Thirteen years ago today on November 19th, 2007 Amazon released the 1st generation Kindle e-reader.
It sold out in just a few hours and then remained on backorder for several months, but looking back at it now it’s hard to believe enough people were interested in buying such an odd-looking device in an ebook niche that was still undeveloped, especially considering the fact the first Kindle sold for $399.
Most people, myself included, have never seen a 1st generation Kindle in person. I’m sure a picture doesn’t do it any justice, but even so the picture above from Wikipedia shows just how unusual the design was.
Symmetry clearly wasn’t a priority, except with the keyboard and its oddly-angled buttons. It has the largest page buttons you’ll ever see. It was the only Kindle to have a scroll wheel and a memory card slot.
Like the current entry-level Kindle, it had a 6-inch E Ink display with a resolution of 800 x 600. That was an older screen screen technology, however, and of course there was no light so contrast wasn’t as good as it is now.
The 1st Kindle had EVDO to download ebooks wirelessly, and it was only sold in the United States.
I’m not sure on the other details because Amazon removed access to the product page for the 1st gen Kindle at some point over the past couple years. They set the url to redirect to an old Fire tablet page for some odd reason, even though all their other previous gen Kindle pages still remain viewable. You can even see the listing for the 1st gen Kindle in Amazon’s search results but clicking it takes you to an outdated Fire tablet page instead.
The original Kindle was truly one of the most odd-looking gadgets ever released; it’s surprising that enough people were interested in it to spur the growth of the Kindle brand to what it is now, and some are still using their 1st generation Kindle to this day.
I would love to know all of the decisions that went into the design.
With it looking so different then the Sony e-readers… You have to think it was intentional.
The screen to body ratio is Amazing!
Looking Back at 1st automobile It’s Hard to Believe Anyone Would Buy One
Sportbike Mike says
You beat me to it
Steve H. says
The Kindle 2 was a huge improvement. My first Kindle purchase. Page turn buttons were easy…even back then…why so hard to find now??
Indeed it was. It has the same general layout with the page buttons on both sides and the keyboard below, but it looks like it was designed by professionals that knew what they were doing. The 1st Kindle looks like some wacky prototype someone threw together in their garage by hacking a bunch of different things together.
Still have the 2.. screen is dim since it is over 10 yrs old but use it outside. Upgraded this year.
Kevin Palm says
Here’s a cool article on someone who bought a firsst generation kindle on ebay in 2017 and got it working. Lots of good pictures!
Michael Vittles says
Thanks for that. An interesting read.
Reading the article I really can’t tell why you think it is hot garbage. It has an ergonomically designed keyboard with large keys that are better than the Kindle 2, 3 or DX (and beats the pants off of just using a touch screen). It has expandable memory, free 3G, and a scroll wheel to fly through your library. The original iPhone just came out a few months before and had terrible resolution, contrast and a small screen. And the Ipad would not come out for another three years.
So the original Kindle wasn’t competing against anything, and nobody had ever seen a digital device that you could hold in your hand and read outside in daylight. For sheer novelty value it was a must have. And at the time Amazon was pricing ebooks low, so even at the horrible price of $400 early adopters that were avid readers had a chance to recoup the cost if they read enough.
Is it as good as a modern Paperwhite or Oasis? No. But it is a stellar debut that came out at the right time.
“So the original Kindle wasn’t competing against anything, and nobody had ever seen a digital device that you could hold in your hand and read outside in daylight.”
The Kindle was not the first e-book reader, by a long shot.
It wasn’t even the first one with an e-Ink display. That would’ve been Sony the year before. (And Sony’s bookstore displays WERE magical beasts. They looked like display mockups dummies with fake stickers simulating a screen. But then you poked a button on the device and the “fake” screen changed, because it was actually a fully-functional device and not a mock-up, and the screen ACTUALLY LOOKED LIKE PAPER! Well, laminated paper, anyways…)
Before the Sony Reader hit, there were several reader devices with reflective grayscale LCDs, which are actually fairly well-suited to the task. (My family had several Franklin Ebookman readers, which we actually picked up for a song when they were clearanced out in ’02.)
There was also the more-expensive PDA market, where Palm Pilots were a hot commodity for several years. (Apple fans will rush to tell you how the Newton was first, but that doesn’t really matter because nobody WANTED a Newton. Palm made a PDA people WANTED.)
The Kindle’s full alphanumeric keyboard was an odd decision even at the time. I’ve never seen anyone come up with a plausible explanation for why it was there.
It’s success has less to do with it being novel(which it wasn’t) and more to do with it being tied to the largest online bookstore on Earth at the time. You could get ebooks onto a Kindle very easily, and you had a fairly wide selection to choose from(by the standards of the day).
What I’m saying, in my rambling way, is that the Kindle is the iPod of eReaders. It wasn’t the first, or the best, but it was the one that went mainstream, and that’s largely due to marketing and the ease of getting content.
I purchased one of the first Kindles. Everyone near me would stop and ask about it since they had never seen one.
It remained working for many years and probably still will if I charge it up.
It even came with a short story by Stephen King about a pink Kindle.
I am well past their early creation but still hang on to my first kindle.
The fact that you could read it in sunlight was amazing to everyone.
I was one of the lucky ones that was able to buy one before they sold out. I loved it. I didn’t buy a new one until the kindle keyboard came out. I now use the kindle paperwhite 4 because I think the kindle Oasis is too expensive and it cost less than the first kindle I owned Lol