Jason Zimdars

March 31, 2021

A love letter to the Kindle

In an age when Amazon is swallowing up the world and facing backlash (on a number of fronts) the humble Kindle increasingly stands out. Don’t get me wrong, Kindle's closed format and Amazon's antagonistic actions toward competitors and libraries are despicable, but I'd like to put that aside and focus on the hardware for now.

You see, the Kindle might be my favorite piece of consumer electronics hardware—and one of my most satisfying purchases—ever. Why? The Kindle is everything my various iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and MacBooks are not. Let me explain.

It has long life

I’ve had this same Kindle Paperwhite since 2013 and it's just as good as the day I bought it. Just as fast, looks just as good, and works just as well. Software updates arrive silently and never seem to slow things down. It's never been deemed too old to update and as far as I know, it’s running the latest version of Kindle's software. Indeed, it’s great that I don't really know and don't have to care. Can't say the same about the iPhone 5s, iPad, and Macbook I bought the same year—all of which long ago stopped getting updates.

It's made to be used

I’ve dropped my Kindle countless times and routinely thrown it into a bag without much concern before heading out the door. It's not just that it can take a beating but that it's designed to be durable with materials that can absorb some neglect. In that time I've picked up a small scratch on the screen that I can't even see while reading and the plastic, soft-touch body has a few dings and scuffs but they hardly detract from its appearance. 

It's quite freeing to own hardware that isn't precious. I've never considered putting a case on it. My six-months old iPhone 12 has more damage and looks worse than my 7-year-old Kindle even though I treat the latter fragile bird. Apple's products somehow resist the usually attractive effects of patina which might make them feel more alive and organic. While materials like wood, cloth, and leather become more attractive with age, Apple's hardware designs made of glass and coated metal seem to wear imperfections like scars of disease, cutting your heart with every glint.

It inspires no envy

The worst day as the owner of any Apple product is the day the next new model comes out. Suddenly over the course of a 60 minute keynote your stuff becomes old and obsolete. This is no question, by design. I couldn't tell you how many new Kindle models have been released in the last 7 years. I've certainly heard about them, compared them to my 2013 Paperwhite, and decided not to buy them. And I don't feel bad or like I'm missing out. I shudder to think how many Apple devices from 2013 are in the trash today.

It's doesn't care what I do

Sure my Kindle can connect to Goodreads to share progress and asks me to write a review after I finish a book but those are humble asks in today’s world. Try using your iPad without network connectivity or without an iCloud account. Heck, last year a whole population of developers on MacBooks couldn't work because of a network glitch on Apple's developer servers. My Kindle doesn't care if I'm on wi-fi, never nags to sign-in to anything, and isn't trying to coerce me to use social features. If I never connected it to web again, I could happily keep reading the books I have and even load new ones outside the ecosystem via USB. 

It's content to do one thing

The Kindle has one job: reading books. It never pulls me away to read a notification, doesn't beg me to look at what someone said on Twitter, and it isn't trying to trick me into using it more. It's not even showing me ads (to be fair, I purchased the ad-free version) or suggesting more books. Just like my toaster isn't telling me the weather or suggesting other kinds of bread I might be interested in. And that's the key: it's an appliance.

I've gone through spurts where I prefer real printed books and set the Kindle aside where it happily waits until I come back—often with the battery still charged even. It's not sending me texts or emails say, "You know, you haven't read a book in awhile." My Kindle doesn't need me and isn't trying to manipulate me. 

You can imagine all the things it could to: check Twitter, manage to-dos, show me my calendar, check email, organize my Amazon wishlist, suggest products based on my reading, etc. I have to imagine those ideas, and more, have come up inside Amazon HQ so hats-off to whomever said "no" to them.

* * *

The Kindle is a rare beast in the world of consumer electronics and I find it increasingly hard fit it into Amazon's apparent values. It's not so hard to imagine that it was born when Amazon was a different company but that doesn't explain why it still exists or why it's still good or why Amazon seemingly isn't following Apple's consumer products model. Lord knows everyone else is. My friend Dan's washing machine is even gamifying his wash cycles!

The Kindle stands apart from Amazon's ethos. Even more so, it stands as a rare example in the entire consumer electronics industry as a single-purpose device that is durable, meant to be used, non-invasive, un-precious, and refreshingly off the gear lust conveyor belt.

It's not perfect but it's my favorite.


About Jason Zimdars

Product designer at 37signals working on Basecamp, HEY, and ONCE since 2009. Illustrator of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work and the Prince Martin Epic series. You can find me on X, Instagram, LinkedIn and at jasonzimdars.com.