The Original Kindle Was Crazy

What the design of the first popular e-book reader can teach us about innovation

Tareq Ismail
OneZero
Published in
6 min readAug 9, 2019

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Photo courtesy of the author.

WWhen David Pogue reviewed Amazon’s original Kindle e-reader for the New York Times back in 2007, he asked a simple question: “Are they completely nuts?”

“Printed books are dirt cheap, never run out of power, and survive drops, spills, and being run over,” he continued. “And their file format will still be readable 200 years from now.”

Fast forward 12 years and the Kindle, along with its iOS and Android apps, now dominate the e-reading market.

Have they killed physical books? Of course not. But they were never meant to.

Of course, new products start off daring and are often misunderstood. Jony Ive described it best when he said, “While ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.”

The original Kindle is the perfect example of that notion. So much about the Kindle has changed over the years, but Kindle devices today still remain true to the vision first shown in Amazon’s original device. There’s a lot to learn in retrospect from studying its design and feature set while reflecting on its initial ideas.

The physical design

Photos courtesy of the author.

The original Kindle’s form-factor was boxy and uninviting.

In its case, it was meant to resemble a traditional paperback novel with its cover bent back and its pages forming a slanted edge.

The Kindle’s slanted edge, however, also acted as a large Next Page button, and it was easy to accidentally press when holding the device. And, unlike a paperback whose pages and cover are comfortable to hold, the Kindle’s hard plastic was stiff and had little to no bend.

Although the idea to make it physically similar to a book was fine, Amazon’s execution was poor. The company eventually crafted its own unique physical-form factor for future Kindle generations.

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