Don't Kno, Do Kindle

Ebooks are the future of higher education. A compelling and inexpensive reader device is necessary for that to happen.  We're getting there, but the sweet-spot hasn't been hit yet. I love my Kindle. It is great for leisure reading. And I do a lot of that. However, the screen on the standard Kindle is too small to view the full page  figures and tables that populate much of my work related reading.  Fortunately, the Kindle platform is ubiquitous. I can view my Kindle books on myriad other devices. So, when I encounter a full page table with text too small to read on the Kindle's screen -- I can leverage the Kindle platform's ubiquity and switch to reading the Kindle book on my laptop or netbook. Ideal? No. However, it gets the job done.

The Kindle DX addresses the viewability concerns with its larger screen (9.7" vs 6" diagonal).  At a current price of $379, the DX almost has me adopting a second Kindle. Almost. But is it a compelling value proposition for higher ed students?  I don't think so. At $199, maybe.

Key is whether work flow (research or studying, for students) is most efficient with special purpose devices (such as the Kindle reader) or with multi purpose devices (such as the iPad). Or does it matter? The Kindle platform's support for highlighting of passages and insertion of comments/notes yields a powerful research/study tool that I find easier to use than my conventional practice of having a PDF open on one monitor and a Google Docs doc open on a second to capture my notes. Ultimately, the Kindle not about the Kindle Reader hardware but about the Kindle Platform.

The ubiquity of the Kindle Platform is the key strength of the Kindle solution relative to a conventional dead tree book. A conventional book exists in one point in the time space continuum. A book can be in my backpack, in my home office, or at my campus office, for example.  A physical book can't be all three places simultaneously.  There is nothing more frustrating than getting home only to realize that a book I need is at my campus office (50 miles away). A Kindle book is always available to me.  Even when I don't have my Kindle reading device with me.  Amazon is about to launch Kindle for the Web which means my books will never be further away than the closest web browser. No special app required.

Which brings me to the Kno,  The Kno -- billed as a "tablet textbook" -- is a large (14" diagonal) tablet computer available in single- or hinged dual-screen versions (to resemble a book).  The Kno's USP is that it operationalizes how students study: read, take notes, highlight text, watch videos, read web based content, etc. The Kno is a locked down proprietary platform (built on Linux) that supports three proprietary apps: Reader, Notes, and Browser. The reader app is for viewing digital textbooks. The notes app is for taking notes. The browser is for accessing the web.

Kno's business model is based on two primary revenue streams: hardware sales and sales through their textbook store. Adoption of the Kno implies double lock-in:  One is locked in to purchasing textbooks through a single source: the Kno textbook store. The second lock-in is that textbooks purchased for the Kno can only be viewed on the Kno. It is a closed system. The Kno duplicates one of the biggest hassles of dead-tree books: if you don't have your Kno with you, you don't have access to your books.  Or your notes. Oops.

Kindle for the Web exposes a major flaw in the Kno's business model.  Kindle for the Web suggests that users already have a key for unlocking Kno's proprietary bookstore.  There goes that revenue stream.  

The single screen limited function 16GB Kno, priced at $599, is more expensive than the very versatile 16GB Apple iPad (with a smaller 9.7" screen). And you can read all of your Kindle books (as well as books from other vendors) on the iPad. How's that value proposition, Kno?

As a faculty member, I cannot, in good conscious, lock my students into a restricted purpose limited function device. Apple and an increasing cast of others offer tablet devices. Apple's system has attributes amenable to enterprise management. If Kno has a competitive advantage (and it is unclear whether they do), it is in their claim that they understand better than anyone how folks study.  Kno should shift from bundling hardware and software. I think that Kno should channel what they have learned about student study habits into note taking apps for the iOS and Android platforms.  Such an approach would leverage the source of Kno's competitive advantage.

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