gave to the first iteration of the Kindle. As recounted in The Everything Store, Brad Stone’s rollicking 2013 history of Amazon, Jeff Bezos commanded his deputies in 2004 to build the world’s best e-reader lest Apple or Google beat them to it. To Steve Kessel, who was put in charge of running the company’s digital business, Bezos reportedly said: “I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.”

It took three years for Kindle to come to market. The first model wasn’t particularly beautiful: a $400, off-white chunk of plastic with a full QWERTY keyboard. But before the world had ever heard of an app store, Amazon had integrated its bookstore directly into the device. For the first time, you could summon almost any book you could think of within seconds, no matter where you were.

The accompanying photography is also great. They, of course, do not reveal anything secretive or particularly groundbreaking here but a glimpse into the secret labs of large technology companies is always of interest.

I have no major complaints on the Kindle hardware, but its software still leaves much to be desired. It’s encouraging to see so much research being performed on the tiniest details of the hardware, but it would be great to know why the typography and formatting controls are still primitive at best. John Gruber put it best, back in 2012:

Amazon’s goal should be for Kindle typography to equal print typography. They’re not even close. They get a pass on this only because all their competitors are just as bad or worse. Amazon should hire a world-class book designer to serve as product manager for the Kindle.