Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Paperless Revolution

This week my Christmas came early. My presents to myself arrived, not in Santa's sleigh, but in UPS trucks. There is one present that managed to surprise me: the Amazon Kindle.

As soon as I played with it for 3 minutes, I knew, then and there, that I found myself in the middle of a revolution. The Paperless Revolution.

The underlying technology for the Kindle is something called E-Ink. This was developed by a bunch of brainiacs at MIT many years ago and had trouble finding market adoption. I know this, because I read about them as an assignment while I was taking entrepreneurship classes at Haas Business School. The company almost went under because they were a few years ahead of their time. It was a technology in search of a market - one of the classical traps of disruptive technology.

Well, the time has come. The cool thing about e-ink and the Kindle, is that the display is not really a display. Normal LCD display needs continuous power, because it is backlit. Even new fancy OLED (Organic LED) displays require power to display content. E-ink, when it is displaying a page of text, draws no power. Zero. Zilch. A page can be displayed on the screen, practically until the end of time. The only time power is required is when you flip a page or when you use wireless internet to download books.

Since there's no backlight, the Kindle works just like paper. You can read only if there is an external light source. Just like paper. But regardless of where you are, in a classroom or outside under the sun, the text looks the same. Just like paper. You can angle the device any which way and it still reads the same. Just like paper. And you can bookmark, annotate, and scribble notes. Just like paper. But no trees are being killed in the process, unlike paper. I can buy a book in my boxers and have it delivered wirelessly in seconds, unlike paper. Best of all, it can store thousands of books in less than 10.2 ounces, very unlike paper.

The Economist predicts that 2010 is going to be the year of the ebook. I can see why. The Kindle won't completely replace books any time soon. Even today, the mobile phone has not completely replaced land-line phones. Right now the Kindle is still in its early adoption phase. The user interface is a bit clunky. The e-ink display needs a bit more polish. Color is totally absent. But remember the first cell phone? The thing was the size of a brick and had battery that lasted 30 minutes. The technology will get there and it will get there very soon.

I just love living in this age of constant change. The entire publishing business will undergo phenomenal turmoil in the next few years. Old companies will wither away and new ones rise from their ashes. And I have a ring side seat to all this action. Life is awesome.

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