Why the iPad Couldn’t Kill the Kindle

When Apple launched the iPad last spring, most everyone assumed it would kill the Kindle. After all, the iPad had a multi-touch screen, a crisp, color display, the ability to view books, photos, and movies, and run thousands of applications.

A Man Throwing a Punch - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/peepo, Image #3303079

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/peepo

For Amazon, this seemed like the classic David vs. Goliath scenario—the single-purpose, underpowered Kindle against, the multi-purpose, powerful iPad.

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But then a funny thing happened on the way to the gallows. The Kindle not only survived, but according to Amazon, it has become it’s biggest selling product—ever. We don’t know exactly how many Kindles Amazon has sold, since the company refuses to release specific numbers. Nevertheless, some experts estimate that they sold as many as eight million Kindles in 2010.

Not that the Apple iPad has suffered. Apple had sold more than 14 million iPads last year. Not too shabby.

But it is clear that we have two distinct product classes here with less overlap than originally thought. Apparently, the market is big enough for both.

So how did Amazon do it? How did they compete with the Mighty Apple, when everyone was predicting they would be crushed by a more sophisticated machine? They used a four-prong strategy:

  1. Amazon kept the price of the Kindle in the impulse range. The cheapest iPad (16GB, wireless only) is $499. The cheapest Kindle is $139 (wireless only)—less than one-third the cost of the iPad. Obviously, that doesn’t make it an impulse item for everyone, but it is far easier for customers to justify $139.00 than $499.
  2. Amazon made the Kindle software available on every device. Currently, Apple’s iBooks application only runs on the iPad, the iPod, and the iPhone. Amazon’s Kindle app runs on almost every device you are likely to have—Kindle, your desktop, Android, iPad, iPod, and the iPhone. Best of all, your most recently-viewed position syncs in the cloud. This means you can be reading on your Kindle, set it aside, and pick up on your iPhone where you left off.
  3. Amazon maintained its focus on product breadth. Almost every book I could possibly want to read is available in the Kindle format (with the exception of more obscure theology or history books I often read). Some will argue that other readers have even more available. Perhaps. But one thing is certain: Apple has the most limited selection of all. Fortunately, you can use the Kindle app on the iPad.
  4. Amazon made the single-tasking aspect of Kindle a feature. This is one of the primary reasons I didn’t enjoy reading on my iPad and ended up giving it to a co-worker. In order to read well in today’s always-on, always-connected world, I need fewer distractions not more. I have found the Kindle’s singular focus on reading to be an oasis in the Desert of Distraction.

Perhaps none of these strategies by itself would have been sufficient to compete with Apple, but taken together, they enabled the Kindle, not only to survive, but to thrive.

Question: How can you apply Amazon’s strategy to your own competitive situation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.faithexperience.com Shane Raynor

    There are lots of good responses here. Besides the e-ink being easier on the eyes, I like the fact that I can hold the Kindle with one hand for a long time without getting tired. It’s light and has few things on it that will distract you from reading. It reminds me of the web browser wars. Those go in cycles. Browsers start adding more and more features, and they get clunkier and slower. Then every few years, a company strips a browser down and goes back to the basics. (Remember Netscape, then Firefox, and now Chrome?) Do one thing better, faster, and more conveniently than anyone else and you’ll come out in front every time.

  • Dan Winters

    As an Elementary School Principal I see the singularity of focus a key element for our school. Lord knows schools are asked to be all things to all people, and it is so hard to keep the focus on one or two key projects. We are planning on revisiting our vision when we get back in January and this is a great reminder to decide what it is we can do best and put most of our energy into that endeavor. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  • http://peterpollock.com Peter P

    I actually inadvertently use a few of those strategies in my business.

    It’s interesting because the temptation is always there to diversify… the grass is always greener and all that.

    There’s always that element of doubt. I had good sales, but if I had diversified, would that have hurt my sales or brought in more.

    The tendency to second-guess yourself is a killer!

    I’m going to try to remain focussed like Apple and Amazon.

    Thanks, Michael.

  • http://www.confessionsofalegalist.com Jeremy

    I have not bought an iPad yet, but plan to do so. I have had an iPhone since the original came out. Despite this for the exact same reasons mentioned in the post I bought a kindle this year. A great advantage is that for $189 you not only get the kindle but also liftetime 3G access. I love the fact that I do not have to plan ahead to buy a book. I can do it anywhere at anytime regardless of whether or not I have a 3G connection. I do plan to buy an iPad and i will probably use the kindle app to read books on it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I love the 3G access. The monthly charge with the iPad got old fast.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I love the 3G access. The monthly charge with the iPad got old fast.

  • http://twitter.com/NewEnglandHiker Roy Wallen

    As a traditional reader, I am still not convinced. On my day off yesterday, we stopped at a large used book store where I spent $1.39 (yes, with a decimal point in there) on a book by someone I generally like. It has the following attributes:
    1. At 1% of the Kindle, this book is well within the impulse range. In fact, I bought the book on impulse alone. Although I am familiar with the author and like his work, I was not certain about this book. At the cost of less than a cup of coffee, there wasn’t much risk in getting this book.
    2. The book is compatible with every medium — in fact, it IS the medium. Better yet, I don’t need to switch it off for take-off or landing.
    3. I have yet to find a book that I want to read that is only available in elecronic format. Granted, I have reviewed books by new authors that were only available in PDF for the short term but their ultimate goal was to produce a “real” book. In other words, content is not limited. This may happen in the future but, to date, it is not a limitation.
    4. Each book I own is a single-task device.

    As always, thanks for the excellent posting.

  • Mary

    That’s funny. I do look at my Kindle as pure fun and my iPad as a tool.

  • http://www.gospellab.com Gospel lab

    My biggest competitor is time.

    So, I will make it my single task to focus on the breadth of this year and make myself available on every day according to my family’s impulse range. :)

  • http://twitter.com/ThatGuyKC K.C. Procter

    I’m with you. Love the Kindle for it’s simplicity and single-tasking. I’ve got enough trouble with being distracted. I can read books on the Kindle with more focus than I do reading/commenting on blogs.

    It is funny the dichotomy of reaction I get when people see me reading on the Kindle. It’s either: “Why didn’t you get an iPad?” or “Well, that’s cool, but I like ‘real’ books”.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective as a publishing professional.

  • Edunderwood

    Here’s affirmation from a man I disciple who is a partner in a huge SoCal apple store:

    yep a fair assessment of the “Why iPad did not devastate Kindle”

    Add to that…
    Move to #1 spot…… single-tasking aspect of Kindle.
    #2 superior Book buying experience.
    #3 More features focused on reading… dictionary, ratings, highlighting (accessing, sharing, and crowd sourcing) wikipedia, text to speech, battery life, screen quality, size, weight, etc. (see #1 above)
    #4 CEO mindset/mission statement
    “…people don’t read anymore” S.Jobs
    “…every book, in every language, in 30 seconds or less” J.Bezos

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think the CEO mindset is huge. I wish I would have thought of that. Brilliant!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    Size matters, too. The Kindle is a lot smaller, lighter, and hence more amenable to being carried around without the need for a bag.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      This is definitely true.

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        What I would really love is a pocket-sized Kindle+iPod hybrid.

  • Nathan Anderson

    Focus-focus-focus. I’ve heard that creative people have a sort of ADD – can’t stay focused on one thing too long because there are too many ideas floating around in their heads. My book is almost published, now I have to FOCUS on the next steps of marketing & sales before I flit off to my next idea.

  • http://www.brotherpreacher.com John Richards

    My wife and I decided to go with Kindles. Agree with #2. Even makes it available on our blackberry devices. A pretty cool on-the-go feature.

    We’re both in seminary, so we feel your pain on some on the theology books we often read. But, when it comes to commentaries we’re still a bit old fashioned there and want hard copies.

    With a six month old, the Kindle is so much more bottle-feeding/nurse friendly. We couldn’t imagine holding an iPad in one hand while trying to feed the little one. This was a no brainer for us. Good piece. Thanks for this.

  • Craig

    You point out several things Amazon got right. The cloud computing feature is a good one. Devices are becoming less and less an issue as both the creation AND the control of the content become part of cloud computing. Amazon has positioned themselves to play a gate keeper role. They may lack the glamour of Apple or Google but they’ve shown themselves nimble…

  • http://twitter.com/MattBeard Matt Beard

    The Kindle is definitely on my radar now after my fiancee’s sister got one for Christmas. Don’t know when I’ll make the plunge because I still like having book in hand but when I do I’ll choose the Kindle hands down for the reasons you listed.

  • http://www.bretmavrich.com Bret Mavrich

    For what it’s worth, someone got me a gift card for Christmas to Best Buy (because they were out of Kindles). As of today, BB is out of stock in the entire Pittsburgh area. They don’t even know when the next shipment will be. Looks like something’s going right. (My Dad let me geek out with him over his new Kindle–my mom snagged the last one from Staples, apparently).

    Say, Mike, do you find you much use the 3G connect on your Kindle? Should I upgrade from the basic?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I do use the 3G on-the-go—airports, mostly, or places where I don’t have access to WiFi.

  • http://stanleymarkowski.com Stanley Markowsk

    On point number two, for myself and my group of friends, the main selling point is the availability of theology books. My friends and I are in our early twenties and most of us have gone to bible college/ seminary and work in ministry.

    Most of us can’t afford to buy a lot of theology books because they are usually pretty expensive for various reasons. However the kindle has most of the classic theological literature for free or under five dollars. I know for me, by purchasing the works of luther for 5 dollars on kindle, I already saved enough money to justify the purchase.

  • A Brown

    A few thoughts on this:

    1. Isn’t your No. 4 argument a personality issue that may or may not apply to other people. Just because one person doesn’t have the discipline to focus, doesn’t mean that everyone has that same issue.

    2. I’m surprised publishers like Thomas Nelson haven’t created deals to offer bundled Kindles (or Nooks) for that matter. Buy a Kindle with all of Mr. Lucado’s books or a package like that. I know that would have to go through the Amazon court of appeals to get it done.

    3. Amazon could make the Kindle ubiquitous by just offering a book club type deal. Get a free Kindle if you agree to buy so many books over a period of two years.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, #4 is definitely a personality issue. It would only apply to those who are easily distracted—like me. With regard to bundles, I think you will see a lot of that this year. However, it is in the etailers court to implement. A book club is a terrific idea.

      Thanks again.

  • A Brown

    A few thoughts on this:

    1. Isn’t your No. 4 argument a personality issue that may or may not apply to other people. Just because one person doesn’t have the discipline to focus, doesn’t mean that everyone has that same issue.

    2. I’m surprised publishers like Thomas Nelson haven’t created deals to offer bundled Kindles (or Nooks) for that matter. Buy a Kindle with all of Mr. Lucado’s books or a package like that. I know that would have to go through the Amazon court of appeals to get it done.

    3. Amazon could make the Kindle ubiquitous by just offering a book club type deal. Get a free Kindle if you agree to buy so many books over a period of two years.

  • http://www.bigb94.webs.com Brandon

    Woah! Just got to say, Michael- that having almost 150 comments is amazing! In less than one day!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Posts about technology always seems to generate high traffic and engagement. Thanks for your participation!

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Great review of the Kindle app, Mike. I use the software on multiple devices and the Whispersync is awesome. As far as hardware goes, I think you can compare the Kindle -iPad scenario to cell phones. Some people just like a simple phone to make phone calls. Other like a full featured smart phone. There is a huge market for both. I think two things will probably/should happen in 2011. The Kindle will drop to $99 and the iPad will get a camera and memory slot. If these things happen, the market for each will continue to grow.

  • http://www.kathink.blogspot.com Kathleen T. Jaeger

    I just finished reading Chasing Daylight based on a recommendation in one of your posts. This idea that the iPad is not killing the Kindle is akin to what I read and resonated with in one of his chapters. Gene Kelly after he was diagnosed with cancer and had resigned from his multi-tasking CEO position, no longer wanted a complicated phone. He wanted a phone that was a phone and not also a camera, etc… he wanted a phone that was only a phone and not also a camera, … He wanted it simpler. He thought he was onto an idea that business need to embrace this “less is more” idea. I resonate with that. And this seems to be an example of supporting that concept.

  • http://ramblingteacher.blogspot.com Ziad

    An often overlooked aspect of mobile devices is that back lit screens interfere with many people’s sleep. No reading on the iPad in bed ==> need an eReader like Kindle.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/zdlbooks Billy Meyers

    How does point two lead to selling more devices? If I can already read Kindle books on my computer, iPhone, iPad, etc, why buy the Kindle?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You don’t need to. However, I find with the dedicated device, it is optimized for reading and has fewer distractions. Plus I know that I am not locked into that device. I can read on whatever device I have available at the moment.

      • http://www.facebook.com/zdlbooks Billy Meyers

        Ok, I guess I thought the purpose of the post was to show how Amazon succeeded in selling Kindles when there were “better” devices out there with more features/bells and whistles. 1 and 4 support that, but 2 and 3 don’t (since the Kindle app can be used on other devices). I don’t own a Kindle, but I do use the Kindle app on my iPod Touch. The Kindle has a good ROI if you are an avid reader – as long new books stay at $9.99, the device pays for itself after around 25-30 books. But if publishers raise the prices of Kindle books, can Amazon still sell the device?

  • Andy Wittwer

    Michael – I’m curious how you feel about sharing digital books. Once a physical book is owned, it can be sold or traded a number of ways, or better yet passed on. I can understand a digital book not having resale value, but to me a huge drawback of the digital book is the inability to share it once done.
    How does it look to you as a publishing house?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I don’t like sharing, especially given the fact that they are so much cheaper than physical books. It deprives the author and the publisher of revenue. It’s like “sharing” any other intellectual property—software, music, etc. Thanks.

  • http://passionsforthesoul.typepad.com/vicki Vicki Small

    “But one thing is certain: Apple has the most limited selection of all. Fortunately, you can use the Kindle app on the iPad.”

    Great comment! :) Subtle, perhaps, but I love it!

    Our house is home to two readers: my husband and me. Besides the fact that not even $140 for the most basic Kindle can yet be justified, I just can’t envision curling up with a good…Kindle, or any other electronic reader. I swear I would go nuts before I would quit trying to turn the pages!

    If we did more traveling, we might justify it, so maybe some day….

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  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    @The iPad is software, Kindle is software. They don’t really compete. Apple and Amazon will both make tons of money selling different things.

  • http://onstagetechnologies.com Scott Kantner

    The applicable lesson from Amazon’s Kindle is to stay focused- do one thing Really Well. The Kindle is designed to solve a single problem, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. That’s why it remains viable, and a point that was perhaps lost on the NYT.

  • http://www.liveonpurposecoach.com Dwright

    Thank you so much for your observations regarding two great products. I have had my Kindle for over two years and I regard it as one of my top purchases. I like many others thought that the Ipad might really hurt Kindle after I saw how beautiful the graphics are, etc.

    However, my biggest takeaway from your key points is the power of FOCUS. It is critical in whatever we do. Kindle is not trying to be all things to all people. They own their segment of the book market.
    From a spiritual perspective, I thought about the importance of staying the course especially when you have received clear direction from God-Stay FOCUSED!!
    Thank you again!

  • http://twitter.com/dlibbon dlibbon

    Great post, I’ve got both and plan on keeping my kindle. The fact that it syncs between my phone, ipad, computer, and kindle make it amazing in my book. (I guess I should say “my ebook”)

  • Caleb Land

    I’m shocked not to see my biggest reason for loving Kindle on here. I’m a reader and I love books…the actual experience of reading a real book. I would never read a book on a back-lit computer screen. The digital ink on kindle makes it a far superior reading experience than reading on an ipad.

  • http://davidsantistevan.com/ David Santistevan

    I am loving my Kindle. You were my biggest influence in making the purchase. Thanks for the thorough reviews. I still think Amazon should steer way from too many bells and whistles on the Kindle. I think its simplicity is its strength. The elements in the “experimental” section don’t mean much to me, but it could also be because I’m still getting used to it.

  • http://www.marketinginprogress.com Brett Duncan

    I have neither an iPad nor a Kindle. I’ve held on a Kindle with the idea of eventually using that money toward an iPad. So this post is an interesting one.

    I get the need for distraction-reading. However, I’m not sure I want to get another device for it. This info helps; I was wondering why anyone would have an iPad AND a Kindle. I think I’ll still wait for the iPad, though.


  • http://www.inteliwise.com VirtualAgent

    I’ve always been obssessed on getting an iPad one of these days, but now that you’ve put up this post, I’m seriously reconsidering it. Hmmm, I might get a Kindle. And it being cheaper definitely helps in the decision making.

  • Sell House Fast

    Tried reading on the Ipad. To be honest, the screen’s crap for it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for other things, but for e-books, still prefer the kindle.

  • Sjohnston

    I have yet to purchase a Kindle, but your points communicate to me that folks still like the simpler side of things. The Kindle is certainly intriguing technology.

  • http://www.carlestercrumpler.com/ Carlester T. Crumpler

    Just as Andy Stanley’s one point messages are extremely effective… the Kindle’s singular focus allows me to Just Read Baby! When we decide to go deep, not wide, the results are often more effective and fulfilling. Therefore, I love my Kindle. If I want to fulfill my information consuming desires… out comes the iPad. Great post Michael!

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  • Anonymous

    I’m relatively new to Kindle and until I read your post, I had no idea I could Tweet from my Kindle! My fondness for my Kindle continues to grow. I did make the mistake of downloading “Every Word” and *that* app will have to go. It’s far too addicting and distracting. I’ll stick with the pile of free e-books I’ve already downloaded. I also put the novel I just wrote onto my Kindle (so I have no excuse not to be reading/proofing/editing, etc.

    Amazon’s focus is something I’d like to emulate in my own life – identifying what I want to be good at and sticking with it, rather than letting myself get distracted by all of the things that others are good at.

    • Anonymous

      (I should clarify – I learned about the Twitter feature via the comments section)

  • Jeff Jones

    I always wonder how the VCR/Betamax battle will play out in new devices. I loved my Betamax. Great quality, smaller tapes, but they didn’t share the technology and VCR won the war. Apple gives us so many great features that it continues to stand apart and now the singularly focused Kindle, while usable on multiple platforms, continues to swing away. I do think the two devices are targeted at two somewhat distinct crowds so they will continue to appeal to their core markets with some overlap.
    If I’m going to haul a device around, I’ll take the iPad with much more than just a reader while understanding the joy often found in simplicity.

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  • http://theusefulword.wordpress.com Chris Heck

    Amazon has simply applied the 4 p’s of marketing – product, price, place, and promotion. Granted, they have applied them and executed very well.

    I think one of the biggest factors is Amazon’s willingness to support multiple platforms/devices. They realized that for them, the hardware/device isn’t the hill they are willing to die on. It’s all about the access to the inventory and distribution method.

  • Kevin Thomas

    I was gifted the beautiful Nook Color, upgraded to an awesome Android phone, purchased my sweet Nexus 7, but this past Friday I met a guy in a Starbucks parking lot to purchase a Kindle Keyboard 3g he’d listed on Craigs list.

    I avoided the Kindle with the reasoning it was black/white, antiquated, and couldn’t compete with my other devices.

    I’ve fallen in love with this device more than I expected, to the point of hunting down a good light and case at this moment. Battery life is awesome, keyboard convenient, shopping/downloading quick, and most of all no distractions from reading. I read on my other devices, but become quickly distracted my notifications, calls, and surfing for no reason.

    Great article, so happy I actually have a real Kindle in my possession.